A Behind the Scenes Look at Branding a Startup Brewery
And welcome to the ~200 new subscribers (!!!) who made your way here via our annual Beer Branding Trends report—we're glad you're here.
We spend an outsized amount of time on this newsletter talking about brand strategy for existing breweries—how (and when) you should rebrand, how to launch some sort of extension, creating opportunities for differentiation and incremental growth, etc.
For today's issue, I thought it would be fun to take a deep dive, behind the scenes look at what a brewery in planning (or any new beverage company) needs to accomplish through its foundational branding process. And rather than create a quick list, I'll give you a sneak peek at some work we’re doing for a current CODO client so you can see a real world example for each of these steps.
As a quick overview, here's everything you need to receive through a branding process before coming to market, plus or minus a few other deliverables as your unique project context calls for:
Positioning [Podcast Episode]
Brand Values [Podcast Episode]
Brand Essence [Podcast Episode]
A trademarkable name
Identity system & guidelines
Website & social channels
Brand Architecture (if applicable)
Packaging system (if applicable)
Misc. nice-to-haves* like: custom merch, tap handles, business cards, pitch decks, custom email templates, custom email signatures, sales material, vehicle wraps and environmental design (*a lot of these items can come later, unless you're swimming in money and only wear the finest in silks and luxury watches)
We've written about, or recorded podcasts, on many of these topics, so for this behind-the-scenes look, I'll focus on a few key pillars: defining brand strategy (brand essence, positioning, collaborative art direction, story), building the brand identity system, brand guidelines and website for a new brewery.
Let's meet our client, Pete Zimmerman. Pete reached out to CODO to discuss branding his brewery, Lost Nomad, late last year. Here are some high level notes from this first call.
“Exploration through fermentation.” Lost Nomad will debut using a direct-to-consumer model featuring global variations of mainstay craft styles. The brewery will offer horizontal tastings to show customers how beer changes with varied ingredients and cultural influences. Example: you order a flight of lagers, and receive a Munich Helles, a Japanese Rice Lager and a Mexican Lager. (White Labs does something similar with different yeast stains for those fortunate enough to experience their taproom)
Eventually, Lost Nomad will settle down in a brewpub / tap room in Southern Oregon.
Story behind the Lost Nomad Name
Pete and his family play the part of wandering vagabonds. With a military and diplomatic background, moving around a lot is the norm. The name ‘Lost Nomad’ captures the romance and perspective of constant relocation and the fun exploration of beer styles across the world.
My initial impressions & notes
This is a rare new business call where I feel my heart rush a bit. Pete’s got a great concept and it’s already differentiated. The name is phenomenal (it's not fun when I have to diplomatically tell someone they have a shitty and/or un-trademarkable name). And bonus points here for our team clicking with Pete. He's good people and should be great to work with.
We discuss budget, timeline, scope, hopes and dreams. Everything lines up and we’re good to go.
Fast forward through the proposal / contract / kickoff phase. Let's now look at the Brand Essence and Strategy phase of the process.
Here's a BBT Podcast episode on what a project kickoff looks like if you want some more detail on that process.
Brand Strategy & Essence Development
Walking our clients through proposed brand strategy is our first formal presentation (at least as formal as CODO gets. Occasionally I will shave, remove any sticks and/or leaves from my hair, etc.).
The first half of this presentation outlines all of our due diligence to this point and covers positioning objectives, audience definition, core values and key messaging pillars. The back half of the document is where we begin to sketch out (via mood boards) what this could all look and feel like.
Process Note: None of this strategy is worth anything if the final work doesn't, at a glance, quickly convey the story we’re aiming to tell. Brand Essences and mood boards allow us to quickly prototype what a brand can look and feel like without investing time and treasure into making stuff that ultimately might not be appropriate.
So we're not just looking at cool pictures here, this is an important process step that allows our clients to be directly involved in the art direction process by giving feedback about what they do and don't like. We then take that feedback and pressure test it against the agreed upon strategy to ensure everything is still making sense. We push back, or ask for clarification as needed, and then move onto the identity design phase once we’re all on the same page.
Back to Lost Nomad:
Three essences we developed for Last Nomad were titled "Your Favorite College Professor," "Restless Adventurer," and "Home Style Hospitality."
There is subtle overlap in all of these (by design), but enough of a unique point of view that we're able to focus more heavily on a particular value or differentiator. This process focuses 90% on Lost Nomad (as a business) itself—what type of experience Pete wants to build. And the other half on the types of customers Pete wants to attract (what role will Lost Nomad play in their lives).
After a few revisions, the Brand Essence ended up being titled: Indiana Jones, Minus the Tweed.
Brand Identity Sketching
With the brand strategy and Essence set, we begin the identity sketching process.
*** Now if this were a slick video, and not an email, we'd have some fast-paced music here (probably safe, corporate hip hop). And a cool montage of our design team sketching and talking shop over coffee and/or beer (hey, we drink beer in our office, aren’t we cool?!?). We'd be covering our
war room walls with post-it notes and collect lots of B-roll of Cody wildly gesticulating whilst our designers peck away at tablets (oh, they use only the latest tech) and nod way too vigorously.
