What is a Modular Brand Identity System?
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Now, onto today's issue.
Most of our BBT issues focus on upstream brand strategy considerations—positioning, Brand Architecture, portfolio management, creative process management, etc.
Today, I want to focus on something more tactical because I think it will be valuable for startup breweries and those who are considering a rebrand alike.
When Cody and I graduated and founded CODO back in 2009, a common pain point we’d hear from our clients was that their current logo was "too long and skinny" to use on Facebook.
"We need a circular (or square) logo to use as our profile pic. But also a wider one to work on our banner."
I tell this story because it's funny to look back on how simple this all was just ~13 years ago (remember when Facebook was an important channel?). But it also highlights an early need for a logo system that works across multiple formats. Something that works equally well in print and digital. Something that can be scaled up to the size of a billboard and down to fit on a business card while still being legible (and attractive).
Our process, and specifically, what we develop for our clients has evolved a lot over the last 13 years. And even more so over the last few years as a brewery’s digital footprint (on social media and third party eCommerce platforms) has become even more important.
Let’s explore what makes a Modular Brand Identity System work and why, if built correctly, it can set your brewery up for long term visual consistency and success.
Modular Brand Identity System for Lost Nomad Brewing.
What is Brand Identity
Your Brand is your customers’ perception of your company, including your products and your culture. It’s their gut feeling about what you do, and ultimately shapes why they love you, hate you, or completely disregard you. Why do they think you’re different? How do they describe you to friends? Why do they, or don’t they, support you?
Your Brand captures what you stand for, what you value and believe, the value you offer, the promises you make and the role you play in your customers’ lives.
Your Brand Identity is surface level. It is a collection of visual elements—symbols and signifiers—that work in concert to tell this story to consumers so they can identify and differentiate you from your competitors.
This can include things like your:
Primary Identity Components
– Logo system
– Color palette
– Typography palette
Secondary Touch Points
– Packaging (primary & secondary)
– Website & social channels
– Print materials
– Point of Sale materials (PoS)
– Environmental design (taproom design, wayshowing, vehicle wraps, festival booths, etc.)
A logo, on its own, is no more a brand than it is a brand identity.
Your brand is your story, reputation and promise.
Your brand identity is a collection of visual tools you use to convey this story to the world.
Top: Modular Brand Identity System for Good George Brewing out of New Zealand. We're working up full case study on this rebrand now. Stay tuned.
Bottom: Modular Brand Identity System for Mission Brewing.
A point of contention
There are those in the design industry who would argue that my Brand Identity definition is incorrect. They would argue that your Identity also includes deeper strategy components—things like your brewery’s positioning, brand voice & personality, Brand Essence, key messaging pillars and brand values as well as your visual signifiers.
Those people are wrong.
All of these things live under your Brand and broader Brand Strategy. And the distinction between your Brand and Brand Identity matters.
For example: If we’re helping a brewery navigate a Brand Refresh, that usually means that their Brand—that is, their positioning and messaging (and Essence and brand voice, etc.) are all working well and in a good place to support their business into the future.
In this case, the work—the actual deliverables we’re designing—are more surface level and centered around their Brand Identity than with addressing structural Brand and Brand Strategy issues.
If we’re rebranding a brewery, then we’re defining (or redefining) all of that upstream Brand Strategy stuff (Brand Essence, positioning, messaging, brand voice & personality, key differentiators and value props, etc.) en route to designing the surface level Brand Identity elements.
Top: Modular Brand Identity System for Left Field Brewery.
Bottom: Modular Brand Identity System for Southern Brewing.
What is a Modular Brand identity System?
A Modular Brand Identity System (a churched up term we coined more than a decade ago) is a flexible system of identity elements that can be deployed as needed to best suit a particular touch point.
This is our answer to that problem we outlined up top. You need a logo that works equally well large and small. In one color and multicolor. On different materials and across various print and digital applications.
But one logo can’t do all that.
This approach helps your brewery’s brand identity stay fresh and lively across different channels and touch points while still being consistent and familiar (and building visual equity).
A Modular Brand Identity System includes:
A Primary Mark
This is your main mark, and as such, should be used on all major touch points. Think packaging, website and social avatars, building signage, etc.
