Who should you involve in your rebrand? And why?
Good morning. (And happy Spooky Season to those who observe.)
We’ve written a lot about brewery rebrands this year and today, I wanted to discuss a somewhat unsexy, yet extremely important element of making sure these projects are successful: Organizing your internal and external team.
It’s easy (and fun!) to look at the beautiful identity design and packaging work that can come out of a brewery’s rebrand. But none of that can happen if you don’t have a solid project team in place as well as identify other key stakeholders to engage throughout the process.
This is important for research and gathering project context as well as critical emotional intelligence considerations later on.
So let’s discuss the various stakeholder groups you need to engage throughout your project to ensure your rebrand (or new product launch) is set up for success.
(Above): We dive into more detail on today's topic in our Craft Beer, Rebranded book and companion Workbook.
It all begins with your Executive Team
The most important group of people involved in your rebrand will be your Executive Team. These are the folks who are directly responsible for approving and/or vetoing strategic recommendations and design concepts throughout the project.
Among this group will be a project sponsor (or "driver")—usually a Marketing Director—whose role is to champion the project internally, remove barriers, gather feedback and build consensus along the way.
Each brewery will have a different management makeup, and titles, but we usually see people from the following roles on the Executive Team:
– CMO (marketing lead)
– CSO (sales lead)
– COO (logistics lead)
– CEO (vision & culture lead)
– XYZ other communication person (Head of Brand, eCommerce lead, Brand Director, In-house designer(s), etc.)
– Founder(s) and/or Owner(s)* (*if they’re still involved in the brewery’s day-to-day goings-on)
How big should your Executive Team be?
One of the biggest threats you’ll face during your rebrand isn’t your competition, or rapidly shifting economic market forces, or even losing your long time fans as you roll out the update.
No, the biggest foe you’re squaring up against will be the dreaded committee.
Whether this is an actual committee who has to approve design work (or a board of directors), or just something that arises organically as a desire to make everyone on your team happy (usually via compromise), any decision made by committee will drive great creative work into the ground until it is heartbreakingly bland if not outright bad.
How do we prevent this?
By making sure that the number of real decision makers—your Executive Team—is small. How small?
As small as possible.
Yes! That’s it!!
We like an Executive Team to be somewhere between 4–6 people. 5 is better than 6. And 4 is better than 5. Anymore than 6 people and you run the risk of designing by committee.
I can keep beating this drum, but you get my point. The larger your Executive Team gets, the harder it becomes to make bold decisions and create work that is strategically-sound and beautiful and that stands out and that will help your brewery move the needle.
Your Executive Team (along with your branding partner) sets the tone for this project—what do you want to accomplish? What pain points are we working to resolve? What are your broader positioning and messaging goals?
Don’t compromise on these important objectives.
Keep your Executive Team small.
There are other important stakeholders who can offer valuable insights and opinions through this process as well. But before we outline those groups, let’s stay in quasi-Executive Team territory and discuss the Shadow Council.
Hidden Stakeholders (aka, the Shadow Council)
OooOooh the Shadow Council. (Does this sound menacing? I’m going for menacing and foreboding here.)
A hidden stakeholder (or, the Shadow Council) is anyone whom you don’t want directly involved at the Executive Team level, but whose opinion still carries enough weight to alter the course of the project.
This can include a founder or owner, a key investor(s), your board or possibly even a committee within your business. (We’ve even seen people’s spouses in this role, which is always delightful and not at all awkward to navigate.)
In the past, we’ve described this scenario as the “swoop.” As in, someone can swoop in at the last minute and ruin six months of strategy and design work simply by saying they don’t like something.
We don’t use the “swoop” language when discussing this with clients anymore because it’s just too cutesy.
And in case I’m not being clear here, if there are people who fall into this category in your business, and if they’re not engaged early, often and throughout the creative process, I can almost guarantee that your project will, at best, hit the rocks at some point.
At worst, this can lead to a terminated contract and even worse than that, depending on how you look at it, this can lead to subpar design work that doesn’t help you grow your brewery’s business.
Identifying anyone that could fall into this category isn't fun, and this sometimes involves a little behind the scenes politicking and tap dancing, but it's a necessary step in the onboarding process to ensure your project is set up to run as smoothly as possible.
So this is a serious topic, but completely surmountable. I’ll outline some ways we manage this near the end of this piece.
Okay, super serious and scary detour over. Now let’s discuss the other stakeholder groups you should interview through your rebranding process.
(Above): Awkwardly holding hands is the fastest way to unlock new synergies between our teams. Also, why would we use a perfectly good table when the floor is right there?
Internal stakeholders to include
Your Executive Team is involved throughout the entire course of your rebrand. But there are several other important people with valuable insights who need to be interviewed during the research and strategy phase to ensure your branding partner has an informed lay of the land.
