The craft beer industry has witnessed massive growth over the past two decades, with well over five thousand breweries open across the US today, an impressive number when you consider that Americans had only 100 breweries to choose from in the early 1980's. In fact, according to the Brewers Association, today the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a craft beer brewery.
Independent craft breweries are defined as any traditional brewer with annual production of up to six million barrels of beer -- the equivalent to 1.48 billion pints or 1.98 billion bottles, and an equal number of hangovers -- and is less than 25 percent owned or controlled by an industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
To put this in perspective, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer maker, produced 339 million barrels in 2015, while Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co), one of the oldest and largest craft beer companies, produced only 4 million barrels.
And while this growth in craft beer is substantial and seemingly unsustainable, craft brewers only represents 12.8 percent of the total beer market share. In a $106 billion market, it is no wonder why new breweries are opening at a pace of one to two per day.
What does this mean for non-craft beer entrepreneurs? Besides the fact that we have an ample amount of creative lubrication options available, craft brewers offer a very valuable lesson in differentiating. Think about it: With over five thousand companies delivering essentially the exact same product, how do you stand out and find success?
The answer is branding.
One company that has tackled the challenge of differentiating brands in the crowded craft beer industry since 2009 is CODO Design, a branding and web design firm. Isaac Arthur, the firm's co-founder, emphasizes that partnering the passion, innovation and creativity of a young entrepreneurial team with an experienced branding agency can create tremendous synergies and provide the right recipe for developing and executing a successful brand strategy.
Arthur goes on to provide a few tips to non-craft beer entrepreneurs looking at creating a strong, differentiated brand in a highly competitive industry.
1. Frame Your Core Values
Core values are the immutable rules that govern how you run your business. They will guide business decisions, employee actions and overall be invaluable as you grow. For this reason, you should spend considerable time and effort into defining what these are and why they are important to your company.
2. Define Your Brand Essence
Brand essence is the single most compelling aspect of your company. In most cases, this revolves around your company story and easily explains the reason your company was founded. It speaks to your customers, giving them a personal interest in following your brand, and can also be an internal tool to rally the team and stakeholders.
3. Concretely Position Your Company
In the craft beer industry, while the products are the same, companies differentiate by creating very specific types or styles of beer or identifying with a specific local area (niche). Often, styles and location help to identify with specific types of people with varying psychographic characteristics. By identifying the characteristics of your target market, you define and are better able to develop a "tribe" that will be loyal to your brand.
4. Define Your Brand Personality
Ask your team: If our company were a person, who would it be and why? Would it be a male or female? How old would he or she be? What type of personality would he or she have? What specific personality traits that would make him or her unique? In general, customers relate more to a personality than to a company.
5. Develop a Great Name
These days, finding a great name is extremely difficult. Being in a highly competitive industry like craft beer makes it even more so. Even with this challenge, entrepreneurs should never back away from spending considerable time to finding the right name. In the end, a great name will be an asset to the business (including trademarks), reflecting your company's brand and personality while instantly delivering the larger story.
6. Develop a Robust Brand Identity
Once you have your core functions identified, everything should be rolled into a strong, thoroughly deliberated and executable brand strategy. This includes close attention to detail, such as your overarching mark, secondary icons and supporting elements (typography, textures, and colors). All of these elements need to be consistent and seamless across each and every one of your communication channels.
7. Deliver Extraordinary Products and Service
No amount of great branding can sustain a company if the product is terrible. To be successful, you need to make the best damn product and deliver the best damn service you can, treat all stakeholders with respect, and communicate your awesomeness through a strong branding strategy.
If you are a craft beer fan (like me), you probably have loyalty to a few breweries. More than likely, those brands are strong brands with great stories and identify with you on some level personally. And, of course, they make really good beer.
Achieving all of this was no accident, and the breweries that succeed are those that put as much effort into developing and protecting their brand as they do delivering outstanding beer.
If you are interested in more details about how to develop a strong brand specifically in the craft beer industry, check out CODO Design's free Craft Beer Branding Guide, a step-by-step guide to branding your brewery, telling your story and selling a lot of beer.