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VOL. 057

How should a newer brewery think about Brand Architecture?


Most of our Brand Architecture work over the last several years has been with established breweries.

We’ve handled Brand Architecture as part of larger rebranding projects, we’ve developed Sub Brands within a brewery’s portfolio, or more often than not, we’ve simply helped to launch a product in a new category. 

And all of these examples are a given: Brand Architecture is an important tool for scaling your brand and exploring new categories—for finding new relevance and growth, incremental or otherwise. 

But what role does Brand Architecture play in a startup brewery’s go-to-market plan?

Does this concept matter for a nascent brewery? 

My (wishy washy) answer is that, well, it depends. 


Historical context 

We’ve seen a sharp rise in inquiries from breweries in planning, and newly-established breweries over the last year or so, that explicitly need Brand Architecture.

This is a marked difference from, say, five years ago. 

(Though, with the proliferation of Fourth Category products, this isn't surprising.)

Brand Architecture for breweries in planning has traditionally been a straight forward concept.

In almost all cases, you would build a monolithic Branded House out of the gate.

This allows you to build your parent brand and brand equity as early and often as possible—a crucial endeavor for a new business in a competitive market. 

The Branded House model made a lot of sense when breweries were predominantly making beer.

But more often than not, the startups we’re talking to and working with today have plans that span beyond beer.

So it’s usually not a question of if, but when these new releases will happen. 

This opens up an entirely new context and is more challenging than simply building a monolithic brewery brand.

Now, you have to consider which consumer these new products will target, which categories you want to live in, and which occasions and lifestyles you might want to target.

And whether or not your parent brand could credibly stretch to meet all these impending demands  

All of these present interesting Brand Strategy and Brand Architecture problems to work through earlier in your business life cycle. 

Three current client examples 

Here are three start up brewery concepts that we’re working with right now (or have branded over the last year).

1. “We’re opening a traditional taproom model brewery (7 barrel system, 12 taps) and plan to sell 90% of our beer across our bar. But we’re also interested in canning a line of tequila RTDs and possibly a few other tequila beverages (likely a year or so in).”

2. “We’re going to contract brew two different beer brands. We think these could relate in some manner, but we’re planning to target specific lifestyles, and positioning opportunities with each one, so I’m not so sure on how much they need to hang together.”

3. “We’re opening a brewpub and will need flagship packaging (plus a crowler and one-off template) intended for sale as carry out only. We’re more interested in opening additional taprooms than we are getting into distribution.”

I'm not highlighting these examples because they run the full gamut of the various Brand Architecture approaches you might need to consider (they don't), but because they're indicative of the types of conversations we’re having with new breweries every other week.

It’s rare that we talk to or work with a brewery that is planning to make only beer out of the gate.

Almost all of our projects these days include some sort of Brand Architecture component.


Now that we’ve established that today’s start up brewery isn’t the same as yesteryear’s, let’s use each of these examples to examine how Brand Architecture can shape a brewery in planning’s Brand Architecture.

Above: Birdsmouth Beer Co. has a singular focus on lagers. This approach lends itself well to a monolithic, parent brand-forward naming convention. (e.g. Birdsmouth Pils, Birdsmouth Dunkel…)

Scenario 1: You’re opening a taproom-focused brewery to start, and are planning to eventually package / distribute beyond beer offerings. 

In this case, I still think it makes sense to focus on building your parent brand to start, and consider an overarching Branded House model for your beer releases. 

Yes, you have plans for eventually exploring other categories, but we have no idea to what degree your parent brand will (or should) influence these products yet. 

It is worth thinking about how your parent brand could extend into another category during your foundational Brand Strategy work, but you don’t need to focus too heavily on this now because you need to build a strong foundation first in order to have a brand (and brand equity) that is capable (and worthy) of being effectively leveraged down the line. 

If you’re early enough in the process where you’re still considering a corporate name, it could also be worth considering how a particular name could potentially extend it to other categories.

There are important Intellectual Property considerations here (e.g. can you actually trademark one name in different classes), but you should focus more so on how the messaging might shift as you flex into a different category. 

