Why brand your taproom brewery?
A subscriber (now client) recently emailed us with the following:
Hi Isaac / CODO:
We’ve been lobbying our owner to rebrand for the last few years.
We’ll brew around 2,200 barrels this year, and we believe we can grow the business significantly along with some major changes that will be happening in our community over the next few years (a major corporate headquarters is relocating here, new suburbs are springing up, a reimagined downtown corridor).
The problem is our owner thinks that branding will only be important if / when we decide to package our beer. We package some beer now, but it’s mostly sold as carryout from our two locations and through a few local retailers. So it’s currently a small part of our overall sales.
But our team feels like we shouldn't wait to get this process started.
Can you make a case for why branding is important for a taproom-focused brewery? I understand his point of view, though I think that by creating a great brand now, we’ll have that much more inertia for when we do decide to begin packaging our beer.
I love this question.
We’ve run into this situation several times over the last few years. Not so much the need to persuade a founder that branding is important, but rather, we’ve fielded rebranding projects expressly because a formerly hospitality-focused brewery intended to begin packaging and distribution.
Now investing in your branding is a no-brainer if you intend to package. (At least I hope so.) But I’d like to tackle topic this from another angle. Let’s say you have no intention to package your beer (or at least not in the immediate future).
Do you need a beautiful brand identity system when your beer and taproom experience itself is what will keep people coming back?
Is it worth the effort, energy and cost to brand a hospitality-focused brewery?
(Spoiler alert: Yes, it’s important. But read on.)
There’s a baseline list of reasons why your brewery should take its branding seriously, no matter your overall concept. We’ll briefly outline those points before exploring some of the more interesting, recurrent and overlooked ideas we’re seeing in our brewpub / taproom / hospitality-focused brewery branding work across the country right now.
A quick note on terms: I’ll use “brewpub” and “taproom” interchangeably throughout today's issue.
I’m drawing a line between breweries with a heavy packaging and off-premise emphasis vs. a brewery that sells most of its beer through its own premise or hospitality network.
Universal reasons for investing in your branding
Investing in your brewpub's branding is crucial for several reasons.
Most of these points are universal, table stakes ideas. So I don’t want to spend too much time here, because I imagine you already know them (after all, you’re subscribed to a niche beer and beverage industry branding newsletter).
But at a quick glance, compelling branding…
– Establishes your Brand Identity System and differentiates your brewery
– Increases your recognition and recall (helping you stay top of mind)
– Creates emotional connection, trust and credibility with your fans (fostering customer loyalty and evangelism)
– Improves your perception and reputation (remember, people taste with their eyes)
– Affects your pricing (and your ability to command a premium)
– Plants a flag and tells the community what you stand for
We can continue, but you get the idea. Now these concepts alone should be reason enough to properly brand your brewery.
But let’s now move beyond the basics to explore some overlooked reasons why your hospitality-focused brewery should invest in its branding (even if you don’t intend to package your beer).
(Above): You can't create cool merch without a compelling brand identity or story.
Your brand is a platform (that can open up additional revenue streams)
Your brand is your most important asset. It is your reputation and story. It is your brand values, positioning, key messaging and your voice. It's an asset that will help you punch way above your weight.
What we’ve seen over the last several years, in particular, is that your brand can be leveraged in compelling ways that both strengthen your overall perception and positioning, and help you grow your business by opening new revenue streams.
A compelling brand can allow you to:
– Develop Beyond Beer products and extensions
– Spin up a lucrative merch program
– Open additional concepts (taprooms and restaurants) and become a hospitality group
– Build a rich portfolio, complete with Sub Brands
– Open concert venues / event centers
– Extend into other relevant categories with lifestyle products
Your brand isn’t static. And by thinking of it as a platform, you’ll be better positioned to identify, weigh and pursue these sorts of opportunities as they arise.
(Above): Fun examples of signage and environmental design from our portfolio.
A compelling brand sets the stage for partnership opportunities and co-branding
Co-branding in the craft beer space is a major trend right now. We’re currently writing about this (stay tuned), so I'll just offer a few quick points here:
– A strong brand can open doors to exciting partnership opportunities
– Collaborations with local businesses expose you to new audiences
– These collaborations can help to build your brand in a major way by associating your brewpub with respected and complementary concerns
And none of this is possible without building a compelling brand in the first place.
A compelling brand defines your Identity and Art Direction (it sets the tone)
This point is more tactical than sweeping and strategic, but (a BIG) part of the value of developing your brand is that it defines your overall look and feel. This manifests most meaningfully in your brand identity, but this affects several other important touch points as well.
Beer release art: If you’ll be packaging your beer, then this need becomes immediately apparent. But even if you’re not packaging your beer, you’ll still need assets to promote new releases online and in your taproom (e.g. social media content, untapped art, taproom menus, table tents, posters).
A well thought out brand identity will give you enough direction to make sure this work stays consistent and relevant (without having to reinvent the wheel with each new release).
Taproom look & feel: What is your brand’s personality? How do you speak? What's your vibe?
Great branding can shape how you layout your taproom, what sorts of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) you choose during your buildout, how you handle way showing (directional signage) and murals, and sets the overall tone for your taproom.
A proper branding process will demystify these important decisions and allow you to build a welcoming, comfortable space that people enjoy visiting.
An ongoing labor shortage is one of the most pressing issues we hear from our restaurant and hospitality-focused brewery clients.
And this problem is compounding.
If you’re not able to hire the best professional brewers, sales reps, front / back of house staff—any role you need to fill—then your overall customer experience will suffer. Your online reviews and reputation will suffer. Your business will suffer, and on and on.
This point has always been valid: Great branding makes you more attractive to would-be employees.
But today, this benefit becomes an important edge over your competition (all the other breweries, restaurants and bars that are wooing the same potential employees).
If your team is proud to work at your brewery, and they’re proud of what your brand stands for, then everything they do and touch will be better. Compelling branding fosters a shared purpose, motivating your team to deliver wonderful customer service and maintain high standards throughout your brewery.
A compelling brand isn’t a panacea in this regard—you still need to build a phenomenal culture to maintain your team’s esprit de corps—but it does help to attract the right people to your business in the first place.
(Above): A well built brewery brand and brand identity should inform all of your touch points, no matter how small. All of these points of interaction with your customers are an opportunity to tell your story and delight them.
Your branding is a signal
Properly branding your brewery (defining your brand strategy and building your brand identity) is a signal to your customers, employees, community—and even yourself—that you’re taking your business seriously.
It’s a signal that you intend to stick around for the long haul. (Otherwise, why would you invest in your identity?)
Your brand signals that:
– Your beer is well made and dependable.
– Your service is impeccable.
– And that your (potential) customers are welcome and will have a great time here.
And all of this is crucial, whether you intend to package your beer or not.
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