It is a multisensory experience that starts well before the first sip.
The growth of craft beer continues to have a lot to do with the industry’s persona. Getting consumer’s attention in a field with so many choices can be challenging for craft brewers whose best efforts can easily become lost on shelves. A great label does more than provide a way to stand out on crowded shelves; it is part of the experience.
To be successful in the beverage alcohol industry, small producers must use every tool at their disposal to stay relevant, competitive, and growing. I want to present some other ways to look at craft beer labels that can add new dimensions to building awareness and increase revenues.
Today, breweries have a lot of branding challenges, many of which have come about because of new product introductions. For example, seltzers, RTD (ready to drink) canned cocktails are strong competitors to beer, fruit flavored wines are popular, and consumer interest in low alcohol/low carb beers. Considering these changes alone, how do craft beer folks build a brand persona that will be enduring, offer consistency, and increase brand recognizable products? Equally important, how can a craft beer niche be protected from macro beer incursions?
From the store shelves to the taproom, the label is an essential component of craft beer sales and branding. Labels also play a crucial role in setting expectations, creating a memorable experience for the consumer. Labels are a terrific way for craft brewers to show that they are current, relevant, and competitive with the macro producers in local and regional markets.
Staying abreast of, or anticipating changes in the marketplace, remains a task. Adding to the changes noted above, other changes to contend with are such things as changes in consumer preferences, tastes, and social attitudes (low alcohol is one). However, never underestimate the creativity of craft brewers, they are constantly pushing the limits to remain competitive.
The craft beer industry keeps growing, but at a reduced level. “There is still quite an appetite for creative brews with more mass appeal. Labels create appeal. For example, in the Las Vegas area, CraftHaus has had success with new product launches; a strawberry mochi milkshake IPA called Sugoi, comments Andrew Kaplan who writes for Beverage Dynamics. It is a response to the flavor push by all beverage alcohol producers.
CraftHaus has built a brand persona as being leading edge risk takers. Theirs is a brand persona that stands out, it tells a company story or a product story in the Las Vegas market. A good brand or product persona personalizes the brewery and its offerings while creating a story that customers can connect with. Building a craft beer “brand persona” is not about promotion, it is about an “identity” for the brewery, the beers, and traits which customers want to be associated with.
In your view, do craft beer labels give you subliminal signals with which you can relate?
Retail consumers recognize a beer, or even a brewery, based on a label image/design. But here we are talking about the labels’ impact. Maybe using textures in label designs can be more impactful in elevating sales, better defining a brand, and presenting a stronger competitive response to product innovations.
Obviously, the label is the billboard that creates an image/expectation of the product and the company behind a brand—the company’s persona. Labels impart a personality, stimulate product trials, and should contribute to a brand persona that will carry across all products and re-enforce a brand identity that relates to consumers. A craft beer label, using textures in the design, is a venue for creativity and strong competitive product responses.
Craft beer versus the macro brands is really about consumer experiences at all points of contact with consumers which impacts sales and branding. Textures on the label create the expectations of experiences– those that are new and those that are familiar.
The question now is: If the craft beer market might be starting to feel some degradation in growth numbers, what course of action can be taken to jazz-up the effects of the label? Without a disruptive campaign, such as a re-branding effort. How about looking at textures on labels?
Craft beer has always differentiated itself by building on a reputation of quality, creativity, and a uniquely defining persona of conviviality—being a little brassy. Are labels in the craft beer industry effectively projecting those attributes into new products and maintaining relevance in staying abreast of trends? Developing seltzer products are good examples of staying current in products.
Relative to labels, there are two basic kinds of “textures”-visual and tactile. That is an important distinction, especially if a label focuses on one and not both. For example, research, by Dr. Andrew Hurley at Clemson U., shows that approximately 75% of beer purchase decisions are made in front of a product on the shelf and the label was shown to have impacted the trial/buying decision. There is research that indicates that colors and textures on labels influence a consumer’s perception as to what the beer will taste like.
If a consumer picks up a product because of the attraction of a label, the chances are they will purchase it. That adds to the products and brand’s persona.
Craft brewers are known for their eclectic label designs and use of colors and patterns on their labels. By adding such features as foils, raised print, metallics, or thermal inks, to a plain printed label these textures can enhance the messaging of a label. Even 3-D effects or a grain (like a sand) effect or employing soft touch papers are effective. These “Multisensory” labels are becoming more common.
Explaining Multisensory Labels
To add impactful elements to a new craft beer label, try a multisensory experience. The textures can be designs using aesthetic colors, patterns, and images. Craft beer labels today run the gambit of colors, fonts, and caricature images, all designed to tell consumers about the product style. Even a plain label is not trivial if it supports a branding statement that consumers respect. A good example of a minimalist label is Russian River Brewing’s ‘Pliny the Elder’ label. It does speak to the product’s persona and compliments the brand persona too.
If the growth in the craft beer market begins to slow, even slightly, brewers who overlook the possibilities of multisensory labeling may have to work harder for the attention of new customers. Label design options are changing with new products. “The ROI of adding multisensory appeal to labeling and packaging has proven itself in every kind of market,” says Michelle Leissner, CEO and president of H & H Graphics, a Chicago-area special effects printing company whose clients have included Jim Beam, Bacardi, Anheuser Busch and Chambord.
