Most small business branding consultants "clarify" what you think about yourself and your business.

The problem with the "gain clarity" approach is that it has nothing to do with market realities. It represents what you think, not what your potential buyers think. An owner's passion and vision are irrelevant without market demand.

42% of startups fail because there is no market need for their products or services.


Shit brand consultants, defined

Marketing professor Mark Ritson wrote a hilarious and widely shared seven-point rant on how to recognize a shit brand consultant. Here is a summary:

  1. First, any mention of millennials means you are dealing with a marketing moron...14 million British millennials fail every possible test of segmentation
  2. Second, look out for consultants that are happy to advise without any data or with just qualitative or quantitative data and not both... One of the signals of a bad consultant is a comfort with making big decisions with no data
  3. The crapper the brand consulting firm the more concepts they try and sell you...There is no one accepted term for what most call brand positioning. You can call it brand values, brand attributes, value proposition and so on. But a decent brand consultant will focus you on one concept to represent what you want to stand for in the market.
  4. Next, look out for certain trigger words... innovative, lifestyle, aspirational, integrity, trusted partner.... [these words are meaningless to consumers and cannot create a strong brand]
  5. If they reference Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a branded cow, or a reputation taking years to build...leave
  6. If your consulting firm has a trademark attached to their special branding methodology....exit
  7. Steve Jobs and Apple have nothing to do with your portable toilet business

Why is small business branding bullshit?

The big reason is, ironically, lack of market demand.

It takes 60 hours (minimum) to properly research the market, customers, and competition of a business. Then you have to analyze the data and come up with a strategy that fits the puzzle pieces. You also have to pay for access to relevant third-party research. So, a small business brand consultant would have to charge at least $15,000 to be profitable.

In fact, the work involved in a researched brand strategy for a small business is not much different than the work required for a midsized company.

Most small businesses won't shell out $15,000 for a strategy. Especially since (a) they don't really understand the value of a strategy, and (b) many graphic design firms claim to include a strategy with their logo/website/whatever designs for free.

Given that market demand is low, there are almost no small business brand consultants – folks who focus on research-based strategy, not clarity coaching, copywriting, or design.

A few hours on Google yielded these small business brand strategists, but virtually all of them provide clarity of purpose not true brand research.

  1. Lara McCulloch is a brand consultant who offers a "virtual marketing VP" package for $4,000 a month with a minimum of 6 months.
  2. Karen Greenstreet offers business strategy sessions for $450 (90 minutes).
  3. UK brand consultant Suzanna Jackson, who deals a lot with naming.
  4. Amsterdam-based Beth Farris, who is part marketing and part branding consultant but does not clearly state whether she utilizes research
  5. Bragg Media, which offers a Brand Strategy session for $1500, which is included in the cost of a full Brand Bootcamp (creative execution), which can range from $6500 to $11,450. Very little market research is done.
  6. Pia Silva, whose firm WorstofAllDesign follows the same business model as Bragg Media but at 2X the price (they are in Brooklyn not South Carolina)
  7. Michelle Sassa "uncovers your brand's personality and determines your unique position in the marketplace." But no real mention of hard core research.
  8. Sarah Seaton, who bills herself as a brand strategist for ethical brands. Unique positioning. She does persona development and go-to market strategies but seems to be dip heavily toward the creative storytelling rather than analytical side.
  9. The Caffeine Partnership, a UK consultancy that helps create "purpose driven brands," and provides related services like pitch-building and creating sticky client relationships. Again, the information comes from the client not independent research.
  10. Naya, a "Brand Therapist" who focuses on helping wannabe entrepreneurs get off the ground.
  11. Melissa Bolton, another "Brand Therapist," who uses the Brand Archetypes quiz as a lead generator.
  12. Eman, the Scribesmith, the "launch copywriter" who creates human brand voices. Talented writer, but a specific niche.

Value of shit branding

If you look at the websites of small business brand strategists, you will find that most of them base their services on helping business owners find clarity of purpose. Business owners, particularly entrepreneurs, operate with tremendous uncertainty. They are muddled by too much information. They are amuck with lack of focus.

Like other small business owners, I have struggled with finding my unique value. Without a clear sense of what I offer and why, it is impossible to create an unambiguous message for my website.

How much will a business owner pay for the feeling that she is on the right track? Remember, she is getting an opinion – not a researched strategy. So, the product is a perception.

Brand strategists make different promises, depending on their own branding. Some focus on "helping you uncover your vision." Others focus on "helping you attract more profitable customers."

Each of these promises taps into a pain point the small business owner already knows too well. The market is saturated. Customers can find more options than ever before. Someone is always selling the same widget at a cheaper price.

Brand strategists/therapists/writers give the business owner a sense of being on the right path. Relieving pain has value. Instilling confidence has value. Small business brand consultants do both.

In the absence of research, clarity is the product of handholding. Clients feel better, even though their new brand is spun from whole cloth. I think these ad hoc brands border on unethical, but I get why they exist. Business owners want to feel more sure of themselves. However, there is a limit to what they will spend for that certainty.

For the average small business, $4000-$5000 seems to be the upper limit for a brand strategy. Always, this brand strategy is applied to the larger cost of the new logo, website, etcetera.

So, in the end, the client pays nothing for a brand strategy. If small businesses do not understand or value true branding, they will get shit branding.

Problems with shit branding

First, as I mentioned, a business owner's vision is irrelevant if the market does not support that vision. Or if a competitor is doing a better job of delivering it.

Second, brand strategists like Right Think say, "We will identify your Purpose, Positioning, Promise, and Personality in order to find a way to attract the right customers and make you stand out from the competition." Well, being different from the competition is not really what makes brands successful. Relevance and saliency are more important.

Going back to point one, the right customers do not depend on my vision. They depend on market forces. Look at New Coke, Maxwell House Brewed Coffee, and Google Glass, among others. All were built on a strong vision and flopped. In fact, all of them had sturdy market research behind them. But customers can be incredibly unpredictable. Research can reduce risk but not eliminate it.

Branding won't attract more profitable customers but it can align your message with the most profitable customer segments you already have. You have to slice and dice your customer data to find the segments that produce the bulk of your revenue. Then, look at their demographic and psychographic data. And, finally, tailor your message to their personas. A small business can do this by tracking CRM pipeline information. You also want to look at longevity and lifetime value. And at how much it costs to service various customer segments.

Finally, my passion of purpose cannot overcome a marketplace saturated with competition. It's not enough to stand out from the competition. My brand has to express why I am better than them. This requires doing a thorough analysis of the competition, their strengths and weaknesses, and their brand promises.

I hired a shit brand consultant

I recently hired a brand consultant who meets two of Ritson's shit criteria:

  1. She does not do research, because small businesses like me "already know their target customers" There is no brief or questionnaire, because being spontaneous provides "better responses"
  2. She has a catchy, trademarked name for her branding product

Just coincidentally, or maybe not, 31% of the clients in her portfolio section are out of business... generally, since 2016. I wonder what market research could have done to prevent this.

Why be crazy?

You can't know something until you know it. Without paying for and experiencing a "clarity branding" process, I really cannot know whether or not it has value. Or how much value. Or what kind.

If nothing else, I will gain insight into how someone can command a huge fee for an off-the-cuff branding strategy.

Second, paying her is a matter of karma.

I studied her business model and implemented some of her ideas. I copied the way she structured a CTA. I learned from how she markets herself. These things will help my business, so it is only fair that I pay her in return.

I will let you know more once I have completed the brand session.

I confess: I love milk products even though I am somewhat lactose-intolerant. That means I buy several brands of yogurt (usually whole milk and organic), which I gleefully eat like dessert for breakfast. Or, for lunch. Or, whenever. I also have real cream in my coffee and grass-fed whole milk with my cereal – but that's another story.

Today, we're talking about yogurt.

Based on per capita consumption, the U.S. yogurt market is still in its infancy. In European countries, people consume two to six times more yogurt.

But U.S. per capital consumption of yogurt has declined since it flatlined in 2013-2014. Both conventional and Greek-style yogurts have been affected.

The intellectual history of yogurt

Ever since I took a course from Dr. Harold Parker on intellectual history, I've been interested in the history of ideas – how ideas become part of our cultural consciousness and build on each other

Given the fragmented state of the yogurt market today, how can we make heads or tails of it?

Let's take it blow by blow, one idea at a time.

