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Northwest Arkansas brewers place importance on branding


To say the local beer industry is flourishing is quite an understatement. A new brewery seems to open every month. And for the most part, each is experiencing success due to a public that thirsts for diversity in its drinking options.

At some point, however, the market will become saturated – and selling enough beer to stay in business will be a challenge. There is plenty of local competition and now craft brewers from across the nation see Arkansas as a lucrative market for their beer. Over the last few months the state has welcomed COOP (Oklahoma City), Kona (Hawaii), and Sixpoint (Brooklyn). Victory (Pennsylvania) is on the way, and maybe – if early indications are true – craft giants like Lagunitas (California) and Oskar Blues (Colorado) are not too far behind.

Shelves are crowded with brands competing for our drinking dollar. How will the local guys maintain their momentum?

A quality product is obviously important. A brewery won’t survive long by making bad beer. But perhaps just as important is a brand image that appeals to beer drinkers. It’s going to take more than simply brewing good beer to be successful as a business. Thought must be given to logos, slogans, labels, tap handles, and overall brand messaging.

A marketing plan is a must if a brewery is going to survive in an increasingly competitive industry. According to the Brewers Association, there were only 601 breweries operating in the United States in 1994. Last year there were 3,464 – a staggering 20-year growth rate of 576 percent.

Yes, it’s a crowded field in beer these days. Northwest Arkansas is no exception to this new reality – and as a result – local brewers are giving more thought to how they present themselves to consumers. In many cases they are soliciting the help of professional marketers to help them craft their messages.


BLKBOXLabs is a Northwest Arkansas creative agency that is partnering with some of the local brewers to maximize their brand appeal. Owner and President Joey Nelson said the key to success is authenticity. Ozark Beer Company, one of BLKBOXLabs’ signature accounts, is an example of a brewery that portrays itself in a very honest way.

“Everyone connects with the brand,” said Nelson. “It’s so authentic, so pure. I think it speaks to what we stand for at BLKBOX, who we try to work with, and how we try to approach our work.”

According to Ozark co-owner and business manager Lacie Bray, she and her partners started thinking about the brewery’s brand image well before the first beer was produced. A close friend of brewmaster Andy Coates developed the brewery’s logo – a simple take on the Arkansas state flag.

“We really like simple,” said Bray. “We didn’t want to be overwhelming. Everything we did up until the cans was amazingly simple and honest.”

Adapting Ozark’s hardworking image to the brewery’s package of choice – aluminum cans – was a challenge that BLKBOXLabs was willing to accept.

“They have really nice, simple, clean stuff for their brand,” said creative director Jeremy Teff. “What they really wanted to do was connect it with a broader audience. With the elk we were trying to play off the Ozark Mountains’ outdoor heritage. Andy and Lacie are into outdoor activities – they were both river guides in Colorado – so it made sense for their brand.”

The end result was a can that has been widely applauded for the design work. Don’t misunderstand – the beer is topnotch, with a rating of 95 out of 100 on beer review website ratebeer.com. But the label hits home with its imagery, hand-drawn typography, and the bold choice of black for the primary color.

“People from the Ozarks understand,” said Teff. “They’re outside people. They’re hardworking. They’re honest. That’s where that handcrafted aspect comes from. Everything we do here we make with our hands, so it was natural to do the design work that way.”

The can design for the Belgian-style Golden Ale – which incorporates campfire imagery and the familiar typography – has been met with just as much enthusiasm.

“It has definitely blown us away,” said Bray. “Especially the recognition on the national level because it’s not something that we’ve sought out. When it comes it’s always a surprise. But it reinforces the fact that people appreciate what we’re doing.”

Ozark is currently working with BLKBOXLabs on can designs for its IPA and cream stout.

“We’ve already gone a couple of rounds on those designs so they’re close to being done,” said Bray.

Fossil Cove

For Fossil Cove owner and brewmaster Ben Mills, marketing his brand was almost an afterthought when the brewery first opened. He was a one-man show – brewing in the morning and pouring beer in the tasting room during the evening hours. Getting the kinks worked out of brewery operations was his number one priority.

“It was as simple as having someone do the initial logo,” said Mills, referring to his original marketing plan. “We’ve kind of just gotten by with what little we’ve done.”

Local artist Nick Shoulders, who Mills knew through a mutual friend, created most of the original artwork. Each of the six year-round offerings received a distinctive look. The illustrations were wonderfully whimsical and somewhat Flinstonian in character. But they were built for merchandise, not beer labels.

Packaging is just now coming into focus for Fossil Cove. Keeping up with tasting room demand and draft account orders has been a challenge to this point, but with recently acquired fermentation space comes more beer to play with.

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Dustin Bartholomew is the co-founder of Fayetteville Flyer, an online publication covering all things news, art and life in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 2007. A graduate of the Department of English at the University of Arkansas and a lifelong resident of the area, he still lives in east Fayetteville with his son Hudson, daughter Evelyn, his wife Brandy, and his two dogs Lily and Steve. On occasion, he tickles the ivories in a local band called The Good Fear.

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