Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Magic of Magic Hat

Magic Hat, for those who don’t know but should, makes beer. Really good beer. Beer lovers’ beer. Hoppy, complex, flavorful, and often wonderfully bitter. Not your garden variety swill here. Magic Hat is very good at making beer. They are also incredibly good at marketing and brand management. They have built their brand based on magic, Halloween, and Mardi Gras imagery with a hippy aesthetic. They carry that brand throughout everything they do. Cartons, labels, product names (such as the new Hex). Even the factory reflects their image of whimsical scariness.
The Sticker Licker.
The Sticker Licker!
On the factory tour (which is actually called the Artifactory) in South Burlington Vermont, they have massive signs that explain what all the machines and process steps are. They are not your typical bland signs though. For example, the labeling machine has been given the moniker “Sticker Licker”. All the signs, of course, reflect the corporate color palette. The tasting room is like none I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in … a few). Ambient light is kind of orange and dim but not too dim to read. It’s weird and edgy without being threatening. The soundtrack is decidedly hippy with lots of Grateful Dead and Cream. The signage is, like their labels and cartons, in keeping with the overall look and feel of the product.
Yours truly in the tasting room. Check out the lighting.
Everything about the tasting room screams the Magic Hat brand. 
You might be asking yourself “What has this to do with technology?” That’s okay. Go ahead, I’m not insulted. I’ve not gone off the rails. In fact, it has everything to do with technology. Technology folks forget that technology is usually realized as a product. Products are bought and sold and how we manage to do that is important. The type of tight brand and product management that you see at Magic Hat is the same that you see at companies like Apple. Everything connects. They have a playbook and stick to it. Deviation from form is not a good thing. It confuses consumers and makes it hard for them to connect to your products.

I can still hear you out there saying “Well, we don’t make consumer products so this doesn’t apply.” What?! You have consumers too, no matter who you are. You might call them customers, clients, or fellow employees but someone is consuming  the stuff you make. Branding matters to them for these reasons:
  1. It provides a point of reference. When you see an HP computer you know it’s an HP because of it’s design elements. This is why monkeying around with your logo is a dangerous thing. Not just the logo either but colors, shapes, packaging, the whole tragedy.
  2. It attracts people. Consumers need to know about what you have to offer. Branding helps cut through the white noise of the marketplace. It doesn’t matter if it’s the whimsy of a beer company or the messaging of an OEM tech company. Folks need a reason to listen to you. Your being there isn’t enough.
  3. If coupled with great product, it builds loyalty. The ultimate goal of branding is to associate your product with some set of emotions that makes them want to keep in touch and consume more. And to tell all their friends too.
So much technology marketing is bland and gyrating, changing with every new model. Shifting branding causes confusion. Again, the technology master here is Apple. You can instantly recognize their products, logo, even color schemes. It changes over time but always in line with the overall branding. Their brand changes incrementally not radically.

Now, there are reasons for radical brand transformation. If the brand has gotten so stale it sends the wrong message, it may need a facelift. If something very bad has gotten connected with your current brand, then a reboot may be in order. Radical restarts of a brand without real need are usually disastrous. New Coke anyone? Didn’t think so. As the Magic Hat (and Apple) example shows, brand is not just a logo. It’s everything from the box it ships in to the design of the product to social media. It all has to come from the same source, from the same core.

So, tech companies have a lot to learn from how a small company like Magic Hat makes it’s presence known in a very competitive field. Take marketing beyond just a graphics manual and encompass all aspects of the company and products. At Magic Hat, even the guy pouring beer in the tasting room exuded the Magic Hat brand. That is the only way to attract and keep customers. That and awesome product. Don’t forget that. Magic Hat would be nothing if the beer was lousy. And their beer is anything but lousy.

1 comment:

Tom Petrocelli said...

Update: Magic Hat was purchased by North American Breweries. They own Labatts USA and Genesee Beer. Labatts USA Headquarters are in my hometown of Buffalo NY Genesee is in Rochester, just up the Thruway. Hopefully some of the awesome Magic Hat marketing will be rub off on the otherwise awesome Labatts USA folks. You guys listening?
Disclosure: No free beer was up obtained for this blog. I wouldn't say no though. :-)