Don’t judge a book by its cover. Isn’t that what they say? While the sentiment is nice, and can be a useful mindset to help us meet strangers we may have never given an opportunity to, if you’re in Indy Reads Book next week, there’s a good chance you’ll be judging books by their cover.
And when you’re out to eat and drink, it’s pretty much covers all the way down.
There’s a good chance that when you’re in SoBro Liquors this Friday getting beers for the weekend, your eyes are going to be drawn in by certain labels, either of trusted brands that are your go-tos or something new with great, eye-catching artwork. And that brewpub you’re going to tomorrow, the one with the funky beer names, the bright, vibrant colors, and an eclectic and fun menu? Maybe you were first pulled in by its snarky social media presence and the unique, sleek metal exterior.
“People taste with their eyes,” says Isaac Arthur, co-owner of CODO Design. “It’s a weird statement, but if you have the best beer in the world and you have bad packaging it’s not going to help tell that story, or give what you’re doing justice. You really have to have great branding to reflect what you do to your customers.”
You might recognize CODO’s carnivalesque hand-painted sign that invites you into the comfortable Mass Ave Libertine Liquor Bar, or the straight-forward Prohibition-style bottles of Backbone Bourbon Co. Their portfolio also includes Rook, Big Lug Canteen, Centerpoint Brewing, Natural Born Juicers and many others. And when looking at branding, Arthur points out that many people have a skewed idea as to the actual scope of what a branding firm like CODO does for a business.
“There’s graphic design, and then there’s branding,” he says. “We still have people come to us and say, “I need branding, I need a logo.” And people that really understand this understand that what you’re doing through the branding process is framing and telling a story and you’re figuring it out and telling it visually.”
He continues, “So with the branding process there is going to be a visual component, you are going to ultimately be designing a logo, a color palette, typography and stuff like that. But with true branding you’re also fleshing out that positioning in the market, that brand essence or that core, compelling idea ... which informs copyrighting and the products you make themselves. So, a real branding package helps define what is special and unique about your product or service and it arms the client with what they need to tell that story as they move forward.”
The brands that have become iconic over the years have one thing in common, they all tell stories that intrigue and excite us in one way or another. With Nike, our minds immediately transport to a vision of a star athlete when we see that swoosh. And we all have that simple mantra in the back of our minds: “Just do it.”
The same effect happens when we see something like Pabst Blue Ribbon. For years it was viewed as low-cost swill. But recently the beer has been embraced by hipsters, and so it has embraced its identity as a hipster beer by promoting its retro apparel and Americana feel.
“It’s figuring out what it is that you do that is different and special and how you can tell that story,” Arthur says. That is the most important thing that you can get through a branding process. Obviously, you need to tell that story visually, but the story itself is key.”
When you walk into your favorite restaurants, or order your favorite beer on draft, or pour your favorite whiskey, think about the story they’re conveying with their branding. Then think, what about that brand draws you in? It gives you perspective about the usually subconscious decisions that drive much of our daily decisions.
“I think that branding is as important, if not moreso, than your product itself in most cases,” Arthur says. “You know, if you’re looking at a tapline for example, it gets people to pick up your product, order your beer on draft, or order food; it gets that initial pull. And then, if your product or service is good, then they’re going to come back and get hooked and do it again and again; but branding is often that first shot you have with someone.”
For Arthur it’s a job he enjoys and takes pride in and believes in. “It will never get old,” he says when I ask what it’s like seeing a product he helped brand out in the world. “I used to think I would kind of get over it and not be excited about it, but it’s still exciting seeing Backbone Bourbon on a shelf behind a bar somewhere. Or going into a small liquor store in Southern Indiana when I’m buying bait or something when I’m fishing and seeing a beer can that we designed. It’s really, really fun.”