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VOL. 033

When should you refresh your packaging? 


There hasn’t been a single day since 2018 where we haven’t been engaged in a brewery rebranding project. This includes thorough rebrands, brand refreshes and today's topic—package refreshes.  

In this scenario, your Brand—your story, positioning, messaging and importantly, your brand identity—are all (ostensibly) good to go. You just want your packaging to work harder for you and/or you need to address some more surface level issues within your packaging system.

Package refreshes aren’t as heavy a lift as a formal rebrand (in terms of budget, time, energy and risk), but can have a similar outcome as a more thorough update (in terms of ROI and growth) IF the criteria and project context are just right and IF the work is handled correctly.

We’ve lead several of these engagements over the years (and are currently seeing an uptick in the number of breweries who reach out to us to discuss them).

So today, we want to discuss when we think this can be a great approach, as well as some situations where it might not be your best course of action. 

Good? Let's go. 



What is a package refresh?

A package refresh is simply when you update your packaging on its own while leaving your core brand identity as is. So the end result would be new packaging adorned with your existing logo. 

These are tactical projects; think of them as a fresh coat of paint. And they can make a lot of sense, in theory, when your brewery’s positioning, messaging and broader brand and brand identity are good-to-go and your packaging just needs a facelift. 

(Notice that subtle “In theory” caveat? We’ll circle back that little guy here in a bit.)

Tinker Coffee's package refresh.

When package refreshes can make sense (and move the needle)

It probably goes without saying that for a package refresh to make sense, your Brand (positioning, messaging, values, voice, personality, etc.) itself needs to be in a good place and actively helping you to achieve whatever long term goals you have.

If your Brand isn’t in a strong place, then anything you do to dress up your brewery’s outward appearance (packaging, identity, website, etc.) will not get the results you’re after. 

This goes beyond branding and design as well: If you’re releasing beer and products that aren’t as perfect as possible—if you’ve got dissolved oxygen issues or off flavors or XYZ QC issues—then updating any of your identity or packaging is folly. 

And beyond your products, if your core executive team (and overall staff) isn’t squared away and ready for the next phase of your business, then investing in your branding might not be a good move either.

But to flip this: If your brand identity is solid and you have all of these other core foundational Brand and business functions in a good place, then a package refresh can work wonders. 

Common reasons breweries refresh their packaging  

Reasons for refreshing your packaging can be similar to why you want to rebrand, though generally not as existential. (e.g. “Our can art is inconsistent,” vs. “Our current identity doesn’t match who we are as a company anymore, let alone where we see ourselves in 5 years.”) 

Here are a handful of recurring reasons we’ve heard from breweries who are considering this move: 

– You want to freshen things up ahead of a big move—launching a new market, courting a new chain retailer, prepping for a seasonal chain reset or for ABP season, etc.

– There is a disconnect between your brand story’s and positioning (which you feel are in a good place) and your package design itself. 

– You want to address the hierarchy between your brewery’s brand, beer names and style. 

– You’re launching a new beyond beer product and in doing so, realized that your other packaging just isn’t that great.

– You’re making some format changes to save costs on production (and possibly decrease turnaround time for new releases)—moving from a 16oz to a 12oz can, moving from bottles to cans, from painted cans to pressure sensitive labels, etc. 



But far and away, the thing we hear in almost every single package refresh project is the desire to address simple inconsistencies and just freshen things up.  

It’s easy to have your packaging aesthetics wander over time. Even more so if you’ve cycled through a few in-house designers over the years, or have had different agencies or freelance partners in this mix. 

Even just a few years of inconsistent packaging and broader communication work and you’ll end up with a portfolio that doesn’t look like it comes from the same brewery. (FWIW We’ve seen some of the largest breweries in the country in this position, so don’t feel bad about it if your packaging is inconsistent—it can happen to anyone.)

A package refresh can help you rein in and systemize your packaging across the board. 

The desire to freshen things up is common goal as well. It might not sound pressing, but sometimes your packaging can just be tired. If sales are flat, or declining, and everything else (liquid, Brand, team) seems to be in good place, maybe it is time to update your packaging so consumers have a new reason to give you a look. 



Now that we know why you might want to refresh your packaging, and when it can make sense to do so, let’s explore a few important process points you need to get right to successfully pull this off.

Henderson Brewing's package refresh.

On Art Direction 

Let’s assume that your brewery’s Brand (your messaging and positioning and values and personality and voice and essence) are all good to go, as is your brand identity, and you just need to focus on your packaging’s aesthetics. 

In this case, a core challenge of this project will be developing new packaging that achieves XYZ communication goals you have, solves all the pain points you’ve defined and works with your existing brand identity. 

This seems straight forward, but it can actually be challenging if you’re not also updating your identity. 

