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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Whining


Travaglini's Gattinara
I’m a lucky guy with few reasons to whine.


I have a loving family, a remarkable wife and two extraordinary daughters.  My Mom will turn 85 years young next month and is always interested in staying current with the latest activities.

Speaking of Mom (Bea), for years she would always buy me my favorite wine when I would come to visit her in Springfield, New Jersey. Both Kings and Wine Library (thank you Gary V) would stock my favorite brand. The wine is a Gattinara (Travaglini) which is an Italian wine made from the nebbielo grapes. It tastes like the Piedmont region of Italy and has a earthy quality that is round and rich and a joy to drink. I get lots of dried fruit flavors like raisin and prune from the wine and I learned from one of my oenology friends that these grapes are sun-dried bringing out those raisin flavor notes. The 2005 is my favorite if I can find it. 


The winemaker describes the wine as having a deep ruby red with garnet reflections. On the nose, aromas of red fruit, blackberry, plum and licorice with hints of vanilla and leather, which lead to a taste which is full-bodied, with intense flavors of cherry, raspberry and spice culminating in a long and smooth finish. I love these descriptions to help me guide my flavor discovery and journey.

But the fascinating part to me, from a marketing perspective, is the distinctive shape of the bottle. It’s a wine my Mom can always find because its package is so different. Rumor had it that the bottle was originally shaped with a distinctive curve because the Pope loved this wine and it would fit his hand. The truth appears to be that the unique shape is to catch the sediment and was designed in 1952 by a glass maker who knew a little something about differentiation.But my Mom can always find this wine in the blur of thousands of other bottles that all look alike. 


Get me the pink one
Get me the yellow one
When I first got into the world of corporate marketing, I remember hearing a Chief Marketing Officer during the Food Marketing Institutes trade show mention the Grandma rule of package design. Could you send your Grandma in the store and would she find your brand? I'll bet few Grandma's (or Grandpa's) can find your wine brand of choice due to the blur of sameness on the shelf. Packaging cues help. Hint: You probably will bring me the right brand of sweetener if I ask for the pink one or the yellow one. But sweeteners is a small category of brands and products compared to wine. 
Honig's see through
label to stand out
on the shelf

Different matters: I mention this because as a marketing guy, different really matters. It is often a surprise to me to see so much sameness in the wine aisle from a visual perspective. Of course there are some clever exceptions like Honig's wine where the label is printed two sided on the back of the bottle so you see through the wine to the image on the back. I remember telling my brother Mitch about this wine and the clever package was easy for him to find on the shelf. 


There isn't another category at retail with so many brands and stock keeping units. Not even the cereal aisle comes close to all the choice in a typical wine section at a grocery store. I know about the critter labels from the last 15 years used to help you remember a brand. Truth be told,it is hard to find your favorite wines in stores compared to most other consumer packaged goods. 

Yes colorful labels and playful brand icons or names appear to target special segments, groups or specific usage occasions. They can help. Barefoot is a great examples of a brand name that helps connect to both image (stomping grapes) and an occasion (barefoot at the beach).  Readers of this blog know that I work in the wine industry (Nomacorc- the leader in highly engineered, scientific corks), but during my marketing career, I haven’t gotten to be in wine brand management. So I thought I would present some thoughts, rants and ideas about marketing wine based on my observations and experiences in food and beverage marketing. 


Wine Words
Like some people do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, I like to imagine new ways to market products in a category that is of interest to me. I also love and appreciate market disruption where someone goes against the grain and organize their brand promise, image or marketing strategy in a new and provocative manner. Whether it is a mass marketed brand or one of the icons selling for hundreds of dollars, wine marketer's challenges are like ripe low-hanging fruit and stand ready to be picked. 


The following three thoughts are offered as conversation starters and observations from a marketing professional. I offer these comments respectfully, recognizing how hard differentiating is in wine marketing. Thanks for allowing me to whine a little. 


WHAT’S DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
The Republic of Tea- Clear Flavor Cues
In the food and beverage world, we would always scream at the consumer within the packaging design about flavor and taste. Lime Chili Cheese seasoning, Orange/Cardamom for that Moroccan taste, a hint of molasses sweetness, etc. 

Tea companies like The Republic of Tea are trying to help guide the consumer use flavor cues in a pronounced way. They do a great job of signalling what their tea will taste like. Why doesn't this happen in wine? 

I bet this tastes like ginger peach
Wine packaging hides the taste. If it shows up at all, it is in 8 point type on the back of the bottle. Why not send me some clues so that I know what I am tasting. Cherry. Melon. Butter. Plums. Give me some hint to help me know what flavor is in the bottle. Would it hurt to put a photograph of the primary flavor front and center? 

Recent growth in sweet red wines are starting to follow this approach where wine brand managers recognize that although most Americans talk dry they really prefer sweet. Many great new brands like Apothic Red (Gallo) are hitting this slightly sweet note and it is flying off the shelves. Why aren't there sweetness indexes on wines to help a shopper find where a wine sits on a sweet to dry scale? If they exist, I haven't seen them on any wines. 

I know what this will taste like from the package
I often wonder how Ben & Jerry market wine? It wouldn’t look like anything that is on the shelf today and the taste would be front and center. 

Although I recognize that buying wine is about discovery and treasuring hunting, I do predict more wine brands will start taking their flavor cues from other food and consumer packaged goods products to tell the consumer more about taste profile in a big way. 


SELLING BY PRICE AT THE STORE
This is a trend just starting at retail and one that I imagine will continue. When most consumers make wine purchasing decisions, they start with price. (Varietal and geography tend to follow after price). Why not organize shopping experiences in retail by price point which is how most consumers do look for wine? Imagine a store that had the $3-5 wines together, the $6-$10 in another section and the $11-$15 next. Since 85% of the volume come from $10 and under, wines by price point makes so much sense for shoppers that I often wonder why retailers don’t merchandise it this way. I understand top shelf for the expensive wines, lower shelf for the inexpensive wines and middle shelf for those in between.

