What are some situations where it can make sense to disregard your brand equity?
We were on a call with a brewery recently to discuss a possible rebrand.
They’ve been open for 13 years and have a very distinctive look (character-driven and heavily-illustrated). They’ve partnered with the same illustrator since day one, and have built up a lot of visual equity because of this.
But none of that look feels right anymore.
Even though their aesthetic has major recognition and equity—it's been plastered all over their market and vehicles and packaging for more than a decade—they’re not sure they want to stick with this look moving forward. And that’s an important question:
When can it make sense to jettison your Brand Equity?
This is a situation we’re seeing more often in our brewery rebranding work today as people are look to reinvent themselves for the next phase of their business. To that point, what if you’ve built up a phenomenal amount of visual and Brand Equity over the years, but…
1. You’re not sure it makes sense to build on this equity (identity, packaging, story) given where you want to take your business, but…
2. You’re also afraid that you'll lose a good portion of your current fans if you walk away from this (hard earned) equity.
This is a great question and legitimate concern for any brewery that is considering a rebrand.
So let's get into it.
(Above): Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion workbook lay out a step-by-step guide to help you map out a successful strategy for rebranding your brewery.
First, some definitions:
Brand Equity is the total amount of goodwill your brand has with its customers. This is more brand-level stuff focused on your messaging, positioning, values, value props, voice, personality and key communication pillars. How do people talk about your brewery? What's your reputation? What role do you play in your community?
Like your brand itself, these connotations, associations and stories live inside your customers’ minds. These things inform your visual identity and packaging, but are upstream of them.
Visual equity are all the cues that, if lost through a rebrand, could set you back in the off-premise (e.g. people may not be able to easily find your iconic packaging because you’ve changed it too drastically). This usually includes things like SKU-specific colors, unique packaging compositions, custom typography and other iconography.
Your visual equity and Brand Equity are different things, however I’ll use these terms interchangeably throughout this issue as a catchall phrase to mean how people generally recognize your brand in the market.
It’s also worth revisiting our writing on rebrands vs. refreshes here, a concept we framed as “Evolution vs. Revolution” in Craft Beer, Rebranded.
Okay. So Brand Equity and visual equity are both important to weigh and consider through your rebrand.
Generally, the more Brand Equity you have, the more likely you are to refresh your brand (so, evolution more so than revolution).
But when can it make sense to jettison your equity—no matter how well-recognized it is—during a rebrand?
The following points are all situations where it might make sense for your brewery to disregard its equity, no matter how recognized it is.
(Above): Prost Brewing had built up 6+ years worth of visual equity around their packaging's flag patterning. But even though their customers knew to look for this element out on shelf, we determined that it was too kitsch and misaligned with their overall quality and vision for the brand. Read more about Prost's rebrand here.
If your current look is actively hurting your business
Let’s start with an obvious point: If your current identity and packaging are actively harming your business, then you should consider a dramatic shift, no matter how much equity you’ve banked.
A few examples we’ve seen where a brewery’s branding was actively hurting its business:
– Poorly done (ugly) illustrations
– Sexist / immature names
– Problematic labels or elements that have aged poorly (depictions of people, particularly women, are a common one here)
– Basic, illegible typography in a logo or on packaging
Some ways this can harm your business include:
– Flat sales due to never attracting new customers
– Retailers are reluctant to carry your beer
– Prevents you from attracting top talent
– Attracts the wrong type of attention to your business
If any of these apply to your brewery's branding, then walking away from your Brand Equity becomes a more viable move.
If your current identity doesn't accurately represent where you want to take your business in the future
So you've built up a lot of Brand Equity over the years. Great! But does this look and feel align with your vision for where you want to take your business?
If not, you need to consider whether or not it makes sense to continue building on it, or just ripping the bandaid off and repositioning yourself for the next phase of your business.
Our work with Fernson Brewing (below) is a good example of this dynamic. Read more about their package refresh here.
If you're making, or planning to make major changes within your company
This is related to the last point, but we'll pull it out here to expand on it.
Your branding is your story and reputation—and it's how you shape how you're perceived in the world. And if you're making major internal changes—shifting your positioning, rebuilding your org chart, or restructuring your portfolio, then you need to consider whether or not your Brand Equity is still relevant to the new you.
If you’re self conscious of your branding or packaging
We’ve heard this many times over the years, either sheepishly mentioned in a meeting or implied, as we kickoff a brewery rebrand.
Sometimes, you can read between the lines when you hear things like, “I hate wearing our shirts to festivals and conferences,” or “Our festival setup looks terrible compared to everyone else.” There’s no need to be shy about this. You care about what you do and should want to put your best foot forward. If you don’t feel like your identity is doing that for you now, it could be time to make a change, no matter how recognizable your packaging is.
You're making some Brand Architecture moves
If your brewery is planning to make some important Brand Architecture shifts, such as:
– Acquire another business
– Open a new concept or location
– Launch a beyond beer product
– Launch a Sub Brand (or scale an existing one)
… then you need to take a harder look at your Brand Equity to determine whether or not it will serve your business as you step into these more evolved strategies.
Will your identity—built for a specific brewery concept—work across multiple locations and businesses and categories? Will it support a Sub Brand?
If not, then any equity you've built up may not be as important to retain.
(Above): I've been in dozens of conversations with clients, or prospective clients, where someone has cited Anchor's rebrand and its panned reception as something they were worried about for their update.
Let's discuss a sacred cow: What about losing your current fans through a rebrand?
I've lost count of how many conversations we've been in where a brewery's marketing director will mention Anchor’s rebrand as a major concern. "We don't want to do that." (It’s actually become a shorthand for a worst case scenario—the sort of thing that keeps people up at night.)
But Anchor didn't go out of business because of their rebrand, no matter how terrible it was. And they probably didn't lose scores of customers because of it either. And while this is an edge case: High profile, beloved brewery + terrible rebrand = sad outcome—I bring it up to address the idea of losing your current customers after a rebrand.
Allow me to address a sacred cow here.
Not updating your brand identity and packaging—so undergoing a formal rebrand—when you need to because you’re worried about losing your current customers isn’t a compelling enough reason for retaining mis-aligned Brand Equity.
Here's the thing: If it's a substantial enough change, you'll always (always) upset some people through your update. But you shouldn't worry about those folks. You should worry about the new people that you could be reaching out to and turning into customers that currently aren’t considering you.
This doesn't mean you completely turn you back on your current customers. But if your sales are flat, and you're struggling to turn things around, then you likely need to expand your reach anyway.
So you should honor your current customers with great beer and experiences. But you’re not beholden to them with regard to how you position your brewery's identity and packaging.
(Above): KettleHouse had built up a lot of visual equity with their typography, illustrations and homespun logo. But these elements, if subtly updated, still wouldn't have billboarded on shelf and represented their brewery the way their team envisioned. Read more about how we managed KettleHouse's visual equity here.
Your visual and Brand Equity are important.
But if that equity isn't serving you, then why are you hanging on to it?
Rebranding is a balancing act: You're honoring your past and all the hard work that got you where you are today, but you're also looking ahead to where you want your business to be in the coming years.
Don't sacrifice your brewery's future on the altar of Brand Equity.
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