Why lemmings should try marmite

A plea for more unconventional wine branding

In June 2011, Harpers published the results of a very interesting survey undertaken by Wine Intelligence and Amphora Design. They had presented regular wine consumers in the UK and the USA with eight different styles of label and asked their opinions on their attractiveness and how they stood up in terms of perceived price and quality. To reduce the level of subjectivity, all the labels were given the same fictional brand name, the same grape variety and the same bottle shape.

In summary, the UK consumers significantly preferred what one might describe as traditional or classic labels, depicting vineyards and/or a chateau. As a spokesman stated, the label with the vineyard image “was seen as classy, expensive and reinforcing the expectation of what a good wine was supposed to be”.

Let’s now imagine that you are a producer who is about to launch a range of wines in the UK. What do you take out of this research? Well on one level it seems obvious: you go with the classic look and when you present your brand to a prospective agent or customer, you note proudly that you’ve listened to the consumer. Indeed look around the retail shelves and you see countless examples of brands that appear to have listened to the consumer in this way.

The benefits of Marmite

So where’s the problem? Well marketing to me is fundamentally about developing and then promoting points of difference, not points of similarity. If you are a producer that wants to sell large volumes, particularly across a number of markets, then it makes sense to be more constrained and play by the rules. But few producers are in that position. There is generally no necessity to appeal to the majority (of the trade as well as of consumers).

Surely it’s better by far to be loved passionately by a few and disliked by the rest than to have created something that just blends into the background? As long as your passionate supporters are numerous and influential enough for you to achieve your objectives, then should you care about what the rest think?

I accept that introducing what I call Marmite brands is not that simple. For a start the trade and target consumer can have differing views on presentation (and branding more generally) and unless you are selling direct you need to appeal to both. This can imply playing safe. In addition it could perhaps be argued that stand-out presentations are likely to have shorter life spans than their more classic competitors.

The key to successful Marmite branding, however, is to understand that the presentation is just one facet of a brand’s personality. The greater the synergy with other elements of the consumer communication, the stronger the overall proposition and the more risks you can take. In my experience many stand-out presentations never realise their potential because they are not backed up by any other activity which gives them a raison d’etre.

Painting by numbers and the lemming mentality

One of the problems facing the wine category is that marketing is still in its infancy, relatively speaking. And one of the implications of this is that there is too much evidence of the marketing equivalent of painting by numbers: brand strategies and executions which may well be perfectly logical, but in which soul, or personality, and any real stand-out quality are all conspicuous by their absence.

Furthermore there is too much evidence of “lemming” marketing: producers seeing something that appears to be working, and then rushing to imitate it on the assumption that it will automatically take them to a better place.

None of the above is in any way an argument against consumer research. Without an understanding of the target consumer any brand is in effect being marketed blind. Nor is it an argument for not ticking consumers’ boxes at a core level, ensuring that a brand is relevant to them. But it is an argument for occasionally avoiding taking general guidelines, such as those above, at face value and having the courage to take an approach which is unconventional, particularly in a highly competitive and fragmented category such as wine.

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3 thoughts on “Why lemmings should try marmite

  1. Our still wines definitely have Marmite labels! We get praise and criticism about the design in equal measure. However, a request from an artist to be allowed to paint the ‘beautiful label’ for an upcoming Art Exhibition in Luxembourg is very reassuring.

  2. The Marmite (or Guinness offer, take your pick!) proposition works well when you are talking directly to the consumer. You can challenge or even dare them to try. The big problem in getting new ideas through is when you have no means to communicate directly with the consumer but still need to get past 2 or more gatekeepers to get the offer within the consumer’s reach. Each gate to be negotiated will lead to a modification or dilution of the bold new offer to help squeeze it through that gate. Because packaging in paticular is so subjective (design generally really – how many people buy cars because they offer the most practical solution rather than simply liking the shape more than the other offers in a predetermined price category? Sound a bit like choosing wine…?) not agreeing to that modification means that gate stays closed.
    I have a fondness for both marmite and guiness but often find myself with a lemming on my hands! Maybe a lemming in a Marmite and Guinness “jus”????

  3. If you take your two comments together then, Peter, Bob is effectively endorsing your point.It is much less difficult to sell marmite brands if you have thousands of consumers visiting your site, as is the case at Camel Valley.You still need the courage to take the quirky route of course and the skills to make the visitors’ experience a good one, but the value of a brand is assuredly at its highest in that situation.Which implies, as you say Peter, that it declines the further away you are.However good your distributor,however supportive the retailer, the strength and content of the message must get watered down.
    This is a real issue for marmite branding internationally.In one’s domestic market one can build on visits to the cellar door with on line communication to cement the relationship or vice versa.The combination of ‘clicks’ and ‘mortar’ is perfect for wine marketing .However brands that have a real resonance domestically often find they don’t so well overseas because not only have consumers not visited the cellar door but more importantly the brand owners have no real ability to engage with the consumer direct.This, in my view, must lead to a reappraisal of the current route to market framework.It is in effect lagging behind technology.

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