You will generally see department leads (sales, marketing, design, etc.) on the Executive Team itself. But it can also be valuable to speak with other folks from those departments as well.
So in no particular order, we like to speak with people from the following functions / roles:
– Marketing (including field marketing staff, social media managers, etc.)
– Sales (including field sales reps / national accounts / chain leads—whatever level of hierarchy your business has in place, it's good to talk with someone at each level.)
– In-house creative team (creative director, designers, social media folks, etc.)
– Production & brewery staff (head brewer, innovation folks, logistics & packaging people can become important later on as you plan to roll out new packaging, etc.)
– Front of House / taproom folks (long time servers, hospitality managers, etc.)
– Emeritus leadership: This includes folks who may have moved on from your brewery to work at another company (or more often, retire), that have valuable historic institutional knowledge about your business and are still interested in helping it succeed. This usually includes past CEOs, COOs or founders who are no longer in the business.
Your brewery may have other important positions that fall outside of these roles. If that's the case, add those people to your list so your branding partner knows to interview them as well.
Now let's outline some valuable external stakeholders you need to engage through your rebrand.
External stakeholders to include
Key Accounts / Retailers
We love talking with key retailers when possible. These folks are often your loudest evangelists and do more selling than most breweries may realize.
I witnessed this firsthand at a liquor store just last month. I was looking at the cold box when a young guy came in and asked the person behind the counter if they had any local porters. (Yes, porters—I time traveled to 2006!) The clerk walked them over to the beer aisle and offered his opinions on 2 or 3 options. It was fun to watch. (I'm an Ethnographer now.)
Beyond this role, key accounts and retailers are also a wealth of qualitative data.
They have a bead on which styles are trending and what people are coming in and asking for. And what sorts of other products are they buying alongside your beer. Etc.
We like to talk to retailers to get a sense of how they see the market evolving and the role your brewery plays in it.
Plus, involving them in the process shows them that your brewery respects their opinion (and can lead to even more evangelizing later on).
We’ve met some phenomenal distributors over the years who have offered invaluable insight into the local market. We’ve also met some less than stellar ones.
Quick aside: I love bringing distributors up with our clients to see how they react—does a vein pop out of their forehead? No… Cool, let's schedule a conversation.
Assuming you have a productive relationship with your distributor, they can be great for providing invaluable insights on the local market and all manner of quantitative data.
They can tell you exactly how many cases of each SKU is moving per week, whether or not you're hitting depletion targets, which products are moving and in what market and format, and how that all ebbs and flows with seasonal changes and stacks up against the broader market. They can also spot opportunities for marketing and emergent beer trends.
This all provides valuable hard data to balance the fuzzier, qualitative insights we're gleaning from out other conversations and fieldwork.
What about consumer research?
This may enter sacred cow territory here, but I’m not 100% sold on broad consumer research as being either helpful or necessary during a rebrand. (How was the research gathered? What questions were asked? How were they asked? What kind of person actually participates in a survey? Etc.)
But I do think it’s valuable to speak with long time customers if possible, so you can get their perspective on what makes your brewery special. The few times we’ve done this, it’s usually just been with regulars—Day One folks—from your tasting room.
You’re probably not going to find anything revelatory in these conversations, but it will round out the other quantitative insights you’re gaining along the way.
Misc thoughts + wrapping up
A process point: One-on-one meetings vs. small group conversations
We’ve historically recommended one-on-meetings in place of small group (and especially large group) conversations.
Our reason for this was that it allows everyone's voice to be heard. Even in small groups, one person can be extroverted, or have more influence (e.g. an owner vs. a newly-hired in-house designer), etc. By sitting down for individual conversations, we get clear points of view that aren't skewed by interpersonal dynamics.
There's still a lot of value in one-on-one conversations, but we've also found that small group conversations are a great setting for your Executive Team to to work through ideas and discuss any disagreements.
Our view has actually changed positions on this (moving away from preferring one-on-one conversions) over the last few years because it's a great way to make sure everyone—particularly your Executive Team—is on the same page.
You know yourself. And your team. And you probably know if a group conversation would work well or not. Keep this in mind as you prepare for your rebrand to ensure everyone's opinion is heard.
On the Shadow Council (and how you decide who needs to be interviewed)
Whenever we bring this subject up with our clients, the tone can quickly become negative. "Yeah, X is an investor, but we don't think she should be involved for Y reason."
As we've already discussed, ignoring these people isn't an option. Over the years, we've found the best way to mitigate this issue is simply to listen to them.
Sit down with them and involve them in the process. Make sure their voice is heard and that they feel heard.
Don't assume that this person doesn't have any valuable insights to offer. (I would go as far as offering that they might even know something that you don't.)
If you (and your branding partner) treat everyone in the process with respect and dignity, your research will be more informed for it.
And this is critical for setting your rebrand up for success.
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