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.


Balsamic and bulldog clips

We spotted a couple of interesting posts on Lifehacker the other week which we thought we’d share.

First up, the news that people prefer Budweiser with a drop of balsamic vinegar in, but only if they don’t know it’s there. This is another fascinating example of the influence branding and packaging — the blurb surrounding a beer — can have on our perception of its taste. It also makes us want to try adding balsamic vinegar to other crappy beers to see if it might actually improve them.

Secondly, and less excitingly, bulldog clips might be one solution to the problem of beer bottles steadfastly refusing to stack in the fridge the way they do on TV. Bulldog clips are the answer to so many of life’s problems…

marketing pubs

Pubco sets up pretend freehouses

UK pub company Mitchells and Butlers are apparently planning to open a series of unique “concept bars”. They’ll be part of a chain but designed to look like they’re independent.

The UK pub chain company owns, among others, O’Neill’s, Scream Pubs and All Bar One, but has clearly recognised (as we’ve pointed out before) that big companies and boringly ubiquitous brands are going out of fashion. They’re not going away, though — just into hiding.

Interesting to see how this business model works out. Our bet is that one of the bars will do better than the others and then turn into a chain…

Via Marketing magazine/Brand Republic.


Nice branding can make things taste better

Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale

We’ve always felt slightly guilty about how easily we are influenced by the packaging and presentation of our beer. This week, however, a friend tipped us off to a piece of research from 2004 which suggests we’re not being entirely irrational.

The experiment showed that people actually had a stronger pleasurable reaction to a soft drink when they were cued up to expect one brand or another, and presented with packaging.

Test subjects were given Coke and Pepsi without being told which brand was which. These drinks are chemically almost identical, as Samuel McClure points out. With no branding to refer to, the subjects showed about the same degree of “neural response” in the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex” in both cases. Then, when they were told which brand was which (when they were “brand cued”) they not only stated a preference for one over the other, but actually, measurably enjoyed it more.

So, maybe when we get all excited by the nice label on a bottle of beer, and the pretty glass it’s served in, and the quality of the head on the beer — stuff that shouldn’t really matter, but does to us — we have a similar chemical-electrical reaction?

We’re not scientists. If anyone would like to correct or elaborate on our primitive understanding of what this research means, go for it!

marketing News

Sales of (mostly terrible) beer down

According to advertising trade mag Marketing Week, sales of the top beer brands are down 5 per cent up to April 2008.

The biggest drops are in sales of Kronenbourg 1664, Stella Artois, Carlsberg Export and Grolsch. Sales of John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Carlsberg (ordinary) are up.

Their say that the current ‘drink-aware climate’ and England’s absence from the European Championship are the main reasons.

The first certainly sounds plausible to us. People we know seem to be much happier ordering a shandy or a ‘weak beer’ than they were a couple of years ago.

And, of course, there’s been a huge defection to cider from beer, as witnessed by booming sales of Strongbow.