Branding tips for small breweries

A mocked up label for Rocherfort 10 using Comic Sans.
What if Rochefort 10 did­n’t have a taste­ful, sim­ply designed label?

It’s easy to laugh at and crit­i­cise brew­eries with bad brand­ing (real­ly easy) but we thought it was time we actu­al­ly tried to be help­ful.

So, here are some tips which might lead to a series of more detailed posts lat­er in the year.

1. Use a pro­fes­sion­al design agency. If you think you can’t afford to, then look again at your bud­gets. If it increas­es your sales, it’s a good invest­ment.

But, if the bud­gets just won’t stretch, and you real­ly must do your design work your­self…

2. Keep it sim­ple. The less fuss, the less can go wrong. It might look plain or even a bit bor­ing, but that’s bet­ter than cheap, crap­py or care­less. You can always rebrand lat­er and util­i­tar­i­an chic can cer­tain­ly work in its own right: Ker­nel have this nailed.

3. Be con­sis­tent. It will help your loy­al cus­tomers spot your prod­ucts if the clips or labels share cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics. For exam­ple, Pen­guin books’ vin­tage cov­ers were designed on a grid which gave a lot of room for manouevre as well as ease of recog­ni­tion for con­sumers. The eas­i­est option is to use the same lay­out and font but per­haps change one colour. Chi­may is a good exam­ple of this prin­ci­ple in action in the world of beer – three beers with basi­cal­ly the same label.

4. Nev­er use clip art or images stolen from the inter­net. Its cheap, but unfor­tu­nate­ly also looks cheap. In fact, unless you can pay a pro­fes­sion­al illus­tra­tor (and we don’t mean the frus­trat­ed water­colourist who works in your ware­house, or your broth­er who does some graf­fi­ti) it’s best to avoid illus­tra­tions alto­geth­er.

5. Three fonts to avoid: Times New Roman, Ari­al and Com­ic Sans. Every­one knows these fonts because they are used to death, and pro­fes­sion­al design­ers don’t like them much. Almost every­one in their right mind real­ly hates Com­ic Sans. If you can’t afford to license a com­mer­cial font – they are expen­sive – try to pick some­thing clear and classy. (This might come in handy and there are some good tips here.)

6. Before you start design­ing any­thing, think about your brand val­ues. Here’s a very sim­pli­fied process for work­ing out what those are:

- Sit down with some col­leagues, friends or fam­i­ly
– think about oth­er com­pa­nies (not nec­es­sar­i­ly brew­eries) that you iden­ti­fy with
– look at exam­ples of their print­ed mate­r­i­al, web­sites and prod­ucts and
– write down the val­ues those sug­gest to you. (E.g. green, car­ing, tra­di­tion­al, brave, fam­i­ly-friend­ly…)
– Then look at those val­ues (it should be a long list) and think about which also apply to your com­pa­ny.

Refer to that list when design­ing your labels, clips and oth­er brand­ed mate­ri­als: if your com­pa­ny is, say, pro­gres­sive and exper­i­men­tal, you prob­a­bly don’t want a oil-paint­ing of an Owl on your labels.

7. You don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need a logo. Logos real­ly are the domain of the pro­fes­sion­al design­er because they’re so easy to get wrong (see here and here). If you must have one, then con­sid­er that many of the classi­est logos are real­ly just the com­pa­ny name writ­ten in a taste­ful font and then repro­duced, as a graph­ic, in exact­ly the same dimen­sions ever after. (More on this.)

8. Choose colours care­ful­ly. Black, white and maybe one oth­er colour is usu­al­ly enough. Ama­teur design is plagued by rain­bows and often looks like the con­tents of a pack­et of Smar­ties. Think about con­trast: the best option is usu­al­ly a light colour on a dark back­grounds or vice ver­sa. Don’t use ‘flu­o­res­cent’ pink, espe­cial­ly on a red back­ground…

9. Two fonts is enough – one for titles or logos, and one for body text.

10. Check your spelling, gram­mar and punc­tu­a­tion. Even a small typo can send the mes­sage that you are slop­py and care­less. Avoid excla­ma­tion marks, too: they will make you look hys­ter­i­cal.

Our cre­den­tials: none, real­ly, oth­er than that Bai­ley has worked in mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for a few years and takes a pro­fes­sion­al inter­est in brand­ing and design.

4 thoughts on “Branding tips for small breweries”

  1. I know I am biased because I work in the graph­ic and web design indus­try, but every­thing you have said is spot on. So many brew­eries have painful­ly bad web­sites, and that is often a prod­uct of the slap dash approach to label design.

    For­give then the shame­less adver­tis­ing, but the graph­ic design­er we work with most over here is insane­ly tal­ent­ed, will give you an idea of his work. Also take a look at the web­site we pro­duced for the Blue Moun­tain Brew­ing Com­pa­ny – – and on a fair­ly restrained bud­get you can get some­thing decent look­ing, note how­ev­er that we did­n’t design their logo or pack­ag­ing.

  2. Dan here of small­beerblog. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful as I have just fin­ished design­ing my own blog’s logo ( and am embark­ing on design­ing Vic­to­ri­a’s new home­brew­er’s guild logo too. Obvi­ous­ly we’re too poor to employ a pro­fes­sion­al so I’m going to try to stick to your advice and keep it sim­ple and to the point. I will also see if I went bad­ly wrong with my blog logo… Thanks for this post and I real­ly enjoy read­ing your blog.

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