1977: "Yogurt is a mainstream health food."

Traditional yogurt (the "real" kind) is too sour for American tastes. Introduced in 1947, Dannon yogurt (Danone North America) with fruit on the bottom made yogurt palatable if not exactly popular.

By the 1970s, things had changed. Advertising linking yogurt to longevity positioned Dannon as a healthy choice. By the 1980s, total U.S. yogurt sales were growing 18% annually. This spurred a host of product innovations, including frozen yogurt and Go-Gurt.

With Dannon, the idea of yogurt as a healthful food became part the American mindset.

1979: "Yogurt is foreign (in a good way)."

This is the cornerstone idea yogurt is built on. In 1979, General Mills introduced "rich and creamy, all-natural" Yoplait to the U.S. with a television campaign emphasizing the brand's "French culture."

Yoplait introduced the idea of yogurt as a creamy indulgence from another culture.

1982: "Yogurt is a low-calorie, low-fat diet food."

U.S. Dietary Guidelines led to the 1980s low-fat movement. All three big players (Chobani, Danone, General Mills) offer fat-free and low-fat products.

1985: "Yogurt is a convenient and nutritious breakfast on-the-run."

Yoplait didn't invent yogurt for breakfast, but it latched onto the trend. Today, more than 90% of yogurt is eaten for breakfast. (Source: Cargill) Yet 40% of adults – notably millennials – skip breakfast altogether.

1998: "Yogurt is cool for kids."

General Mills was first to launch yogurt for kids. In 1999, after tests in regional markets, Go-Gurt was rolled out across the U.S. It posted $100 million in retail sales within 12 months and helped General Mills hit the no. 1 spot in the yogurt category, ahead of Dannon. An article by AdAge pointed out the product won because it combined the first freezable yogurt with tube packaging, making it ideal for lunchboxes. Kid-centric flavors and a television campaign that positioned yogurt as cool also helped.

"It's remarkable how quickly Go-Gurt has permeated the whole kid environment and become a critical part of the fabric of kids' lives."

Ian Friendly, President Yoplait/Colombo Division, General Mills

2003: "Yogurt is good because it has probiotics."

Danone introduced probiotic yogurt to America in 2003 and its Activia and DanActive brands are synonymous with the category. It has added probiotic yogurt drinks (Dailies) and Greek versions.

2006: "Organic yogurt is healthier for everyone."

Stonyfield Field began making yogurt from its own cows in 1983, but realized they could grow faster if they used milk from nearby farms. Danone bought a 40% stake in 2001. Ultimately, Danone bought out Stonyfield in 2014 and then in 2017, it sold the company to Lactalis so it could acquire natural foods company WhiteWave.

[In 2003] Flavor, in fact, seems to have fallen fairly far down the list of what motivates consumers and producers of organic food: health concerns and simple market share are taking priority, not only over flavor but also over the environment. 

Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, 2003

[2006] What was once a cottage industry of family farms has become Big Business, with all that that implies, including pressure from Wall Street to scale up and boost profits. (Stonyfield founder and CEO) Gary Hirshberg himself is under the gun because he has sold an 85% stake in Stonyfield to the French food giant Groupe Danone. To retain management control, he has to keep Stonyfield growing at double-digit rates. Yet faced with a supply crunch, he has drastically cut the percentage of organic products in his line. He also has scaled back annual sales growth, from almost 40% to 20%. "They're all mad at me," he says.

Diane Brady, Bloomberg Businessweek

2007: "Greek yogurt is a creamy, high-protein snack."

Fage, the leading yogurt producer in Greece, has been on U.S. grocery shelves since 1998. In 2006, Greek-style (strained) yogurt was just 4% of the U.S. yogurt sales. Atlanta adman Al Ries explains how Fage lost the Greek yogurt wars to Chobani in an article for AdAge.

Consumers of traditional light yogurts are pivoting away from this segment (conventional yogurts) to products that provide more satiety, like Greek yogurts.

Ken Powell, General Mills CEO

2008: "Yogurt has simple ingredients and less sugar."

Yogurt with less sugar has been around for years, but those products used artificial sweeteners that modern consumers want to avoid. 76% of Americans say they want to avoid or limit sugar. Almost the same number say they check nutrition labels. (Study by the Hartman Group )

Siggi's (founded 2004) bills itself as having "simple ingredients and not a lot of sugar".

Whole Foods began carrying Siggi's in 2008 and nine years later it had annual sales of about $200 million.

Lactalis bought it in 2017.

One of the most persistent knocks on Yoplait, and other conventional yogurts, is that it contains too much sugar. Chobani and Noosa are plenty sweet, but customers are willing to indulge some flaws if they feel the brand is authentic.

Craig Giamonna, Bloomberg News

2015: "Vegan yogurt is the choice for a sustainable planet."

In 2017, a Nielsen survey found that 39% of American households are trying to eat more plant-based foods. This includes plant-based yogurt, which saw 56% growth in 2017.

The shift toward plant-based foods is being driven by millennials, who are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts when making their purchasing decisions.

Fiona Dyer, Analyst with Global Data

For the yogurt industry specifically, the trend has brought to store shelves dairy-free, plant-based yogurt featuring ingredients such as soy, coconut, almonds and cashews, as well as pea-based yogurt.

Daniel Granderson, Packaged Facts

2015: "Full-fat yogurt is good for you...think avocado toast."

For decades, Americans chose low-fat dairy products based on U.S. Dietary Guidelines that cautioned against the consumption of saturated fats.

Younger demographics get nutrition information from their own sources. They recognize the dietary value of fat and have driven Instagrammable crazes like avocado on toast, which tripled avocado consumption by 2015. Likewise, millennials are buying full-fat dairy products, 

2016: "Drinkable yogurt is easy to enjoy on the go."

Spoonable yogurt makes up 90% of yogurt sales but drinkable yogurt is beginning to gain traction. Sales of yogurt drinks rose 62% between 2011 and 2016 and continue to rise. Even so, it faces challenges – including competition from smoothies and other drinkables.

Most people only think about eating their yogurt and not drinking it. People also told us that they’re not fans of the thicker texture of drinkable yogurt, which is odd because they appreciate that with cup yogurts—and they often demand a thick texture with fruit smoothies and shakes.

Beth Bloom, food and drink analyst for Mintel

2017: "What a great little jar... and the yogurt is good too."

In 2017, General Mills introduced Oui by Yoplait. It is creamy French-style yogurt made from "simple ingredients" poured and set in a glass cup. Retail sales topped $100 million within 12 months of its launch.

Oui by Yoplait introduces an entirely new category of yogurt to the U.S. using a recipe that has been enjoyed for decades in France. It is a subtly sweet yogurt inspired by Yoplait’s traditional French recipe, made with simple non-GMO ingredients, poured and set in a glass pot.

David Clark, President U.S. Yogurt General Mills

2019: "What's next?"

The research firm Packaged Facts suggests U.S. yogurt sales have the potential to increase to $9.8 billion in 2022.

But the truth is, yogurt sales are sagging. Per capita consumption in the U.S. peaked in 2013-2014 and has stagnated ever since. Total dollar sales tracked by IRI show yogurt sales dropped 0.8% in 2016, 1.6% in 2017, and 2.7% in 2018. (Source: Nielsen)

Let's package whole-milk, high-protein yogurt with "simple ingredients" in transparent, biodegradable disposable meal-size 8 oz. cups with disposable spoons. Danone has already taken the first steps toward biodegradable plastic.

Several trends seem solid: consumer preference for thick and creamy strained yogurt, the desire for on-the-go convenience, and consumption patterns that make yogurt a meal. All-natural yogurts without GMOs or artificial ingredients are probably perceived as "near-healthy" to more costly organic yogurts (Both Siggi and Oui call this "simple ingredients"). Glass packaging fits in with millennial sustainability values – but only if you eat it near a recycling bin.

Yogurt visual rebranding

Words and visual elements work together to create a message. In fact, packaging has very little wording (usually) and leans heavily on visual branding. As yogurt makers scrambled to plug leaky sales, they also reinvented their visual brands.


Packaging redesign

In 2017, Chobani's in-house team led by Leland Mashmeyer (who joined the company as Chief Creative Officer in 2016) redesigned its logo and packaging to attract more consumers and stand out from competitors:

General Mills

Brand positioning strategies

General Mills' new CEO, Jeffrey L. Harmening, said the company would revitalize yogurt sales using the same strategies that pulled cereals out of a five-year slump. This entailed launching new products to fit consumer preferences.

