Designing a company that really stands out in today’s crowded marketplace is no simple task. In fact, the sad truth is that many businesses miss out on opportunities for long-standing success because they blend quietly into the background.
A small(ish) brewing company that began in Scotland, BrewDog are the ultimate insight into “cool” branding. In fact, their marketing guide “Business for Punks”, is a step-by-step journey into throwing out the rulebook, and doing whatever it takes to build an anti-boredom brand.
The BrewDog identity, all the way from their unapologetic tone of voice, to the bold colours and memorable logo makes them truly unique. Since its launch in 2007, BrewDog has come a long way, and fast. Today, it’s the UK’s fastest-growing food and drinks company, with an average annual growth of 167%.
With success like that, we couldn’t resist cracking the lid on the BrewDog branding strategy.
BrewDog brand history: Teaching an old dog new tricks
BrewDog is the best-known craft brewery in the UK, though it’s probably the most controversial too. Established in 2007 by Martin Dickie and James Watt, the brand was a dynamic way for the two Scots to break free from the “boring” industrialised beer brands that pervaded the nation.
The BrewDog brand started with two 24-year-olds spending all the cash they could get their hands on making “hardcore” beers from scratch. They produced small batches and sold them out of the back of their van at local markets. Just one year later, the BrewDog identity had grown significantly. The two entrepreneurs took out loans to buy bottling machines and tanks, and they also won the “Tenon Entrepreneur of the Year” award, too.
Constantly plagued by bans from the Portman Group, the brand was already making enemies – which was perfect for their position as the UK’s fastest-growing alternative beer brand. To help them continue their evolution, the BrewDog brand launched “Equity for Punks”, allowing their fans to get involved in the crowd-funding process.
In 2010, BrewDog opened their first bar in Aberdeen and received the gold medal in the category of “Hardcore IPA” at the World Beer Cup. By 2011, three more bars had opened in Camden, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, each featuring the “grungy” punk aesthetic key to the company’s visual identity. In 2012, the business was seeing a revenue increase of about 95% per year. In fact, they were the fastest-growing company in Scotland.
The more the BrewDog identity emerged, setting the craft beer connoisseurs apart from the other “traditional” breweries around the world, the more their popularity grew. In 2013, they opened their first international bar, and in 2014, the business released 36 different flavours of BrewDog beer. By 2015, they were officially the UK’s fastest growing brand.
Over the years, the BrewDog brand has described itself as a “post-punk, apocalyptic motherfucker of a craft brewery”. This is a company that embraces confrontation, encourages its fans to rebel, and changes the world on the back of a loud and proud approach to raw, gritty authenticity. From the beginning, the organisation set its values on a mission to “revolutionise” the beer industry in Britain, and turn culture upside down.
It’s safe to say that BrewDog have achieved their revolution.
BrewDog branding: Choosing the perfect punk image
When BrewDog first launched in 2007, their logo and labels were an immediate hit with consumers. They were bold, brightly-coloured, and grungy – perfect for the bored beer lover who craved the opportunity to try something different.
It’s this out-of-the-box thinking that has made BrewDog branding so successful over the years. Those unusual bottles, combined with that bright-blue logo helped the company to stand out when they needed to most – during those years when they were selling beers out of the back of a beat-up old van.
Immediately, the BrewDog brand placed itself at the heart of a community dedicated to beer lovers, which meant they were in a perfect position to start changing the status quo and earning loyalty from the get-go.
Of course, just like anything else in the branding world, times change, and customer preferences change with them. The BrewDog identity began with a focus on disruption, but it needed to transform into something that could become a more powerful, and dominant long-term business. That’s why, while the BrewDog brand colours remained the same, aspects of their image started to change.
As the BrewDog brand has matured, they’ve begun to tone down their visual identity, moving away from a feeling of “teenage angst” and embracing a more crafted, and customer-focused appeal. During their 2014 redesign, the company claimed that the old BrewDog logo and labels no longer represented the heart and soul of their brand.
Besides a simpler and more sophisticated black and white logo, BrewDog embraced a change to their bottle designs too. Besides an obvious alteration in style, they started to include the style of the beer on each product name, along with tasting notes to help newcomers to the industry find the flavours that are right for them.
