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.