Oui packaging design

Our design took inspiration from French-style cursive handwriting, the rounded strokes of the Oui mark evoke a carefree and approachable aesthetic, while the handmade nature of the product is further mirrored in the watercolor texture in the letterforms. Reflecting the French countryside and French kitchens, the blue palette has become a key equity against new glass pot structure which reflects the brand's premium nature in a sustainable way.

(Pearlfisher, London Design Team (CORE 77 Design Awards Runner Up 2018)

Liberté packaging design

Pearlfisher, the design agency that also created Oui packaging, stated the goal of Liberté yogurt's packaging design was to "move from a dairy brand to a premium lifestyle brand."

Founded by a group of explorers, today Liberté attracts a community of like-minded, curious consumers who want and expect more from their food. We dialed up this notion, identifying this contemporary group as “Kindred Seekers” 


Translating the above into earthier language, the packaging is designed to appeal to millennials, who expect food to connect with them in unique ways. Liberté includes cheeky little factoids on its foil lids. Noosa does the same thing.

YQ packaging design

Billed as "smarter not sweeter" the packaging for this lower-sugar entry presents "just the facts" in a gender-neutral color scheme.

The dark-grey color palette stands as an impactful presence in the yogurt aisle, stepping away from convention and cueing a more gender-neutral product. Differentiation between each of the eight flavors is established by a distinct, yet subtle color to mirror the lightness of each recipe. The simplicity of the typography on the face of each yogurt cup illustrates the brand's desire to offer consumers more of what they need and less of what they don't. In fact, the nutritional value of each flavor is framed by the letter "Q", like a magnifying glass bringing the protein and sugar intake into direct view.


Dannon Company

Activia packaging

We revisited the entire ACTIVIA ecosystem including a refreshed brand mark, a revised tone of their proprietary green color and new packaging structure and photographic style. The design visually recounts a story at the heart of the new ACTIVIA positioning: the synthesis of science and nature, mind and core, health and pleasure. One of the key elements we created is the new brand icon: a symbol of synergy and balance, key drivers of the new brand storyline.

Futurebrand 2016

Want to see more yogurt packaging? Check out this Pinterest board.

P.S. Cheat sheet of the leading yogurt brands

Just three powerhouses –Danone-North America, General Mills, and Chobani – control 75% of the U.S. yogurt market.

Beer copywriters need to understand why people drink craft beer, not how it is made. Consumer motivations are more important than the mechanics of beer-making.

There are two types of craft beer writers: beer journalists and beer copywriters.

  1. Beer journalists write in-depth articles on craft beers and the industry.
  2. Beer copywriters create brand stories, beer names, packaging copy and other marketing texts.

Beer journalists require extensive knowledge of craft beers and the craft beer industry. The North American Guild of Beer Writers ( lists 158 members, most of them beer reviewers and journalists.

A list of beer copywriters is at the bottom of this article.

Millennials drive the industry

According to the Beer Institute, consumer preference for beer over other alcoholic beverages dropped to 49.7% in 2016 from 60.8% in the mid-1990s. Mainstream beers have been hardest hit, but they still account for 70% of all beer consumed in the U.S. Increased craft beer sales haven't come close to making up for the declining sales of mainstream beer.

Although millennials are driving craft beer production and consumption, they are also choosing wine and spirits over beer.

All craft beer drinkers say their reasons for choosing non-commercial beer are:

Millennials and brands

Millennial consumptions of craft beer falls fall within a broader context. Angela Woo of Alter Agents, a market research consultancy, summed up millennial buying behaviors in a 2018 Forbes article.

Millennials and related trends

When brewers focus on taste, they miss the real motives that drive craft beer drinkers. To understand the reasons millennials consume craft beer, we can look at two related phenomena: third-wave coffee and craft spirits.

Third-wave coffee

Third-wave coffee shares many characteristics with craft beer. It began as a reaction against commercial coffee like Folgers and the over-roasted coffee marketed by Starbucks. Like craft beer, third-wave coffee consumption is driven by millennials who enjoy being in the know, experimenting with coffee flights, and displaying one-upmanship about coffee knowledge.

Craft spirits

In 2013, MediaPost noticed the rise in small-batch bourbons, whiskeys, and single malt Scotches. This rise could be traced back to millennials who were choosing craft spirits over big distributors based on four attitudes:

Craft beer psychographics

An extensive 2013 study found there are two types of craft beer consumers: experienced and beginners. Experienced craft beer drinkers can be further segmented into the following groups:

Reasons for choosing craft brands

Millennials want a beer that is hip, exclusive and reflects their own values including social responsibility. They choose beers without loyalty in order to have new experiences. When a brand becomes too mainstream, it is no longer hip.

All craft beers claim taste and quality. Although great beer taste alone isn't enough to sell your brand, shitty taste is enough to kill it.

You'll only succeed in the long term if the beer is up to snuff.

Jason Notte, Crash Course in Beer Marketing

Craft beer is self-expression

Millennials have their own ways of expressing themselves. Craft beer is one of them. As Olivia LedBetter points out in Barkley, drinking brands perceived as authentic "helps millennials express their own individuality."

Craft beer drinkers believe drinking craft beer is hip, adventurous and different. Because of this belief, most craft beer drinkers describe themselves as being educated, independent, open-minded and willing to try new things.

Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior

This motivation isn't new. Journalist Lew Bryson describes similar feelings he had when switching to microbrews in the 1990s.

But mostly I wanted to be different, special, like many of us do. I wanted to like things that others didn’t know about, wanted people to come to my home and see things that weren’t like every other house. There was the camaraderie of being part of the Beer Tribe, an in-the-know clan that at that time was truly small....Therefore, examining myself, I drank non-mainstream beer because it was different; because it was local or political; because it made me part of a special group; and because I liked it.

Lew Bryson, All About Beer Magazine

Craft beer is tribal

According to a study of craft beer buyer behaviors, craft beer is most often consumed in a social setting, such as watching sports with friends. eating out, or at a party. It is part of belonging to the group. Knowledgeable enthusiasts gain bragging rights. One survey respondent said, "Peer pressure and how you want to be perceived in social settings are big influences."

Craft beer is rebellious

The "quirkiness" of craft beer tastes also appeals to younger demographics who see themselves as challenging the status quo. Price and recommendations from peers also influence brand preference.

Craft beer is social

Students at Western Washington University did a comprehensive study in 2017 that examined the consumer behaviors of craft beer drinkers. They found that social connections are an important motivator in craft beer purchases.

Marketing craft beer

Craft drinkers expect better quality, but quality is not a brand differentiator. Differentiators include the brand story and location of brewery, level of social responsibility, unique events and experiences, and sense of community forged in person and digitally.

Most craft drinkers cite taste and quality as important reasons for preferring craft beer over commercial beer. This dovetails with the reason craft breweries exist – to create better beers – and how most crafts are marketed.

[Mass] beer is marketed, on television and in print, by making you think you’ll be cool or get the girl with their product.   Craft beer is marketed, mostly not on television, on its merits as a beer, with emphasis on flavor and the ingredients that went into making the product.

The Beer Snob


Most independent, small breweries rely on brewery events, local partnerships, and user generated social media to market their beer.

Brand elements

Craft beers originally positioned themselves against mass beer as "better beer." But it is extremely difficult for craft beers to differentiate themselves from each other. Brewers attempt to differentiate themselves based on product attributes such as quality and style. This approach does not resonate with most craft drinkers.

Your brand story is expressed in your design and copywriting. Your brand story is the mythology you want prospects and customers to believe about your brand. It has to represent your values and vision as a company.

Beer experiences

Craft beer consumers are brand promiscuous because they enjoy the adventure of experiencing many new beers.

Third-place experience

Starbucks perfected the coffeehouse as a third-place experience. Millennials are finding the same social outlet at brewery and brewpub events such as tastings.

Social connections

Connections can be made face-to-face or digitally. Millennials enjoy interactive digital connections and apps that improve their beer experience.


A brewer's brand story must be unique. It must express values that a millennial wants to be identified with. This means being having a commitment to the social good and giving back to the community.

