These days, a trip down the beer aisle can be a bit overwhelming—with mainstream and craft brewers vying for consumer attention in an increasingly crowded space. At the same time, consumers are demanding distinctive package design and true innovation.
The question is, are designers listening?
Current Design Challenges
The challenges are the same for beer designers as they are for all brands—creating a connection. How does this brand speak to me? What does it say about me? What is true about the brand that’s also true about the consumer, and how do brand designers convey that in the few seconds it takes to travel down the aisle?
For some time, there’s been a tendency to name flagship beers more evocatively than functionally. The result is that consumers order by beer name and don’t connect that order to the actual brewery (or sometimes even have awareness of it). The opportunity is to promote the vision and philosophy of the brewery first, and then offer the beer as an extension of it.
It used to be enough to simply say, “We love beer.” Now, the authenticity has to be more about the beer itself. How is this beer an expression of the brewery’s values, their vision, passion, or drive? What about the beer can be conveyed on the package that’s going to express this to the consumer? You need to convey what makes your brand different. Otherwise, why would the consumer choose your IPA out of the 10 to 20 others next to it on the shelf? The authenticity of your beer has to resonate in a way that helps the consumer believe the beer is better and, in many cases, justify a reason for them to pay more for it.
Graphic & Structural Trends
Mass domestics have seen dynamic change—from thermo chromic inks to custom forms. Within the craft market, the focus has been more on storytelling and creating a cohesive brand experience that extends to the package structure. The biggest recent trend in craft has been the move into cans—creating an unbroken design canvas with an opportunity to tell a consistent story without the interruption of bottle structure.
Many breweries have created more personal narratives, bringing the voice of the brand and the brewery through on-pack. Copy is also being used as a design element, acting more like a billboard that grabs attention and less like body copy.
Changing Beer Consumers
There’s certainly been increased focus on specialization—particular breweries renowned for a style, a taste, or an expertise. And part of the change is delivering to specific audiences exactly what they are looking for: you see more big IPAs, more deep Porters, and even hyper-specialized customer bases like Gluten-free.
Another real challenge is establishing repeat business. With more and more options on shelf, there’s a ton of trial happening right now. We’ve actually trained the consumer to be variety seeking. This is why it’s so important to sell the brewery and not just the beer. If it’s just a series of flavor experiences, it doesn’t matter that the consumer chooses a different beer each time. Brands need to find ways to resonate with consumers at an intuitive, visual level they can understand and recognize every time they are in the grocery store or in the bar.
Ultimately, the opportunity for designers is to catch up to the artistry being offered in the bottle or can. We need to be innovating in the same way the brewers are—to be telling their stories in new ways, finding ways to break through to consumers and connect with them. The challenge is on us to do right by the breweries with which we work.
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