In defense of the
We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on how your brewery can build Sub Brands this year. This was spurred by two major trends:
1. Shoppers are increasingly buying beer based on brand more than style (e.g. “I want a 6-pk of Voodoo Ranger,” vs. “I want a 6-pk of IPA”), a concept that supports building more individualized brands within your broader portfolio. We first detailed this shift in our 2023 Annual Beer Branding Trends Review.
2. Anecdotally, we’re seeing this every day in our project work here at CODO. After brewery rebrands and package refreshes, building some sort of Sub Brand (e.g. an IPA family, a craft lager or a Hop Water) has been one of our most common engagements over the last year.
So Sub Brands have been top of mind around the shop for a while now. (Revisit our Sub Brand Summer series for a full run down on this subject.)
And while this is an important Brand Architecture strategy for craft breweries right now, I worry that by focusing too heavily on this specific idea, you may lose sight of the importance of continuing to build your brewery’s parent brand itself.
And there’s no better way to do that than by building a robust Branded House, for at least part of your portfolio.
So that's what we're going to discuss today: The merits of the Branded House Brand Architecture model. What is it, when does it make sense, and why should your brewery—whether you're 25+ years old or still in-planning—might want to consider it as you build, or rebuild your portfolio.
(Above): Your brewery's parent brand is most prominent on the left side of the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum, under the Branded House model.
As you make your way further to the right on the Continuum, into Endorsed Brand and House of Brands territory, your parent brand's role diminishes until it's no longer present anywhere.
Starting out: What is a Branded House?
From The Beyond Beer Handbook:
A Branded House architecture centers around a strong parent brand (corporate name and brand identity) that is prominently displayed on all products.
A Branded House creates a consistent experience across all your brands and touch points, building equity and recognition for the parent brand every step of the way. Visually, this manifests in the consistent and intentional use of logos, icons, typography, color and packaging composition.
Under this approach, your parent brand is the main purchasing driver (the reason someone is buying your product) for customers.
Read more about the role your parent brand plays in your Brand Architecture here.
(Above): A brewery with a clear point of view and positioning is in a good place to fly under a Branded House, so long as any new products align with their established messaging.
– Dogfish Head focuses on culinary ingredients and processes, and this approach (and brand) naturally extended to their distillery business.
– Prost is an all German-style brewery, so their flagship line can safely carry the same identity across the board.
– Athletic Brewing is 100% NA, so you know exactly what you're getting if you see an Athletic can in the cooler.
When can a Branded House make sense for your brewery?
For the new brewery / brewery-in-planning (a Branded House offers recognition through clarity and repetition)
A Branded House is the most common Brand Architecture system in the craft beer industry, and it’s particularly valuable for startup breweries.
And this isn’t by accident.
As a new brewery, you're fighting a pitched battle from day one. You're competing with established local breweries, not to mention Big Craft, Big Beer and beyond beer products for customer mindshare (general awareness), draft lines and space in the cold box.
(You’re also competing with local bars and restaurants, though that’s a conversation for another day.)
By uniting all of your products under your single parent brand—under a singular banner—you can make a bigger impact at launch. Through repetition and consistency, a Branded House will lend a feeling of reliability over time.
In other words, whenever someone comes across your brand in the wild (online or on a draft list), they will see your parent brand (again and again and again…). And all of these impressions add up to help you stay top of mind next time they go out to buy beer.
This is such an important benefit that, unless you have a clear vision for a single product brand, or you intend to build a true House of Brands (a portfolio of disparate products with zero tie to each other), then the Branded House should (in almost all cases) be your default operating system when coming to market.
When you have a crystal clear point of view and will use that idea to guide future new product development (NPD)
If you have a well known point of view and positioning (e.g. Athletic Brewing's focus on NA beer or Prost's all-German-style portfolio), then a Branded House can be an effective way of uniting everything you do under that idea.
Another great example here is Dogfish Head's historic focus on culinary ingredients and boundary-pushing product development. This differentiated point of view lends itself well to a Branded House that starts at their flagship beer portfolio and seamlessly carries through (via Brand Extensions) to their distillery and canned cocktails.
For the established brewery with too many disparate offerings that have become unwieldy to manage
A Branded House can also be a great model for an established brewery that wants to rein in and focus its portfolio.