Geographical roots

According to Nielsen Information, information about where a beer was produced mattered to consumers, but heritage and brewing claims did not. Likewise, illustrations of hops on labels did not register positively with consumers. New Giarus, which sells only in Wisconsin, has become an outstanding success based on its positioning as "the state beer.

Locally made

According to a 2018 study by the Brewers Association. consumers associate "locally made by an independent brewery" with "quality, freshness and taste." Craft drinkers also want to support local small businesses.

Independently owned

Of necessity, most craft brewers began as small, independently owned operations that depended on the local community for survival.

Brewer Association seal

Buyouts by macro breweries have created murky waters for the craft beer industry. In response, the Brewers Association released a label in 2017 to make it easier for consumers to identify beers produced by "small, independent brewers." The label signifies that craft brewers have "turned the industry on its head" by creating new beer styles. The label has been adopted by more than half of U.S. craft breweries – but according to a recent study, the label has meaning only for consumers who know a lot about craft beer. The average craft drinker does not care about independent craft certification.


Every brand seems to claim that passion for producing a quality product and for providing good experiences for its consumers is a key motivational factor that drives the employees who run the craft is usually a reason for starting the brewery.

Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior


Humor is rarely used as a differentiator, but some brands weave humor into their personas to attract and retain customers. Humor resonates most with Loyalists and may be lost on Enthusiasts and Explorers.

Premium pricing

Limited availability justifies premium pricing. Premium pricing contributes to a perception of quality.

Beer differentiators

Beer quality

All craft beers claim higher quality ingredients, with many using organic ingredients. Although quality separates craft beer from macro beer, it does not provide a brand advantage.

Beer batch size

Just over a decade ago, craft beer was referred to as microbrews. The term implied that "better beer was specifically the result of small batches rather than big ones; a useful tactic at the time for positioning the better beer market against the macro giants such as Anheuser-Busch."

Batch size resonates with Enthusiasts, who immerse themselves in acquiring craft beer knowledge. Explorers and Loyalists are indifferent to this differentiator.

Beer recipes

Typically, brewery recipes are secret. However, many beer brand stories focus on the heritage/legacy of a beer recipe being passed down through generations. This does not resonate with craft drinkers.

Beer style

Beer style refers to the type of beer – IPA, double IPA, stout, porter, etc. Many breweries attempt to differentiate themselves based on style, stating they have the best style or a unique variation of a style.

No defining style

There is no such thing as a specific craft beer taste. The Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group for craft beer producers, says innovation is the hallmark of craft beer. Craft beer brewers either give new twists to historic beers or develop styles without a precedent.

Traditionalists see the kind of experimentation craft brewers are known for as an affront to beer making. Traditional beers have four ingredients: water, malt, yeast, hops. Heavy hops are seen as a coverup for mistakes, not a virtue, and add-ins like vanilla and coffee have no place in traditional beer making.

Some of these complex stouts and porters and stock ales, they throw everything in them but the kitchen sink....Forty years ago, I did not see this coming. Bitterness was a bad word, especially among female beer drinkers.

Bill Moeller, master brewer

Shift to lagers

Craft beer began as a rebellion against the flavorless yellow lagers produced by big commercial breweries. By 2016, consumption of bolder craft beers had dropped; at the same time, craft lagers showed double-digit growth.

Beer awards

Awards resonate with Enthusiasts and Explorers – the majority of craft beer drinkers. Beer is relatively cheap and consumers make fast decisions when buying craft beer. Awards are one way to assist in the decision process.


Overall, 71% of craft beer drinkers say they like to try beers with bold or interesting packaging. Package design has a stronger influence on women than men. And packaging design is more important than the copywriting.

Bottles vs. cans

A 2016 study by the Glass Packaging Institute found that beer drinkers think glass bottles provide the freshest taste. They also perceive it as a sign of quality, which goes back to the days when imported and premium beers were in bottles. Brewers prefer cans. Cans keep light out better than bottles, are well-sealed, and now have BPA-free interiors. They are also easier to ship and stack. As more brewers use cans instead of bottles, consumer acceptance of cans will improve.


An eye-tracking study by Clemson University for Craft Brewing Business found that metallic film labels caught buyers' attention more than other materials – but clear labels won the greatest fixation duration. There is a strong correlation between fixation duration and purchase.The study, done with Avery Paper, examined the ways in which labels influence purchase behavior and perceptions of beer quality.

Among the West Coast beer packages, the study found that consumers engaged most with illustrations and logos, and less so with package copy. In terms of equity differentiation, the beers that were found to appear distinct did not feature hops imagery. Among the East Coast beers, consumers tended to notice and engage with unique brand logos and unusual package carrier graphics, label and bottle colors.

Convenience Store News

GutCheck is a market research consultancy that can help craft brewers weed out guesswork. Here is a study on beer labels done for Alpine Dog.

Craft beer demographics

The persona of the craft beer drinker is a 35 year old, educated and affluent white male who lives in the suburbs and is either single or married without children.

Around 40% of the drinking-age population consumes craft beer at least several times a year, but only 7.3% had a craft beer in the last month.

Craft beer drinkers by age

Craft beer is often thought of as a hipster phenomenon. According to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group, 57% of weekly craft beer drinkers are millennials, 24% are Gen Xers and 17% are Boomers.

Craft beer consumption by age

21-24 year olds 38% once a week
35-34 year olds 38% once a week
35-54 year olds 43% once a week
55-64 year olds 69% once a month
65+ year olds 64% once a month

Craft beer drinkers by gender

For years, craft beer was a male dominated industry rife with sexism. In 2017, the Beer Association issued an edict to its members that heavily discouraged the use of sexist beer labels and misogynistic beer names like Leg Spreader.

Today, weekly consumers of craft beer skew 29.1% female and 68.1% male – but new craft drinkers are coming aboard at nearly equal rates. Currently, women consume 25% of craft beer production and 39% of the world's overall beer production.

Although craft beer is attracting more young women and a greater diversity of drinkers, consumption still skews toward white male millennials with high socio-economic status.

Bart Watson, Brewers Association

Craft beer drinkers by ethnicity

Non-Hispanic whites account for 86.3% of craft drinkers. Only 13.7% of craft beer fans belong to minorities. Some data suggest that Hispanics are beginning to embrace craft beer consumption.

Craft beer drinkers by socio-economic status

According to Nielsen, a weekly craft drinker is typically male, in his thirties, and makes between $75,000 and $99,000 annually.

Bottom line: Brewing claims are less interesting to the average craft beer drinker than stories about place and unique values that millennials want to be identified with.The brand story is most influential when it is expressed visually in packaging, but copywriting on the packaging/website can amplify this story.

Find a beer copywriter

If you need a beer copywriter, you can hire a solo freelancer or work with a company.

If you have a nice budget, here are some advertising and public relations firms that work with craft brewers:

If you just need a writer, a Google search turned up a few beer copywriters:

I've scoured Google to find examples of great writing for beer brands. Small brands are sometimes more gutsy than bigger ones. Blue Point Brewing doesn't have a lot of copy on its website, but the copy it does have is kickass wonderful.

At Blue Point, we brew beer that stands up to New York's standards. We know it’s good, they know it’s good, and if someone disagrees, fuck ‘em. We first and foremost brew beer that we want to drink. If there’s some leftover, we’ll sell it.

Blue Point Brewing

The copy below from Goose Island is interesting because it balances two different voices. Read along and the copy is good ("big, bracing, piney hop flavors") but not unexpected. The ending, though, snaps like a cowboy's lariat. Perfect, because the duality of the writing mirrors the duality of the beer itself, with its combination of piney woods and the tropics.

It’s 7%, but totally crushable — it’s not quite like any other IPA you’ve had. Big, bracing, piney hop flavors meet a tropical bouquet of Nugget, Citra, and Mosaic hops. There’s a balanced bitterness that blends seamlessly into the light to medium body. Sip it or rip it. We're not your mom.

Goose Island (Next Coast IPA)

Dogfish Head Brewery's copy is full of smart copywriting. Who can resist a sentence like, "It’s hard being the sequel, unless you wrote the original story." But I have singled out Dogfish Head's informative block on its brewing process. Usually, informative copy is flat and dry. This copy makes sense and does a great job of quietly selling the product.

Traditionally brewers make just two hop additions – one big dose early in the boil for flavor & another bunch at the end for aroma. But thanks to our invention of continual hopping – a process of adding hops throughout the entire boil – our continually hopped 60 Minute delivers an outrageously hoppy IPA that isn’t crushingly bitter. 

