CRAFT SPIRITS BRANDING: CRAFT SPIRITS, THE NEW CRAFT BEER
The renaissance of cocktail culture has driven demand for intriguing and complex spirits. And the strident re-emergence of whiskey has taken the brown-spirits category to new heights. Add growing consumer interest in the local and artisanal to the mix, garnish the lot with a wedge of lemon, and the craft spirits market is one to toast to.
People will stand behind a product they love. But getting them to pick your pour in the first place is all about what’s on the outside.
In 2015 craft spirits leapt to 3% of total US spirits sales from 2010 levels of 1.1%. Sound small? That trajectory is moving faster than craft beer did before it became the new normal. And there’s plenty of room to grow.
There are already 1,300 early-mover craft distillers active in the US. And with thousands more age-old international brands lining the bottle shop shelves, things are great for consumers – but progressively challenging for brands.
People will stand behind a product they love. But getting them to pick your pour in the first place is all about what’s on the outside. With a growing pool of producers jostling to be the G in that G&T or the whiskey to your neat, your branding and brand platform are more important than ever.
- / 01 / BRAND PLATFORM? WHAT’S THAT?
If the phrase “brand platform” threw you for a loop, don’t worry. Mix up an Old Fashioned and settle in for some learning.
Your brand is the promise that you make to your customers – and how they think about your company, your product and your culture.
Let’s go back a step and start with your “brand”. People often think of a brand as being a logo or a name, but it’s far more than that. Your brand is the promise that you make to your customers – and how they think about your company, your product and your culture. Every interaction they have with your brand online, in-store, on social media or elsewhere shapes how people perceive your brand, which in turn shapes your brand.
Going off-brand or not having a clear idea of what your brand stands for and where it sits in the market can weaken your brand in consumers’ eyes. After all, if you don’t know who you are, how can they?
The reason so many distilleries fail is because they lack proper branding and positioning. Having a great product is one thing, but if customers don’t understand what it is, why it’s great and that they should absolutely mix it with tonic water, then they’re going to drink elsewhere.
This is why you need a brand platform. A brand platform is used to define your brand’s identity – who you are, what you offer, and what you sound like – so that every time consumers pick up your bottle, read your mixology tips or follow you on Instagram they get a clear, consistent experience.
- / 02 / BRAND PLATFORM: THE INGREDIENTS
Developing a distinct brand platform requires a refined palate for insight and nuance.
A brand platform is a series of customer-oriented guiding principles that uniquely capture your brand’s qualities, what it stands for, and how it communicates. It should be precise, distilled – or even triple-distilled – and distinctive.
Think of it like the tasting notes of your brand.
A BRAND PLATFORM TYPICALLY INCLUDES
Values: Like a person, your brand acts and behaves in line with a series of beliefs and principles: these are your values. These single-word terms will influence how you speak, act and do business, so make sure you can stand behind them. Maybe optimism is your thing. Or maybe you’re all about fun.
Essence: The heart and spirit of your brand expressed in three words or fewer. This is your claim to uniqueness – so make it evocative, compelling, genuine, and above all ownable. If it can apply to another brand, it’s not distinctive. Keep trying.
Positioning: This is where you want to stand in the marketplace – and in your consumers’ minds. What do you want them to think of when they think of you? What are the benefits that you uniquely offer, and what’s the proof?
Personality: Your brand personality is a series of human traits. These capture what you’re like – and also what you’re not like. You might be bold and classic, but never trendy. Ask yourself: if your distillery were a person, who would it be? Are you James Bond, Winston Churchill or Homer Simpson?
Voice: This is how your brand speaks. The words you use (or don’t) and the way you use them form your voice – which draws heavily from your personality. Do you say drinks or booze? Isn’t or ain’t? Are you prim, or do you curse like a sailor?
- / 03 / MAKING A NAME FOR YOUR DISTILLERY
Naming is all in good fun until you realize that all the good ones are taken. In a market like this, the best kind of name is one that’s available. And if it’s not? Keep at it. The right one will come to you.
Before you start buying domains or making signs, revisit your brand platform to make sure that your prospective names reinforce your brand platform and positioning. Keeping your values, personality and essence in mind will help you come up with a name that sounds like you – and not just like a trend or a bunch of cool words stuck together.
Names should be easy to remember, easy to pronounce, likeable and flexible enough to work with product names.
While your name is who you are, it’s not all about you. Before you opt for a weird spelling, the word for liquor in ancient Hungarian or something that works nicely with a .ly domain, think of your customers. Names should be easy to remember, easy to pronounce, likeable and flexible enough to work with product names. You also want to leave some room for growth – don’t name your brand 80 Proof Vodka if you plan to expand to dabble in Whiskey later on.
The naming stage is also a good time to lawyer up. Find someone knowledgeable in trademark law and keep their number at the ready for anything relating to product names, taglines and even brand imagery. Trademarks and regulatory approval go hand-in-hand in the liquor industry, so save yourself a potential headache by keeping someone savvy on retainer.
