Create an Authentic Brand Dogfish Head

How to Create an Authentic Brand: A Behind the Scenes Look at Dogfish Head

Building an Authentic Brand

Building a brand takes a significant amount of time and effort. Regardless if you are a startup or an existing firm, your brand is critical to achieving your business and marketing goals. If you struggle with the following questions, this post is for you regardless of the industry you’re in:

  • Are you struggling to get results with your brand?
  • Do you wonder how to build an authentic brand on a budget?
  • How do I adapt my brand to market and industry changes?

B2B and B2C Applicability

The concepts in this post are not just applicable to the craft beer industry, but can be applied to any B2B and B2C business. An example from the craft beer industry provides an excellent model of how to build an authentic brand from the ground up and change with the times. Everyone in the craft beer business is familiar with Sam Calagione, but I think telling Sam and Dogfish Head’s story is critical to any new or existing business.

The Dogfish Head story provides a case study of brand building and how the company adapts to the new normal that blends online and offline convergence successfully. The discussion provides an in-depth look at establishing a brand, growing a brand, and adapting in an authentic way. Dogfish Head represents an ideal state for other craft brewers or any organization in any industry seeking to establish their brand.

The Beginning

Dogfish Head founded by Sam Calagione started as a brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in 1995 and the Dogfish Head microbrewery was established in 1997 in nearby Milton, Delaware.

Brand and the Brand Building Process

Building a Brand

Photo by Kowitz

A brand evokes a feeling, an impression, or an image based on a feeling originating from the experiences with a company or organization and its products or services. The essential components of a brand include brand messages and product experiences of the consumer.

The brand building process consists of:

  • Customer identification
  • The message
  • The image of the brand and packaging
  • Provide consistent product quality
  • Brand recognition
  • Consumer ownership

Customer Identification

The craft beer consumer typically has an average household income of $60,000, a bachelor’s degree or higher, enjoys outdoor activities, and employed in a professional career.  The primary age demographic for Dogfish Head includes generation x consumers and millennials from 25 to 34 years old. The company has a significant marketing emphasis on this demographic, which is the most critical in the craft beer segment.

Millennials make up 32.9% of the craft beer demographic based on craft beer volume purchased. Generation x represents 23.9%, and the baby boomer generation makes up 34.6% of the craft beer volume purchased. The buyer behaviors of the craft consumer include a fondness for better taste, experimenting with flavors, seasonal selections, and the personality of the company or brand that the consumer can relate.

The Message

Dogfish Head has a dedicated message or mission statement, “off-centered beers for off-centered people” that can be found on every package of beer. This mission statement is evident in everything Dogfish Head does from non-traditional brewing methods and styles of beers using unique ingredients, such as green raisins, juniper barriers, and Muscat grapes. Other off-center beer creations include the Ancient Ales special series of beers using ancient ale recipes from all over the world.

The company also has the Steampunk Treehouse created by artist Sean Orlando created for 2007 Burning Man Concert at their headquarters. The company also sponsors off-center events, such as the Dogfish Head Intergalactic Bocce Tournament held at their Milton, Delaware headquarters housing two full-size bocce courts.

The Image of the Brand and Packaging

Building a brand

Photo by Bernt Rostad

The founder of the company designed the logo and the font used by the company in addition to the original labels for its 90 minute IPA and Raison d’Etre products. The company now uses different artists from the rock music industry to create the artwork for the company. The iconic Dogfish Head logo, font, and artwork found on all visual communications provides a distinctive visual allowing a consumer to distinguish the company from its competitors easily.

The Dogfish Head logo is displayed on tap handles, labels, and packaging making it easy for consumers to identify the brand in the marketplace. The quality of Dogfish Head beer is unheralded in the craft brew industry with a cult following for the beers of the company evidenced by the significant growth and sales of the company over the last sixteen years.

Provide Consistent Product Quality

Quality, consistency, and innovation are essential values for Dogfish Head. The company produces 37 beers, consisting of the year-round brews, occasional rarity brews, and four seasonal brews. Dogfish Head has a quality control lab with a staff of six people tasked with running each batch through a 42 point checklist. The company tests the beer 24 times from the brewing process to packaging to ensure quality. Each batch of beer is tested by a sensory team of trained employees from different departments.

The panel tests finished beers and beers still in the fermentation process. To ensure freshness (quality and consistency) every bottle of Dogfish Head beer is date stamped so, every retailer and regional sales managers can ensure their stock of beer is up to date.

Quality Vs Demand

As the company has grown in the last several years, Dogfish Head has been challenged with maintaining the balance between demand and growth. Dogfish Head has an unrelenting focus on quality and consistency, and therefore has decided to pull out of four states and eliminate exports to Canada and the United Kingdom. Pulling out of Canada, and the UK has allowed the company to grow in a controlled manner with a focus on retaining quality.