Dogfish Head

Brooklyn Brewery has grown from a home-based beer operation to a well-established millennial favorite. The copy on its website is much better than average. Nothing shocking or truly distinctive, but it is intelligent and finely crafted storytelling. Below is a typical example,

Two hours later, Milton [Glaser] was persuaded to join in with the bold plan set forth by Steve and Tom. He first insisted on changing the name to Brooklyn Brewery, saying: “You’ve got Brooklyn here, who needs an eagle!” He even agreed to waive his usual fees in exchange for an equity stake in the company and a supply of fresh beer. Steve and Tom had no problem with that; after all, they had no money. 

Brooklyn Brewery

Speaking of Brooklyn Beer, they do an amazing job of maintaining their brand in their label designs. Each label expresses the uniqueness of the specific brew, but clearly is part of a brand family.

Monday Night Brewing's copywriting drips sincerity but lacks authenticity. Who brags "We are humble folks..."? If you have humility, it should come across in your tone. But, Monday Night does tackle a difficult issue and deserves chops for it.

We believe that the craft brewing industry is particularly lacking in diversity.We work in an industry that skews overwhelmingly white male, and that is something that we need to acknowledge and own in order to move towards a place of more diversity and inclusion

Monday Night Brewing

Randy Mosher says in Tasting Beer that every beer tells a story

Many startup brewers write their own marketing copy. After all, they know their product best. They understand the vision. They have the passion. The only problem, really, is they lack the writing skills. It's not just nailing the right words. It's a matter of telling the right story.

Craft beer is, by and large, a social story. Meaning, it's not about quenching your thirst or popping tops on the sofa. It's about sharing an experience in a public venue. This makes craft beer a uniquely millennial phenomenon that combines idealism with a sense of belonging.

Founders Brewing Company, one of the largest craft beer producers, said on its website in 2014, “We don’t brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.”

That sentiment remains in the tagline, "Brewed for Us." But otherwise, the message has been replaced by a much slicker one about chasing one's dreams. This is another millennial thread that drives all sorts of gig economy jobs, including writing.

After some initial challenges due to making well-balanced but unremarkable beers, we were on the verge of bankruptcy.

It was at this point that we decided to brew the kind of beer that got us excited about brewing in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, big body and tons of flavor.

Founders Brewing Co.h

Second Self Beer Company follows the same train of thought.

Second Self is about fulfilling a dream. We are lucky enough to do that daily in our Upper Westside Atlanta brewery. We all have our passion projects or side hustles that we do because we love it. We hope you embrace YOUR Second Self and live YOUR dream.

Second Self Brewing

Terrapin Beer Co. also began with a dream, specifically a daydream. (Yawn.) The copy is flat, giving no indication that the beers are anything special.

Terrapin Beer Co. began as a daydream between founders John Cochran and Spike Buckowski, who met while working for a microbrewery in Atlanta. 

The two recognized that they had something to contribute to the brewing industry in the southeast, and began crafting recipes

Terrapin Beer Co

Hop Butcher for the World takes its name from a Carl Sandburg poem. The brewery's About page is the most poetic and literary of the brewery websites. It is unique because it does not treat the reader like a dumb fuck. Instead, it appeals to the erudite self most of us secretly believe we have.

In his poem "Chicago," Carl Sandburg first refers to this great city (Chicago) as "Hog Butcher For the World." And while the literal meaning behind that moniker has faded since the mid-twentieth century closing of the Union Stock Yards, it anchors and inspires our ethos in three meaningful ways: For starters, we love hops. The variety of ways they can be used in brewing and the range of flavors and aromas that they bring to beer are vast and areas in which we enjoy experimenting heavily. No surprise then that the word "hop" appears in our name and that the majority of our recipes begin with a specific variety or intuitive blend of hops in mind.

Hop Butcher for the World

Creature Comforts ties the experimental aspects of craft beer to curiosity. In turn, it links curiosity to the adventurousness of artists, explorers, and thinkers. It is a distinctly millennial-focused message, because that age bracket is all about new experiences and creativity.


Creature Comforts

Finally, these beer product descriptions from Big Axe Brewing are totally whacky self-contained stories. And they're totally engaging. You won't find anything like them on competitor products.


The Splinter cat will hurl itself from tree to tree, smashing the trunks into pieces, revealing the tasty morsels inside.

Medium body with a balanced malt presence from a high grade pale malt. slight sweetness to accommodate the expected IPA bitterness. Notes of citrus and pine finish it


When the fish rise to the surface of the water, Bildad quickly springs past and smacks the unsuspecting prey with its paddle-like tail.

Easy drinking blonde ale. Low bitterness and light in body. Slight notes of citrus and lemon from a small late hop addition.

Big Axe Brewing
Bildad 12 oz can
Monday Night Brewing

My friend's wife is freaking. Her husband's mugshot is absolutely everywhere. Google his name and you see him looking bleary eyed and stupid.

Okay, now what? Well, removing those mugshots – and salvaging your personal brand – ain't easy.

There are three strategies:

  1. Request removal from mugshot sites (if you record has been expunged or sealed)
  2. Opt out of data mining sites (if your record has been expunged or sealed)
  3. Use suppression to hide search engine results.

I'm going to tell you (in detail) how to do all of them. But first, let's understand the challenge.

The problem: mugshots are public record

Many newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, publish arrest photos in an online photo blotter. Dozens of mugshot companies also publish arrest photos.

Both get their photos from the same source: they scrape county jail and sheriff's websites.

Mugshots are a matter of public record. There is no law preventing the publication of public information. There is also no law requiring newspapers and mugshot companies to remove mugshots, even if asked.

Further, even though legitimate publishers often claim mugshots stay online only 30 to 90 days, the truth is nothing ever really disappears from the Internet. Pages are cached forever in Google's Internet Archive (Wayback Machine).

Mugshot companies make a business out of extorting individuals to pay for the removal of mugshots. Generally, the same companies that charge for "reputation management" or "online privacy services" are the ones who post the photos in the first place. Even if you pay their steep fees, there is no guarantee they won't post your photos somewhere else.

Mugshot companies profit from your embarrassment.

This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off someone else's humiliation. Those who can't afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

Mugshot laws are unenforceable

Eighteen states – including Florida – have laws against requiring a fee to remove a mugshot.

Florida's law took effect on July 1, 2018. It allows individuals to sue companies that fail to take down mugshots within 10 days of a request. The companies face a daily $1000 fine plus attorney fees and court costs. The problem is that the law is unenforceable.

Orlando criminal lawyer Mark NeJame said he constantly receives calls about removing mugshots.

The civil aspect I don't think has enough teeth in it. It's going to take the fear of criminal prosecution to strike the fear in these predators. Because most of these companies are offshore, finding them and being successful in actually talking to a human can be challenging. It’s expensive for people because there’s a lot of time involved [for lawyers] trying to locate them. None of these sites have phone numbers, so you’re trying to deal with emails to an offshore company that has less than ideal motives." -

Orlando Attorney Mark NeJame

In Florida, attorney Shon Douctre specializes in mugshot removal cases, but admits his fees can be steep. Because it is so difficult to contact mugshot companies and so many are located outside the state or country, bringing legal action against them is often next to impossible.

Step one: get your arrest record expunged

As long as your arrest record is public information, you have no right to request its removal from online sites.

Some states limit access to arrest records. Sometimes, arrest records related to ongoing investigations may be exempted from federal and state Freedom of Information statutes. Sexual predator listings are impossible to hide from public view.

You may, under some circumstances, be able to have your arrest record expunged. This can occur if:

Having your record expunged or sealed does not automatically remove your mugshot from online sites. This is a separate process.

Step two: locate your personal information

There are two parts to this.

First, you have to locate all your mugshot photos. You do this using a Google (and maybe Bing and Yahoo too) image search. This search is likely to bring up all the mugshot company websites. Remember, this list can grow as your mugshot is scraped and added to new sites.

Second, you need to identify all the sites that might have your arrest record. These sites are called "data brokers" and include 1) the top free and paid sites for background checks, such as Truthfinder, Instantcheckmate, and Peoplefinder, 2) personal search sites, such as Spokeo, Whitepages.

There is overlap between these sites. For example, Truthfinder is both a person search site and a background check site. Finding these sites is a matter of doing Google searches for "data brokers," "background checks" and "public record search" until you are blue in the face. Create an Excel spreadsheet with the sites and their contact information.

