Branded craft brews present some of the same challenges and rewards as branding in the wine category. The rules of branding for wine, craft beer, or any beverage include telling a unique story and creating a breakout visual expression. As a designer myself, I’ve seen the most successful craft beer brands attempt to evoke a sense of time, place, or experience that is communicated through the typography, graphics, illustration and, colors on the can or bottle. The product stories, and visual iconography, are as varied as the brewmasters themselves.
While a consumers may have a type of beer in mind as they walk through a retailer’s aisles, they use the imagery on your package to help them make a buying decision. Packaging that’s bold and breaks from category grabs their attention. Visual storytelling is an essential part of creating and designing a craft brew brand. How can you bring to life those stories visually to articulate your unique craft beer brand? Read on…
The first step in having your craft beer package tell its story is using residual codes and semiotics (the study of symbols and their meaning and interpretation) from our culture, shopping experience, and the other brands around us. Residual codes are the messages that are most familiar and have existed in the category for 20 years or more. These visual codes tell a story from the past. One example is Stella Artois, which brilliantly uses the coat of arms as a visual badge for the brand. The nostalgic use of the oval-shaped logo and classic-colored bottle communicates quality and a heritage of great ingredients, expert processes, and a legacy of the brand. Coupled with the fact that Stella is served in its uniquely shaped, branded glass at restaurants and bars, the brand is intent on providing a one-of-a-kind branded experience–even before the first sip.
Next, there are dominant codes in a product category. Dominant codes are prominent and ubiquitous, telling stories of today that lean into popular visual codes. Some examples of dominant codes are the use of metallic colors, layered graphics, and icons. The story of a brand may be told with a frosty glass, a frothy foam on top, and bold graphics and type.
Emerging codes represent the new and most differentiating stories in a product category. These codes tell consumers what’s new and on the cutting edge in a beverage category, with unique, custom-crafted, engaging type and visuals that appear to explode off the can (an example is Rogue beer, where the illustration seems to pop off the package.) In craft beer, the stories range from simple with clean patterns and textures to bold works of art, with graphics commissioned by artists to tell their unique story.
Authenticity is critical in visual design for craft beer–you can celebrate the location where the product is made, the ingredients and flavors inside, or capitalize on the outside. Today, craft brewers understand that anything goes when it comes to design and packaging as long as it fulfills your brand’s vision. Understanding the history of the founders and legacy story of the brand can provide insight onto how to build a story that stands the test of time. For example, Dale’s Pale Ale is named after founder Dale Katechis; Deschutes Brewing is located next to the Deschutes river; and 3 Floyd’s Brewing Co. celebrates a passion for heavy metal music.
Here are five examples to inspire your craft beer to stand out on shelf:
Most often, beer bought at the taproom will come in a glass growler or can crowler. These tend to be minimal in design and their main function is to let the consumer know when it was bottled/canned for freshness. Plus, the brewmaster has the opportunity to make the experience more personal (e.g. have the brewmaster sign the label, add a tag that gives them more information about the beer, or encourage a fan to post images on Instagram of the coolest growler ever).
The best way to keep consumers coming back to your brew, of course, is to create a great-tasting beer. Some brands create a signature beer that becomes synonymous with the brand and never changes, like a Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point. Other craft brewers use limited-edition or seasonal flavors to keep consumers interested–a popular way to “test” flavors and ingredients before mass-producing them.
Ultimately, there are three guiding points for designing any craft beer brand: