Friday Faves: Brewing a Case Study

One of the great things about being headquartered in East Downtown (EaDo) Houston is the diversity of businesses around us. Sigma Brewing Co. is our neighbor and donator of a now-sold item for our Turn Up with Your Pup silent auction (thanks, again!). Because of their awesome generosity, they allowed us to take some of their time to discuss branding and marketing.

Sigma’s approach to branding can be summed up as authentic, genuine, and unapologetic. They make no compromises when it comes to being who they are. Need some examples? We’ve got them for you:

The Decorations 

You can feel the heart and soul of Sigma in their decorations. While nothing in the brewery looked old, everything just seemed to have this aged look that only comes from years of people using something. You could just tell that the tavern had seen a lot of good times which in and of itself explains Sigma.

The Music

Walk into Sigma Brewery Co. and you’ll hear metal music blasting from the speakers. Speak to one of the brewers and you’ll understand how the music style and brewing style fit together perfectly.

The Events

 The events Sigma holds and is a part of resonates with who they are. They used to hold Doomsday Comedy Wrestling events because they found them entertaining and they partnered with Turn Up with Your Pup because they care about helping homeless pets.

The Names of the Beers

You’re probably starting to understand where we are going with each of these, but we are going to say it again. They name their beers something genuine, not something super trendy. One of their most unique beers has one of the most unique names, 8/29/97. Recognize that date? Yep, it’s Judgement Day in Terminator.

The Name of the Brewery

And finally, our last example. The name Sigma, a math symbol meaning summation, fits the three brewers perfectly. Everything brewed by Sigma, everything created by Sigma, and everything is done by Sigma perfectly represents who they are.

Sigma embodies what it means to be modernly authentic in 2018, and their authenticity will carry them into the future. By showing who they are, Sigma gains customers loyal to not only their beer but also their brand.

We caught up with Matt Peterson, part-owner and brewer at Sigma Brewing Co., and asked him all of our questions about branding, marketing, and, of course, beer.

Read our interview below!

What is your name and what do you do?

My name is Matt Peterson. I’m a brewer/owner here at Sigma Brewing Co., alongside my partner Nick Sorenson, who’s in the next room getting ready to start a small batch, a pilot brew.

I brew, I run the business. We come up with all the pilot beers; we do all of our marketing. We all wear many different hats, but all live and breathe this company.

How do you guys come up with your beers?

We got our start years ago as home brewers. Started brewing beer at 19 years old, as sort of our way of getting a hold of alcohol. We thought, “Here’s a small loophole. You can buy all the stuff to make beer, we just can’t buy beer.” So, [we] bought all of the stuff and made our own. From there we got hooked on it. 

A lot of the beers we come up with, we actually came up with a long time ago when we were experimenting with home brewing.

That’s what we are doing today; we are brewing a small, 10-gallon batch because we brew 400 gallons at a time. 10 gallons is about what we used to do when we were younger—that’s our R & D lab. We’ll sit around, drink beer, or we’ll eat. Look for inspiration in certain places. Go to the grocery store and just walk around and go, “Aw, man, that would be really cool to put in a beer!” It’s really about being open to your environment and being open to inspiration. That’s really how we come up with what might be good for new beer recipes.

In addition to that, we look at market trends to help drive what we do and where we focus. You have to be able to sell the beer. Market trends will help govern where we focus our energy. A lot of what we do we try and be different, we don’t just want to latch on to what everyone else is doing and try to emulate that. We want to add our own twist on to things. 

One of the things that I noticed when I first came in here is that you guys have created a very edgy, punky counterculture. What was your mindset when you were building the Sigma Brewing the brand? 

Thanks! We thought a lot about it. How did we want to market ourselves? How do we want to market ourselves as a brewery, and it kind of started at the name. Sigma is a summation operator in math, science, and engineering. We felt that it was appropriate for what we were doing here because this brewery is literally the summation of us. Myself, Nick, our employees’ put all of ourselves into how this place feels and what it is and the beer. That’s why it’s named Sigma—it took us a long time to come up with a name. We didn’t want to name it the street we were on you know because we wanted it to be more personal to us than that. We wanted to look at the name and be reminded ten years down the line of why we started this.

