One thing I have underestimated up until now is the number of decisions that need to be made for marketing. I always thought the big marketing decisions were the tough ones, but now walking through this process, it is the small ones that suck all your time and cause the most headaches with the schedule. Paying others to do some of your work will help bring in a fresh opinion, move things forward, and get you to a place you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. It will still take hard work and lots of re-working things to get them right.
As a craft brewery, we kind of thought that marketing was secondary to making really great beer, and having a great tasting room to hang out in. For the most part, it still is but the gap has narrowed quite measurably. With so many amazing breweries swinging open their doors in the past few years (Brassneck, Parallel 49 Brewing, Powell Street Brewing, Postmark, 33 Acres, Steel and Oak, Yellow Dog, Main Street, and many more), it is now imperative that your brand be spot on. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need to have a perfect brand for customers to see, rather I think you need to achieve a few important things in your message: Authenticity, why you did this, and what makes you so different.
Yes, yes the quality of beer is still paramount. Make crappy beer or have the same selection of beer at your brewery week in and week out, and you will find yourself floundering. At the end of the day, consumers care most about this. But the people that spend their hard earned dollars at breweries also want to see a brand that meets their expectations. What makes it harder for a brewery to meet these expectations, is that no 2 people have the same ones. Some want authentic, and others want playful, some want seriousness, and others want unique. What do you want?
Getting back to my original point, we decided to go in the direction of making something we think is representative of us. Authentic, Fun, and pretty straight forward. However, what you set out to do, like everything in this process, is not necessarily what we are going to end up with. You see, making thousands of decisions over a period of months, if not years, puts you down a path that you didn’t necessarily intend.
For instance, we always wanted our brand to be what it has become. But to think that we named our company Strange Fellows Brewing is somewhat comical. My partner and I always wanted a more serious name, but through indecision, other names being taken (this is huge) and the input of others, we ended up with Strange Fellows. This set off a cascade of events that has slowly morphed our brand into something that neither of us could have imagined.
Also changing where we ended up is the list of decision that we needed to make, with each of these decisions having hundreds of little decisions to make the big decision:
- website design and look and feel – hundreds of decisions in this bucket
- can versus bottle versus growler – design, size and look
- label for all product
- logo – you will need to pick something that works on its own, with your can design, and in sizes all the way up to a decal on your car to sign-post at your brewery
- bottle cap
- growler design
- your story and how it relates to your brand
- business cards
- tasting room design meshed with your personal taste, budget and consumers taste
Each of these, and many others, have hundreds of layers to the decisions you need to make. Its not as simple as just making the choice and living with it in a bubble. Your decisions are not mutually exclusive, as one decision will impact another, often forcing you to rethink exactly what you are doing. Let me give you an example.
We knew we wanted to put our beer into cans, so we charged ahead with this. However, we didn’t know what kind of beer to put into cans. So we had to decide which of our favourites we were going to brew, and put that out there to the world, without ever actually brewing these beers. Which means you need to talk about flavour, alcohol percentage, etc without ever having tasted the beer. Then you need to make a description of the beer, a beer name, a theme to your beer, create a UPC code, get preliminary approval from the LDB, get all the details on the can correct and be happy with where it is at about 10-12 weeks before you plan on packaging this product. You see, cans need to be manufactured and that takes some time, which means before you even do anything, you need to have all your marketing complete.
It also means that once you make decisions, going back on those decisions will change other aspects of the design. Invariably you will makes changes, and while you have your head down in the sand making all these decisions and changes, you end up with a can that may be great, but also may be quite far from where you intended to end up. We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to this, as well as every other craft brewery in the Province. So go easy on those people who have missed the mark with their marketing, as they may have gotten to a place they didn’t intend, and have no way of getting out.
To me, marketing matters most in terms of how much I connect with a brand. This is everything from; what are the owners like, what is their message, what does the beer taste like, what are their thoughts on craft beer, why are they making beer, is this their passion, what other breweries do they like, and are they helping to keep Vancouver at the forefront of craft beer. If a brand conveys all this information to me, or if I pick up on these things along the way, my decision on whether I like the brand is already made. A company could miss 2 or 3 of these things and be alright, but if they miss 2 or 3 of these things and one of them is the quality of the beer, then I will move on.
For us, we’ve had the luxury of time, which has been our worst enemy for cash, but our best friend for crafting our story. Having a brewery build-out that has taken about 9 months, in addition to a 12 month period that we were actively working on our brand, which comes after about 1 year of starting the process. All this has meant we’ve been able to work out the kinks, and get it where we are pretty happy. We could still make a few changes to our marketing, but for the most part we are pretty stoked about it. I went through my diaries and have the following summaries from just our name selection:
- January 2010 started working with my brother on a brand called The Crafty Monk
- Over the next 18 months came up with a logo, and design for label
- January 2012 met Iain Hill and started our partnership.
- March 2012 Iain and I agree that we need to come up with a name together that is indicative of both us.
- July 2012 changed name to Low Countries Brewing
- Sept 2012 worked with Iain’s wife Christine on logo and branding. We had a really tough time making the name look interesting and work well.
- October 2013 after a year working with Low Countries Brewing, we decided to ditch the name as it was boring and not exactly what we wanted to do anymore,
- January 2014 false start on Allegory brewing
- February 2014 with our partnership about to dissolve over indecision about our name, we finally agree to Strange Fellows.
- March 2014 to present we worked on our branding and marketing to end up where we are, which we hope is a pretty good place.
Without the time we had available to us, we might have ended up with a name like The Crafty Monk, or Allegory, both of which would have led us down a path that is much different than where we are today. So take your time in making decisions, as creativity knows no time boundaries. It would also relate to this entire process, as for us, getting all aspects of this project correct the first time is the most important thing.