Step three: contact mugshot companies

As noted above, contacting mugshot companies is extremely difficult. Further, many mugshot companies will not be cooperative, even if your record has been expunged. Mugshot companies may state that expungements and pardons only apply to government databases, not records in the public domain.

Nonetheless, it may be worthwhile to have an attorney draft a letter to these sites. Discuss with your attorney whether doing some of the footwork can help you save on legal costs.

Step four: contact data broker companies

While multiple online 'services' bill themselves as agents with power of attorney capable of acting on your behalf, requests sent from these services will not be honored by data mining companies.

Go down your Excel sheet (yes, be this obsessive) and contact all the companies one by one, sending a request to delete your listing. This will delete all your personal information, not just an arrest record.

To help you get started, here is a list of major data mining companies. A more complete list of data brokers can be found here.

You will want to opt out of the data company completely. This is the best path to follow because you do not want to go to the trouble and expense of drilling down to see if they actually have your arrest record.

Again, you are more likely to obtain their cooperation if you send a form letter drafted and signed by an attorney.

Will an expunged record show up in a background check?

Arrest information is available simply by doing a public records search at the courthouse. This information can also be viewed online using private records databases. Even if charges are dropped or an individual is acquitted (found innocent), arrest records can remain on file.

An expunged arrest will automatically be removed from court records but may remain in other government agency and private databases. It is up to you to contact each agency and request that the records be updated. Generally, this is done by sending a copy of the expungement order to the agency.

Federal agencies and state or local courts have different jurisdictions. A federal agency like the FBI is not bound by state court orders. You may need an attorney to contact the appropriate agencies and ensure the expungement order is followed.

About using online reputation companies

Privacy companies, or "online reputation companies" such as DeleteMe and MyReputation, promise to take care of removing online listings for a fee. These would include some background check sites and social media.

You still have to opt out of many sites, including Whitepages and , on your own. Most reputation companies will tell you how to do this.

Some reputation companies, like Reputation Management, focus on content strategies like suppression (see below) as a more sustainable way to hide negative information from view.

How to hide information on Google

Removing unwanted content from Google can mean several things. But it is important to remember that Google does not own the web. It is only a tool that helps you find web pages (results). Google can't force an owner to remove a page; Google can only remove the page from Google search results, so it is very difficult to find.

In the preceding paragraphs, I've discussed trying to get companies to remove unwanted content from the Internet, meaning the entire web. You can also take another approach, and ask search engines like Google and Bing to stop displaying certain search results.

Removing cached pages

Let's say by some miracle you are successful in getting to remove your arrest photo. Well, even though the page no longer exists, old versions of it are still cached (stored) online. You can use Google's Remove Outdated Content tool to remove these cached entries. To use the tool, you need to know the page's URL.

Removing unlawful content

In some cases, Google will block access to unlawful content. This is done by submitting a legal removal request. Remember, it is not unlawful to display public records, including mugshots, online. Google's policies generally limit it to removing unlawful images such as child porn, medical records, Social Security and financial records, and sexually explicit material uploaded without your consent.

Nonetheless, removing content from Google (really, not display search results), may be a worthwhile avenue to pursue if your record has been expunged and you can prove that mugshot companies are trying to exploit you in violation of Florida law.

Use suppression to hide mugshot images

The only surefire way to control your online reputation is through a technique called "suppression." Suppression is simply a matter of adding so much new content the unwanted content fails to show up in the first few pages of search results.

Google is well aware of the unfairness of mugshot companies. It introduced an algorithm update in 2013 that attempts to penalize mugshot companies with lower rankings. This means it will be easier for your new "good" content to appear first, ahead of any negative content.

How to use suppression

To use suppression, you need to set up a personal website using your name. You should also have matching social media profiles for your name, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Finally, identify photo-sharing sites that have strong prestige. For example, Google Photos, Flickr, and SmugMug are all popular sites.

Make sure you include plenty of information about yourself in the bio sections of your website and social media.

Then add as many images as possible to all of these online properties, including your name in the filename for each image. The point is to optimize the images so they show up in a search for your name.

You will do better on Google if you use different photos with different filenames, such as "jane-smith-at-school.jpg," "jane-smith-gardening.jpg."
You can get tricky and use misleading filenames like "jane-smith-mugshot.jpg" with a benign picture of yourself in a beautiful setting.

You should add an "alt tag" to images wherever possible; your website will have this feature.

You should also avoid posting photos to sites that do not have "long shelf lives." You want content that lasts, not that disappears within a matter of minutes. So, while you would have a Twitter profile photo and bio under your name, you would not post photos of yourself on Twitter. Why? A Twitter post only lasts 18 minutes. In contrast, a blog post lasts two years.

Is all this work worth it?

Unfortunately, a mugshot and/or arrest record can easily prevent you from getting ahead in life. Students have been rejected by colleges and internship programs. Adults have been denied jobs, housing, car loans, and more.

In my interviews with over 60 individuals across the U.S. who have had their mug shots posted online by third party websites, I have found that the large majority has been devastated—personally, socially, fiscally—by this information being posted. In the short term, they are mortified by what they perceive as a major privacy violation, they are angry that individuals are capitalizing on their mistakes, and they live in fear that their loved ones or employers will happen upon the information. In the long term, many of the individuals I interviewed were effectively removed from the labor market or marginalized from their jobs and careers, given the sheer number of employers who routinely scour the Internet when hiring." -

Society Pages

Women are especially vulnerable. Mugshots labeled "hot" by viewers easily go viral, spilling into social media and spinning out of control. Mirella Ponce's mugshot was shared 3,500 times in just 48 hours and wound up on major media outlets. The speed with which mugshots can go viral means individuals should start damage control as soon as possible.

Most brand consultants advise you to differentiate yourself from your competition as a path to success. In many ways, this is bad advice.

Being different doesn't matter

Customers really don't care if you are different. They care whether you meet their needs, real or perceived. This was proposed back in December 1999 in a Journal of Advertising Research article, which found that "brand salience" is more important than differentiation.

Unique brands have lower purchase rates

In a study of the car market (Journal of Marketing, July 2012), researchers found that highly differentiated brands are more profitable, but have lower purchase and retention rates.

In other words, a distinctive brand like MINI Cooper tends to appeal to a small group, or niche, of buyers with specific tastes. These buyers may outgrow a niche brand for a variety of reasons; for example, the MINI Cooper buyer may shift priorities when starting a family.

Consumers will shift to "common" brands

When customers lose or can no longer afford their niche affiliations, they are happy to buy products with no perceived differences. This is true of a vast array of household goods, clothing, and other consumables.

Market leaders do not have innate differences

Market leaders are almost always me-too brands engage in a fierce war that has little to do with innate differences. The success of McDonald's over Burger King and Coke over Pepsi is based more upon gaining an early market start than differentiation.

Product innovation is not sustainable

Product innovation alone can make your brand different, but only temporarily. Inevitably, good ideas will get copied by your competitors. Even patents are difficult to enforce. Companies that come up with really strong innovations have to barrel into the marketplace and grab mindshare as quickly as possible.

The first iPhone was launched in 2007, with Steve Jobs saying, "Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything." Yet, Android offers most if not all of the same features and apps at a much lower price.

Brand differentiation can increase value

But brand reputation enables leaders to maintain their edge
People make subconscious choices based on their level of brand awareness and symbolic associations that have almost nothing to do with reality. Children, for example, were tested with identical food in various branded and unbranded packages - and unilaterally preferred McDonald's.

Being the best (salience) matters most

Being viewed as "the best" matters more than being different
So, why is Apple now worth more than Google and Microsoft combined? Especially when, according to a Forbes article, only 28% of users who switched to an iPhone did so because it seemed to be the best technology at the time.

The answer comes down to brand salience (being seen as the best) and brand customer experience.

Customer experience supports brand salience

Apple did not win against Microsoft/Google through a single product innovation. Instead, it has hammered competitors by introducing a stream of mobile devices and desktop/laptops with disruptive features like retina screens.

More important, it has followed a business model in which all devices integrate easily with each other. And Apple maintains control over the hardware as well as the operating system, while Microsoft left that business model behind years ago.

Apple didn't become the biggest company in the world simply by selling a different product.

