Thoughts on the art of brand development

(  This post follows on from my previous post about the importance of branding and also appeared in Harpers last month )

One comment on my recent piece on the importance of branding was that it is all very easy to argue that one should invest in branding but it would be rather more useful, at least to those already ‘converted’, to provide some insights into how best this might be achieved

The easy response to this is that every producer needs to be treated as a separate case given aspirations and capabilities vary significantly. In addition, different consumer groups require very different approaches while, for premium wines, the regional location may also have a major influence on the brand. This all implies not only that there is a broad spectrum of reasons why producers might choose to invest in building brands , but that every brand development plan has to be ‘bespoke’ and not ‘ off the peg’.

And this is even before one gets to the implementation of any brand plan, which by its very nature must be designed to make the brand not simply appeal to the target market but stand out from the crowd in terms of how it is presented and communicated..

Having said, however, it would be fair to say that there are a number of key ‘imperatives’ or maxims that spring to mind whenever I am in brand development mode. These help me amongst other things to narrow down the options. Here are the seven that come most readily to mind


1. Define the purpose of the brand and set some success criteria.

Ideally one should have a number of short and longer term objectives and a clear strategy for achieving them. There are plenty of examples of successful brands which have developed in a fairly haphazard way ( I have been involved in a few myself ) but there are I would suggest countless more which have never gained real momentum in part at least because their raison d’etre was never defined or there was no real plan. All brands need luck and good timing but a strong plan reduces the chances of failure and creates a framework for ongoing development.

2. A brand plan is only as good as its weakest element.

Give equal emphasis to all elements of the mix. At one level this can be interpreted simply, such as don’t put premium wine in a cheap presentation. However more broadly than that it makes little sense, for example, creating a ‘great’ brand in terms of product style and presentation if one then doesn’t give equal emphasis to developing a communication strategy and a route to market to market approach designed to realise its potential. In my experience the latter in particular is given far too little attention.

3. Think ‘Marmite ‘

Very few wine brands need to appeal to everybody ( trade or consumer ). Most brands in fact can afford to ignore the views of the majority provided that they can secure the passionate support of a minority. Linked with this , as a generalisation, the less you need to sell the more you can afford to break the rules ( see my post Great Wines from Grumpy Old Men ).

Either way, however, the objective must surely be to avoid introducing a brand to which the response of the trade or consumer is ‘so what’. I can’t help wondering, given the number of ‘so what’ brands in the wine category, whether too many producers are focussing too much attention on trying to avoid negative feedback ( particularly perhaps from the trade or their peers ) and in doing so playing too safe and not really exciting anyone.

4. Branding is fundamentally about developing and promoting points of difference not points of similarity.

This implies amongst other things asking yourself the following questions .Who are you trying to be different from, who do the trade and the target consumer see as your competitive set ( they might have different views from each other and from youself ) ? What is your brand’s point of difference ? Why should a customer\consumer replace a competitor with your brand ?  If the answer to the last question in particular doesn’t spring immediately to mind then you should perhaps consider going back to the drawing board .

5. The launch price should give you an acceptable return.

Before you launch there are a number of options. The range of these options  will depend largely on the strength of your points of difference, the positioning of the competition and perhaps the influence of your generic category., but once you launch and set the price you will soon become a KVI ( known value item ).

The more successful you are at a certain price in fact, the stronger your brand’s link with that price and the more difficult it becomes to increase it. Companies can always find reasons not to increase prices but holding prices can become a state of mind which may not be entirely linked to the market situation and may underestimate the strength of your brand.

Producers who therefore launch at a discounted price, with the idea of moving upwards when ‘successful’, risk making a big mistake, particularly if increases are continually deferred.

As a rule of thumb, if your launch price doesn’t give you an acceptable return then its the wrong price.

6. The difficulty of coming up with a good name is often underestimated.

Assuming of course that the decision is not obvious ( such as a company or existing brand name ) the process can be disheartening, particularly if you find you are unable to register the ‘right’ name.

These difficulties are exacerbated if you intend to sell in more than one market given, firstly, that names that work in one market may not work so well in others and ,secondly, because of potential registration issues. Here is yet another argument for a good plan. For example, if you decide pre launch that international sales may well at some stage be critical to your success then it makes sense to adopt a name from the start that can be registered ( and sounds appealing )  in key target markets rather than risk discovering at a later date that it can’t.

7. Pragmatist v Perfectionist.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been involved in a brand development plan that hasn’t been compromised by a lack of time. No plan is surely absolutely perfect, or based on ‘perfect information’, while timing is often critical to success. One can’t remain indefinitely in planning mode, in the end you have to bite the bullet and launch.

A brand developer therefore needs to be a balance between a perfectionist and a pragmatist and that is quite a rare beast. It’s helpful therefore to understand where one sits on this spectrum and take this into account when making decisions. And, linked with this, while taking note of point 2 above, its important to separate the elements of the mix where any compromise is likely to be ‘fatal’ from those where perhaps there is more latitude and where adjustments can be made at a later date.


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