I was sitting at Barrel Republic with my friends, Allyson, her husband, Brandon, and her sister, Jessica, and her husband, Joey (that's Allyson and Brandon, Jessica and Joey for you comma haters).
I don't drink, but beer branding has always fascinated me. Mostly because it's incredibly well done and shows the magnitude branding has on a product with thousands of companies to choose from. I was curious, though, if this group had any favorites.
Allyson is a fan of Coronado Brewing Company. Brandon chooses Ballast Point. For Jessica, Modern Times. And lastly, Joey went with Stone.
There are a couple things to keep in mind here. Some overarching themes in the brands they chose are as follows: local, independently rooted, craft beer from their hometown of San Diego. Seems to be the baseline.
A deeper dive: each person's personality is reflected in the brand of beer they chose.
Allyson loves to be at the beach and spending time with good people. When she's having a beer, her goal is to simply relax and enjoy herself.
Brandon also loves the beach, but he's also a craftsman and skilled woodworker. He loves to build things and has immense attention to detail. It's no wonder he opted to go with a beer brand "dedicated to the craft." When he has a beer, he wants to relax, but he's still looking for that craftsmanship.
Jessica is a neo-hippy with a passion for eccentricity and flair (funky, one-a-kind clothes and such). What better brewery for Jessica than one with a post-it mural of Michael Jackson in it's tasting room?
Joey is rugged and straightforward. Need I say more? He aligns with the gritty independent nature of Stone's ethos and can respect their rebellious attitude.
Here's the thing:
The beer itself is relatively similar. The flavors these companies provide could be swapped and no one would really know the difference. However, the personalities and attitudes of these breweries resonate with specific people.
Each of my friends made their choice for a reason: that beer brand was intentionally made for someone like them.
Alright, say you want a logo for your startup. For an experienced designer, this has a streamlined process as well as varying tiers of engagement. They also have a rate for which they will carry these services out. Unless added variables outside of these packages are added, the price shouldn't change that much.
Now say you want a custom e-commerce website, with a bunch of third party integrations, some help on copy, sourcing photos and icons, and then recurring maintenance. You don't know how many pages there are, who is responsible for a lot of the things that will go into the site, it's all custom.
Here's the thing, some design work can be structured within a detailed process. Projects like that should have fixed prices based on the value the designer is bringing to the table. Projects that are unique and require just as much planning as they do execution get custom prices.
In the instance of the latter, it makes sense to dedicate 10% of the estimated budget to getting three, tiered, custom options.
This is the fifth article in a small series of punches surrounding April Dunford's Obviously Awesome! and how good positioning relates to good branding. Please read the first article, second article, third article, and fourth article before jumping into this one.
You know what the alternatives are, you know the special things that make your startup unique, you've established what makes that valuable, and you know who finds it the most valuable. Now, what frame of reference can you give to customers that will help them understand who you are?
This is accomplished through establishing a market category. For example, an automobile is a specific market, motorcycles are another. If you say your startup is going to be an automobile, it is assumed that it will be some kind of four-wheeled transportation. If a motorcycle, it is assumed it will be two-wheeled.
Same thing applies to software. If you are building out a creative software, it's assumed it will be capable of creating artwork digitally. Or if you were creating a video conferencing platform, it'd be assumed you could do something like connect with others via teleconference.
Why does this matter? Because it's important to make sure you don't allow for false assumptions. A famous mash of market category explanation is "it's like Uber, but for (blank)." What does that mean? It means that whatever you're building is going to have something to do with transportation, the shared economic model, and probably be app based, right?
When you repeat those assumptions to startup founders, you frequently get a response similar to, "well, kinda."
Ouch. Bad move. Now you've got a bigger problem. Now you have to combat assumptions and pay close attention to fix them.
At its core, market categories and choosing to associate your company with one is done to make your marketing easier. This happens because, when done right, those assumptions allow you to cut straight to the differentiating pieces of your startup rather than trying to explain what it is.
What does this have to do with branding?
I'd guess the biggest impact this has on branding is the ability to see what assumptions are already in place about the emotional value of the category. The companies in each market category have stigmas, jargon, and they tend to adopt similar brand personalities. You have the opportunity to break those assumptions and create a unique personality.
One company that comes to mind is Liquid Death, who blew past expectation when they took a death-metal inspired, brewery-like approach to selling water. They entered a crowded market with few companies straying from a fresh, clean, and renewing vibe. We know what it is, water, and because of the market category we are able to ascertain what separates it from the rest of the herd.