Both beer barrels blazing

Business for Punks

“At BrewDog we reject the status quo, we are passionate, we don’t give a damn and always do something which is true to ourselves. Our approach has been anti-authoritarian and non-conformist from the word go”, so the book starts and so it goes on.

If you know anything about BrewDog this book is exactly what you would expect from James Watt, co-founder and self-proclaimed business punk.

If you know nothing about BrewDog you will by the end of the book because James uses it as a giant freewheeling advert for the brand. Shooting from the hip, he sprays out opinions and advice in a ballsy, quick-fire style, interspersed with stories and anecdotes about the rapid growth of the brand.

In an era where everyone seems to be talking about the need for a brand purpose, he is particularly eloquent and far more convincing than many so called brand gurus on the subject.

“Businesses fail. Businesses die. Businesses fade into oblivion.

Revolutions never die.

So start a revolution not a business.

It is no longer enough just to start a business. You need a clear purpose, a mission, a reason for existing. Martin [Dickie – his best friend and business partner] and I did not just start a brewery – we set out on a mission to make other people as passionate about great beer as we are. This promise and premise underpins every single thing we do and acts as a resolute reference point for every single decision we make.”

He goes on to give similarly snappy soundbite advice on not wasting your time on bullshit business plans; why cash is mother*cking king; making banks your bitch; getting people to hate you; how loyalty is the new royalty and the huge importance of company culture.

In the latter, he sets out the BrewDog charter that should be mandatory reading for anyone trying to define a brand’s values and beliefs.

In his section on marketing are some of the parts where I agree with him most, and some where my views differ. The recognition that to stand out you need to take risks and advice on why and how having no budget can be no problem is inspirational. The stories of how they made no money go a long, long way and even changed a 300 year old piece of legislation are educational and enjoyable.

However, when he says, “Your brand is not yours” I have to disagree, especially in light of quote from above. If it is true that the BrewDog “promise and premise underpins every single thing we do and acts as a resolute reference point for every single decision we make” then it’s clear that BrewDog own and control the ultimate direction of the brand. Re-reading this section, it may just be a definitional point. It appears that James sees the brand as only the more outward facing marketing aspects of the brand and the business philosophy and culture as different aspects. I would include these in my definition of brand.

I was also glad that right at the very end, James is big enough to recognise that there is a huge irony in the fact that early on in the book and in no uncertain terms, he slags off those who give advice and then spends the rest of the book giving advice.

So he ends by saying:

Earlier in the book, I told you to ignore advice.

That, by default, includes all the advice in this book.

Giles Lury is Executive Chairman, The Value Engineers. Read more from him here and more book reviews here.

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