Instead, it recognized something fundamental about computer users that other companies missed: we want our devices to make our lives easier, not harder. While Windows tripped up users, Apple created a carefully designed aesthetic experience that is enjoyable.

An article by Todd Hixon supports this idea. He concludes, after looking at the traits of Android and iPhone users, that iPhone users are avid tech consumers but not true techies, while Android users tend to work in technical jobs and are "comfortable with the more open but less polished Android user experience."

Customer experience is also shaped by brand reputation

Its reputation for being better, not being different, is really the crux of Apple's success. This moves beyond brand differentiation into the territory of salience. Think of salience as a murky mix of awareness, perceptions, and symbolic associations nurtured by marketing minds and advertising dollars.

Is a Mac really three times better than a cheaper PC, or is something more at work in the mind of the consumer?

Currently, Apple is unchallenged in the U.S., but internationally Android sales outstrip the iPhone. It's a niche for affluents, but an enviable one.

This presentation was created for a client. I knew nothing about baseball when I started. I knew a lot when I was done.

British adman Rory Sutherland gets to the heart of why brand voices matter... they can add value to a product or service. Proper positioning can disrupt how people perceive a brand, bring awareness and customer support.

I love Rory Sutherland. He is an original through and through. So I thought I would assemble some of his best videos for you. Enjoy his novel perceptions and unique perspective.

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Have you ever had this nightmare? You are at an important office meeting and all of a sudden you realize you are buck naked. I got called out by a client on a really bad piece of copy. It felt like that nightmare.

True story.

From 2002-2010, I worked at the agency that handles Sandals, a chain of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. I was paid well, but it was the kind of job where you wake up with your stomach churning and Friday means you have two days to dread Monday. I finally quit.

Fast forward to this week. A client emailed me a YouTube link with the comment:

I have to share this video w/someone. I'm just speechless how horribly cheesy this is. It reminds me of a bad romance novel.

Anonymous Client

Ummmm, hate to admit it... I wrote the legend of Giselle and Ricardo in 2007 to relaunch Sandals Grande Antigua following a $775 million expansion.

Beyond that, the story is mine. Although, it was originally written for a 32-page print brochure and was a lot less cheesy in print.

I was told, "write a romantic legend that includes a bell, because a bell is rung to call guests at the new restaurant, 'Ricardo and Giselle's.'" (I don't remember the stones).

I don't have the print brochure, or I would include a download of it here. An Emily Bronte-like character works best in print. Poetic language softens her edges and provides the context of history.

Cheesy or not, I had to work my ass off.

Why it is great cheese

The owner of Sandals has a very clear idea of what he wants. And he wants cheesy... because he is dealing with guests who are in a very cheesy frame of mind. They are (for the most part) young lower middle-class honeymooners from the U.S. and Britain. They want an over-the-top experience, not subtlety.

As a professional writer, I am not hired to write in my voice. I write according to the client's brand. My stomach churned for eight years of employment because, among other reasons, I was going against my own beliefs. I tried to make the best of it and inject class into the storytelling. But it was rough.

And the fact remains: over the last eight years, using the same cheesy marketing, Sandals has continued to grow and open resorts.

Why it is bad cheese

Sandals is in your face and obvious. It gets downright tacky. I have almost nothing from eight years of work that I can include in my portfolio, because prospective clients would assume I chose the creative direction.

In video, she is scary crazy. I wind up thinking, "This woman needs professional help." The length of the video made it even more painful.

More important, the stones and bell were included without explaining them. They are superfluous and distracting in video. In print, there was running room to explain them and tie them to the restaurant.

To date, the video has 11,000 YouTube views. Stinky results, given the cost. Which may have something to do with cheese after all.

It's easy to get caught up in writing in a voice suited for aspirational luxury, but the true luxury brand has a very different message. For one thing, a real luxury brand won't use the word "luxury." Instead, luxury brands use language that gets to the heart of how their customers define luxury.

The 4 dimensions of luxury brands

Brand authority Jean-Noël Kapferer has explored the concept of the "luxury brand compass" and how elite brands can grow yet retain associations with rarity. He has identified four components of luxury brands:

  1. Limited accessibility that supports brand awareness
  2. A sense of prestige that defines the social status of its core market
  3. Creativity that modernizes the brand and keeps it relevant
  4. Brand roots and heritage

These elements are manipulated by the brand's creative director and become part of the brand's story.

1. Luxury brands have limited accessibility

Once upon a time, Coach and Burberry were true luxury brands, but over-exposure in the market knocked them down a few pegs. They became too accessible. Quickly, they were demoted to being aspirational brands – meaning they appeal to status-seekers – people who aspire to belong to a certain class.

Burberry men's lambskin bomber jacket $1990

Burberry was so desperate to regain its luxury profile, in 2018 it burned $33 million of its own merchandise rather than sell it at a discount. The move resulted in a backlash, of course. Burberry still managed to be named the leading luxury brand in the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Coach has also undertaken extensive efforts to revitalize its brand, including buying Kate Spade, a favorite high-end brand among millennials.

Brands that become too accessible are less appealing to superrich buyers. Louis Vuitton, for instance, is considered  a 'brand for secretaries' by many wealthy Chinese.


Price makes luxury inaccessible

Lanvin sells a striped tee-shirt for $1,520 that is almost identical to a $50 Madewell tee. Jimmy Choo suede sneakers sell for more than $1,000, when you can buy a similar pair of Pumas for $65. The price tag is part of what separates a luxury brand from a lesser brand.

Part of the appeal of a £40,000 watch is that it doesn’t tell the time any better than one you could have bought for £40. The owner didn’t need to spend the extra £39,960, but is so successful that they were able to anyway.


It isn't just a matter of superior materials, craftsmanship, and logos. The ability to make high-end purchases provides ego gratification.

The price tag––and the fact that the majority of the world can’t afford said item, has the inverse effect of imbuing the purchaser with power. That’s why just because there are note-perfect copies of high end bags available all up and down Manhattan’s Canal St., women still choose to purchase authentic Prada, Gucci and Burberry bags instead. 

The Frisky

Exclusivity and brand awareness

Why does Chanel spend $100 million on advertising if its clothes and handbags are beyond the reach of ordinary consumers?

Chanel, like other luxury brands, uses brand awareness in two ways:

In the first instance, brand image is a tool to market the brand's more lucrative and plentiful licensed goods, such as handbags, makeup, skincare, etc. Unlike ready-to-wear, which is sold only in stores, Chanel markets licensed products online. Chanel's former digital director explains:

It's a diffusion business model, so the percentage of revenue that ready-to-wear actually represents is very, very small...if clothes were put for sale online, brands risk in-store traffic (their best customers).

Katalina Sharkey de Solis

In the second instance, social envy is a powerful motivator which gives status to brands and their owners.

Not surprisingly, 91% of luxury brands are using social media influencers to gain digital visibility and generate envy, even though the direct ROI of social influencers can't be measured. The top luxury brand influencers tend to be brand owners like José Neves of Farfetch and brand consultants like Chris Donnelly of Verb Brands.

2. Luxury brands express social status

Back in 1993, John C. Groth and Stephen W. McDanial explored the relationship between "prestige pricing" and brand exclusivity. Prestige pricing implies greater desirability and quality.

But high prices do more than convey a brand image. High prices wall the wrong people out (make a brand inaccessible) while including the right people (make a brand exclusive). In fact, there is an entire psychology of pricing and price anchoring.

Exclusivity is tied to the idea of belonging – like passing the initiation into a private club.

Mass brands define who their customers are and push products towards them. For luxury brands, the roles are reversed. Consumers must be pulled towards the brand with the promise of belonging to an exclusive community.

Sell Up

All luxury brands depend on exclusivity. Dolce and Gabbana, Farfetch, Hermès and Chanel have very different fashion styles, but all of them are calling cards to the highest echelons of society.

Brands are visas, which demonstrate their social ascent and membership in a worldwide community of affluent consumers.

Jean-Noël Kapferer

Luxury marketing is counterintuitive

Vincent Bastien, author of The Luxury Strategy, states that luxury marketing establishes exclusivity by operating according to 24 counterintuitive rules. Among these, he includes:

In line with "making it difficult to buy," Hermès makes it impossible for unknowns to buy its iconic Birkin and Kelly bags. But it has aggressively opened new stores in China, cashing in on the fastest growing market of superrich customers. Hermès is in business to sell – but only to the right type of person.