In other words, in 2014, BrewDog evolved from being a punk company all about confrontation to a disruptive business, capable of growing and changing to suit the needs of their audience. The organisation even started embossing their labels so that they felt “awesome” in their customer’s hands.
If you strip away the extreme parts of the BrewDog identity and go beneath the punk rhetoric, the majority of this craft beer company’s success comes down to the community behind the company. People can genuinely identify with the spirit of trying to be different, breaking the rules and ignoring the status quo.
BrewDog branding today – at least from a visual perspective – is successful because it builds on brand affinity. The company has allowed their image to evolve naturally with the times, and become more appealing to a wider range of potential audience members, without letting go of the unique values that made the brand special in the first place.
BrewDog tone of voice: Marketing for punks
If you dive into the history of BrewDog, you’ll learn that the BrewDog founders started their craft beer revolution because they were “bored”. This is a brand that comes from passion, and in passion, we find the authenticity that modern customers crave in a digitally-removed and over-saturated marketplace.
Throughout the years, the BrewDog brand has established itself as one that’s never afraid of controversy. In fact, it’s notched up quite a few press releases as a result of its insane publicity stunts, which include everything from dropping taxidermy “fat cats” from a helicopter over London, to giving away free ale to voters in the general election.
The BrewDog tone of voice is built upon rebellion – a concept which it uses as a badge of honour in everything it does through marketing and consumer connections. While some of the marketing stunts present in the BrewDog branding strategy over the years have definitely rubbed consumers the wrong way, there’s no denying that the company’s dogged commitment to their identity has helped it to stand out in a crowded sector.
Whatever your path to success might look like, embracing a marketing plan that allows you to shout in the face of the status quo might be a good way to get even the smallest businesses on a customer’s radar – and fast.
The team behind the Brewdog marketing campaigns went so far as to come up with a set of value-based phrases that could help to direct future strategies, and keep the company tone of voice consistent across all marketing channels:
We bleed craft beer. This is our true North.
We are Geeks. Learn obsessively, Share evangelically.
We are uncompromising. If we don’t love it, we don’t do it. Ever.
We blow shit up. We are ambitious. We are relentless. We take risks.
From guidelines like these bold, powerful statements, creativity in the BrewDog brand flows. While the company obviously has its own commercial goals, its passion is what makes its USP as a craft beer brand more compelling. The organisation doesn’t just want to “make money”. It wants to spread the message of a cultural revolution.
BrewDog marketing strategy: From disruptive to dominant brand
The BrewDog marketing approach has never been particularly subtle. In fact, the company exploded onto the craft beer scene, with some of the most world-renowned, and impossible to ignore stunts ever designed. Of course, any emerging brand needs to be able to fine-tune its marketing and branding efforts as it grows – adjusting and enhancing their appeal to a wider audience.
Back in 2009, an “outraged individual” wrote to the Portman Group and complained about the Tokyo imperial stout produced by BrewDog, which measured in at around 18.2%. The writer claimed that it was irresponsible to promote such a strong beer in the UK, and after a few weeks, Tokyo was banned. Satisfied, the man behind the letter, James Watt, returned to his day job of running the BrewDog company.
While getting your own product banned might seem like a counter-productive move, it was an incredible first step in BrewDog’s approach to Word of Mouth Marketing. Over the years, the company has generated more gossip than you could possibly imagine, thanks to stunts that include serving the strongest beer in the world in the corpses of dead squirrels, enlisting a dwarf to petition against parliament, and designing steroid-laced pale ales for Olympians.
BrewDog’s marketing strategy might seem intense, but it’s ideal for the radical reputation the company has attempted to build over the years. By being so naturally combative, the BrewDog branding team has certainly earned the company its fair share of enemies. However, the no-nonsense approach has also allowed the business to create an army of loving fans too.
Not only is the BrewDog community invested their favourite brand because of their approach to marketing and their unique tone of voice, but they’re also literally invested in the company too. Tens of thousands of fans have bought themselves a stake in the brand with the Equity for Punks crowdfunding scheme, which is now on its fifth successful run.
Is the BrewDog brand slowing down?
With the rebrand in 2014, it might be safe to say that BrewDog has cut down on some of their more dramatic marketing campaigns over the years. The new visual identity of the organisation hints at the brand’s growing maturity. After all, now they have dozens of brands around the world, and an impact on craft beer lovers across the globe.
