The single most impressive element in New Belgium’s brand

Like the artwork around its vats, the New Belgium brand is well considered and considerately crafted.

Like the artwork around its vats, the New Belgium brand is made up of many individual parts, while well considered and considerately crafted.

Craft beer on a Wednesday afternoon. One of the perks of working for yourself.

OK, so we didn’t drink beer. But a prospective client and I spent the better part of the day visiting the New Belgium brewery in Ft. Collins, Colorado yesterday. I’m recommending some branding initiatives for this prospective client, and New Belgium provides an excellent analog to what we’re after. (We’ll see where it goes.)

The New Belgium brand is special on many fronts. But one dynamic we saw first-hand stuck out above all the others.

If you haven’t heard about the New Belgium approach to running a business – and their branding work that seamlessly integrates with it – you owe it to yourself to check it out. Writings and studies are all over the place. Here’s a more academically-minded one (PDF – © O.C. Ferrell 2006), here’s a local b-school video, and here’s a nice write-up from Elephant Journal.

I’ve been to the brewery before but with friends. I’ve had to constantly control my urge to be the wet-blanket marketing weenie among these fun-seeking groups that aren’t the least bit interested in things like holistic, values-based, integrated branding. So it was refreshing to be there purely to experience New Belgium from a business perspective.

We arrived around 11:00. We were just about the only non-employees meandering about. We interrupted someone working on a laptop behind the bar in the Liquid Center (New Belgium’s remarkable name for the tasting room) and asked if we could see a certain area of the brewery I had remembered as particularly impressive during a past tour.

Tours start at 1:30, he said. We looked at each other, trying to decide if we had the time to come back and if it was worth it. We did this because like most consumers we’ve been conditioned to accept policies, and we’ve been further conditioned to understand that employees at this level aren’t empowered to work outside them.

Instead, our man in the Liquid Center took advantage of his moment of truth: I can’t leave the bar unattended, but let me see if anyone’s available to take you.

A few minutes later we were immersed in a conversation with Andrew Lemley about the company and its brand. Not a tour-guide script of New Belgium beer, not why we should buy it. But responses to our questions. Things we were interested in.

Of all the impressive tactics New Belgium employs to build and manage a values-centric brand, the fact that an employee felt empowered to work outside the norm was the most remarkable.

At the end of our “tour” my prospective client pressed Andrew about his role in the company. You’re in sales, he said, you just don’t know it.

You’re right, Andrew responded. I sell an experience with a story.

Straight from his mouth, not a marketing professor or blogger.

Well-crafted beer and well-crafted branding on a Wednesday afternoon. One of the perks of working for yourself.

Have you ever experienced employees empowered to act outside their policies or job description? What kind of impact did it have on your perceptions of the brand you were experiencing? Did it cause you to act differently?