Good branding is powerful. Have you ever bought a bottle of wine or beer simply because you liked how the label looked? We certainly have. In fact, we’ve had an ongoing debate around the studio about whether a well-designed label makes a beer actually taste better. Impassioned arguments have been made. Scientific studies have been cited. At a recent company retreat the Hansen Belyea team decided to settle the issue once and for all, with our own, super-unscientific taste vs. design challenge.
We went to our local market and picked up nine different beers solely based on how cool the label looked. The nine lucky beer-testants were:
Dogfish Head – Festina Pêche
Oakshire Brewing – Overcast Espresso Stout
No-Li Brewhouse – Jet Star Imperial India Pale Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing – Briney Melon Gose
Bridgeport Brewing – Cream Ale
Two Beers Brewing – Wonderland Trail IPA
Crux Fermentation Project – Crux Pils
Stiegl – Radler Grapefruit
Aslan Brewing – Batch 15 India Pale Ale
Once on our retreat—at a lovely beachside cabin on the south Sound—we lined the beers up for their late afternoon of reckoning. The labels themselves were all very different. The consensus of our team was that the Batch 15 IPA (first on the right in the photo above) was the best looking of the good-looking labels. Once that was settled, we moved on to the taste test.
We sampled the beers from lightest to darkest, analyzing taste vs. label as we went. Not surprisingly, there was little agreement on anything. The majority of us did agree that the Stiegl Radler (second from right in top image) had the label that best reflected the beer inside (or, in this case, obnoxiously fruity malt beverage). The one constant: the beers were consistently inconsistent. Some tasted great; some tasted downright awful.
Is there a link between the coolness of the label and the goodness of the taste? At least for this group of designers and brand strategists, the answer is pretty much no. But we did find that when a beer tasted bad—despite a well-designed label—we were even more disappointed than we otherwise would have been. Good design raised our expectations, bad beer disappointed them. So, inadvertently, in our grand taste test we relearned a truth we live by at Hansen Belyea: deliver what you promise. If there’s a disconnect between your design and your product, service, or organization, your audience will know.