Episode 3: "The Brandwagon Interviews" Podcast with Dan Kenary of Harpoon Brewery

Lisa Marinelli


From tactics to taglines, Wistia’s CEO, Chris Savage, chats marketing with the brains behind successful brands on our new video series, Brandwagon. Last week, Chris sat down with Nancy Dussault Smith, CMO at Hydrow, to learn more about taking a stand on your brand, and today, we’re excited to share our extended interview with this week’s guest, Dan Kenary, Co-Founder and CEO of Harpoon Brewery.

Check out the episode to hear all about the challenges and opportunities Dan’s faced differentiating Harpoon’s brand from the thousands of craft breweries and microbreweries that exist today.


Or listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

Watch the actual Brandwagon episode here!


In 1986, Dan Kenary and two of his friends were dissatisfied with the lack of choices in the US beer market, despite the US having the most sophisticated consumer market in the world. Wherever you went, all you could find were light yellow lagers … and they were sick of it. After traveling to Western Europe, they realized the US didn’t have to be the desert of bland options that it was.

Once they returned home, Dan and his friends founded Harpoon Brewery, one of the East Coast’s first craft breweries. During the early days, there wasn’t much competition, but as craft breweries and microbreweries boomed across the country, Dan knew they had to keep innovating and taking risks to keep their brand alive and relevant. In this episode, we hear all about how risk-taking and being consistent with communicating your brand value plays an integral role in differentiating Harpoon from the competition.

Key takeaways

“There was an awakening … All of a sudden, people started saying, ‘Wait a second, there’s no choice, there’s no diversity, and we’re willing to pay more for a product that we like that has a story behind it.’” On this episode of The Brandwagon Interviews, Dan highlights the importance of innovating, risk-taking, and remaining consistent with your company’s mission and values to build a strong brand that stands out in a crowded industry.

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • Diversifying your product offerings can help you reach new audiences
  • Consistency is super important for building a strong brand
  • Innovating and taking risks in an industry that’s constantly changing will help you stay relevant

Notable moments

Short on time? Check out some of our favorite moments during this interview between Chris and Dan.

1:03 – A lack of lager diversity inspires a new business

Dan tells the story of founding Harpoon with a couple of friends from college. Travels abroad in Western Europe introduced Dan and his friends to the rich beer culture overseas, which only highlighted the “absolute desert when it (came) to choice for beer” in the US. Determined to create a community-based beer hall that would bring people together just as they’d seen in Europe, Dan and his partners took sledgehammers to brick walls and began building a brewery in downtown Boston. They named their new venture Harpoon Brewery and built the brand under the banner “Love Beer. Love Life.”

7:32 – Structuring the company to line up with brand values

Chris asks Dan about his decision to restructure Harpoon to be employee-owned. Dan talks about what led to the decision, including why he ultimately walked away from selling to private equity, putting the company into the hands of their employees. The two discuss the pros and cons of taking private equity, bringing on managing partners, and straight-up selling your business. You’ll also hear why “Employee Owned” made it onto every bottle of Harpoon beer.

14:40 – “Every interaction with your consumer has to be consistent with ‘Love Beer. Love Life.’ or the brand doesn’t mean anything.”

What does Dan think about building a strong brand? Dan explains why consistency is key and how every touchpoint with consumers matters. Hear a story about how some of Harpoon’s most important fans have come from their customer service (“complaints”) line.

19:24 – Why brand matters when competition explodes

In Harpoon’s early days, they offered the first IPA on the East Coast. Now, there are over 30,000 IPAs to compete with. Dan talks about how building a brand and focusing on their connection with customers helped the brewery cut through the competition (even without flashy advertising!). How else did they differentiate themselves? Harpoon created a sub-brand called UFO, which helped the business grow in unexpected ways.

26:36 – Managing “A house of brands”

What started as a single brand has grown to five distinct brands with their own product lines today. Dan gives a walkthrough of each of Mass Bay Brewing Company’s brands and answers Chris’s burning question — “Why isn’t it just one brand?”

30:13 – Building brands is risky business

Chris observes that taking big brand risks has become “the normal” for Dan. Kenary details how he got comfortable taking brand risks in the first place and why risk is a necessity when it comes to building a brand. He shares the story behind the acquisition of Clown Shoes, how the risk profiles between the Clown Shoes team and Harpoon’s own leadership have been surprising and offers some key advice: trust yourself! You’ve made it this far in your career making relatively good decisions — you can trust yourself to take calculated risks.

38:17 – Advice for brand builders

Building an important team of people you trust is essential to growing your business. Kenary knows all about the virtues of failing fast and explains how failures have informed his decision-making. Lastly, Dan recommends not trying to be everything to everyone. Curate your offerings to overcome consumer fatigue and become a brand your audience can trust.

41:11 – How do you know if your brand is doing well?

Dan talks about how revenue growth, word-of-mouth, and your own brand instincts are important metrics for knowing how your brand is doing. Ultimately, Kenary says your product is the most important statement of your brand, and if your product is selling, that’s a great sign for the strength of your brand.

44:04 – Harpoon’s first big brand risk

Kenary tells the story of the first batch of Harpoon Winter Warmer. There once was a time early on when Harpoon was in danger of going out of business! They decided to have a “going away” party which became the first Harpoon Octoberfest. The event propelled them to new heights and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lisa Marinelli


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