With that in mind—the feel of the place, what we do here, and the music we play, we mainly play metal and doom metal. It’s all a reflection of who we are. Why try to market and brand this thing in any other way than what we like. We’ll put stuff on the wall that we like, and play the music we like, and we’ll decorate it the way we like, and try not to target anyone else except us. That’s genuine. Like the beer, it’s genuine. This is the way we like beer to be, and we try to put some thought into it, but also our own touch to it. We felt that even if it is, for some people, not their style, at very least it won’t seem fake. We are who we are. This is our realm. We try to attract people with high-quality beer, but we hope when they get here that all of this is not just set up for them. We didn’t put together an environment for somebody else.

You guys do a lot of events. How do you guys choose which events you do? Does this follow the same mantra of “we only do the things we like and that are cool”?

Yeah! If it doesn’t feel right for us if it’s not something that— I mean, that’s why we decided to support [Turn Up with Your Pup] because it’s something we can get behind. Everything that we choose to do here we are like, “That’s super cool, let’s do that.” It may not be mainstream. Because it’s different and it’s fun, we try to get some things out there. We do the Doomsday Comedy Wrestling here. It’s ridiculous—absolutely ridiculous—but these guys have been doing it since 2003. They started super small and we’re doing 500-person shows now. We were watching them before we even owned the brewery. We respect what they do, and you want to partner with them because it’s genuine. I don’t think there’s any way to lose when people are who they are.

How do you get someone to try a Sigma Brewing Beer, and then how do you turn that person into a lifetime customer? 

There’s a saying in the industry: “There’s no such thing as an x-craft beer drinker.” Craft beer is leaps and bounds better tasting than macro-beer. That’s our ace-in-the-hole. Our beer is always going to taste better than what’s produced by the big national brewers—or at least we hope so. As such, it’s not difficult to get someone to stay with craft. I think there’s an inherent curiosity with people nowadays. They’re looking for things locally, and by someone they know who’s put their hands on it. They want to make sure their money is going to support someone and not just shareholder dividends. We benefit from that cultural shift.

The things is, you want to make sure—and is something that we preach amongst our peers in the industry— is the quality of the beer. You want to make sure that when they drink your beer, they’re drinking a quality product. It may not be the flavor profile they want, but it isn’t a bad flavor.

We don’t do a lot of marketing here outside of word-of-mouth. Which means some slow and steady growth for us, but that’s how we decided we wanted to do it. If we constantly ensure that people have a good experience with our product, then we know that person is going to remain interested in Sigma anytime they see it. 

You’ve talked about how you guys want to stay authentic, and how you might not be the most marketable at times. Do you ever have a second thought on that? Sacrificing authenticity for marketability?

We’ve turned that [idea] over a lot. I think if we tried to market ourselves or sanitize our image of who we are and our personality that we could potentially make a few extra bucks and grow a little bit faster. At the end of the day, what value do we get out of that? Personally, when you go to sleep at night are you truly proud of what it is you’re doing and what your brand is? I think to answer that, if we changed things, would be no. What makes it any different than the soul-sucking careers that we left to do this? We left the career paths we were on, not because we had to but wanted to. 

We made a decision that we thought was a better way for us. A way to be happier with what we do knowing that when we go to sleep we’re proud of the things we have accomplished, and I think we are succeeding in that. Sigma’s brand is built on quality, so regardless of who we are and the personality of the brewery, all of which you experience here – out in the wild, in a bar, or a restaurant, people get a good beer from us and they like that’s what we built our brand on. People see the Sigma [logo] and know it’s going to be a good beer.

Which is how we’ve built the small distribution footprint that we have because we don’t have any reps out there and we don’t go out and schmooze with bars and clients. Not because we don’t want to, it’s because we don’t have any time! It’s just the three of us. We’re focused on beer and keeping this place running and doing events. The beer speaks for us. 

Final question: As a small business how is Sigma Brewing positioning itself for the future? Where do you guys see yourself in two years, and how are you planning on getting there?

This [EaDo] neighborhood. There’re a lot of changes to this part of town in general. There’s a lot of development, a lot of new bars, a lot of new restaurants, and a lot of new homes. There’s just construction everywhere, and as a business, we are really excited about that because it means new clientele moving to the East End. That’s why we chose this spot, because it’s not overly saturated. It’s not the Heights. And because of that we were prepared for slower growth. We are kind of out of the way in a more industrial area. People have to trek out here; it’s not right beside their home. That was intentional.   

We are positioning ourselves to continue expanding this tavern and make it a warm and welcoming place and drawing people from the neighborhood in. We want to be the East End brewery. That’s what we aspire to be. We are proud to be here and support the community. That’s our position, to be local and cater locally and continue to support the community by getting more beer out around town so people can experience what we do.

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