What Makes a Fearless Brand? Quality, Consistency and Messaging


Today’s craft beer industry, which has flourished in the U.S. for decades, is seen by some as an innovative approach to the beer business. In reality, today’s passion for craft beer is merely a reflection of the past. The first known reference to beer comes from a poem found in Mesopotamia (Iraq), written over 3900 years ago to honor Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing. From that time until the late 19th century, all beers were ‘craft’ beers – beers brewed in relatively small batches and sold in local geography.

Such was the case with the Haystack Brewery in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In the 1860’s, Haystack and the entire Dutch beer industry was experiencing a decline. Lower demand meant less sales, less profit and a decline in the value of the brewery. For one young Dutchman, this situation presented a tremendous opportunity. Determined to create a beer culture in Amsterdam, Gerard Adriaan Heineken purchased Haystack in 1863 for a very favorable price and built a new brewery on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The new brewery accommodated the bottom-fermentation brewing process. By 1874, a second brewery was opened in Rotterdam.

For centuries, beer had been locally produced and distributed – which is essentially the criteria for today’s craft beer. At the time, though, it was for one practical reason – beer is a perishable product. The quality of beer is subject to any number of damaging factors – chief among them are age, light, and heat. Of the many damaging external factors, heat is arguably the greatest enemy of beer. Heineken understood that product quality and consistency were critical to successfully creating a beer culture – so he set out to address these issues.

His first step was to have cooling machines developed for use inside of the breweries, and in 1881 Heineken became the first Dutch brewer to do so. Heineken also knew that yeast, arguably the single most important ingredient in any beer, was at greatest risk from outside factors. Heineken and his team set out to address these challenges, engaging a chemist to study the yeast issue. The result was the cultivation of a pure, and exclusive, strain of yeast which brought a new stability and consistency to the product itself. These innovations set the stage for the geographic growth of Heineken.

Gerard Heineken fulfilled his vision – he had created a high-quality beer which led to development of a beer culture not just in Amsterdam, but worldwide. Yet a quality product, by itself, does not guarantee a successful business. Customers must learn about the product – its quality and why it’s of value to them.

Branding was first introduced to the brewery by the founder’s grandson, Alfred Heineken who had spent two years living in the U.S. While there, he learned all he could about selling and advertising beer – and the power of branding. He brought these concepts with him when he returned to the Netherlands. New ideas often meet resistance – Alfred’s proposed brand-building and advertising initiatives were no exception.

Alfred was persistent, and in 1948, for the first time, the word Heineken replaced the word Pilsener in the most dominant location on their bottle’s labels. The brand name was featured rather than the generic product type. For the first time, the name Heineken was used without all capital letters. Lower case letters were used to make the brand image lighter and cheerier. The letters were tilted slightly, giving the lower case ‘e’ the appearance of a smile.

From that point forward, Heineken’s branding initiatives were second in importance only to product quality. Building on the combination of outstanding product and powerful brand messaging, Heineken focused on expansion, acquisitions, and product innovations to become the third largest brewer in the world. Heineken itself, is listed by Brand Finance as the world’s third most valuable beer brand, behind only Bud Light and Budweiser. These accomplishments began with the passion and purpose of Gerard Heineken who was commitment to brewing a culture-creating beer. That dedication to quality and consistency continue today which is why Heineken is a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands are built through quality, consistency, and powerful brand messaging

Gerard Heineken’s vision started with an unwavering commitment to product quality. That commitment has not been compromised by the company in its more than one hundred and fifty year history. It’s that consistency which has earned Heineken’s global reputation for quality. Consumers trust that every Heineken they purchase meets that high standard.

Producing such a high-quality product is meaningless if consumers aren’t aware that it exists. That’s why Alfred Heineken’s unwavering commitment to branding was so significant. His focus was to sell a brand – Heineken, vs a product – a pilsener beer. Through his efforts, the company began to strategically advertise. Alfred chose to focus on the primary purchaser – mainly women, vs the primary consumer – mainly men. While company incorporated every element of marketing through the years, they were steadfast in delivering a consistent brand image.

Heineken’s focus has always been on their quality product, their green color palette, their red star, their heritage. Heineken’s brand messaging has always been consistent, clear, relevant, and contemporary – creating a brand image which matches completely the product itself.

Their current ad campaign, “There’s More Behind the Star”, features Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro (Traffic – 2000). The campaign delivers a product-focused and heritage message. Consumers relate to del Toro’s “kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with” personality, and there’s just enough humor to keep the spots engaging.

Heineken knows that at its core, beer is a social product. The thought of having a beer with someone is mostly positive. What if beer – Heineken of course – leveraged that social magnetism to make a difference in the world? Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” begins by asking a wide variety of people about their social views. Those respondents were then ‘randomly’ paired to literally build a bar, at which they would share an ice-cold Heineken. It’s only after they begin to enjoy their beer that their beliefs are revealed to each other. It’s a powerful piece! To watch it, click here!

There’s much to learn about branding – and brand messaging – from Heineken beer.

Quality counts – Long-term success is reliant on quality. Quality is a value which cannot be compromised if the intent is to sell on value versus selling on price. Want high revenue and margins? Deliver quality. Want sales for sales sake? Sell on price. In almost every situation, focusing on quality presents long-term success.

Consistency, consistency, consistency – Why is consistency important? Trust! It’s that simple. When a brand’s quality, message, and product attributes are always consistent, the public learns to trust that product. They know exactly what to expect, and what they’ll get, whenever and wherever they purchase that product. People tend to do business with and buy products that they trust – consistency is the key to building that relationship.

Brand messaging is a critical second step – Make no mistake, building a fearless brand is of the utmost importance. A brand is the value proposition, it’s the essence of what a consumer is looking for. Brand messaging is how that value is communicated. To be most effective, brand messaging must follow brand development. A brand’s communication must be accurate, authentic, easy to understand, relevant, repeatable, and consistent. All too often people begin with the message and hope the brand can deliver. Those are the brands that resort to selling on price, sooner rather than later.

Whether we’re a beer drinker or not, whether we like Heineken or not, we can learn from that brand’s success. To find success – to build a fearless brand – start with a commitment to quality and authenticity, maintain relevancy, communicate effectively and be consistent in all aspects. Simple enough? Not easy, but simple!

Company Branding Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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