Branding During Crisis

March 25, 2020

Interview with Matt Tanaka of Stout Collective

An Interview with Matt Tanaka of Stout Collective

American craft breweries make a positive and long lasting impact in our communities. According to the Brewers Association 2018 Economic Report released in late 2019, they contributed $79.1 billion to our economy, donated/raised an estimated $92 million for charitable organizations, and provided nearly 560,000 jobs. Like many independent businesses they face an uncertain economic future as they navigate forward in the time of coronavirus, which has sent us all scrambling. Chicago-based Stout Collective, a marketing and design studio servicing the beer industry, was founded in 2015 to help “tell a better story about beer.” Clients include breweries across the country and many in the Midwest such as 3 Sheeps Brewing (WI), Upland Brewing (IN), and Half Acre Brewing (IL).

Interview by Artisan Grain Collaborative/Jennifer Breckner – March 2020

Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC): Stout Collective recently offered to provide free strategy sessions to breweries during the COVID-19 crisis. What was your thought process in doing that?

Matt Tanaka (MT): Our clients are all within food and beverage. With all of the closures [due to COVID-19 and the limits placed upon them] they are struggling right now. Like a lot of people in the community, we sat down as a team and tried to figure out how we can help. Our philosophy during this whole thing is to be good to each other. If we’re going to get through this, we’re going to get through it as an entire community. These sessions are something we can offer and breweries can sign up here.

AGC: What do the strategy sessions entail?

MT: The sessions are versions of a service we provide for our clients that we call “brand therapy.” They’re designed to help breweries work through challenges while maintaining their brand and communicating well with their audience. We identify their goals, then use a variety of exercises to help them set plans to reach those goals and craft strong messaging.

AGC: What do craft breweries need to know now about how to brand themselves during a crisis? Are there guidelines or are we learning as we go?

MT: I don’t think we have any real blueprint for this particular crisis. Breweries are facing huge challenges in a way they haven’t before and at a scale they haven’t before. I think it would do breweries well to articulate what’s truly important to them, in a way that’s compelling and straightforward to consumers. If they do it well, their audience should understand the true precariousness of the situation and that small businesses like breweries, bars, restaurants, and bottle shops will not survive the next few months if they don’t support them.

AGC: What does good branding and communications do for a brewery? Why is it an important part of the business plan?

MT: A good branding and communications strategy is about making clear to consumers what you stand for and how they can be a part of it. I feel like it’s always an important part of a brewery’s business plan but in times of crisis like this it’s incredibly important for the public to understand the weight of the situation and to know how they can support the business and the people behind it.

AGC: How have craft brewery owners shown leadership during this crisis?

MT: There are a lot of ways: supporting staff that’s been furloughed, creating interesting projects [to raise funds], and raising awareness. Stout Collective is working on a large fundraising and support initiative that will be announced soon. I can’t go into all of the details yet, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response from breweries and other beer industry partners to support each other and the industry as a whole [shortly after this interview Stout announced All Together, a fundraising campaign to benefit hospitality professionals, organized in partnership with Other Half Brewing Co.]. One tiny silver lining in this is watching everyone come together and take care of each other.

AGC: Lastly, how can consumers help and why is it important for them to do so?

MT: There are many things consumers can do to help. For one, support your local businesses by donating to them or by purchasing their product. Order carryout or delivery, buy beer, and tip the staff. Besides that, you can use your own networks to encourage others to do the same. Note: we’ve seen some things going around about buying gift cards — while this is SUCH a great thing to do, we’re also urging folks to be very thoughtful about when they redeem them. When places open up again, a rush of gift card redemptions could be very damaging, so delay your use, or think of it as a donation!

All photos courtesy of Stout Collective

Editor's note: Below are some resources for consumers and professionals interested in supporting craft brewing and malting.

The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild put together this list of IL breweries where you can purchase product online for curbside pickup, home deliver, or both. Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild put together this list of breweries offering to-go options. We’re still on the hunt for a repository of brewing resources in Wisconsin. If you have a resource to share send it to

The Craft Maltsters Guild has also compiled a series of resources for craft maltsters and other in the craft malt supply chain.

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