If I had a dollar for every time that someone told me they had a great beer on the weekend, but they can’t remember its name I’d be a rich man. Well not rich, but I have slightly more money than I have now, although I’d probably just spend that money on beer, so then I’d have the same amount I have now, but I would have more beer which would be good.
After producing good beer, branding it well has to be the most important thing a brewery can do and like most things there is quite a bit to consider.
The brand name is a good place to start. Now first and foremost, puns and in-jokes may be funny, at most once, but then you are just labelled with a stupid name. No one wants to order an Effen beer, it’s childish and dumb.
You should remember particularly if you are on tap that you are going to need a name people can pronounce. This is more a issue for international brewers than Aussies, but if you were Zierholz, Kooinda or Lobethal you might want to think about it, and if you think I’m being picky you’d be surprised how many people pronounce words wrong, or worst still for your brand, avoid having to say it at all. On a side note if anyone can explain how to pronounce Nogne O correctly I’ll be forever in your debt.
Then of course we get into the whole debate about consistency across a range and I’m torn on this one. Option one is the brewery name, style name model (i.e. Red Hill Golden Ale, Red Hill Wheat Beer etc). This of course has the advantage of always promoting the brewery, which is a huge advantage of a small brewery that wants to grow and it also hints at a range (even if the bottleshop might only have one beer in the fridge) and lastly it tells the public exactly what they are getting. If they know they like wheat beers then they’ll feel safe trying yours.
Then again this is a little boring and can be restricting if you don’t brew to style or sets up expectation of what the beer should taste like, which might lead to disappointment. There was some disquiet about Thunder Road’s IPA being a nice beer but not an IPA at the ‘hair of the dog’ breaky last week.
This leads us to option two where every beer has its own name that may or not be related to the style. Murrays are a great example of this, with everything from the Wild Thing to Rudeboy to the always confusing Angry Man Pale and Angry Man Dark. Sure they have subtitles with the style in them but when was the last time you heard someone order a Murrays Wild Thing Imperial Stout. It gives you some nice freedom and helps create sub-brands but it can be confusing for the beer drinking public (beer wankers aside who know what everything is).
Of course all of this is not helped by the fact that a large portion of the product is consumed on premise where the only branding the consumer might see is your beer’s name scrawled on a blackboard and maybe a tap label, but then chances are it’ll be poured into a bog standard pot glass. As I see it there are three ways of combating this.
Let’s start with tap heads. Now anyone who has spent some time in the US will know that Australia lags far behind in the wacky tap head strategy. Over there you will see all sorts of objects as tap heads from gooseheads to thongs to wooden fish. The only memorable ones in Australia are 2Brothers excellent work across the range (the Growler chainsaw a stand-out) and Moondog, but of course theirs is just weird. More conventional but just as powerful is a strong symbol for your brand – Mountain Goat being the obvious example here, that red goat head tells me good beer lives here. It has also led to both Jordan’s mum and Rod Quantock calling Mountain Goat Brewery, The Goat’s Head Brewery in my presence; behold the power of the symbol.
Then there are the glasses, I have no sense of how expensive this is and how amenable publicans are to this but you rarely see craft brew branded glasses. The notable exception for me being Thunder Road, who had nice branded glasses for each of their beers, cleverly they were also schooners rather than the Victorian standard pot glass, that’s a 50% increase in sales right there. Smartest thing Thunder Road ever did, dumbest was the use of historical beer brands that they have no connection to and no one cares about, but that’s a rant for another day.
Okay I hear ya, struggling craft brewers can’t afford glasses, but what about beer coasters? Surely they aren’t that expensive, or posters for the walls? Marketing doesn’t have to be fancy and I’d wager that if you are anything like me whilst you drink you tend to finger the coaster, oh, that doesn’t sound right does it? And for the craft brewers out there who whinge about an undereducated beer market, this is the perfect medium for education. A series of coasters on ingredients or style anyone? Or maybe a perennial pub favourite, beer themed trivia. Christ it worked for Guinness didn’t it? For those who don’t know the Guinness Book of Records was produced by the dude who was the managing director of Guinness to settle arguments in pubs, I imagine it was quite a little money spinner in its own right too.
That brings us to the bottled product, at long last a chance for the brewery to control what they are telling the consumer. The approaches here are too many to mention and success is a matter of opinion but I wonder if there are a few things that beer makers could do to help the consumer remember the beer. I remember seeing some wine labels with tear off tabs on the label for you to keep if you liked it, seems a little naff to me but it might work. The obvious one to me is bottlecaps; how often are you at a BBQ, you open the beer and instantly pocket the bottle top? No? Maybe it’s just me. I’m surprised by how many craft brewers don’t brand their bottle tops. Maybe someone in the know can tell me – is it really that much more expensive to have branded rather than plain bottletops?
There are thousands of beers out there and brewers expend a lot of effort producing a great product, but it’ll all come to nought if the public doesn’t remember who you are.