Behind the Work → Lost Rivers
Building a cult through liquid-less beer
Research & Insight
Activities: Desk research, product immersion, brand audit, stakeholder interviews
Experienced pros in the brewing scene, Ziggy & Barry launched Lost Rivers Brewing Co. to tell a London story, connecting beer with culture and resurfacing the tales that defined the city’s past.
But they knew this story would travel. Every city bears a similar heritage, and the romance and prestige associated with London spread across the globe. Well-networked from day 1, Lost Rivers was born with international scale in mind.
Craft beer is a noisy, crowded landscape. Over the past decade, waves of customers have demanded ‘a better beer’, compelling new entrants to flood the market. Many are well-backed. And audiences are often devout followers of their favoured brand’s story & purpose.
Aiming to establish itself amid the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional routes to market – via bars, restaurants, specialist retailers and the tastemakers that occupy them – were no longer valid. Lost Rivers had to stand out on shelf, physical & digital alike, without an advocate or narrator in sight.
Much of our research focused on cult brands: Those with loyal and loud bases. We needed to engineer a following that took ownership of the brand and its direction of travel.
Cult brands succeed through sincerity and specificity. Fans need to feel that this is a product made for them. For Lost Rivers to succeed, the brand needed to encourage thousands of people to choose its beers over its rivals and share its stories widely with the unfamiliar.
Lost Rivers Brewing Co. is a commercial enterprise with aggressive growth targets. But we weren’t creating a brand for the millionth drinker; the initial brand simply had to get us there. Scale is not a straight line.
Our most viable early audiences – the first step on the adoption curve – relate to the brand’s origins, are inclined to try new products (even in a pandemic) and adhere to craft. They’re curious, unapologetic and question the norm.
To appeal to them, the brand needed a provocative edge, not just to stand out but to start an emotionally charged conversation, generating passion, increasing decibels and driving memorability.
Too niche a conversation wouldn’t scale. Historical references and brewing knowledge simply don’t engage a sufficiently broad audience. We needed to balance provocation and the new, with the familiar – we couldn’t ask drinkers to take too great a leap.
We pursued a ‘liquid-less’ approach. We needed to answer the question: ‘What would the brand talk about if there was no beer in the can?’ Cult brands navigate this brilliantly, reinforcing a purpose that lives beyond the product.
In the case of Lost Rivers, we built on curiosity. Each beer references on a long-lost story, reinforced with messaging on can and pack, and extending to social and email.
‘What Flows Beneath’ is applied individually in this setting, but is a rallying cry for us all: History is written by the winners, the truth is eroded over time like a rock by a river, and the tributaries that connect us with our past are all too easily cemented over by ‘progress.’
We often talk about ‘stretch’: Designing a brand that feels native to a wide variety of channels. Print & digital; 6-inch mobile screen and 40-feet billboard. In Lost Rivers’ case, this was non-negotiable. Sales had to start online and switch to trade outlets once lockdown lifted; focus on UK distribution at the outset but swiftly ship internationally; and tell a coherent story to reward the curious on the audience’s preferred channels, on and offline.
Messaging needed to capture attention in 3 words on can or pump; create intrigue in 30 words on a social bio, and reward those that dug deeper in 300+ on the website or in print. Lost Rivers is a brand for the storyteller.