Sunday, March 7, 2010

Good Strategy > Great Tactics

"Brewery shifts Honey Brown strategy"

These five words seem innocent and certainly would never be accused of stealing headlines. In fact, I noticed them above a small article quietly placed in a side column of the Rochester Business Journal.

However, they tell an interesting story.

In 2008, the High Falls Brewing Co (who owned it at the time) decided they were going to repackage and rebrand the JW Dundee line of beers, which included Honey Brown to "correctly position the Dundee portfolio within the craft beer category." That's according to their Vice President of Marketing, Patrick Magallanes.

Like most rebranding efforts, a lot of buzz was generated. The buzz, according to the VP, is just a symbol of the "renewed energy and innovation" that surrounded the brand. Too bad "energy" can only drive a brand so far.

So obviously the rebranding failed because they're returning to their old look.

Wrong. The tactical execution was flawless. The design work of Martino Flynn was widely acclaimed and took home the 2009's top advertising award: an Addy Award for Best in Show. It served its purpose exactly: reposition the beer to the craft beer category (view assignment portion of case study).

Strategy was the problem. Join the overcrowded craft beer aisle and while abandoning the guy who drank Honey Brown because it was had a nice flavor and was cheap. A classic mistake that we see all the time.
Even the greatest creative work cannot save a poor strategy.

That is why did those five words stood out. They're something rarely seen: an admission of flawed strategy.

I applaud the new owners of the Genesee Brewery for not simply citing poor execution, firing their ad agency and going about their day all wrong all over again.


patrick.magallanes said...

Interesting post. Agree the execution was flawless. The real issue was not the crowded aisles. The other styles of Dundee remain in the award-winning packaging and are doing quite well. The issue with Honey Brown was that it isn't a craft beer. When we were looking to do the new packaging, it wasn't new packaging that we were seeking but rather the more profitable craft category. The brewery made Sam Adams so cit learly could produce "craft" beer. But there was concern that we couldn't leave the flagship Honey Brown behind and this was discussed quite deeply. In fact Martino Flynn worked up some comps for a new Honey Brown outside of the Dundee packaging. In the end, our CEO made the call that Honey Brown had to be the craft flagship. So we took it to the craft category to get the other styles there. What was proved was that new packaging couldn't make Honey Brown a craft beer. In fact, it is simply Genny with a splash of honey.

Alexander said...

Thanks for commenting. I really enjoy when managers of the brands discussed on the blog contribute their take.

I believe there is a lot of evidence that shows rebranding stuff doesn't really work once the product is so well established as something to the consumer - as Honey Brown was?

Why didn't you guys try a new name when it was put into the craft category?