« Back to Blog July 6, 2015 | Packaging Design

Designing Focused Beer Labels That Sell

There are limitless directions a designer can go when designing a beer label. A beer label can be fun or silly, serious or elegant, or just plain weird.

But before a designer can start coming up with beer label designs it is important to determine what the focus of each label will be. Will the brand be front and center, prominently displaying the brewery’s logo above all other graphical elements? Or will each beer style be unique, essentially branding each variety of beer that the brewer makes?

There is a lot to consider when deciding on a strategy for your beer label’s design. Considering the pros and cons of each strategy will help determine what is the best route for your brand’s strategy.

Brand-focused Beer Label Design

Brand-focused beer labels are designed to showcase the brewery itself over the specific beer that their customer is drinking. It creates a connection to the brand as a whole instead of just that specific beer.

By promoting the brand front-and-center you create a stronger connection with your customer base to your company itself. Your customers will come to associate your brand with the quality of your product. It won’t matter which style of beer they pick up, if it has your logo on it, your loyal fans will know it will be great.

One of these such breweries for me is Dogfish Head Brewery. Each of their labels features their distinct logo at the top, large and in view, with only color changes between their different styles. You aren’t buying a 60-minute IPA or an India Brown Ale, you’re buying a Dogfish Head.

When you opt for a brand-focused label, it’s easy to fall in to the trap of “sameness.” Each of your beers look so much alike, they all blend together. And when they all blend together, they won’t stand out on the shelf. Shelf appeal is how you grab new customers. You can’t rely entirely on your existing fanbase if you want to succeed and grow.

Style-focused Beer Label Design

When I say style, I am refering to the individual style of beer instead of the brewery itself. (Think “Boston Lager” instead of “Sam Adams.”) Style focused beer labels are designed to create a strong connection between the consumer and the specific beer they are drinking, not necessarily the brewery that made it.

By promoting the style of beer over the overall brand, you have a unique opportunity to create very specific, tailored designs to each beer the brewery makes. There is a much greater opportunity to design something eyecatching that will get a potential customer’s attention by coming up with something that is out of ordinary.

Flying Dog Brewery arguably has the most unique beer label designs out there. Each one of their beers features a unique illustration by world-famous artist Ralph Steadman. Every label has it’s own distinct illustration, color scheme, and typography. The Flying Dog logo is only featured on the neck label.

Flying Dog Brewery Beers

These beers may grab a new customers attention, and lure them in to make an initial purchase, but it isn’t very obvious who brews these beers. Style-focused beer label design means creating a brand connection between the customer and that *single* beer. Which means that if that style of beer is out of stock at the local beer store, your customer won’t just opt for another beer from your brewery by default. Their loyalty lies in a different place.

So, what makes a good beer label design?

The most effective beer labels merge the two strategies in to an effective balance. Grabbing a potential customer’s attention with a unique design, and reminding them of the quality company that brewed the beer.

One of my absolute favorite beer brand identities is for Uinta Brewing from Salt Lake City. Every one of their beers features a bright, beautiful illustration and the beer’s unique name front and center. The brewery’s logo is very small, almost completely overshadowed by the rest of the design. To make up for this, each of their bottles has a bright red cap with logo right on top. Everyone knows who brewed this beer right before they open it up.

This is how you get someone’s attention when they’re staring at a hundred different 6-packs in a cooler. These designs jump out and grab your attention. Each style of beer has it’s own unique brand, while maintaining a high level of consistency to the overall brand.

It is impossible to completely shape how customers will view your different offerings. Some people have favorite breweries, others have favorite beers. Brand loyalty is harder to achieve in an industry where trying as many different varieties of product as possible is part of what drives a portion of your customer base.

The best thing you can do when planning for or designing beer labels is to utilize the strengths of both brand-focused and style-focused strategies. Make each of your labels an individual part of a greater whole. Put something beautiful and eye-catching on your label, and never let your customers forget who brewed this delicious beer they’re drinking.

And most important of all, create a superior product. All the pretty packaging in the world won’t save a beer no one wants to drink.

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