Brand Recognition

Sam Calagione and the Dogfish Head brand are icons in the craft beer industry. The quality, consistency, and innovation of the company’s beers and the marketing programs supporting them provide the company with unique brand recognition.

Sam as an early publicity stunt rowed a boat across the Delaware River dressed as George Washington when the company entered the New Jersey market. As a result, Levi Strauss used him in the Slates clothing line focused on six American entrepreneurs. The publicity from Levi Strauss helped launch Dogfish Head to a larger national audience.

Event Marketing – One-on-One Engagement

Brand recognition has been developed using marketing efforts, such as using the brewpub and craft beer festivals to test market new creations and create awareness. Beer events focused on the beer are another marketing tactic. Sam Calagione consistently evangelizes the Dogfish head brand to its distributors, sales force, and target consumer with meetings and events to engage with their customers.

The key focus at Dogfish Head focuses on one-on-one engagement through events and the use of social media to continuously engage their customers using content marketing focused on the company’s values. Other core components to market the company and relate its fundamental values, include environmental responsibility, support for the local community, books authored by the founder, and the Discovery Channel reality series.

Distributor Relationship

Relations with distributors form an important part of the process to obtain shelf space at retailers with most states requiring the use of wholesalers to distribute alcoholic products. Dogfish Head forms unique partnerships with distributors who use push strategies to gain valuable shelf space in retailers across the country. The unique quality beers and the marketing programs relaying the company values form a distinct and easily recognizable brand in the marketplace.


building a brand


Consumer Ownership

The craft beer movement is about challenging the status quo of mass produced beers providing a better tasting beer. Craft beer consumers become engaged with a brand based on the company’s personality they relate.

Dogfish head engages consumers with its products that express its unique personal identity. The company creates ownership using the three brewpubs, brewery tours, festivals, and beer events with a heavy focus on social media.

The primary goal of Dogfish Head’s marketing centers on the events and social media to create awareness loyalty for the brand. Dogfish Head has been an example to other craft brewers in the marketplace with a method to obtain brand loyalty on a limited budget. Proving that a company can tell the individual story of a brand, Dogfish Head engages consumers based on shared values and beliefs with promotional events supported by social media.

The Success of Dogfish Head

Dogfish is an established success story in the craft beer industry. The company is currently ranked number 16 in the craft segment and number 23 in the overall beer segment based on sales volume in 2015. The company has sustained growth year over year since its inception as a microbrewery in 1997. I think we can all agree that 20 years of sustained growth is an incredible achievement for any organization in any industry.

The company achieved significant production growth of 30 to 50 percent per year from 2002 to 2012 to support its equally impressive sales growth. Annual revenues grew from $3.6 million in 2003 to over $41 million in 2012. The company has also been recognized inside the craft beer community with gold, silver, and bronze awards at the World Beer Cup.

Brand Loyalty

Dogfish Head is a brand that has established itself as a brand with significant loyalty from craft beer consumers. The company has experienced exceptional sales and sales growth over the last 16 years. Dogfish Head has demonstrated how a small business can compete against much larger companies and become an established brand.  Using events, distributor relationships, and social media as the main components of its marketing strategy, Dogfish Head stimulates awareness and creates brand loyalists.

Dogfish Head loyalists identify with the company’s authentic and passionate off-centered mission capturing consumer loyalty based on shared values and beliefs. The online and offline marketing efforts provide specific insight into exactly how Dogfish Head has adapted and how they are succeeding in gaining even more brand advocates.

Dogfish Head’s Online and Offline Convergence

Any business looking to build its brand or revitalize its brand can use the insight gained from Dogfish Head’s brand building. The online and offline environments provides a great synergy and serves as a successful formula to creating an authentic brand. The offline and online elements provide a slightly different way to engage with consumers with the unique Dogfish Head product portfolio as a key marketing tool.

Any brand building technique central focus should be on customer engagement. The Dogfish Head brand approach involves the business model, business and social implications,  consumer relationships, business process management, and  its technical infrastructure.

Business Model

Dogfish Head generates revenue based primarily on product sales at on-premise and off-premise retailers. Dogfish Head uses a concentrated growth strategy focus on attracting new customers to the craft segment using a differentiation generic strategy complemented by the use of customer intimacy.

Building a Brand

Photo by Bernt Rostad

Business and Social Implications

The millennial generation represents the largest generation at approximately 80 million people with over $170 billion in purchasing power. The large influence of the millennial generation is shaping the way that brands send messages. The millennial generation is forcing businesses to change and consider its online-offline convergence. Key characteristics of the millennial generation include altruism and a predisposition to support social and environmental causes.


Digital and Social Media

Millennials have the highest usage of social media and are quicker to adopt  technology than any other generation. Smartphone usage is significant for the millennial generation especially sharing pictures on social media platforms. In addition, millennials have the highest percentage of word-of-mouth marketing electing to share feedback about a product or service both on-line and off-line.

