In the majority of commercial categories there are a handful of real competitors. Walk into a supermarket to buy some bread, and there are probably six or so to choose from? Toothpaste, four or five real players. But walk into a wine store, and wow, there are hundreds, even thousands of choices. According to theweek.com, there are over 60,000 different labels on the market. Dare I say no category has more competitors than the wine category? It creates a singular dynamic that wine marketers simply cannot ignore. They must develop a plan to separate themselves out form the overwhelming mass of competition. Otherwise, they’re just hoping and praying someone stumbles upon their bottle amidst the thousands. Not a good business plan.
Even as America gets more and more savvy, choosing a wine remains one of the most confusing and intimidating acts to the average consumer. Please note the word “average.” I am clearly not talking about wine connoisseurs. I’m talking about the average person who wants to enjoy some wine, and feels very uncertain shopping the category. In other words, the vast majority of wine drinkers.
It’s hard to know a lot about wine because there’s a lot to know about wine:
different winemakers, brand names, varietals, blends, countries, terroir, vintage, cork, synthetic, screw top, boxed wine, reviews 88, 91, by who? Little blurbs, posted on shelves, probably written by the brand, so of course they will sound good. Or they are written by the proprietor, which can be helpful, but also doesn’t mean you’re going to like the particular brand recommended. Wine is a very subjective taste. Like they always say, what’s a good wine? If you like the way it tastes, it’s a good wine. And of course, you can Google it on your phone while standing at the shelf. Then you just fall into the infinite abyss of the internet, and could be searching wines forever.
Consumers get hit with this onslaught of information: combine that with their tentative knowledge, and it becomes so overwhelming, most people just end up picking a wine the same way they pick a horse at the track: this one has a pretty color, a guy told me it’s a winner, I dated a Kim Crawford in high school, my uncle’s nickname is Toasted Head.
So what’s a wine marketer to do?
Never has branding been more important than in the wine category. Okay, relax purists, this doesn’t mean cheapen the fine art of winemaking with the dirty business of advertising. It means having a distinct point of view for the brand, a strong position, no matter if you advertise on TV, or simply talk to people one on one at the winery. It’s fairly simple, if you don’t know what your brand is all about, how can any consumer?
From my experience, here are two pieces of concrete advice that make a huge difference in establishing a brand POV for a wine.
1. Use the name and label unabashedly.
It’s the billboard, the calling card, the first thing everyone will see, the last thing they will remember, and the one thing no one else can own. Dig into it. Why is named that? What is the story behind it? What is the graphic on the label? Why was it chosen? Name and label are invaluable assets to a wine brand. Take them, inject them with relevant meaning, then work outward from there, so the meaning resonates with the largest amount of people possible. Many marketers make the mistake of doing the exact opposite. They work backward from some lame, generic wine insight or observation — people like to drink together, Italian and French wines have cache — then they create an idea that could work for dozens of other wines, just plug one in.
When you work from the name and label outward, you have a much more unique starting point, and much better odds of creating a distinct brand. From there, any marketing you choose to do, whether it be a TV commercial, or good old fashioned one-on-one sell, the story is singularly defined. So when a consumer sees it in a wine store or on a restaurant menu, they think, “Oh, I know that one.” Which brings me to my second piece of advice.
2. Never underestimate the power of familiarity.
Go back to the overwhelming information being downloaded on the average wine consumer. They are desperately fishing for familiarity, some trigger, some tidbit of pre-existing knowledge, a previous experience, some name they’ve heard of, label they remotely recognize, anything that helps guide this impossible decision, and point them to a particular brand they can feel good about buying, and proud showing up with. Maybe they’ll even have a one-line sound bite to go with it that makes them look modestly wine savvy as they hand it to the host.
I believe wine purchasing is a combination of familiarity and discovery.
Yes, people like to discover, but discover what they are vaguely familiar with already. Otherwise it’s a blindfolded stab in the dark, a total crapshoot. Like at the carnival, they might as well throw a ring at a bunch of bottles, and buy whichever bottleneck it lands on.
So give them a tight brand that comes from the name and label, and works as a signal at the moment of purchase. That will greatly improve the odds that they will remember, and hopefully purchase, that one in 2,596 bottles of wine on the wall…yours.
Rob Baiocco, CCO, Baiocco And Maldari
A few examples of wines I have worked on:
•Bella Sera has a twilight sky on the label, and means “beautiful evening” in Italian. So we created the perfect wine to end the day at magic twilight, relaxing in the Italian style.
•The Federalist has engravings of Founding Fathers on the label. We put millennial guys through the same filter, and used that imagery to connect them to the revolutionary thinking of their forefathers.
•For Black Swan, we used the beauty and dark exoticness of the swan as the defining metaphor of the wine itself.
•On Santa Margherita, we used the timeless, sophisticated name and label to create a classic that will always be here and loved.