"What do most beverage startups get wrong?"
Cody and I spoke at the American Craft Spirits Association’s national conference last month. It was fun getting in front of a real crowd again—this was our first time in front of a non-webinar audience in almost 2 years (a hardy welcome to the ~20 new subscribers from that talk, by the way).
During one of our Q&A breaks, an audience member asked us what common mistakes we see beverage startups make.
There are plenty of things we could’ve cited here—something as upstream as working through market research and defining your audience. Or, maybe even dialing in your finances (turns out, COGs matter. Who knew?).
But I decided to stay in my (branding and strategy) lane and mention that we rarely see a beverage startup that properly frames its brand values.
And that's a shame, because of all the things a brewery or Bev-Alc company can do as it comes to market, or repositions through a rebrand, truthfully defining your brand values is one of the most important exercises you can do for the long term health of your company.
Cody and I recorded a podcast episode on this topic late last year, and I’d like to revisit it now in case you might be planning a new venture (or a rebrand) this year.
CODO has worked with more than 65 breweries across the States and around the world. And we've spoken with several hundred more through the course of building our practice. And in these conversations, we hear the same tropes come up over and over and over again when discussing values.
“Our core value is definitely quality. We're going to make the highest quality beer possible with the highest quality ingredients…"
You hear similar refrains about integrity and community and service and “being" local.
We used to ask a brewery about its values, hear these sorts of things, and move on without giving it much more thought.
But in learning more about our own small business, and working with several breweries and hospitality groups that actually use their values as a touchstone for the day-to-day runnings of their business, we now spend more time challenging our client partners on this front.
Let's take a closer look at values so you can frame them correctly, whether you're reinventing a legacy brand or coming to market for the first time.
What are brand values?
Your brand values are the immutable code that governs how you run your business. They are manifested through your actions and behaviors, particularly when no one’s looking. What do you stand for? Why do you brew beer the way you do? What are the non-negotiables for your business? Why do you exist?
Why frame your values?
It’s important to define your brand values because they directly influence your positioning, storytelling, strategic messaging and brand essence. They inspire your internal team, attract the best industry talent and get customers excited to support your brewery (we all want to support companies whose values align with our own).
While we're here, I want to turn you all on to a phenomenal book that shaped how CODO thinks about brand values.
The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni, outlines three different types of values—Aspirational Values, Core Values and Permission-to-play values.
Let's explore each of these:
1. Core Values
These are the driving principles behind your business. They guide all decisions and shape your culture at all levels.
The most important pressure test here is that you should be able to truthfully claim to live by this value more than 99% of your competition.
If you can't make that claim, then this is likely a Permission-to-play value.
2. Permission-to-play (PtP) Values
PtP Values cover the table stakes stuff we outlined above—quality, integrity, craft, community, etc. This is a helpful tier to use as you frame your values because these things are important (yes, you should strive to make the best beer possible. The problem is that this doesn't help to differentiate your brewery).
PtP gives you a bucket in which to throw these values so that they’re not deleted entirely. Again, these are important—maybe not Core Value important—but this tier gives these ideas a place to live within your business strategy.
If I can be real with you here, Cody and I are guilty of falling into this trap ourselves. For the first decade of our business, we've proudly claimed that "Craft" is one of CODO’s core values—that we'll go just as hard on a 2k project as we will a 200k project (we always have and always will, by the way).
The problem is that there are innumerable design firms out there that don't live up to this standard (they’re more worried about hourly billing, or hitting a certain margin, or winning some meaningless award, for example). Yet they still claim that Craft is one of their Core Values every bit as much as we do.
As frustrating as this is, this bumps Craft from Core Value status to Permission-to-Play for us. (and that's okay)
3. Aspirational Values
These are the values that you don't quite live by yet, but that you aspire to reach on a daily basis. This is powerful because it can just as easily shape your day-to-day business decisions as your Core Values themselves.
And if you do it right, these Aspirational Values can become core values over time.
Aspirational Values are my favorite takeaway from The Advantage
because in practice, they operate exactly like a core value. If you aspire to invest more money in your local community, then you will put in place systems and rules to do so when you're able. If you aspire to be more organized as a company, then you will actively think about building SOPs and other systems to achieve that goal.
And if you do this long enough, that Aspirational Value might just become a Core Value.
If you've never framed your brewery's values, now is the time. Kick off 2022 by investing in your business.
And if you have framed your values, try pressure testing them against this rubric to see if they hold up.
Happy New Year! We'll see you next month.
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