But here again, you should be focusing on your parent brand first and I’d caution you against making decisions that might not end up serving your parent brand long term.

Don’t let the tail wag the dog here.


Scenario 2: You’re contract brewing multiple distinct brands, each with their own audience, occasion and lifestyle focus. 

In this case, it sounds like a true House of Brands model makes the most sense.

Assuming these products are different enough (and target different enough audiences, categories and occasions), then there’s no reason to force them to relate to each other.

And doing so might actually undercut the overall effectiveness of your portfolio.

At the top level (behind the scenes incorporation and legal stuff), you’ll likely form a holding company or “Corporate Brand” vs. a “Parent” Brand.

This entity might not even require branding and just live as an LLC. 

A quick excerpt from The Beyond Beer Handbook on this topic:

In this approach, each brand has its own value proposition, messaging, and positioning, and is completely independent as far as the consumer is concerned. We say “corporate” in this case because “parent” denotes some manner of a relationship with an extension. In a House of Brands model, there is no parent brand connection whatsoever.

One downside of this approach is that it is OpEx inefficient (an churched up way of saying it’s expensive and takes a lot of effort to execute correctly).

Remember, you will be building completely independent brands.

And you’ll have to maintain and market them separately, each with their own digital footprint and eventually, their own teams.

That doesn’t mean this approach isn’t valid, or highly effective. But make sure you know what you’re getting into before diving head first into this model.

Above: Left Field Brewery has leaned into Sub / Endorsed  Brand development as a portfolio strategy over the last few years. (Note the Ice Cold Beer line extension—a "lime" extension, if you will.)

Scenario 3: You’re opening a brewpub and intend to sell almost all of your beer across your bar. You will have packaged beer, but this is for carryout and will not end up in distribution.

This is another case where building a monolithic parent brand (aka a Branded House) will likely make the most sense. 

This scenario also induces an interesting question on the importance of package design.

If you’ll be selling your packaged beer solely as carryout—so it won’t end up in retail vying for attention amongst hundreds of other offerings—do you need to invest a significant amount of capital into your can design?

Look, I run a beer and beverage branding firm. 

So I think that everything you put out into the world should properly reflect your story and your positioning and become a special artifact that your customers can enjoy. 

But if you’re not competing out in the off-prem market, it might make more sense to spend your money on your overall brewpub brand and brand experience than on getting gorgeous cans.

(*This isn’t an excuse to produce ugly, shitty packaging. Just consider where your dollars can be better spent.)

Above: Fernson Brewing made a concerted shift away from their parent brand-forward flagship system and towards building Sub Brands within their portfolio.

Read more about this shift here and listen to a podcast conversation with Fernson for even more context here

Closing thoughts


On building your parent brand

Unless you’re building a true House of Brands out of the gate, you will want to focus on building a strong parent brand.

Over time, your parent brand will become your most important asset.

It can drive long term growth, and eventually be leveraged into new extensions and categories. 

So even if you intend to explore other beverage categories, make sure you get your parent brand right before you start getting distracted by other opportunities.

Further reading

1. Take the Beverage Extension Assessment Tool (B.E.A.T.) to quickly sketch out which Brand Architecture system could work for your brewery and planned extensions.

2. Revisit our thinking on monolithic, parent brand-forward naming conventions vs. fanciful names and Sub Brands.

Around the Shop

NoDa Brewing just launched their rebrand! 

Shoutout to the entire team at NoDa Brewing for launching their rebrand.

We've been working with NoDa on this for nearly a year and it's exciting to see everything start to rollout.

We’re building a full case study on this project. For now, here’s a glimpse at what went into this.

CODO is presenting at the Craft Brewers Conference in Vegas

Cody and I have been selected to host a seminar at CBC this year titled "Leverage your brand or start a new one? Brand Architecture strategies for growing your business."

Shoot me an email if you'll be at the conference and would like to grab a beer and talk shop and/or discuss working together.

Sneak Peeks (works in progress)

Ready to learn more?

The Beyond Beer Handbook

Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.

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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