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VOL. 063

A quick & dirty guide to brewery co-branding



This is the third of four exclusive topics we’re covering here in our newsletter from our larger 2024 Beer Branding Trends report. 

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Let's get into it.

Let’s discuss a fun, emergent trend we’re seeing in the beer industry right now: Co-branding. 

It seems like every other week, a client will reach out to us with a new project on this front (“We’re partnering with XYZ baseball team / XYZ pickleball league / XYZ donut shop and need help with the packaging.”).

I don’t have any deep insight into why this is happening right now, but I can say that I really like it. (Deep observations here at CODO, I know.)

These arrangements are fun and usually produce cool products.

We’ve previously written about stunt partnerships (e.g., a mayo brand partners with a vodka brand and… profit???).

But these sorts of relationships are more meme fuel than a bid to create lasting value (or, “vaporware” as Dave Infante calls them). So we’ll set those aside and instead focus on the rise in craft breweries meaningfully partnering with cool, local institutions. 

So let’s define co-branding, outline the most prominent examples we’re seeing today, as well as some other Brand Strategy considerations to keep in mind as you weigh whether or not this could be a good move for your brewery. 

(Above): Stunt / meme collabs. These *are* co-branding examples, but not the type of meaningful partnerships we’re discussing in today’s BBT issue.


What is co-branding?

Co-branding is a strategic partnership between two companies to create a product that bears both of your names.

This move leverages the strength of each brand to create something cool while introducing each company to the other’s customer base.

It can also help you each achieve deeper market penetration within your own respective category or tap into a new category altogether.

Basically, you’re pinning your brand to the associations and goodwill of another brand, and vice versa. And if done well, each party benefits. 

There are a lot of considerations that go into vetting and executing this sort of partnership, but there’s one piece of criteria that is so important, it acts as a go / no-go decision point for whether or not you should partner with a particular group in the first place…

Values, values, values (and values)

The most important thing that determines whether or not your brewery should collaborate with another business is how well your values align. Do your teams gel? Are you on the same page? Are you into the same things?  

This is critical because: 

1. Why would you want to work with someone who doesn’t share your values?

2. Why would this other business’ customers care about your brewery if you stand for something that they themselves don’t care about (or disagree with)?

3. Be aware that even a short lived collab can carry long term consequences. A misaligned partnership can harm your reputation long after the fact.

TLDR: If you don’t share the same values as another business, then there’s no way a co-branded product can work.

Types of co-branding we’re seeing right now in beer  

Co-branding can be an overly-complex subject. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds debating the various types of co-branding approaches you can employ (e.g., co-branding vs. co-marketing, ingredient co-branding, same company co-branding, sponsorships, and on and on…).

So let’s bypass that entire conversation—all the theory—and simply highlight a few of the most applicable examples we’re seeing in beer and the broader CPG space that you might consider right now at your brewery.


1. Brewery x Local Business 

Partnering with local businesses is a fun way to celebrate your city, tap into new fans and reinforce your local bona fides.

This is a wonderful move for Legacy Brewers and younger outfits alike.

Food partnerships, in particular (e.g. donut, candy and chocolate companies), also present an easy opportunity for fun LTO and seasonal releases. 

Common businesses we see on this front include: 

– Iconic local brands (sky’s the limit here—barbershops, clothing companies, bookstores, tattoo parlors, etc.)

– Coffee roasters

– Donut shops 

– Candy / confectionery companies 

– Orchards / farms / CSAs / farmers’ markets 

– Restaurants / hospitality companies 

This last example is a particularly interesting opportunity that I think more breweries should consider as well. Can you partner with a hospitality group to produce a house beer—something along the lines of a table lager?

We saw this in our field work a few times in the mid-2010s, but it seems to have waned since. (Let me know if your brewery makes a house beer for a local restaurant or hospitality group. I’d love to ask you a few questions about the arrangement.)

(Above): Brewery x local business co-branding examples, including iconic regional beverage brands, small coffee and donut shops, a regional ice cream chain, a casino and a radio station.

2. Brewery x CPG Food / snack brand 

This is a classic co-branding example you see a lot in national consumer package goods (CPG) food and snack categories.

By using the partner brand's product as an adjunct in beer, you give people a quick reference as to what flavors they should expect.  

The big difference between this collab and the previous one is a matter of scale. Think along the lines of a top 50 brewery partnering with a household name brand vs. a 2,500 bbl per year brewery partnering with a local donut shop.

One is not better than the other here, but there will be way more IP and legal work to sort through with the former.