This is a common pain point we see in our brewery rebranding work. If you’ve spent years releasing beers with fanciful names and marketed more on their own, you may have skipped over building your parent brand equity along the way.
Throw in a few broader economic drivers like SKU rationalization, changing consumer preferences and breweries taking a hard look at their COGS to determine which beers they can (or can't) continue to profitably produce, and you have an opportunity to restructure your portfolio. Sometimes dramatically.
And segmenting your lineup, if even partially, can allow you to build a more consistent “house” look so that you show up more consistently in retail.
Sub point to this last idea:
A Branded House can be a great way to re-introduce a brewery's portfolio coming out of a rebrand
While every brewery will have a different competitive set, project context and Brand Equity to consider, rolling out your flagship packaging under a monolithic Branded House after a rebrand can be a great way of introducing your new look and feel to your fans.
We wrote about this tactic specifically in our Mission Brewing rebrand case study: "This first wave of package design is purpose-built to reintroduce Mission Brewing to the market, and to help customers become acquainted with the revived look and feel."
(Below): We built Mission Brewing's flagship lineup specifically to introduce their updated brand identity. We'll push this look for a few years before considering any updates (e.g. fleshing out additional Sub Brands and extensions).
(Above): Big Lug Brewing released their flagship line under a Branded House model explicitly to leverage their renowned brewpub experience—to better connect their own-premise vibe with the off-premise.
On the Branded House: A few benefits + a drawback
A benefit: A Branded House allows you to quickly (and affordably) generate new brands and labels
A Branded House, or more specifically, a global label template, can be valuable when your brewery team has limited internal capacity and needs an efficient way to generate ongoing new packaging on tight timelines.
From an internal process standpoint, rolling out new products is easier (than, say, developing a Sub Brand) under a monolithic Branded House because you’re never starting from scratch. Your messaging is already defined and customers know what to expect. You may already have a package design template set up, or at least know the cues that need to be present in order to carry the message of the parent brand.
And all of this helps you more effectively manage tight timelines.
A quick note: It's important not to conflate a label template system with a Branded House. To wit, you can build a Branded House without using templates and while still using individualized labels. However, your lineup will lose some of its punch, and perceptual billboarding ability, out on shelf without some semblance of consistency.
Read more about the pros and cons of creating label templates here.
A benefit: A Branded House allows for greater economies of scale
Focusing all of your effort and budget into building your parent brand can help you gain traction sooner than if you're dividing your time (and resources) across multiple brands.
Every packaging decision you make, every event you host, every community partnership you make, every beer you release—all of these things help to develop your parent brand’s reputation and solidify your positioning.
This makes the Branded House the most cost-effective operating expense (OpEx) model available.
A drawback: If one touch point falters, your entire brand can be affected
A Branded House approach can be a double-edged sword.
It can help you efficiently build a strong brand and gain consumer mindshare. But an otherwise annoying issue—PR blunder, QC problem, etc.— can cause your broader portfolio to take a hit simply by association.
Fair or unfair, this is an important consideration to keep in mind when building a Branded House.
(Above): Good George Brewing reined in their expansive portfolio by introducing a Branded House at flagship level. Then, they extend via Sub or Endorsed Brands depending on which category they're entering and consumer group they're targeting.
Conclusion (On Branded Houses and Hybrid Brands)
Your brewery's Brand Architecture will rarely present a black or white decision.
Are Sub Brands a prevalent and important strategy in craft beer right now? Yes. Is the Branded House still an important foundational pillar for most craft brewery's portfolios? Yes!
I wanted to close here by mentioning the Hybrid Brand Architecture system. (We're dedicating a future BBT issue to this topic, so stay tuned.)
A Hybrid Brand Architecture model gives you the leeway to blend whichever Architecture strategies make the most sense for your parent brand and a given new release. E.g. You can have a flagship lineup that falls under a Branded House as well as an Endorsed Brand with its own series of brand-specific house-branded Line Extensions. And so on.
This insight isn't an excuse to take your branding and positioning decisions lightly—let's just create a new brand. It doesn't matter, we're Hybrid now!
Far from it.
A Hybrid model better equips your team to make the right decisions that honor your parent brand while also setting your new products up for as much success as possible.
And I bet if you look at your brand, and your positioning, and your competitive set, and your customers, that you'll find a place for a Branded House somewhere in your portfolio no matter which other strategies you already have in place or intend to build.
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