Other brands avoid traditional channels. For example, Tom Ford skipped Fashion Week and hosted a show by personal invitation only with runway models that included friends such as Beyoncé.

Luxury brands are a form of self-expression

Luxury buyers choose brands as a personal statement; they want to express their own uniqueness and values. This is especially true of millennials, who see do not define luxury as owning status objects. Instead, according to a Deloitte study, they value brands that:

A study published in 2018 found brands that "whisper instead of shout" are preferred overall. Subtle visual cues reinforce the idea of being in the right club, rather than purchasing a logo.

3. Luxury brands are creative

Brand author Jean-Noël Kapferer has described the artification of brands from non-art into art. The term "artification" was coined in Finnish aesthetic theory by Ossi Naukkarinen. Artification aligns luxury brands with art, thereby enhancing their perceived rarity and value.

Luxury brands align with art in two ways:

According to a 2018 study by Julia-Sophie Jelinek, when artification is properly used, it leads to higher brand equity (perceived brand value).

Artification is not limited to luxury brands.

The premium (not luxury) Swedish vodka brand Absolut has sponsored 800 collaborations with artists. Crystal Head vodka (a collaboration between the makers, actor Dan Aykroyd, and artist John Alexander) is less well-known and modestly priced at $99 for 1.75 ML. In contrast, Ciroc Ten vodka costs $250. In the world of clear spirits, there is no correlation between price and quality; it all comes down to brand image.

Creativity helps brands stay viable

Luxury brands strive to stand out and be singular. Creativity is one way to shock, amuse, and be different. Fashion brand Viktor & Rolf built an upside-down store in Milan. Chanel's jewelry boutique in Place Vendȏme has been designed like a time capsule to resemble the founder's Art Deco apartment. Portugal's Soundwich relies on a gimmick; gourmet sandwiches are packed in lunch tins that play music when opened. As the saying goes, "God is in the details."

Creativity also helps luxury brands remain relevant to the times. Gucci fell out of favor but has been reinvented by Alessandro Michele. Prada appeals to a younger luxury buyer with its whimsical Miu Miu line. As new definitions of luxury emerge, creativity enables brands to respond in meaningful ways.

Luxury brands are artisanal

Many luxury brands began as artisanal products made in small workshops. In Italy, you had leather makers. In Britain, the handcrafted quality of a Savile Row suit has been the hallmark of a gentleman since the 1800s.

Bespoke – completely custom – brands rank at the top of luxury. Made-on-demand apparel by Raymond, Kiton, Rathore, Quoddy, Gorgeous, Rye, Sumissura, Black Label, Left Shoe, Brioni – these brands and more appeal to the posh consumer's desire for the unique and one-of-kind.

In fact, the word "bespoke" comes from Savile Row, where it meant a bolt of cloth was spoken for.

Among the world's most expensive cars, Rolls-Royce produced a single Sweptail specifically for an unnamed collected at a price of $13 million.

4. Luxury brands have a history

Heritage has traditionally been one of the strongest signals of luxury. Millennials care less about security than previous generations, but continue to prefer established brands "with roots."

By 2025, millennials worldwide will represent 45% of luxury spending. This includes China, which tends to have a more conservative, ownership-oriented mindset. The huge purchasing power of China has pushed Gucci and Louis Vuitton to the top of favorite millennial brands.

In the U.S., female millennials also choose historical brands – namely, jewelry by Tiffany, Cartier, and Gucci. According to a 2018 BBC study, affluent millennials are more like to be brand-conscious and to purchase luxury brands than any other generation.

Anyone who believes millennials are nonmaterialistic needs to watch the Netflix video The American Meme, which explores how millennials create and consume social media.

Social values are also important

The BBC study also found that, regardless of income, millennials want to own the best quality possible.

Affluent millennials are more concerned than their peers with how luxury brands reflect their success and define them in social media.

Status goes beyond success. It includes social values such as sustainability and animal welfare. Brands that endorse these values allow millennials to project the right image of themselves.

You can't judge a book by its cover

British adman Rory Sutherland cautions that truly high status individuals, mainly men, can rebel against status signaling by dressing down, driving an old car, and living in a modest home. Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world, still lives in the house he bought for $31,000 and uses a flip-top phone.

Millennials are prone to embrace customization and companies that align with their beliefs. This opens the doors to new luxury brands.

Le Labo creates hand-made perfumes with personalized labels. Designed for millennial consumers, Le Labo sells a small (15 ml) of its eau de parfum for $80. The same size bottle of Chanel 5 appeals to an older demographic and sells for $210.

In an interview with Forbes, the marketing vice president of leather goods-maker Perrin Paris stated:

Historically, luxury brands were promoting a so-called culture of “exclusion.” Not only they were limiting access to the product, they were also deliberately detached from the final customer and reserved in their communications. What we are observing today is a new paradigm...brands have to act in an inclusive, engaging and open manner. This requires a great deal of flexibility in communications, tone of voice, social media behavior...brands should try and become “friends” with those new generations of consumers, participate in their lives through relevant channels and speak their language.

Olga Pancenko, Perrin Paris

The key concepts are social envy and FOMO (fear of missing out). Millennials want to be envied by their peers and they are desperately afraid of being left out of anything – travel, parties, concerts, lifestyle moments – that would enhance their self-worth.

Sharing these experiences signals status in much the same way that ownership does.

5. Luxury brand storytelling

All of the above come together in the brand's story. What a brand chooses to say – and not say – about itself determines whether the brand will resonate in the market.

The 5 elements of a luxury brand story

Brand can work with five elements to craft a brand story. The right elements depend upon the brand and its audience. A strong heritage brand can no longer get by based on tradition; it must add creativity or social values to the mix. Quality is an expected part of every luxury brand story, although it does not have to be explicitly stated as such.


Aspirational brands sell status. But the luxury brand knows a status-based message is likely to turn off the person who already has money, power, and social prestige.

Luxury brands talk about being handcrafted, meticulously designed, and impeccably finished. People with money understand – everyone understands – that exceptional quality is expensive and therefore reserved for a certain class.

Dior talks about craftsmanship. BMW talks about German-engineered performance.

When a brand is expressing its quality, you may hear it talk about performance, craftsmanship, and similar attributes.


Heritage is a dimension of quality. Heritage brands are luxury brands that have become traditions among the elite. Surprisingly, heritage resonates across age groups.

Although most U.S. millennials do not crave luxury products, millennials with incomes above $150,000 are the exception to the rule. These affluent millennials are keenly interested in Rolex, Jimmy Choo, and Tiffany (the leaders in their categories).

When a brand is expressing its heritage, you may hear it talk about tradition, its past, its cultural roots, or where it is made.


Great design (creativity) is a foundation for luxury brands. Kartell relies upon the work of distinctive designers, such as Philippe Starck (Ghost Chair) and Ron Arad (Popworm). Pandora (a more accessible brand) is noted for its collectible, self-expressive jewelry charms. Christian Louboutin's $1000-a-pair stilettos have a distinctive red underside that is the brand's visual bookmark.

When a brand is telling a design story, you may hear it talk about creativity, aesthetics, innovation, and vision.


Wealthy consumers do not mind spending more for quality products that have a reputation for doing good. The consumer shares in the goodness of the product.

Tesla tells a story of environmental consciousness that is worth the price tag. It is blunt, calling the Model S "the best car on the road." And the entry level Model 3 simply touts a high safety rating. Tesla's story doesn't happen on its website so much as in the news and social media. Which is fine, because Tesla is unique in the market.

Wealthy millennials like to be seen as being concerned with ethics. For example, Prince Harry bought Meghan Markle an ethically sourced engagement diamond from Botswana.

When a brand is expressing its ethics, you may hear it talk about transparency, fair-trade, the environment, social responsibility, and charitable donations.


In the past, buying Chanel No. 5 was enough for a woman to feel that she belonged to a specific echelon of society. There was relatively little clutter; the brand stood for something without much effort. Now, the brand has to expand upon its story; the Chanel website is filled with movie-stories.

The individual stories may be fictionalized, but they add up to a greater truth. Call it a point of view or a stance. Luxury consumers buy brands they believe in. And they buy brands that express something they want to say about themselves.

Shinola and Rolex are both luxury brand watches, but they appeal to different mindsets, so they have very different stories. Both brands are true to their audience and to themselves.

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