(Above): Brewery x larger CPG co-branding examples, including: condiment brands (olive oil, hot sauce), snack brand (peanuts, popcorn), ingredient brands (pickles, salt, cheese, fish), and larger beverage brands (bourbon, coconut water). 


3. Brewery x (usually college) Sports Teams

Another common partnership we're seeing here is craft breweries partnering with sports teams (colleges, pro team franchises, stadiums and esoteric sport leagues).

And this spans beverage alcohol—so craft beer, to RTDs, seltzer and beyond. 

We’re seeing a flood of these sorts of partnerships right now, so much so that I’m wondering if some sort of specific big beer contract sunsetted or a regulation changed. 

Whatever the reason, this is a high profile way that can move real volume and ground your brand in a fun occasion and experience that people can more easily recall.

(Above): Brewery x sports team co-branding examples.


4. Brewery x NPO / Charity 

This is similar to co-branding with local small businesses, but with an emphasis on a specific cause.

It's also a great way to get in front of your city’s leaders and enmesh yourself in the community with likeminded people. 

Quick aside: I can hear you out there—shaking your head and grumbling about the horde of (well meaning!) nonprofits requesting donations that may come your way if you co-brand with a local charity.

My best advice to deal with this is to clearly lay out criteria and rules on your website—set an official policy—for how people should send in these requests, when your team will review them and how you decide which groups to support and so forth. 

Common examples we’re seeing here include: 

– Non profits (humane societies, environmental groups)
– Zoos & aquariums
– LGBTQ groups
– Parks
– Civic groups 

(Above): Brewery x NPO co-branding examples, including: veteran causes, humane societies, LGBTQ groups and zoos.


5. Clear Lifestyle Plays

A great way to build a Lifestyle Brand at your brewery is to co-brand with similarly-positioned brands outside of the beer space. 

Lifestyle brands hinge on tapping into existing subcultures, so finding a brand that already caters to this group is a great way to put your brewery’s brand in the same mind space.

This can shortcut the process of bringing an aspirational angle to your brand.

There are a handful of evergreen craft beer tropes, including blue collar outdoorsy brands, technical mountain town-y brands, heavy metal skater culture brands, etc.

But don’t limit your partnerships to just these worlds: You can tap into any activity that you find great meaning in.

(Above): Brewery x lifestyle brand co-branding examples, including: clothing companies (wool, boots and shoes), hunting and country living brands, surfing and beach brands and motorcycles.

6. Brewery x Brewery (or beyond beer brand)

Brewery collabs are as old as the modern beer industry.

While these tend to be even more ephemeral than all the other examples we’ve listed here, they still present great opportunities to build your brand and tap into a new audience.

I don’t have any guidelines for what size brewery you should partner with (e.g., same scale, much larger, smaller). In most cases, I think this boils down to either who you’re friends with, or some common cause (and values) between your breweries. 

(Above): Brewery and other beverage co-branding examples.


7. Brewery x XYZ Celebrity (band, personality, athlete)

Co-branding with a celebrity (especially a household name) can seem like a no-brainer, though it’s probably not feasible for most breweries.

To wit: Will this be a co-branded partnership where you both have skin in the game, or will this simply be a paid endorsement? There’s a big difference there (and I bet that most folks can spot it).

There's one more important caveat (on influencers) that we'll outline here in a second.

Other than these points, I think this can be fun and a cool branding opportunity, provided your values align with your partner (seeing a pattern here?).

(Above): Brewery x celebrity co-branding examples, including musicians, athletes, and whatever Guy Fieri is.


Misc Notes

On measuring ROI / KPIs

Some co-branding opportunities won’t result in a clear-cut ROI. Obviously sales and profit are important metrics, but I think you should consider more qualitative outcomes to evaluate these sorts of partnerships.

– How much positive Brand Equity, reputation and earned media are you each generating?

– What did you learn from working with another corporate team?

– And sometimes, this can just be an excuse to do something fun with your friends and a company you respect. Or a way to raise money or awareness for a cause. There’s a lot of value in that in its own right

Can you retain customer data?

We’ve already talked about why email marketing is an important function that more breweries need to be focusing on right now in another section of this year’s report.

To support this idea, an important thing you should try to capture and retain in any co-branding partnership is customer data. Namely, email addresses and relevant demographic info.

This will be critical for vetting and segmenting your audience by specific interest for future releases, collaborations and more tailored marketing.

