How to make your Brand Strategy actionable (on Brand Essences & alchemy)
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Okay, let's discuss Brand Strategy and alchemy.
Defining your brewery’s Brand Strategy is a critical business function. This process will map out how you intend to differentiate your business in the long term, and outlines all the components your team needs to help you achieve that objective—so how to get from here to there.
A proper Brand Strategy process will frame things like your positioning and key differentiator(s), brand personality and voice, your brand values (all three levels), your key messaging as well as your day-to-day mission.
But from a practical standpoint, all of this work doesn’t help you if it’s not wrapped up in a story and art direction. Even the best documented, all-killer-no-filler 2 or 3 page Brand Strategy doc won’t give your team anything to execute against if it’s not accessible and immediately actionable. It’ll just join the other digital miscellanea you've collected over the years, and languish in the cloud.
The lynchpin that allows your team to put this strategy into action is your Brand Essence.
So I want to explore this today, in case you’re thinking about rebranding, or bringing a new brand to market in the coming year.
Let’s define Brand Essence and examine the role it plays in your Brand Strategy and positioning process as well as its role in art directing your identity (via creative alchemy!).
(Above): The top image is how we initial shared the 'Utilitarian Beer' Brand Essence to the Birdsmouth Beer team. And you can see how that idea evolved and took shape as we made our way through their brand identity and package design process.
Read more about our work with Birdsmouth here.
What is your Brand Essence?
Your Brand Essence is a distillation of the most compelling idea behind your brewery. It’s your why and your mission, vision, values and positioning all wrapped up into a concise statement.
It is mostly an internal tool used to capture the spirit of your brewery as opposed to a public-facing statement or tagline (though it can transform into a public-facing asset in some contexts—we'll circle back to this in a bit). Think of it as a way of driving every decision you make from the moment of its definition through the entire (re)branding process.
It serves as a touchstone against which we can weigh any design concepts. (e.g. Does this packaging direction reinforce our essence, or does it stray?) If we can get super-specific and granular on your messaging now, it will make all downstream branding work—the graphic design portion—more consistent and clear.
Here are a handful of brand essences we’ve developed over the years:
– Squared Away Advocate
– Relaxed Fit
– San Diego Icon
– Here Be Dragons
– Your Favorite Uncle
– PNW Provenance
– Cider Renegade
– Flyover Craft
– Indiana Jones, Minus the Tweed
– Blue Collar Scientists
– Working Class Hero
– Relentless Tinkerer
(Above): Prost Brewing's Brand Essence, Berlin Modern, blends traditional German aesthetics with more contemporary trappings to immediately convey their core differentiator (authentic German-style beer) in a way that resonates with younger Colorado (and now far beyond) drinkers. Read more about how we blended these ideas here.
Some notes on format ( + blending compelling ideas )
Our first major presentation during a branding, or rebranding project, is Brand Strategy. This includes all of our due diligence—notes, findings and recommendations—from our field work and research. Along with this, we’ll usually share two or three Brand Essences.
But if a Brand Essence is the single most compelling idea behind your brewery, why would you show two or three options?
That’s a great question (and I’m glad you asked).
It almost all projects, multiple compelling ideas will emerge from our research. And they are often all contenders for viable differentiators and Essences. So by pulling these out and examining them individually, we can weigh the merits of each one on its own, and then blend the other ones in from there as needed.
This is the first bit of alchemy that occurs during the branding process: Where we’re codifying and putting onto paper something that has, here-to-fore, lived entirely in your team's head(s).
From a process standpoint: This also allows our clients to weigh in at a critical juncture and gut check everything. Are these ideas good to go or have we missed something important along the way?
In either case, this gives us a good opportunity to make sure we’re aligned as we move into the next phase of the process: Visual art direction.
(Above): Here are several examples of how we present initial Brand Essences. You’ll see a title—the Essence itself—the beginnings of a brand story (so what problem are you solving for people, what role will you play in their life, what is your point of view and how are you uniquely different from your competitors) as well as your brand personality and visual cues.
Moving from concept to visuals ( art direction, rapid prototyping & alchemy )
If defining your Brand Essence is the first bit of alchemy that happens during the branding process, then the next piece of alchemy—the real magic—lies in actually figuring out what these ideas should look and feel like.
The leap from a well defined Brand Strategy and creative brief to developing a Modular Brand Identity System and packaging that works in the market and helps you build your business is a major (major) hurdle.
Imagine going straight from a kickoff conversation to looking at initial logo concepts a few weeks later. That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room to make sure your branding partner understands what you're trying to accomplish (or even what your team is envisioning).
It’s this point in the creative process where most of your process hiccups (i.e. seeing stuff you don't like) will occur.
Mood Boards allow us to smooth over this transition and once again ensure that we’re aligned with our clients as to what your brand should look like.
A Mood Board is a collage that art directs what your brand could look and feel like.
The type of imagery we curate will shift depending on what we're slated to tackle once we're wrapped up with Strategy. e.g. If we're revamping your entire portfolio from the ground up, then we'll gather more packaging and print examples to demonstrate what a particular direction can look like. A website revamp will include more digital examples, and so forth.
This approach has two benefits:
1. From a process standpoint ( emotional intelligence + aligning your team )
Your team has a vision in mind (often, different visions amongst the various stakeholders). And our team, as external subject matter experts, will also develop a vision and point of view for what your brand should look like as we progress through the process.
Once we’ve defined your Brand Essence, the next challenge will be to work together as a team to art direct that idea. And sharing and discussing multiple Mood Board options is a great way for your team to weigh in and shape the process (and more often than not, work through any disagreements you may have amongst your group).
Some of the liveliest debates in our work happens in these presentations because now it’s time to put up or shut up. We’ve worked through Brand Strategy and defined your Essence, an now your team has to fully commit: What does this all look like? And do we all still agree that this is the correct path?
2. Mood Boards as a rapid prototyping tool
The second major benefit of using Mood Boards to transition from strategy to visual art direction is that it allows you to rapidly prototype what your brand identity (or packaging, merch, website) can look and feel like without spending weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to get to that initial (shiny) presentation.
If your Mood Boards are built properly, you can get a sense of how your logo and typography and colors will look and feel. And you can quickly determine what feels right and what feels wrong.
Again, this gets everyone on the same page so you know what to expect when we doing finally get to share (graphic) design work.
(Above, Top): Mood board examples.
(Above, Bottom): A few examples of how we document the final Brand Essence in our Brand Guidelines. We're constantly tinkering with how we design and deliver these docs so that they're more useful. Here's a fun podcast we recorded on guidelines a while back if you want our unvarnished opinion on this subject.
I mentioned earlier that your Brand Essence is usually an internal process tool—a way to put name to an idea so that we can efficiently move onto art direction and build your identity.
But sometimes, your Essence can become public-facing. Though it's worth mentioning that developing a tagline is an important process in its own right—one that blends your Essence with a direct value prop in a short, quippy, available-to-be-trademarked way. So it's never a guarantee that your Essence can be pressed into service this way.
Whether or not your Essence becomes public, I think the most important role this concept plays is as an internal battle flag for your team.
Your Brand Essence should serve as an ongoing touchstone that guides important business decisions (Where do we open our next taproom? What sort of extensions should we consider? What sort of businesses and/or brands could it make sense to acquire down the line?).
And many of our clients have used this language to recruit and train new employees, wrapping it up as part of their larger
indoctrination onboarding process to teach people (this can be C-suite hires down to taproom staff) why their brewery is so special and how to tell that story to everyone they meet.
This gets everyone rowing in the same direction and can engender a powerful esprit de corps throughout your business.
And with enough of that, you can conquer the world.
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