Several years ago, my business partner, Cody, and I were meeting with a brewery in planning to discuss their branding. We were beyond excited. Branding, packaging and a website for a new local brewery? And there’d be free beer in the deal?!? I remember thinking how stupid my high school guidance counselor would’ve felt if only he’d been able to see me now, back then.

We had been talking to one of two partners in the venture and everything was sounding great. Budget, timeline and deliverables were all reasonable and within our wheelhouse. And again, beer. So we put together a proposal and met to walk him and his partner, whom we were meeting for the first time, through our plan. And somewhere between shaking hands and ordering a round of beers, the guy that we had just met casually said something that I still think about (and laugh at) to this day, “Branding is for breweries who don’t know how to make great beer.”

Dramatic pause… and spoiler alert, we didn’t end up working with these gentlemen. Double spoiler alert, they never even opened their brewery.

I laugh because of how he so arrogantly shit on us, dismissing our carefully crafted proposal before we could even present it. Granted, Cody and I were fresh out of college and new to running a branding firm (so having someone abruptly check us wasn’t necessarily a bad thing). Now that enough time has passed for me to set aside my bruised ego, I realize that, back then at least, he might have had a point. When we founded CODO in 2009, brewery branding wasn’t as important as it is today. When there weren’t that many craft breweries, you could get along just fine by hanging your hat on being “local” or “fresh” or some other now overused qualifier. But that was then.

In the year 2000, there were about 1,500 breweries in the United States. In 2010, that number rose marginally to around 1,800. Then, everything changed. By 2019, that number had swelled to more than 7,500. Once novel, craft beer has steadily become mainstream, claiming a sizable share of the U.S. beer market (and it continues to grow even as the overall beer category is shrinking due to competition from wine, spirits, and, depending on who you talk to, cannabis.

CODO was fortunate to stumble into the beer branding world right as this boom was starting (around 2010). Back then, most of our work was with startup breweries. Branding and positioning breweries in planning in those days was relatively straightforward. They were small, personable, hyper-local, and the beer was fresh and innovative (a Black IPA, whaaa?). We got to know them, their market, and what sort of mark they wanted to make on the world. And then we told that story through beautiful design.

Some of our early brewery branding work. 

After seven years and nearly 50 of these projects across the country and around the world, our work started shifting from breweries in planning that were looking to build their brand for the first time to established breweries wanting to rebrand (some due to increased competition from successful upstarts we had branded along the way). As more breweries opened, sometimes on the same block in some markets, concrete positioning and differentiation became harder to achieve. And it became even more valuable.

At first, we would rebrand breweries that had only been open for a few years. In many of these cases, these breweries hadn’t been around long enough to have any real brand equity to speak of. Then, we started working with breweries that had been open for a 6 or 7 years, then a few that had been around for 10–15 years. Before too long, we were working with some of the oldest and most respected outfits in the country. Each of these projects came with a new set of contexts and challenges. Now, we weren’t just reworking a logo or revamping packaging, we were riding along with distributors to see what their competitive set looked like and helping legacy breweries transition from bottles to cans. We were discussing national go-to-market launch campaigns for a new SKU while at the same time figuring out how to best educate sales people, front line deliverers and taproom managers on a newly-refined brand story. We were helping to clarify a story that, in many cases, even the founders of the brewery themselves had a hard time articulating.

Through this experience, we have found that beyond compelling graphic design, the way in which a brewery announces its rebrand is almost as important as the design work itself. Of course packaging has to leap off the shelf and grab your customers’ attention to produce a measurable increase in sales, but even the most beautiful work can be hamstrung if the larger roll out isn’t navigated correctly.

There has been a through line in all the brewery rebrands we’ve handled—a concern
that we’ve heard brewery owners around the world echo: “How do we retain our brewery’s hard-earned brand equity and reputation while modernizing its look and feel? How do we speak to, and build on, all the visuals that people know, love and associate with our brewery, but set ourselves up for the next stage of our business’ life?” We call this push-and-pull concept “Evolution vs. Revolution,” and it’s one of the most important things to consider as you set out to rebrand your brewery.

In 2016, we published our first book, the Craft Beer Branding Guide, to help breweries approach their branding in a more intentional and informed way. We wrote it because we saw that the brewing industry was beginning to recognize the importance of branding. And we also saw a growing need to educate the brewing community on the branding process—how to develop a name, how to define your ownable positioning and brand essence, what’s involved in building a modular identity system, how a responsive website can improve brand recognition and increase revenue, and so forth.

Craft Beer Branding Guide, A step-by-step guide to branding your brewery, telling your story and selling a helluva lot of beer.

We’ve written this book because we’re now seeing a similar need for breweries who are considering rebranding. The market has shifted and increased competition, from small outfits and Big Craft alike, has created a more educated and fickle consumer base. Add to that an ever-changing sales and distribution environment, and breweries around the country are finding that they need to update their branding not just to clean up their presentation, but to stay relevant and competitive.

If you’re looking for a how-to guide to redesign your logo or develop stunning new cans, this book won’t be very helpful. For that, you need to hire a professional (more on this later). Instead, our aim is to give your team an overview on goal setting, building your internal and external design teams, weighing your brand equity, developing your brand strategy and releasing all of this work to the public. To help with this, we’ve also written a companion workbook that you can use to collect your thoughts and hand off to your design partner to ensure a rewarding and successful rebrand.

Pour yourself a beer and roll up those sleeves. We’ve got work to do.