- / 04 / BUILDING YOUR IDENTITY
Now comes the part that probably first came to mind when you heard the term “branding”: what your brand looks like.
LET’S RUN THROUGH WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO ADDRESS
Visual Identity System: The look of your brand starts here. A visual identity system consists of your logo and sub-logos, color palette, typography, iconography, graphics and your design system, aka how it all comes together. These elements should be modular yet cohesive, meaning that they work together but can stand alone. This gives you some flexibility in how your brand is presented across different media and as you grow. A great visual identity system is distinct, memorable and cohesive.
Packaging: Everyone loves beautiful packaging. But packaging isn’t just about looking good – it’s about selling. Good packaging is distinct, communicates what your product is and how it’s different from other brands, and entices consumers to pick it up and pay for it. Liquor packaging is also subject to stringent TTB label standards, which include mandatory alcohol content statements, health warning statements and class and type designations. If you get these wrong you won’t be going far.
Responsive Web: Only reclusive artists can get away without having a website. A fully fleshed-out site can get expensive quickly, so many new distilleries may opt for a simple splash page, a temporary landing page or a microsite with just the basics. You can always scale up to include all the bells and whistles later. Whatever works for you, make sure you build the best site you can for the money you have available. Your website will be what people see when they Google you, so make sure it pulls its weight. And with almost 60% of searches now coming from mobile devices, you’ll want a site that looks good on a phone or a tablet – or risk drinking alone.
Environmental: Planning on hosting spirits tastings, hosting workshops or selling directly to the public? Your distillery is part of your brand, so make sure it ties in with the rest of your visual identity. The same applies for trade shows and events – your booth or stand is more than just a place to display your products. It’s a space to communicate your brand. Go branded or go home.
- / 05 / BRANDING ALSO MEANS REBRANDING
Absolut went clear, Jim Beam went with a signature, Glenfiddich went smooth, and BACARDI went old-school bat. Rebrands can mark the subtle evolution of a brand, or they can be a revolution. It all depends on the “why” behind them and the direction you want your brand to take.
HERE ARE A FEW REASONS FOR REBRANDING
A New Image:. If your branding is dated or doesn’t represent your current positioning, then what you’re promising consumers is at odds with what you’re actually delivering. Rebranding can help shake off an old image or unwanted associations – just bear in mind that your target audience will probably shift as well.
Changes Are Afoot: If you’ve dramatically changed who you are or what you produce, your old look might not cut it. Rebranding can bring your brand in line with your new business direction, and can help clarify the offerings of different categories, lines and products.
An Expanded Audience: You might have launched with an audience of millennials in mind, only to find that a) everyone’s marketing to millennials and b) there are other spirit-swilling demographics who would love your stuff. Rebranding can help you tap into the demographic you need to grow.
The market is moving: Spirits is a fast-moving, massively competitive market. As consumer demands shift and new distilleries pop up, the market will evolve accordingly. If your branding’s behind the curve, you’ll lose market share to your competitors.
- / 06 / HIRING A DESIGN FIRM
So now you know what you need to do and why. While you can articulate the look and feel that you want for your brand, you’re a master distiller, not a master designer.
Hiring the right design firm should be your goal. All design studios aren’t created equal, and finding the studio able to capture and communicate your brand can take time, but it’s the first step to creating a great brand.
Finding A Firm: Take friends’ recommendations with a grain of salt – you’ll want to look for a firm whose work resonates with you. Browse some portfolios to make sure that they do work that you like and that suits the aesthetic that you’re after. And while quality is key, so is quantity. If a firm has fewer than 3-4 similar projects in their portfolio, they may not have the industry experience to expertly guide you through the branding process. This is a competitive and highly regulated market, and good intentions often fall short.
Pricing It Out: Design costs vary with experience and the deliverables you have in mind. A full rebrand will be more expensive than a website built using existing assets. Still, even the cost for a single deliverable can vary hugely depending on the design firm and the size and scope of your brand. A logo might cost $100 or it might cost $50,000. If the quote you’re given doesn’t align with your budget, the firm may be able to make recommendations.
Value, Not Cost: Having a small budget is understandable. But there’s a difference between genuinely having a small amount to work with and not wanting to invest in branding and positioning. The strength of your brand is its brand – and you may find that it’s a lot costlier to build it retrospectively.
- / 07 / WRAPPING IT ALL UP
Branding and positioning are literally what it takes to build your brand. Without them you have a product, but no way of enticing consumers to pick it up off the shelves or become die-hard fans of what you do.
But figuring out where you stand and what you stand for can be just as challenging as distilling that perfect blend. If you’re trying to identify your why and what that looks like across the board, getting some pointers from a branding strategist can help get you on track.
We’ve branded and tasted a few craft spirits in our time. We’re all about helping you determine what separates you from the rest of the crowd – and what it is that inspires consumers to make you their next drink. And we’re pretty expert in helping guide consumers’ hands to make the right choice.
So if you have any questions about the branding process or could use some guidance on what comes next, we’re here to help. Feel free to drop us a line and we can take things from there.
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