This includes a few key icons that clearly relate to the primary mark. These are set up to accommodate specific use cases you’ll run into out in the wild—horizontal builds, vertical builds, one color applications, comically small logo placements, etc.
This is the supporting cast that provides extra spice and depth to your entire identity system. This can include things like tagline builds, other non-secondary icons (“bugs”), textures, and alternate logo builds. These are usually used in conjunction with your primary mark to add more detail to something (e.g. the admin panel on a can or the side of a 6-pack box, etc.).
Another important part of this system is a concise visual style guide. This keeps your team and any vendors on track so your identity remains consistent over time without wandering off course.
Visual style guides outline the following:
– All of your logo files and hierarchy (e.g. Primary, Secondary, Tertiary marks)
– Your color palette (including CMYK, RGB and Hex values)
– Your typography palette (including specific weights and combinations as well as directions to purchase your own licenses for continued use)
– Application examples (showing how the system can be used across merch, packaging and built environments)
– General rules that your brewery can follow once you deliver all of these assets (e.g. "don't stretch this icon, you bastard," don't change the color, only use this typeface)
A change that’s happening right now…
Motion is becoming an increasingly important element in brand identities. You can thank Instagram, Tik Tok and now YouTube Shorts for this.
I don’t think having a logo that lends itself to motion graphics is a necessity yet, but it will become an important consideration in the coming years. So keep this in mind if you're planning to brand or rebrand your company.
Modular Brand Identity System for BitterRoot Brewing.
Another benefit: A Modular Identity System sets you up for easy merchandising
Breweries in planning often want merch, but don't have thousands of ravings fans (yet) to buy any of it. So in most cases, it doesn't pencil out to have your branding partner make some cool, custom stuff.
This is another place where Modular Brand Identity Systems shine: They essentially give you a baked in merch program.
All those secondary icons and tertiary elements help you move beyond the dreaded “logo slap” that is endemic in startup brewery merch. This is when you apply a single logo to a bunch of different stuff so your customers’ only real choice is whether they want your logo on black shirt or a green one. Thrilling.
With a Modular Brand Identity System, you can build out a decent merch program and spin up an important revenue stream right off the bat (without having to pay your branding partner to develop additional bespoke, merch-specific pieces).
Top: Left Field Brewery's stellar merch program, built following our brand refresh.
Bottom: Our work with Frankie's Pizza Parlor is a good example of how a Modular Brand Identity System can also lend itself to interior design and way showing.
An important caveat
Modular Brand Identity Systems require a deft hand
It would be easy to learn about this concept and think, "Okay, got it. Create a bunch of extra icons and call it good."
But an effective Modular Brand Identity System isn't about creating a bunch of extra stuff. It's about creating only the most important additional elements that work together to help you tell your story.
Anything beyond this core group of assets is just noise.
And it can actually work against you, making your branding less cohesive and more frenetic.
So if you have any additional elements that you're on the fence about through your identity design process, ditch them. While you do need more than one standalone logo, paradoxically, less can actually be more under this approach.
If you’re starting a new brewery or beverage company, make sure your branding partner develops a Modular Brand Identity System.
This will set you up for long term success (and far less headaches) as your business grows.
Around the Shop
Talking Shop with Upland Brewing Co.
It's always fun grabbing a beer and taking shop with David Bower, former CEO of Upland Brewing.
In this conversation, we discuss the merits of chasing distribution vs. doubling down on tap room experiences, how to build brands over time and what it takes to revive a legacy IP beer brand.
Downsizing vs. Right Sizing
"If you’re not growing, you’re dying."
(Unless you grow too fast, over leverage, run out of cash, lay everyone off and have to move to another state under an assumed identity.)
This is an interesting move by Lost Abbey, and frankly, it's refreshing to see a renowned brewery do something like this. I would even offer that it takes real backbone to publicly scale down your operations.
The business world fetishizes growth. And in beer, we've seen an outsized focus on vanity metrics, specifically top line revenue and annual barrel production.
By selling their overly-large brewhouse and getting into a smaller footprint, Lost Abbey is right sizing for the coming decade. And my guess is that they'll become way more profitable because of this move.
Sneak Peeks (works in progress)
Ready to learn more?
The Beyond Beer Handbook
Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.
Craft Beer, Rebranded
Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.
Craft Beer Branding Guide
The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.
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