abandon their online classes or Instagram tutorials; they will remain key to driving e-commerce sales (if you’re in a state that allows it) and collecting data that can be used to improve the marketing approach. If you haven’t considered the way that your online marketing is representing your brand, now is definitely the time to do so. “I think you need to spend a little extra time and money and thought to make sure that image is representing what’s happening on your packaging,” said Don Wright, owner and chief strategic officer at Wright Global Graphics. “Design matters. To simplify the statement, that’s what it comes down to.” The design behind a brand’s packaging and marketing has always been impactful, but without that human element to help make the sale, it is now paramount to success. Investment of the time and energy to incorporate some design into the packaging and the marketing of a brand will certainly continue moving forward, and brands that are familiar with the online marketplace will know to put an emphasis on consistency. That will be crucial in communicating their story to potential consumers. This is also the time to consider whether your brand is staying true to your values or simply riffing on what has been popular in the past. Matt Ebbing, founder and chief creative director at Ebbing Branding + Design, expects the tide to turn on generic spirits labeling: “Take a walk down the whiskey or gin aisle at your favorite liquor store — so many of these bottles look like they were designed for my dad, or my dad’s dad,” he said. “We see a lot of passion (and influencers) in the younger cocktail and spirits audience, and they’re looking for brands to connect with that share their attitude and values.” Taking a risk on a more unique packaging design might not be so risky after all; in a crowded online marketplace, it could be the distinctive label that stands out. To further evince their individualism, a greater number of brands seems intent on taking packaging up a level. According to Stephane Stanton-Brand, Saverglass’ east coast market manager for the US and Canada, bottle personalization was already on the rise before COVID and is showing itself to have the legs to continue. There are multiple ways to do so, including embossment, adornments, and decorations of all sorts. “The most dramatic way is to create your own bottle, and a lot of people are doing that and COVID doesn’t seem to have slowed that down at all,” he explained. Those that choose to invest in the small upgrades that ultimately elevate their product will be sure that they don’t skimp on the imaging side of marketing. Sticking a bottle in front of a white background and snapping a couple of pictures on an iPhone will not do any longer. Now is the time to bug a friend with a decent understanding of Lightroom or hire a professional.
MORE THAN A BUSINESS Seeing that a company is operating in a way that is beneficial to the greater good is of increasing interest for a large segment of consumers. Following COVID-19, a stressful political cycle, and the recent spotlight on inequality, customers are now concerned more than ever with spending their money wisely. They want more than just value; they want to make sure that they are purchasing in an ethical fashion. We have already seen examples of industry members taking action and using their platforms for good. This year, San Antonio, Texas-based brewery Weathered Souls launched the Black Is Beautiful initiative, which is an interactive mission committed to bringing awareness to the injustices suffered by people of color on a regular basis. Participating breweries were asked to donate 100 percent of the proceeds to a local organization of their choosing that supports police reform and legal defenses for those who have been wrongfully arrested. They are also asked to commit to the long-term work of establishing equality and inclusion in the brewing business and beyond. A stout recipe was provided to breweries as a base with a directive that they be as creative as they like to add their own spin. So far, 1,207 breweries from all 50 states and 22 countries have participated in the initiative, and that number is still growing. Within the distilling industry, Du Nord Spirits in Minneapolis, Minnesota established a fund to help build back businesses in the Twin Cities that were affected during the protests, and, in collaboration with Tattersall Distilling and Brother Justus Whiskey Co as the All Hands MN Team, donated one million meals to Second Harvest Heartland in May 2020. Last year, STEPUP (Spirits Training Entrepreneurship Program for Underrepresented Professionals) Foundation was launched and is offering internships to increase diversity within our industry. Brand activism is a part of the future of this business. Consumers have had plenty of time to watch brands as they react to the events of this last year, and they are taking note. For a small business owner, it was always beneficial to be open about their values and what they support; it’s an easy and honest way to find passionate fans amidst the larger drinking public. But moving forward it seems likely that that kind of behavior will ramp up even more. COVID-19 knocked many in this industry back a step, but it also created an opportunity to start to heal old wounds. “You can almost say you’ve looked at this disaster — whatever it is, it’s a disaster — and it’s heightened everyone’s awareness of the things that are broken perhaps,” said Wright. Things that are broken don’t have to stay that way — there is always the opportunity to fix them, if enough individuals are willing to do the work.
Devon Trevathan writes about spirits, wine, and cocktails for a variety of publications. Her focus tends to be on the science behind distillation and the history of drink culture. When she’s not working, she’s probably at home in Nashville painting watercolor tasting notes or dreaming about the pack of dogs she hopes to have one day. You can follow her @devontrevathan on Instagram and Twitter, or find her at a bar with a Negroni in hand.
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