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founders advertising

Viewpoint: Visual Branding

by Britten Inc  

In my experience working in the marketing department of a craft brewery, the term “marketing” covers a vast swath of responsibilities and projects.

I work for Founders Brewing Co., one of the top 50 craft breweries by volume in 2011 and one of the highest rated breweries in the world, based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We have an on-site production facility that produces beer for distribution across 23 states and also for use in our taproom, which is housed under the same roof. As with many of our fellow craft brewers, we’re growing—and we’re growing quickly.

You can skip this explanation if you work in the beer world, but I find it important to clarify to those in my field who are not in a regulated industry like mine: Due to laws that have been around since Prohibition was repealed, it is illegal for brewers to sell directly to the end consumer. When we decide that we want to start selling our beer in a particular geographic region, we sign contracts with distributors, who then own the rights to our brand in the agreed upon territories. These distributors are responsible for transporting our beer and selling our six-packs and kegs to retailers (bars, restaurants, and stores). That’s the point at which it’s available to beer drinkers, like you and me.

This means that we have three groups of customers that we have to keep in mind in all of our marketing efforts: our distributors, our retailers, and the person who’s actually going to be drinking the beer. This keeps things exciting, fun, and challenging. It also makes it easy for people along the way to dilute and misconstrue our brand and our products.

Within the marketing department, the speed of our growth in concert with our multi-level consumer base means that it’s important for us to be able to act—and react—quickly.

Let’s use a new beer launch as an example. First, we start with the beer. We assess its flavor profile and personality in order to give it a name and a label. That visual branding informs the design of a carrier, tap handle, shelf talker, and other POS materials. A larger campaign is then developed in which we design print and digital advertisements, which may also be resized and reformatted to function as posters, coasters, table tents, case cards, banners, stickers, pint glasses, etc. All of this is based on the label design; we never lose sight of that because we want beer enthusiasts to recognize the beer when they see it on the shelves. And our overall brewery branding, via our logo, is present on everything that goes out.

beer advertisement custom printed shirts

While all of these materials are being developed, we’re communicating with our employees and our distributors about this new product. Then, we write a press release and prepare to tell the media and the end consumer about the product. This information will be published on our website and promoted across our social channels—usually with use of a picture, of course. T-shirts and other product-specific merchandise are designed and sourced so that they can be sold in our company store.

Furthermore, our sales team works to set up beer release parties at bars and stores across our markets. One of our focus areas in both the sales and marketing departments is having a strong presence at both Founders-specific and larger scale industry events. Events are pivotal in the beer world because they function not only as a sampling opportunity for people who have never tried particular products but also as a way for beer enthusiasts to make a personal connection with a brewery. They meet someone who works at Founders and learn about the story of our company and our beers, straight from the source. We love events because they usually get all three groups of our consumers together in one place, sharing beers together. That’s what it’s about, after all.

But back to the tangible: We promote these events on our website and our social channels, which are all intended to convey a consistent look, tone, and feel. We’re also working to carry this look, tone, and feel through to the event itself, via both our market manager (our term for sales representatives) and event marketing materials. Visual branding can be executed by ensuring that a Founders logo sign and product-specific materials are on display at the bar that will be hosting a beer launch party or by hoisting a Founders flag and creating banners that promote the beers being poured at a festival with thousands of attendees.

On the whole, we are both content creators and brand hawks in the marketing department at Founders. We publish blog posts, compose Facebook status updates, design labels, produce videos, take photographs, write press releases, create product sell sheets, and more—but we also keep our eyes and ears peeled to verify that our brand is being represented accurately, both visually and textually, in physical and digital spaces. 

About The Author:

Sarah Aldrich is the Communications Manager at Founders Brewing Co., a leader in the craft beer industry and world-class brewery, and is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can follow Founders Brewing Co. on Twitter @FoundersBrewing. Read more articles by Sarah Aldrich on the Founders Brewing blog.