Labels are a “front door” to product branding, on display at the recent Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO, USA. The festival showcased award-winning craft beer tastes along with good looks.
Despite the indisputable importance of good-looking labels to product “curb appeal,” manufacturers don’t always prioritize their development. Well-thought-out, informative and creatively designed labels are a powerful sales and retention tool – first to get somebody to try, then to get them to continue to buy.
In contrast, overly-cluttered, poorly designed and shoddily printed labels, coupled with inadequate content quality control – right down to typos and ingredient inaccuracies – ultimately portray the product in a bad light.
This is true regardless of market conditions. Even in good times, craft beer branding is a hot topic. Last year, Foodandwine.com magazine talked about the importance of branding in a booming craft beer market: “With the craft-beer market showing no signs of slowing down and shelf space at a premium across nearly every aisle, there’s no denying how important graphic design is these days. Compelling packaging is so crucial to a brewery’s growth, in fact, that the industry’s old and new guard seem to be in a steady race of rebranding themselves.”
This year, craft beer sales have dropped. According to theknow.denverpost.com, “…craft beer’s 3.9% growth is the lowest in a decade – especially since, not long ago, the market was seeing growth rates of up to 18% a year. In an environment where even great taste can’t singlehandedly save the day, compelling and memorable branding can be a major differentiator.
An article by 99designs.com underscores the importance of great-looking labels: “Don’t be coy, you can just say it. Your beer is better than the name brands! Now, it’s time to take your passion to the next level… but convincing strangers to try your brand is a lot harder than convincing your friends and family. You’re going to need powerful beer labels. But what does that mean for you, the small-time brewer with lots of heart and an even heartier beer? It means there’s no point in waiting to realize your big-brewery dreams. The problem with most small-scale brewers, though, is they don’t know as much about marketing and design as they do about hops and fermentation.”
How can product manufacturers up their game in the label and branding department? Consider:
Displaying your labels along with those of your top competitors in a test setting. Notice what draws attention to you and what doesn’t. If your label isn’t jumping out at you, it may well be time to jump out of it into something that will stack up well against the competition.
Studying them for quality content. Is the verbiage well-written, enough to be compelling without sounding overly salesy or making unsubstantiated claims? Is it typo-free? If warranted, have you checked ingredients to make sure they are accurate? You may be surprised at how many times such measurements as microgram (mcg) and milligram (mg) are misprinted. Of course, given the sloppiness inherent in everything from national TV commercials to print and digital media reports, that doesn’t come as a total shock. Just don’t let it become a shock (or annoyance) to your buyers.
Ditching the teeny type. I keep harping on this, but the prevalence of two-point type continues to confound. Recent TV commercials spotlight lighted magnifying glasses designed specifically for such challenges. Make the type more readable by increasing font size, contrast, etc. where necessary. Crisply and clearly printed labels can help legibility as well – as can techniques for expanding the terrain. One increasingly popular option is extended content labels that fold out to reveal in-depth information.
Making labels serve a novel function. Following through on the extended content label concept can be a great branding and marketing tool. For example, Outer Range Brewing Co. in the Colorado mountains developed a trail map on its beer labels – effectively turning the product into a popular tourist attraction, as well as pleasing people’s palates.
Talking to buyers for their suggestions. People love to be consulted. Talk to them (don’t email, text or ask them to take a survey) and get their top-of-mind thoughts about what you do well, and what you could do better in branding and labeling. And, of course, use the opportunity to gather intel about product quality, et al. Where possible, do this in person. Phone, Zoom or other communication platforms can suffice where necessary. The key point is to engage. Spend some quality time with a relatively small group of people.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Making your products feel comfortable, safe and attractive to buyers – which effective branding and labels can help do – should be an integral part of the process.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.