Hey there, hope your week's off to a great start.
At one of our last in-person conference presentations (back in early 2020, right before the world ended) an audience member asked this question, and I’ve wanted to tackle the topic ever since. It feels timely now that everyone is opening back up, and meeting people (!) at brewpubs and taprooms to drink beer (!!!) in person (!!!!!!!!) is a thing again.
I'll address this question from its original perspective: does a brewpub, specifically a taproom-based model with no intention to ever package beer for distribution or carryout, need to have compelling branding? Do you need a beautiful identity system when the beer and taproom experience itself is what will keep people coming back?
*cop out time* It depends.
Our default answer: Your business efforts should always be well-branded. Always. Having an easily graspable, compelling story that allows your customers (and potential customers) to understand what you stand for (and why they should swing by) will always be crucial. Further, why would you dedicate a good portion of your time, energy and treasure to something as personal as a small business and not want its identity to look badass?
But… do you need great branding to stay viable? Let's discuss a couple scenarios.
Scenario 1: You don’t need it (but you should still have it)
Can you open a small brewery in an underserved market, not really invest in great branding, and build a sustainable "lifestyle" business (that is, crank out a few hundred barrels per year, and stay at that level for as long as you want)? You probably can. Even though we're still technically dealing with COVID-19, I do think this model will continue to work, as it has for thousands of breweries across the States over the last decade. Just cross your fingers that another 5 breweries (who might invest in branding) don’t open down the street in the future.
Scenario 2: You won’t last without it
If you are in an area with lots of competition, then great branding becomes table stakes. Imagine opening a small taproom in Denver (or San Diego, or Portland, or Austin, or any major market at this point) without spending any time thinking through your brand strategy and identity. This appraoch would not fly. Strong branding is even more important if your audience skews younger, e.g. design-conscious younger Millennials and ultra media-savvy members of Gen Z.
People want to go to a well-designed taproom. They want a great experience—great beer, great ambiance, great vibe. They want to signal that they are well informed and have great taste. If your brewpub isn’t well-branded, then those thirsty folks are more than likely to go down the street to a place that is.