There could be some drama—a computer freezes resulting in a week of lost work. Our kegerator's nitrogen tank kicks just as we clock in for the morning. One of our designers spontaneously combusts like a Spinal Tap drummer…
But we're professionals. And most of this shit is designer theater. ***
In real life, CODO's process looks like this: our team has 2 to 3 weeks to sketch on their own schedule. We come together to look at initial ideas internally about 10 days in. We revisit the brand strategy and have a frank conversation about what's working and what isn't from this initial work. Are there any killer concepts here? Or maybe some ideas that can be combined? “Maybe that icon isn't strong enough to anchor the core identity, but it could make for a cool shirt.” Etc.
At this point, we decide to keep pushing a few concepts and ideas to see if we can get them to a place we’re proud of, or we just start murdering darlings.
Process Note: We don’t share any of this first batch of work with our clients.
job duty as designers to help our clients navigate this entire process—to manifest their vision as closely as possible (and again, to push back and challenge them where needed).
So even though there’s always some really fun stuff in the mix in these early critiques, if it’s not good enough (by our standards), or on message and in-line with strategy enough, or just not compelling enough to present, then we’re doing our clients a disservice by sharing it.
Anyone can sling together a cool logo concept or icon. But that icon has to be appropriate and help you tell your story so you can build your business.
Off the high horse and back to Lost Nomad:
Here's a peek at some of the initial work our team shared during this internal critique.
From here, we begin refining to build the client-facing presentation. This is an important point because it’s the first time Pete will see any design work proper. (In my mind, brand strategy is design, but c’mon. No one’s going to get as excited to review a 9-page PDF outlining positioning and messaging objectives as they are when reviewing logo design, no matter how much we church it up).
Process Note: We used to get nervous before these presentations. We would rehearse over and over again. But that was 10 years and 65+ brewery clients ago. Over the years, these presentations have gotten imminently more fun and stress free because our process has evolved to be more like stepping stones than big leaps of faith.
Our clients should be blown away and delighted by anything we present. But they should also completely understand why we’re presenting what we’re presenting—why it is appropriate, why it makes sense, and how it can help them tell their story.
Back to Lost Nomad:
Here are a few slides that we shared with Pete during this initial presentation.
From here, we move into the revision phase. Pete had a few pieces of great, constructive feedback (here's a podcast episode on how to give great feedback). He loved the second direction (soaring bird) with some elements from the first direction thrown in. We had a long list of tweaks we wanted to make internally as well, so we began revisions.
Process Note: Now we enter a point in the process where we spend several dozen hours refining things that no one in the world will ever notice—kerning typography, adjusting stroke widths, meticulously speccing colors, refining every single pixel until it's perfect, etc.
If Cody and I were better business owners, we would try to quell this enthusiasm amongst our team. But it hasn't steered us wrong in 13 years, so why start now?
Okay, I'll fast forward here. We refined and finalized the brand identity and began working on Pete's website and brand guidelines.
Website Considerations for a startup
Pete is far enough out from launch that a simple microsite will work for now (think informational content more than the heavy functionality a more established brewery would need—beer finders and eCommerce, etc.).
This will serve as a placeholder until he opens up shop and requires a more robust build, complete with eCommerce, tap lists and all the usual functionality you expect from a brewery website in 2022.
Process Note: We use a program called Invision to prototype websites. This is a great tool because we can essentially build an interactive PDF that a client can view in a web browser and click through as if it were a live site.
This makes the website process smooth and easy because we’re not asking the client to imagine anything—they can see exactly what we’re proposing on hover states, or CTAs, or videos, etc.
We're still finalizing the site (as of the time I'm writing this), so I don't have a live link to share yet. But it will be very close to the Invision comp above.
Let's skip ahead to the brand guidelines.
We wrap all of our branding projects up by developing a thorough set of Brand Guidelines. This document serves two purposes. First, it acts as a simple style guide outlining the different logo types, Pantone color values and specced typography palette.
This ensures that Pete can maintain a consistent brand as he begins working with other vendors (ordering glassware and merch, etc.).
The second purpose of brand guidelines is to capture all of the brand strategy work we've completed so you can protect your investment. (I’m always amazed when a brewery will drop a huge amount of money on a rebrand only to start putting out inconsistent social media posts, packaging or merch 6 months later. This is occurring less frequently these days, and I like to think that brand guidelines are a part of that change. But maybe that’s just navel gazing on my part?)
And that’s a wrap, on this initial scope, anyway. We’ll continue working with Pete on small projects here and there as he continues to develop his plan, and we'll eventually get to tackle environmental design, package design, custom merch and a more robust website.
If you’ve actually read this far (shoot me an email with the subject line "Bananas" — first person to do so gets a free copy of our first book, the Craft Beer Branding Guide).
The final (final) step in our process, once the project is wrapped and we conduct our internal AARs, is whichever CODO designer developed the final identity wins the coveted CODO strap.
They then proceed to lord this victory over everyone else in the office until the belt switches hands. Usually on the next project.
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