Better Beer Branding Starts with ‘Why’

December 3rd, 2018 • by Shane LaChance
Shane LaChance

Shane LaChance

Iron Design is an award-winning branding agency in Ithaca NY. They specialize in helping brewers and other small companies develop cohesive brands, websites, and campaigns that capture the soul and spirit of their organizations, and resonate with their audiences.

422 – That’s the number of breweries operating in New York State at the time this blog post was written. With no sign of slowing down, it’s safe to say that number has already been surpassed by the time you’re reading this. For brewery owners looking to increase production & grow their brand in this increasingly crowded market, the question becomes, how do you stand out? While the obvious answer may be to brew great beer – today’s market demands much more than that. The beer brands that will separate themselves from the growing number of breweries are the ones with unique stories, the ones perceived to be most authentic and truest to their craft. It’s just a matter of defining what your brewery stands for, owning it, and putting it on display for the world to see.

Defining Your Story

Take a moment and think back to when you first set course to start your brewery. Why did you begin this journey in the first place? Defining these reasons is an important step in your brewery’s branding process. After all, it’s these founding stories that are at the core of your brand’s existence and what differentiates your brewery from everyone else. If you already have a unique defining story, you are already on the road to brand success– skip ahead to Discover Your ‘Why’.

Word Association

If you don’t necessarily have a compelling story of why you started your brewery, not to worry, there are plenty of useful methods to uncover your authentic story. One of the most effective ways to do this is Word Association. Start by writing down a list of words that come to mind when describing what your brewery stands for, what makes it unique, and what inspired you to get into the brewing industry. These can be value words like ‘community / heritage / creativity’ or characteristics that hold true to the profile of your beers like ‘experimental / bold / balanced’. Don’t overthink these words yet. No idea is bad in the brainstorming phase. As your list grows, you will notice your brand’s personality start to take shape. Once you have a solid list, distill them down to 10-15 distinctive words that define your brewery. Use your finalized list of words to craft a brand mission and vision for your beer brand. This set of brand beliefs will be used as your ‘why’, in other words, the foundation for your brewery’s story.

Discover Your ‘Why’

Another branding tool we often use at Iron Design to evaluate a brewery’s branding is called the Golden Circle. This concept was developed by Simon Sinek and was designed to help uncover an organization’s true north. We use it to map out some of the components of a brand’s story. This diagram also serves as a guide on how to best tell that story. It’s probably the world’s simplest, yet effective branding tool. It consists of a sphere with three layers- What you do, How you do it, and Why you do it.

Where Many Beer Brands Fall Short

After analyzing many breweries, we’ve discovered that a majority of the industry defines themselves from the outside → in. A typical brand storyline from these breweries starts with an explanation of the type of beer they brew and how they brew it… but hardly ever reaches why they brew it. When in fact, the story of ‘why’ is far more compelling and is what creates deep emotional connections with beer drinkers. The ‘why’ is what a brand believes, what they stand for, and why they get up every morning to brew the beer they love.

Own Your ‘Why’

So you’ve nailed down the components of your brand story, including the all-mighty ‘why’. Now let’s put your story into action through eye-catching branding and thoughtful storytelling. The most impactful brand stories work from the inside → out on the golden circle. These storylines start with addressing the values that define you and why your brewery exists. Only then do you reveal details of how you do what you do and what can be expected in the final product. By this point, consumers will have already been exposed to what separates you from rest of the pack, beyond just your beer.

Here’s how to make your ‘why’ the foundation of your brand system:

It’s simple really – Own it. Everything you do should embody your ‘why’, whether its your logo, your slogan, your label design, your tap handle, the way you talk about your story in person, and the way you tell your story online. If done right, people won’t buy your beer just because it’s good, they’ll buy your beer because they believe in it. Take a look at an extended version of this post on our blog to see visual examples of breweries taking complete ownership of their ‘why’ and telling impactful brand stories as a result.

Your Turn

Whether you are an established brewery or one just getting started, identifying your ‘why’ is one of the keys to developing a unique position in the crowded brewery market. Use these simple branding exercises like the Golden Circle and Word Association to define your brewery’s story and core beliefs. Not only will it help you identify a key differentiator, it can help you craft your company mission and vision statements. It’s these fundamental brand components that, when fully embraced, have the ability to turn your brewery into a brand and your customers into lifelong fans. So go ahead, discover your ‘why’, own it, and take your beer brand to the promised land.