A sense of place, or of local identity, has always been important in the branding of beer. That’s still the case today.
I’ve written before about local beer vs good beer. Perhaps local isn’t quite the unique selling point it once was but it still holds persuasive power over potential consumers.
It sort of explains the number of breweries we see that wear their city or suburb as a badge of honour. Sometimes this is front and foremost as the brewery name. We can see that locally with Sydney Brewery and Balmain Brewing.
Across the country we’ve seen the likes of Mornington Peninsula, Barossa Valley Brewing, Bright Brewery, Brisbane Brewing Co. and lots more wear their home as their primary means of identification.
For early entrants into a market that isn’t well served for good beer, capturing the name and identity of place is a strategy that can be used to connect with consumers.Perhaps local isn’t quite the unique selling point it once was but it still holds persuasive power... Click To Tweet
What If It’s Not Local?
But what if breweries are nefarious in their use of place names? What if the beer isn’t really local?
To demonstrate the pride people take in local beer and the value people put on it, we can look at what happened with Sharp’s Doom Bar in the UK. Originally brewed in Cornwall, there was uproar when people discovered that the bottled beer was actually brewed at the Molson-Coors plant in Burton-on-Trent, hundreds of miles away.
Sharp’s reassured consumers that the cask and keg beer was still brewed in Cornwall but damage was done to the brand among beer enthusiasts and loyal Doom Bar drinkers.
In Australia the subject has been raised with the case of Byron Bay Brewing. The brewery, owned by Lion, produces a very limited amount of their beer in Byron Bay, with much of it now being brewed at West End in Adelaide. It brings into question the authenticity of the name and how it resonates with consumers.
Another Australian example is Thunder Road (who are also involved in a dispute with Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood over the Pacific Ale name).
Thunder Road’s core range contains Brunswick Bitter and Collingwood Draught. Both clearly tap into sections of Melbourne’s market.
The brewery also tried and failed to unlock a number of heritage beer brand labels from the control of Carlton United Breweries. The brands included the likes of Richmond Lager and Ballarat Bitter, making it clear that Thunder Road’s strategy puts an emphasis on local branding.
While Thunder Road might have a brew house in Brunswick, they don’t have a presence in each of those towns and suburbs.
If a consumer buys a beer based on an intention to support local business, then it seems deceptive of a brewery to cynically cash in on that good intention. In that situation, a consumer has every right to feel deceived.
In the long run, it won’t be good for a brewery’s reputation as customers will look elsewhere.
Local Identity: An Australian Pre-Occupation
Local ownership of beer has always been important in Australia. You can see that whenever State of Origin rolls around. The Queensland team sports XXXX as a sponsor while New South Wales recently wore VB and will return to a more local brand, Toohey’s, from 2018.
These large beer brands have long played off their regional identities. Among many consumers there’s been a sense of parochial pride in their choice of beer. It’s still happening as we can see from the recent success of Great Northern and the resurgence of Melbourne Bitter.
Even among craft beer drinkers, there’s frequently a preference for supporting local breweries. In Sydney, we see “battle of the brewer” events where the inner west breweries are pitted against those from the north shore. People wear t-shirts, hats and hoodies representing their favourite local breweries. Local pride, reflected through your choice of beer, remains a thing.Local pride, reflected through your choice of beer, remains a thing. Click To Tweet
Doing It Differently
When it comes to capturing a local identity, some brewers are doing the polar opposite to such obvious branding.
Those doing it differently are putting a sense of place at the heart of what they do. In most cases, this isn’t explicit in the branding but is a part of their ethos, a part of how they speak to customers who are already engaged in what they have to offer. The likes of Wildflower Brewing & Blending, who are creating beer with local ingredients wherever possible, are at the forefront of this.
Being local and capturing a sense of place doesn’t require a place name on the label. It can be how a brewery speaks, acts and engages with local customers, how they present their brand online and through the use of subtle visual cues they use in their branding.Being local and capturing a sense of place doesn't require a place name on the label. Click To Tweet
Place is going to remain important in how breweries market and sell their beer but there are different ways to do it, some good, some less so. The most important thing is that it should be authentic. It shouldn’t deceive consumers.