“Multisensory special effects labels create consumer engagement that other forms of promotion cannot match,” Leissner said. “Something experienced through multiple senses gets fast-tracked to the brain in a way that a purely one-dimensional visual experience does not.”
The fundamentals of craft beer labels (aside from the legal requirements) are about selling the beer and articulating the objectives of the brand/brewery. Remember, printing a label with tactile textures is not solely about the feel. A texture can tell your brain what you will experience, simply from the feel on a label, it is also what message your brain is getting from visual textures. (Every project has its own requirements; textures may not be desired. I am only highlighting additional options that can add a new dimension to branding.)
In summary, for a label to be effective, it must perform three critical functions: branding, marketing, and closing the deal. But first, a beer must be noticed. Selling craft beer is about articulating a stronger story about the beer’s attributes through textures.
The label is a complete package in itself: it tells the story of company values, it projects those values to a target demographic, and it provides information about a product’s attributes (beer style, taste, and quality, etc.). People form opinions of a beer from how a label appeals to them with all the textures (colors, images, font, feel), all without visiting a craft beer taproom.
“In 2023, ecstatic colors will be the rage for packaging design. Helping brands to grab the spotlight,” writes Catlin Collins, in a recent issue of Packaging World. “Leveraging textures is a packaging trend that enhances perceived value.” Textures in labels are anything that adds aesthetic visuals and/or tactile elements. These can include color printing, foil printing, raised inks, embossing or debossing, 3-D printing, holographic, special UV spot coatings and micro-reflective metallics. Also, newer types of papers are having a major impact on label textures.
Coors utilizes the aesthetic visual to their labels (ink on can) that changes color based upon temperature of the beer in the can. Temperature sensitive inks are not new; however, Coors has used this label technique effectively for branding.
H&H Graphics has done some product development research with printing to successfully use some new tactile innovations to print images on labels, using colors and grainy texture feel. One label application was an image having the look and tactile feel of a football.
Leissner says textures that prompt consumers to hold/feel a product have dramatic ROI (Return on Investment). Studies have shown that getting a consumer to engage with a product or its packaging is a connection that often leads straight to the check-out line. They have proven the power of multisensory appeal for everything from football-textured promotions to scented recipe cards and taco-scented wrapping paper. What do they all have in common? Consumers cannot help but pick them up.
“A study by Ohio State University suggests touch can also be profoundly influential in our buying decisions. Touching an item on a store shelf, the study found, can create an attachment that makes someone more willing to buy, while also increasing the price he or she is willing to pay,” says Michelle Leissner. These are the same results Dr. Hurley found in his packaging research.
Here are some multisensory textures that could be incorporated into beer labels:
- Metallic Reflective Particles – Metallic particle printing uses a dense specialty finish that adds pop, sparkle, and elegance in any color. As opposed to old- fashion glitter, this effect does not wear off.
- Pearlescent Effect – This creates a colorful and vibrant shimmering pearl-like visual effect.
- Scratch-n-Sniff — Consumers can not only see your label, but they can also FEEL it and SMELL it. When you engage multiple senses, they will remember it. From freshly baked cookies to freshly cut grass and everything in between, scent creates a powerful connection to memories and emotions.
- Textured Printing and Soft Touch –Textured printing can reproduce the soft touch of a blanket, the nubby leather feel of a football or the grooves of a tire tread. Textured printing can utilize raised ink (like on business cards), paper that can give a soft feel, or the look and appearance of hops.
- Snapshot Effect – A label printed with a hidden message revealed in the image of a flash photo taken on your cell phone. The image can be used as part of a promotion, sweepstakes, or discount code.
- Holograms or similar effects can attract attention for the visuals. In the mid 70’s National Geographics Magazine used a hologram of a bird on the cover of all their monthly magazines. As the image was moved, by the person viewing the cover, the holographic image of the bird flapped its wings and as in-flight.
- Iridescent color effects are newer and are highly impactful. It is a printing process that displays luminous colors that change based upon light source and visual angles. Kerry Stevenson writing for website Fabballo says, “They are quite noticeable if you encounter iridescent 3D printing.”
In discussions with several printing companies that do label printing for craft beer and wine clients, they point out that a straightforward label on plain self-adhesive paper and using standard inks, is the most economical label. Depending on quantities and size of such labels, they can cost $0.05 to $0.065 each. Textured labels can cost twice that amount. Like brewing beer, cost is a function of quantity, quality, and complexity.
One of the advantages of being a craft beer producer is to have immediate firsthand control of the persona of the product and brand. The immediacy of decision-making impacting the brand(s) is a differentiator versus macro brands. It is hard to target local and regional markets as a big domestic/international brewery.
The editorial team at Indeed says, “A differentiation strategy is an approach by a business that shows customers something unique, different, and distinct from items their competitors may offer. The main objective of implementing a differentiation strategy is to increase competitive advantage.” Craft already competes effectively on quality and innovation. It costs more because the ingredients are quality and being handcrafted.
Textured approach to craft beer labels might just be a new tool for craft beer brewers.
# Cheers! #