Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

23 August

Craft beer design: big lessons from little creatures

I’m no designer but I do see craft beer brands that get it, and I cringe for the ones who don’t. ‘Cringe’ because so much passion and effort for the beer just fails to transmit due to dull design.

I’ve always been impressed with the design for Little Creatures.

Great brand name. It dares to be different via stylish clean lines. I especially love the chunky pint bottle pack. And the fresh hopped, bitter Pale Ale just happens to be one of my fave drops. Importantly the market likes it; it’s still here.

Beerlines tracked down one of Little Creatures’ founders, Phil Sexton, to investigate the impact of design. He’s moved on from beer to Yarra Valley wines with two well-known, and well designed, brands: Giant Steps  and Innocent Bystander.

Phil linked me up with Steve Boros, Design Director at the Western Australian firm brainCELLS Pty Ltd which designed Little Creatures and still work for the brand. They also did Innocent Bystander.

Steve played the central design role in the total package that is ‘Little Creatures’. He brought together the many design elements, notably the label and bottle shapes – including the lovely (I want to pick it up) pint pictured here.

I put some questions to Steve who provided these thought-provoking, professional responses.

Why is design important to craft beer brands?

Craft breweries and brands have exploded over the last five or so years: in America to start with but now on the rampage globally.

With all beverages shelf-presence is vital. If it’s not on shelf – and then standing out on shelf – well, people won’t buy it. Simple!

Craft beers tend to take on a particular – peculiar? – look to suit the market(s) where they want to sit. And clearly it’s impossible to fit all markets with one label. A particular look that suits is key, and that look is as far removed from mainstream beer brands as possible!

I see a link between the state of the market and the growth in craft beers. It’s not a coincidence, in my opinion, that the small back-alley bars (like Melbourne’s), gastropubs, tapas bars and the like are booming hand-in-hand with the expansion of craft beers.

Craft beers pride themselves on being authentic; using natural ingredients; and providing alternative styles to typical mainstream lagers like VB or Tooheys New.

Labels have to reflect this.

They also have to show that they know today’s drinkers are pretty switched on. They want to drink a beer that ticks all the boxes; it must taste great and look pretty damn good as well.

How can design underline a craft beer brand’s story?

It seems that wherever a well-established wine region is thriving, craft breweries pop up in the same neighbourhood; they always seem popular.

The wine snob is being replaced by the beer geek!

Our agency creates a lot of wine brands as well as beer. The design rules we apply are very similar.

If you have a good/real story behind your brand and people believe your proposition then you are half way there: a great brand name that people remember is priceless too!

It’s pretty easy to spot the craft beer design flops out there. They stand out with a terrible label that’s been concocted by the owner’s mate who has a PC and did art in school!

It happens… sorry to say.

Good label design usually comes from a good brief which has come directly from the owner or brewer who is passionate about the brew and wants to tell us his/her story.

And that story involves where the ingredients come from; what it tastes like; what fermentation techniques are used; and where the bottles are sourced. This colour all helps the design process and keeps the story authentic.

It’s our job as designers to absorb all that information – including the tone of the story – and tell it visually on the label in the best possible way.

The outcome is a visual identity which shows these brewers are not only passionate about making a unique beer, they care enough to go the extra mile and present it in a great looking, meaningful package.

That’s the essence of good design.

What should craft brewers do to improve design?

Firstly recognise that design is an important part of the process of establishing a presence in the market.

It is amazing how many people spend up on the best ingredients and great equipment and then compromise on visual design.

Unfortunately it’s often an afterthought: which is such as shame as look and feel of the package is such a vital, yet intangible, link with consumers.

It might taste great. You may have the best brewing equipment. But if it doesn’t look right then people won’t pick it up and it won’t sell. I’ll add to that: if it doesn’t look cool then it won’t attract the cool audience you’re targeting. Enough said.

Trust me on this: put your trust in good, experienced designers who are passionate about helping your brand become successful and who listen to what you want and who/where you are targeting your sales.

And don’t leave it till the last minute. As soon as you have a name and a story, start speaking to good design people. Remember this is more than a label; it’s a brand: your brand. And ‘brand’ is simply another word for reputation in market.

Your designer should cover everything about your brand. It should all fit together: from crown seal, labels, six pack baskets, shippers, coasters and tap decals to point of sale material, websites and other electronic media including online and social media such as blogs.

It all must be consistent and carry the brand message consistently.

Last, find a good fit. Not all designers are precious wankers, there are good designers out there who don’t wear turtle necks and act like tools!

If this post has got you thinking about your craft beer brand – even just a bit – then please check out our brainCELLS website for other food and beverage brands we have worked on.

Promise: no turtlenecks or bow ties! Cheers?

PS: Thanks to Steve for beerlines’ first guest post and for being so helpful.