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BrewDog: inside out design and branding?

You may be aware of the term craft brewer; it’s the name given to an independently owned (and usually small-scale) brewery that produces a limited amount of beer where the emphasis is on brewing technique and flavour. Otherwise known as micro breweries, these enterprises first appeared in the UK in the 1970s and have since spread to Europe, North America, Asia and Asia-Pacific.

Probably the most well-known craft brewer in the UK is BrewDog; a brand set up in 2007 by Martin Dickie  and James Watt, two Scots who were bored with what they perceived as the bland, industrialised beers from the big breweries. What started out as a two-man-and-a-dog business five years ago now has a turnover of £20 million. And this has been achieved during the worst economic downturn the UK has seen for 60 years.

BrewDog logo
BrewDog really came to my attention when they were involved in a pub brawl with the Advertising Standards Authority. The problem began when BrewDog described itself as “a post-punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery” and fell foul of the ASA which instructed the company to remove the statement from its website because it felt that the asterisk did little to disguise the use of offensive language. The ASA also felt that other memorable phrases such as ‘rip you straight to the tits’ and ‘drill the bastards’, were also likely to cause serious offence to some people.

Things took a turn for the worse when Watt (on the right above) snarled in response: “We have thousands of craft beer fans who have invested in what we do and how we do it – they are the people we listen to – not the killjoy, self-important pen pushers at the ASA in their Burton suits. Those mother fuckers don’t have any jurisdiction over us anyway.” BrewDog’s fans then took to Twitter in their droves with the hashtag
#KissMyASA.

But now the brawling is over, for a while at least, and the furniture’s back in place, I thought I’d take a look to see how BrewDog fits the inside out theory.

I have a casual, purely social relationship with beer and alcohol in general, which means that in market researcher’s terms I most likely fall into the consumer category of 1-5 units per week. So I don’t drink huge amounts and therefore I’m by no means an expert. But the BrewDog I’ve tasted so far is wonderfully different; the beers are hoppy and malty if that’s a good way of describing them, and they’re strong too; it’s worth noting that when BrewDog introduced ‘The End of History’ limited edition brew it had an ABV of 55%.

BrewDog-labelling

So the product is good; how about the branding? As BrewDog describes itself as ‘post-punk’
the look and feel is spot-on. There’s plenty of attitude in the logo and this extends to the labelling which makes good use of  grunged-up typography on vibrant single-colour grounds, to create powerful designs with strong and distinctive shelf appeal. The copy on the reverse is right on cue too as it really taps into the spirit of the brand.

The website? It’s good; very good in my opinion. The look and feel (yes, you can ‘feel’ a website) and the tone of voice is consistent with everything else. It  tells you exactly what you want to know, is easy to navigate and makes great use of video.  There’s plenty of info on each of the beers and it’s easy to buy them online. And you’re encouraged to mix and match, even blend your own, if you want to.BrewDog--websiteThe site’s mobile version is nicely optimised and all of the functionality is carried over so it’s a great tool even if all you want to do is find your nearest BrewDog bar.  The responsive design works across all platforms and there’s an additional stripped-down version with easily legible black text on white for those who want things simplified.

BrewDog’s bars are great places to be; there are currently 13 of them in the UK with more planned. Walk into any one of them (or the ones in Japan, Brazil or Sweden) and you’ll find craft beer fans relaxing in well-designed post-modern, post-industrial spaces filled with reclaimed industrial furniture, concrete, exposed brickwork and steel. The business invests heavily in its people, so whoever you meet behind the bar will be friendly, knowledgeable and well-trained.

Bar-serving2

I believe BrewDog’s success is down to some sound principles:

  • The founders are driven by a real and genuine passion – and there’s a terrific
    back story.
  • The business offers something different – an authentic product which consumers
    want, and are willing to pay a premium price for.
  • The company knows its customers. It talks to them in a way they understand
    and it uses the right channels. In doing so it’s building a powerful and loyal
    ‘brand tribe’.
  • There is no misunderstanding about what the brand stands for and the message
    is consistent.
  • The company used crowd-funding to finance expansion. Its ‘Equity for Punks’ scheme raised £1 million in one day and was heavily over-subscribed.
  • Staff recruits are carefully vetted; they won’t employ anybody and employees have bought in to the brand’s values just as strongly as its customers.

BrewDog-Newsletters

I never really got into punk (the Sex Pistols stuff passed me by) but I loved some of the art and music that influenced it, especially from people like Andy Warhol, Lou Ree and John Cale, yet the anarchic nature of BrewDog’s post-punk culture demonstrates that is has cleverly tapped into the zeitgeist of its target audience. I think it’s a perfect example of a brand developed from the inside out.

What do you think? Take a look at www.brewdog.com. Or better still, visit any one of their bars (but please don’t even think about driving anywhere afterwards).

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Interesting article.

    Couldn’t agree more with the inside out philosophy – something very few people really understand. We still have a lot of work to do in developing our business, but our product – high capability small craft – always deliver way beyond expectations.

    We set ourselves a very demanding brief when we first started the C-Fury project, simply summarised as “To build the most capable small craft in the world”.

    We have invested a lot of time and resource into realising the design. We have sold 23 units now and have a lot in interest developing in multiple market sectors and internationally.

    Look forward to your next post.

    Best regards

    Simon

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Simon
      Many thanks for your comments. You’re right that only a small number of businesses really ‘get’ the inside out philosophy, but those that do, reap the benefits. From what I have seen from the C-Fury website, your project seems to be a great example of design and engineering working together and I wish you every success with it.

  2. Avatar
    Paul Masters

    A really interesting post, Tim. And timely too as there’s a profile of James Watts in today’s Sunday Times. Looking forward to reading more posts.

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Paul
      Thanks for your comment, and for directing me to the article in the ST. It makes interesting reading and is a refreshing change from many such articles written about how successful businesspeople view their wealth.

  3. Avatar

    What a good article Tim! Well researched, with a detached analysis that fits and makes sense. (Of Course!)
    The trick is that they have integrity. It might not be called that and the delivery might be a little undiplomatic but they are standing up for what they believe.
    I think one of the problems out there in small business land (which is what they were when they started) comes down to a lack of awareness and education. I frequently hear small business owners saying ‘I need a logo’ without any understanding of how branding gets into every corner of their business and no concept of how bad many small business brands are presented in this context. “Inside out” still applies of course, and the bad ones present exactly what they are – bad business which is not attractive, if it does not actually deter potential custom!
    The skill of the branding consultant is to reflect the integrity and the substance of the business in a memorable and attractive way to its audience. The secondary problem associated with all this is that there are quite a lot of part time promotion people who tack it onto what they actually sell (printing, promotional goods, journalism, et al) without the depth of understanding necessary to get inside the mind of a business and present it properly to the best audience out there.
    I exclude myself of course. I merely facilitate and pass opinions!

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Bob
      Many thanks for your comment. The point you raise about integrity is key I think, although I would call it authenticity. The thing that amazes me is how quickly the business has grown and it demonstrates how, with the right impetus, a small business can become truly successful.

  4. Avatar
    Andy Powell

    Great example of a good brand proposition executed effectively across a variety of channels. It seems that the founders understand the importance of sticking to the core essence of the brand values.

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Andy
      Absolutely right. It might not be to everyone’s taste – emotionally or visually – but it is beautifully consistent.

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