Vapid Prototypes: A Study In Rebranding

prototype_new

The ability to identify, admit, and correct one’s errors with relative ease is a really neat perk to running a small business. Big brands don’t have that level of agility – when a large company treads down the wrong path with a branding decision, it can require a huge expenditure of time, personnel, and money to reel it back in. But when you’ve got a small team with one dude at the helm of the branding ship, you can pretty much agree to change something (over the course of either a beer, or a meeting, or a meeting over beers), and then just go and change it. I’ll definitely try to cherish this level of simplicity while I still can; especially if, years down the road, we somehow end up creating a catastrophic brand abortion on the order of Pepsi Clear, at which point I’ll look upon this blog post with fondness as I scramble our team to nuke that bitch from orbit.

For us, The Rapid Prototype Factory Series ended up being one of those parts of our brand that desperately needed an overhaul. It was well-intentioned – other successful breweries have done numerical releases under a singularly-branded series in the past, such as Tröegs’ Scratch Beer Series and Night Shift’s Art Series. So why are we now, after releasing 23 beers under the Rapid Prototype Factory banner, getting cold feet about the ol’ RPF Series?

To tell you the truth, we ended up confusing both ourselves and our customers. Aside from the fact that Rapid Prototype Factory Series is simply too many damn words, it was not very well managed from the back end. We didn’t set a list of rules and guidelines for these releases, which tended to be unpredictable beers released at unpredictable times in unpredictable formats. It became very clear that if we wanted to salvage this tangled mess, we needed to give it three things: a brand facelift, a concrete set of constraints, and a fresh start.

The Brand Facelift

rpf change-01

At the core of the rebranding process is the simplification of the name. Shortening that unholy mouthful down to just “Prototype Series” was the obvious call here. Beyond that, the brand imagery also needed a switch. Firmly grasping the low-hanging design fruit, we originally decided that the icon for “Rapid Prototype Factory” should, in fact, be a factory. A clever bunch, we are. But with the abandonment of the word ‘factory’ from the name, there was no longer a need for any related imagery. In order to keep a subtle nod to the original, we’ve ditched the pentagon badge for a more interesting shape based on the monitor roof so frequently found in Pittsburgh’s industrial landscape. The new icon is based off of both wireframe models and building blocks, a much less blunt analogy than its predecessor. We’re definitely still sticking with the purple, though. Purple rocks.

The Concrete Set of Constraints

Part of where the RPF failed was the complete lack of structure. In moving forward with the new Prototype Series, we realized that we required a very black-and-white rubric of what it means for a beer to be within this brand family, from production size to packaging to distribution. Here’s what we came up with:

rpf rules-01

  • Prototype releases are now limited to beers made on our pilot system. In keeping with the premise of the Prototype Series as a testing ground for potential future production-scale releases, we’ll limit these to smaller volumes. They’ll appear every now and then, move quickly, and then disappear – unless, of course, you all deem them worthy of the big leagues.
  • Prototype Series beers will only be available in our taproom. That’s the best way for us to get feedback on these experiments, which is the whole point of doing this in the first place. Ok, maybe we’ll send a keg over to our friends over at The Independent every now and then. But these bad boys are, for all intents and purposes, taproom-only.
  • Prototype Series beers will only be available on draft. Bottling these beers would not only defeat the purpose of constraining their presence to the taproom (with the intention of gaining feedback), it would add another layer of complexity to all of this, which is what we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

And with the new rules in place, we’re ready to give this saucy minx a hard reset.

The Fresh Start

During the series of discussions about the outcome of the Prototype Series, it became clear that in order to make this transition complete, we’d need to reset the system from the beginning. Starting over with Prototype 1 will be just as much of a symbolic gesture as it is an organizational maneuver. The decision also comes at a fitting time given our recent brewing staff transition, and with our new head brewer Zach in the driver’s seat, we’re sure to see some excellent Prototype releases from here on out.

Prototype 1: Multigrain IPA (brewed with rye, oats, and wheat) will be released Wednesday, March 4th in the taproom. Ripe tropical fruit and piney dankness lead into a crazy-smooth, bready mouthfeel. This beer is an experience. 

Future Prototype Series releases will be announced via our weekly email updates, which you should absolutely sign up for if you haven’t already

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