Say your logo is complex or has some sort of expressive icon, then that might not work well with a likewise highly-illustrative label. Or vice versa: Maybe a simple type mark might not work on whatever desired aesthetic you’re envisioning. 

This may not be an issue if your identity aligns with what you’re envisioning for your packaging updates. But it can also act as a set of handcuffs and limit where you can take your packaging’s look and feel.

How do we address this problem?

1. Conversations with the right stakeholders

We treat our package refresh kickoffs no different from our in-depth rebranding projects. So we still ask the same questions, and talk with a variety of stakeholders across your business (from your executive team, all the way through your chain from production folks, front and back of house folks, marketing and sales folks, operations folks) internally and externally with distributor and key retail partners. 

2. Mood Boards for orienting our teams & for rapid prototyping

We use Mood Boards (visual collages) as tools in all of our branding or rebranding work. But in package refreshes, they are often even more critical because they stand in for more thorough brand strategy (more on this in a sec). 

Mood Boards have two distinct benefits in our process. The first is that they’re a great way of getting your team’s vision out of your heads and onto paper. (Don’t tell us you want your cans to look “vintage.” That can mean the 1980s or the 1880s. Show me what vintage means to you.) 

Mood Boards are a great tool for orienting our teams to ensure we’re on the same page before moving into the design phase. 

The second benefit here is that they allow you to rapidly prototype different aesthetic directions.

If you’re working with a partner that is haphazardly shepherding your project, they might jump right into design and come back in a few weeks with 6 or 7 options for you to consider. But 5 or 6 (or 7) of those concepts might not be appropriate. So everyone’s time (and money and energy) is wasted. (Not to mention those poor little designer feelings are hurt from the subsequent—and well-deserved—negative feedback.) 

Mood Boards help you “try on” a look in your head and immediately gut check it against everything you already know about your brewery’s brand. Does this direction feel right? Yes? Then let’s explore some packaging concepts that look like this. 

It gives you an invaluable set of guard rails as you move into the design phase.

(Below) Mood Boards we built for Good George Brewing to art direct their identity and packaging revamp

Left Field Brewery's package refresh.

Where these projects can falter (here’s the rub)

I mentioned an important caveat earlier in this issue. Let’s get into that now.

Package refreshes can be an attractive option for your brewery because they represent a lot of upside. You’re not investing in expensive Brand Strategy and identity design work—you’re just focusing on your packaging. And if you get that right, you can drive some exciting growth.

But an issue that you can run into in this scenario is that your team has unilaterally determined that your brand and brand identity are in a good place. 

And package refreshes, by design, generally don't include a more thorough Brand Strategy phase up front.

This means that there’s no mechanism for your team (or your design partner) to verify that you’re actually correct about your Brand and brand identity being good to go.

Of course, you can be right. We’ve worked with some of the brightest minds throughout the beer and beverage industry—folks I wouldn’t hesitate to hire if given the chance. So this isn’t a critique of you and your ability to measure your brand’s effectiveness.

But this is a matter of perspective.

So my plea for you (or at least, a word of advice)…


Don’t be in a hurry to self-diagnose 

You’re closer to your brewery’s brand and business than any outsider can ever be.

You live and breathe it 24/7. You stay up late manically writing down new exciting ideas as they spring up. You lead and mentor your team, you set the vision and shape the culture. (And I bet you’re the one that loses sleep when things go sideways.)

But this closeness can hinder your ability to be objective about your business (or more germane to our discussion here, how well your Brand, identity and packaging are performing).

So my advice to you is to not self-diagnose your brewery’s branding problems.

Or to be more blunt, don’t assume your Brand (and brand identity) are good to go and it’s your packaging that’s really holding you back. 

Yes, your packaging might need to be updated. But that update might need to be part of a broader identity refresh.


Wrapping up 

1. If handled well, a package refresh can reap many of the same benefits as a rebrand (and at a much lower investment). So, if your team is thinking about a rebrand, revisit our thinking on Evolution vs. Revolution and make sure you understand which path is right for your business. 

2. If you think you need a packaging refresh, don’t immediately assume your broader brand identity itself is working as well as it could. Go into the project with open eyes and fully explore your messaging, brand voice and positioning. 

If you do determine that your Brand and identity are all good to go, then refresh that packaging!

Around the Shop

On Brand & Packaging Guidelines

In this episode, Cody and I lament how no one ever reads or honors brand guidelines.

I still think this is more of an indictment on how brand guidelines are typically developed and delivered than it is a reflection on how important they actually are as a business tool.

I'm including this here because an important part of a package refresh comes at the end of the project in the form of easy to use package guidelines and templates.

This ensures that any packaging your team handles in-house moving forward stays consistent.

Sneak Peeks (works in progress)

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