Yet, despite the growth, the founders behind the company insist that the original ethos remains the same. For instance, BrewDog might be growing, but the brand is still ever-dedicated to serving its customers. You simply need to look at the “DIY dog” campaign for evidence of this fact. During this strategy, BrewDog gave the recipes of its beers away to anyone and everyone who might want them.
It’s marketing strategies like these, dedicated more to the needs of customers today, than the inherent need to shock and surprise, that have helped to make the company ever-more powerful in recent years. The BrewDog brand has always been averse to traditional tactics for marketing and advertising. They don’t believe in television ads or glossy magazine prints. In fact, even their social media pages include very little advertising.
According to the founders, it’s crucial for the BrewDog branding approach to remain focused on the “punk mentality”, and the promise to “never sell out”. Instead of “marketing” themselves in any traditional sense, the BrewDog brand believes that all you really need to get ahead of the competitors in your space is an army of loyal followers.
With more than 50,000 “equity punks” jumping in to advocate for the brand, and act as dedicated ambassadors, it seems that the customer-first approach has worked well for BrewDog.
What BrewDog can teach us about breakthrough brands
Like many of the most appealing breakthrough brands in the market today, the BrewDog branding approach comes with a very clear message – one that Co-Founder James Watt has highlighted in his “Business for Punks” book.
According to James, no matter what kind of business you plan on running, you can’t achieve anything without a strong community, and a team of loyal fans to support you. As we know all-too-well here at Fabrik, the only way to get a solid community of fans is to build a product that’s not only unique but supported by an incredible brand that highlights a meaningful mission and unique personality.
Above all else, the BrewDog brand is a lesson in ignoring boring, lifeless mission statements. Today, true success in the business world isn’t just about “finding a gap in the market”. It’s about finding your crusade – something that you can run with – no matter what, with all guns blazing.
Here are just some of the things you can learn from the BrewDog branding and marketing strategy:
1. Passion creates authenticity
The BrewDog brand thrives on buy-in from its customers and brand ambassadors. They help to raise both awareness, and recognition for the company. However, BrewDog could never have earned the customers that they have today without a passion and authenticity that has prompted their customers to believe just as much in their product, as the founders do.
By launching the “Equity for Punks” campaign in 2009, BrewDog began to build the loyalty that its customers were already showing towards the company, by allowing them to truly invest in the business, and take their own piece of the BrewDog experience.
2. Product and brand must be aligned for companies to thrive
Perhaps one of the things that the BrewDog brand has gotten right more than anything else, is the ability to align product and brand. From the very first day, BrewDog has shown itself to be an independent brewer and a rebel that simply wasn’t willing to play by the rules. The ethos was made manifest in their innovative marketing schemes.
Over the years, BrewDog has behaved like a challenger brand, even when they made it as a market leader. They’ve maintained their rebellious streak in every aspect of their business, using the unique BrewDog tone of voice to stand out from the crowd. Put simply, BrewDog refuse to be anything but different.
3. Break the rules
Rules can be important in excellent branding, but they’re also worth breaking from time-to-time too. According to Watt, BrewDog is the brand embodiment of “Guy Fawkes”. Their brand, product, and business strategy have been focused on being small, but playing big, aligning business developments with the intrinsic passions that run through every aspect of the organisation.
If BrewDog hadn’t taken the “punk” approach to marketing and branding, then they never would have become the breakthrough brand that they are today. Sometimes you have to take the risks, make a few people angry, and embrace the controversy to become something truly incredible.
BrewDog: Our craft beer heroes
Craft beer companies are already in a uniquely powerful position when it comes to building strong relationships with their customers. In a world where younger millennials crave experiences, and people are becoming more cautious about associating themselves with the right brand, about 49% of consumers would pay more to buy products from a brand with an image they want to resonate.
The BrewDog branding strategy is incredible because it’s built around creating a community. Not only do they reach out and connect with their customers on a deeper level, but they’ve devoted every aspect of their brand building experience to getting the people in their network to be just as passionate as they are.
The shock tactics in their marketing strategies might be what BrewDog is known for. However, when it comes down to it, the truth is that BrewDog is powerful because they’ve gotten to the bottom of what today’s customers really need – something to stand for. The shock tactics are born from the passion to do something real, and new.
BrewDog is leading the craft beer revolution, and they’re doing it with style.
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