At the end of last year, Jared Vallejo wrote a blog entry titled “But We’ve Always Done It This Way.”

Vallejo, head of marketing for Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, wrote the blog — it took nearly 30 minutes to read — to detail the brewery’s decision to rebrand itself and the process that followed.

“I like to think we’ve been consistent that when things change, we try to give as much detail as possible,” he said.

The blog’s title also references that change, even a needed rebrand, can often spark discomfort and confusion among customers.

“No matter how badly (a change) is needed, it is not well received initially as it would be over time,” said Mark Forehand, chairman of the marketing department at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. “You have to rip off the Band-Aid and get customers aware of the new brand.”

A business may decide to rebrand — including using a new name, creating new graphics or both — for a variety of reasons, including a desire to reposition the business in the marketplace, an opportunity to bring attention to a different aspect of a company, or the need to freshen up a dated name or logo.

“At the core, it has something to do with changing your image in the marketplace,” Forehand said.

Iron Horse’s identity

For Iron Horse, it was about firming up its distinct identity in a crowding craft beer industry.

In the blog entry, Vallejo wrote that when current owners Gary and Greg Parker bought the brewery in 2007, there were 96 breweries in Washington state. Now the brewery is among more than 400.

The brewery, over that same time, gained popularity for Irish Death, a dark ale that the brewery calls “beer candy.” That beer makes up 80 percent of the brewery’s overall volume.

The brewery thought about centering a new brand around Irish Death, but there was concern it would pigeonhole the brewery as a producer of dark beers when it had other types of beers in its lineup, Vallejo said.

With guidance from Blindtiger Design, a Seattle-based media firm that specializes in the craft beer industry, Iron Horse settled on creating graphics for both the brewery and for what it called the Death Family, the line of beers that includes Irish Death and its variations.

Many businesses often opt for a corporate brand that has a broad set of characteristics associated with the business and all its products, as well as a brand that outlines specific attributes or a particular product line, Forehand said.

The new Iron Horse Brewery brand plays on a theme of “local grit” and uses vintage and nature imagery that pays homage to the Kittitas Valley. Specific graphics will be revealed in the coming months, but Vallejo said packaging for different beers would have graphics that reference different geographic areas, such as Manastash Ridge.

Meanwhile, the brand for the Death Family beers will have an updated version of the Irish Death skull and crossbones logo. There will be different versions of the logo for other beers in the Death Family, such as the inclusion of peanut butter on a knife for its PB & Death beer.

The new Iron Horse Brewery and Death Family brands will have custom-made fonts, replacing the Adler font previously used. Because that font was widely available, there were other businesses and organizations using it, namely as a way to describe being “indie and rough around the edges, ” Vallejo said.

“It does have some personality,” Vallejo said about the Adler font. “When it tends to get overused, it can diminish the distinction you’re hoping to have (for your business).”

Don, Julie & Doolie’s

Doughnuts have obviously been a popular offering for Don’s Donuts and Julie’s Java, but co-owners Don and Julie Wade have made other items for nearly just as long, including bagels, muffins and cookies.

That prompted the couple to pursue changing the name of the business.

“We wanted to change the name, so we’re a bit broader and people wouldn’t peg us as (just) a doughnut shop,” Don Wade said.

The Wades solicited ideas for names from customers on the business’ Facebook page. It also hired a media firm to guide them through a rebranding effort.

The business started going by its new name, Doolie’s Kitchen, earlier this month. Doolie is a mash-up of “Don,” and “Julie,” and a family member suggested adding Kitchen to the name.

The couple wanted to keep some version of their names to reflect their involvement in the business.

“We didn’t want them to get the idea we sold the business,” Wade said.

When a business changes its name or logo, it creates a lack of familiarity that often leads customers to think it’s not the same business they had patronized and supported, said Forehand, the marketing chairman for the Foster School of Business.

“People don’t necessarily know it’s under the same ownership unless they have other cues,” he said.

Businesses also have to deal with other aspects of implementation, such as making new exterior or interior signage or reprinting business cards and other paper products.

Go slow or go all in?

A business also has to decide whether to roll out the new brand entirely or introduce it over a few months.There are advantages and trade-offs with both, Forehand said.

Easing the customer into a rebrand by rolling out over a period of time allows that customer to get used to it and perhaps carry the previous positive associations over to the new brand and regain familiarity with the business. There may be issues, however, with customers holding on to undesired attributes or perceptions of the business.

An instant rollout, where everything under the new brand is launched at the same time, forces customers to quickly make new associations with the business or disassociate other aspects. The company does run the risk of removing familiarity with the brand, which may put a customer less at ease about patronizing the business, at least at first.

Doolie’s Kitchen, for the most part, made a nearly full transition. When the new name and logo were launched, the business had already made most of the necessary changes, including new signs for the shop at 1024 W. Nob Hill Blvd., new packaging and new menus. Also, staff immediately started answering the phone with the new name.

“A lot of work had to be done ahead of time,” he said.

The Wades opted to keep one aspect of their marketing the same: the website address, which will remain

“I thought (the website address) was a good reminder that Don and Julie are still active and involved and are not going anywhere,” Don Wade said.

Iron Horse Brewery is rolling out its new branding over several months, as the brewery still had cans and cartons with the old logos and graphics, said Vallejo, the brewery’s head of marketing.

“We’re not just going to discard those preprinted cans,” he said.

The PB & Death is the only beer that has transitioned entirely to the new branding.

The Death Family of beers will complete the transition first, likely by March, Vallejo said. The rest of Iron Horse Brewery’s beers will have new cans and packaging a few months after that.

While the brewery makes the transition, customers can buy a case of beer that has a carton with new branding, but in cans with the former logo, Vallejo said.

Vallejo said there is some concern that if customers see cans with the former logo, they might have incorrect perceptions of the beer’s freshness. But Vallejo hopes that won’t be an issue if they maintain open communication with customers.

“(I hope) most of our customers who know us, the ones who engage with us, know we take the quality of our beer pretty seriously,” he said.

This story was edited to correct the spelling of Adler, the font Iron Horse Brewery previously used for its brand materials. 

Reach Mai Hoang at or Twitter @maiphoang

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