Marketing Lessons from Building the Big Grove Brewery Brand

How Big Grove set out to become “Iowa City’s living room.”

If you haven’t been there already, maybe you’ve heard: Solon’s beloved Big Grove Brewery has moved to the city.

Iowa City has only had the pleasure of being home to the craft-beer sensation for about 8 months, but we were quick to snag former professional football player and current Big Grove partner Nate Kaeding for an interview.

Sculpt Digital Strategist and (podcast hostAlexander Rose sat down with Kaeding a few weeks ago to learn how the marketing-minded entrepreneur managed to stay true to Big Grove’s roots during the big move. Kaeding shared his own valuable tips and firsthand wisdom on how brands can build strong identities that stay relevant even through transition.

Authenticity comes with clarity

Kaeding and company knew right away that if the Big Grove brand was to succeed, it needed a clear and focused core of values.

His team looked to the history of the area, rich with pioneer tales of a large grove of trees untouched by wildfire or floods, and paired it with their own love of enjoying Iowa’s natural beauty. You can see it in their logo: a blend of historic Burr Oak and “hopcorn” (hops-acorn) speaks to their love for Iowa’s natural beauty and history with free-spirited fun.

Kaeding knew to stand out, the brand would need to pull away from the norm and avoid copying what other edgy, hip, and established brands were doing in their stores, events, marketing, and especially online.

Focusing on a clear, limited set of identity characteristics and values meant getting rid of brand elements that served emotional, egotistical purposes more than they served the brand, even when the emotional ties to those elements were strong.

By narrowing brand characteristics down to a few strong, clear values, the team was able to create a brand that, like the Burr Oak, could withstand any wildfire that came its way.

Direction comes with location

While the Big Grove team knew there was a clear opportunity to become “the beer of Iowa City”, Kaeding didn’t budge until the perfect moment – the moment Big Grove came across a massive former lumberyard, complete with historic warehouse and courtyard.

The building and grounds resonated so well with the Big Grove identity that it motivated marketing efforts in a new direction – community outreach and with it, integration.

Kaeding saw an opportunity to be “Iowa City’s living room” and together, the Big Grove team created a space that’s more than a taproom – it’s a concert arena, meetingplace, movie theatre, roller derby expo site, and more, depending on which Iowa City organizations are partnering with Big Grove to bring an exciting, fun, and above all, interactive experience to the location.

Kaeding says it best:  beyond the day to day operations of the business, there’s a second bottom line – maintaining a positive relationship with the community by giving back and working together.

Reach comes with reaching out

The early days of the transition to town weren’t without their obstacles.

Kaeding found that the growing pains of a fledgling second location began to take first priority, sending promotional efforts, especially via social media and paid marketing, to the bottom of the to-do list. In addition, the “shotgun approach”, as he calls it, where brands attempt to utilize every form of promotion available at once, spreading resources thin, began to place a strain on personnel and finances.

What surprised him, however, was that the earned, unpaid media (he includes events, media appearances, and word-of-mouth) began to fill in the gaps. What Big Grove gave of their 2,000-person space, the community gave back in loyalty.

Would Big Grove had such success had they not focused the brand identity so clearly and committed to their community so intentionally? We doubt it.


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