So think through how you can best capture people’s emails through this co-branded release. Some quick ideas here:

– Co-brand specific landing page
– Out of stock / restock notification signups 
– Purchase confirmations 
– Sweepstakes / contest entry, etc. 
– QR code / SMS opt-in as part of a broader campaign 

Again, this advice isn’t limited to co-branded releases.

Capturing customer data will prove vital for all of your communications and marketing over the coming years.

But the amount of new customer data you can gather from a co-branding effort can help you determine whether or not it was successful and what you should change / test the next time around.

Tap into a lifestyle brand (or create a lifestyle product)

We touched on this earlier, but it bears repeating. If you’re interested in building a Lifestyle Brand—either by positioning your brewery’s parent brand as such or through a Sub Brand, co-branding with an aspirational brand in another industry is a great way of tapping into those consumers and occasions. 

This is such a valuable return, that it might even trump turning a profit on the partnership.

This doesn’t mean you should set out to lose money, but there’s a lot of value in reaching new audiences who can eventually turn into customers.

Limited Time Only (a powerful nudge)

We talked about this concept in our BBT issue on brewery merch.

But no matter how dead set you are on creating a lasting, year round co-branded product, consider first releasing it as a limited time only (LTO) basis. 

A little bit of scarcity can be all the nudge someone needs to grab a fun LTO product. 

And this approach also gives you valuable data: How well did your first drop sell? Who was buying it? What sort of feedback did you receive? What can you do to improve on the product, customer experience, marketing—anything—next time around?

(Above): This isn't a craft example, but I've been following Miller Lite's influencer partnerships for a while. I think they do a great job of finding well-aligned partners and building a lifestyle angle to their brand.

On Brand Architecture & Intellectual Property

If you’re co-branding with your brewery friends across town, then getting your IP squared away probably isn’t a big deal.

But if you’re partnering with any other business, it’s a good idea to take the time to document the product’s IP in a proper legal agreement.

This can include getting mutual trademark licenses in place to allow your brewery and partner organization to use the other’s IP in their marketing.

This sort of agreement should include clauses defining how long the relationship is in place, how you can renew or sell the IP, how to terminate the partnership, etc. 

But you’re also creating new IP through this product launch, so you’ll want to define who owns what and for how long as well.

And you’ll want to trademark and protect these assets just as you would any of your other IP. 

I’m now firmly outside of my lane, so consult your attorney (and urge your co-branding partner to do the same) so you don’t get derailed by an annoying admin thing, or misunderstanding, down the line.


A note on co-branding with influencers 

We wrote earlier about how co-branding with a celebrity can be a good move (sometimes).

One thing to think about when partnering with any person, or brand, is where their audience is.

Yeah, getting The Rock® to hawk your beer could be fun. But can you scale and actually sell your beer to every single one of his followers? (Another important thing to consider here—some of whom might not even be LDA?)

This brings up “nano” or “micro-influencers.” These are generally characterized as anyone that focuses on a specific hobby, topic or interest and has 1k up to 100k followers. 

Social proof is a real phenomenon, so this can be a smart play. 

My caution here would be that you actually meet with this person, in person to feel them out and make sure they’re actually a decent person (not a degenerate who just happens to be charismatic on social media).

There are historically bad examples of celebrity endorsements and co-branding partnerships backfiring.

But I think this threat is just as real for a smaller brewery, and smaller influencers.  
Again, this all comes down to values. Does this influencer person align with your brewery and what you stand for? If so, co-brand with them all day long. 

(Above): Co-branding / endorsement disasters. Partnering with a celebrity can be great. Until it isn't 


Co-branding = signaling 

Co-branding is a fun marketing strategy. 

And I think the underlying mechanism that makes this really compelling isn’t just slapping another company’s logo on your can.

It’s that co-branding sends a signal that your brewery is cool—that other brands want to associate with you. 

This may seem like it’s putting the cart before the horse, but hear me out.

If your brewery is co-branding with a cool local company, that means that your brewery is also cool.

Beyond sales, profit and all the important business stuff that we track and obsess over on a day-to-day basis, this idea may actually be one of the most valuable results you can get from these relationships.

Around the Shop

CODO is presenting at CBC in Las Vegas TOMORROW

Cody and I are having fun prowling around the CBC trade show floor and sitting in on other seminars.

But the fun and games stop tomorrow at 1:30pm Pacific when we take the main stage for our presentation.

Just kidding. There will still be plenty of fun and games (and beers) afterwards,

Come join our seminar if you're in town and want to learn how you can use Brand Architecture to scale your brewery and future proof your new product development work.

Ready to learn more?

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Craft Beer, Rebranded

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.

Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

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