When targeting millennials, a business must incorporate event or experiential marketing offering a personal one-to-one relationship. Substantiating the use of event marketing is the statistic that 78% of millennials prefer a brand experience that is relevant and gives them information. The characteristics of the millennial generation require a company to use digital marketing and social media which is in stark contrast to the face-to-face interaction desired by this generation.

Online-Offline Experience

Dogfish Head’s business strategy uses a dual approach blending online experiences with a heavy use of blogging and social media (Facebook and Twitter) combined with event marketing. The blended approach provides the ability to begin and continue the conversation with the millennial and generation x consumer.

Internet and social media allow a company to continue to engage these generations in an effort to gain brand awareness, stimulate trial usage, repeat usage, and ultimately brand loyalty. The implications of the millennial statistics support the social media tactic of engaging using online channels to support the event marketing high-touch required by this generation.

Consumer Relationships

Dogfish Head has exceptional online and offline consumer relationships forming a critical component to its success with a brand that is authentic and stands for something that consumers can support.


building a brand



In the online arena, Dogfish Head performs exceptionally well in terms of metrics across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Dogfish Head ranks as one of the highest beer brands (craft and big beer) across these social media platforms. Dogfish Head has the highest degree of interaction with consumers with the fastest response time on social media platforms compared to other brands. These figures indicate Dogfish Head’s engagement is the strongest with its target audience with the quickest response to customers stimulating brand loyalty.


Offline Sam Calagione and the Dogfish Head team attend a significant amount of craft beer events including craft beer festivals, beer dinner pairings, and special series (ancient ales) nights at pubs. Sam and his team’s relentless passion for craft beer and brewing using different methods with unique ingredients sets Dogfish Head apart.

Dogfish Head creates the platform for people to be a part of something they relate forming a deep consumer relationship.

Product Development

Sam and Dogfish Head don’t use focus groups and instead use the people who are already purchasing their product. Dogfish Head uses existing customers providing them a voice in the evolution of Dogfish Head products. The Dogfish Head method of product development deepens engagement and protects the company against failures and loss of future business.

Sam and Dogfish head firmly believe that paying customers are more likely, to be honest versus paid focus groups in the product development process.

Here’s a great quote from Sam sharing his unique perspective on customers and product development:


“Businesses that incorporate their consumer into the R&D process will find that’s a wonderful way to build loyalty, because they take pride in being part of the decision”

– Sam Calagione


The consumer relationship translates to incredible success and possibly the most brand loyal consumers in the craft beer segment.

Business Process Management

Customer intimacy forms a strong component in Dogfish Head’s differentiation business strategy. Dogfish Head’s customer intimacy approach seeks to form a deep relationship with consumers and its brand loyal customers. The business process management (BPM) aligns processes focused on customers’ needs.

Dogfish Head continuously improves its ability to effectively reach its target audience and innovate through technology integration. Accounting systems, social media technology, and digital media technology provide a method to deliver the ever-increasing demand for Dogfish Head’s products and form a deep relationship with its customers.

Supportive Technical Infrastructure

Dogfish Head‘s technology infrastructure uses financial and CRM software, servers, web servers, network and switching equipment, extensive databases, web development technology. The technology infrastructure enables operations processes and the use of multi-media technology across digital and social media platforms. Improving engagement with consumers 24 hours 7 days a week, in a way that traditional channels cannot. For example, Dogfish Head uses pictures, and YouTube videos pushed out using social media to engage fans.

Customer Intimacy Strategy and Better Business Decisions

Dogfish Head’s customer intimacy strategy integrates with technology to support the business. The company’s has implemented improved accounting solutions (contain costs), generate compliance reporting, and streamline business processes that result in improved business decisions based on actionable financial data. Most importantly, the accounting solution has allowed Dogfish Head to supply the ever-increasing demand for their products by their customers.

Website technology enables the unique fish finder capability on the website providing the ability to find locations where their beers are sold. A larger server and database allows the customer to search for the nearest location of each beer in the Dogfish Head portfolio by zip code or all locations.


The Dogfish Head story provides insight into a business that has successfully built its brand. Focusing on change, Dogfish Head has been able to stay true to its identity blending online and offline convergence successfully. Customer intimacy supported by technology provides a key component of building brand loyal consumers that evangelize the brand.

The companies online and offline approach focused primarily on the needs of their millennial target audience is one of the prime reasons for their success. Other organizations might label this as a personalization or user experience strategy, but Dogfish Head has always stayed very close to its customers. Dogfish Head provides a human and personal approach that shows sincerity and genuine care for their consumers in an authentic way.

Sam and Dogfish Head truly differentiate the brand and its product offerings in the marketplace and shows other craft brewing companies and any other company how to establish a brand, grow a brand, and adapt in an authentic way.