A few months ago, a new Whole Foods in our neighborhood began setting up a section labeled wines around $10 which makes so much sense to me because that is the average price I’m usually hunting for. Imagine the retailers making it easier for the consumer. What a novel approach. 

And speaking of retail, since so many Americans really do prefer sweet or slightly sweet beverages, why not carve out sections of stores that are labeled sweet versus dry. Retailers might sell more wine if they too help give the consumers clear flavor and sweetness cues. My wife, for example loves Gallo's new Apothic Red. I sometimes can't find it in the store because it is a blend of varietals so it gets placed in different sections and areas of our local Harris Teeter. Why not have a sweet or slightly sweet section? 

EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME

All of this wine looks the same



What type of wine would Steve make? 
What would Steve do? Why are there no white bottles? Why are they only green or clear or dark amber? Image a shelf with a  white bottle and how it would stand out? Would it be a gimmick? Maybe, but imagine for a moment how the recently departed Steve Jobs would get into the wine industry? Wouldn’t the elegant design of his bottle be a white sleek bottle that projected an image that represented something so different that you knew from looking at it that it is a completely original product? The bottle would probably pick up wifi and access the iTunes store. But you know that a Steve Job's wine wouldn't look like anyone else's brand. 


Imagine every book on a store shelf with the same color jacket? That is how a lot of consumers feel when they approach the wine section. Lost without typical product cues. 


Can you get me the white book? 
Zigging when everyone is Zagging
I understand the practical aspect of packaging and why there are so few distinctive bottles because of the enormous cost associated with buying customized packaging. There are probably ten additional logical reasons to do what everyone else does. This is exactly why wine marketers should examine how they can break out of the blur on the shelves. Are there any vineyards in Cupertino in Apple's backyard? 


The closest analogy that comes to mind is perfume or liquors. They all sell very expensive liquids yet most perfume or liquors bottle are very different. Why isn't wine, especially higher priced wine, in this type of package? 
Perfume and after dinner liquors all have different packages
And while I am on this topic, how would iconoclasts like Picasso, Dali, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa and Einstein enter the wine business? What approach would Porsche or Lexus take in approaching the industry? When you start thinking from an outsider's viewpoint, you might find a new organizing principle to develop your brand. 

How would these genius get into the wine business? 

How about Dyson from the world of blade less fans and extraordinary vacuum cleaners? Someone from outside of the industry who would apply their aesthetics and sensibility to the category would use different cues, visuals and imagery to communicate that their brand was in a class by itself. Dyson created a fan without a blade. If he entered the wine business, what would he eliminate from that product offering to stand out from the crowd? 

Whining about wine: Sorry for all the whining but for marketing, this is an exciting set of challenges and I can’t wait to see what the marketing community in the wine industry uncorks. 


Cheers. 





6 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts. But then $10 wine does need help to stand out in the crowd.

    Fine wine sells by ratings and reviews, as well as establishedd reputation. If anything distinctive packaging creates skepticism among buyers who can pay the tariff and is a disincentive, based on the hype of marketing anything else in the market place.

    It's very hard to forgive $100 wine that does not please you, but $10 lowers your expectations where the consumer can be more forgiving.

    It's dangerous to bring to much typical marketing strategy to the high end, since it is such a personal choice. I'll bet repea buyers who consume are larger part of their sales than buyers with not much knowledge buying as a gift.

    Also overlooked at the hgih end is the advice of a wine store clerk, which is the single most important marketing force that is effective at the retail level.

    But this means the retail establishment must educate its staff and allow it to sample to create the genuine sales enthusiasm needed to push higher priced wine.

    Wine is not a widget, it just looks like it from a price point perspective.

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  2. I can't believe your example of the *sameness* for the wine bottles on that store shelf. A lot has changed, honestly, since my days of sales in the 1990s. More color back then.

    Getting a label approved is such an arduous task that perhaps that's a reason to go tried and true? (French wines all seem to have a similar look to me, save a small iconic image on each bottle. Were you in the French wines section? Just wondering.)

    This is a very thoughtful post, Jeffrey. With about 10,000 brands world wide, therein lies some of the confusion for getting bottle art together; i.e., how to be original. I'm betting that half the people in the business don't (and didn't) even know where to start.

    And, yes, Michael Hoolihan (the originator of Barefoot Cellars) is a marketing genius, creating that brand and then selling it to Gallo for a very nice profit; all because he knows how to present good wine at very affordable prices. (I haven't tasted it recently, but had my share when I worked briefly with Barefoot Cellars. the winemaker is still Jennifer Wall.)

    Bottle color helps to extend shelf life, by the way. The lighter a bottle, like simply clear, won't help the aging process.

    Lots of questions, it's Saturday and the sun is FINALLY shining in Sonoma County. I've got to get me some sun.

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    Replies
    1. Jo,

      Thanks for your comments.

      The wine industry over the last 10 years has changed as more wine is being marketed like other consumer packaged goods. Still, I think expanding the base is always important for any category so getting more consumer engaged is important.

      Cheers to the wine business!

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  3. You've presented a brilliant, "wine biz" iconoclastic viewpoint, Jeffery. If the $40-100+/bottle producers (or anyone) chose to embrace creativity and enjoyment, rather than staid tradition, the wine world would be a better and more accessible place. For the lay-person (most everyone) wine is boring, unless in copious quantities. Wouldn't it be great to cherish wine seeking?

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  4. Despite fact I'm a bit late with my comment I want to say/ask two things.
    1. very good points you made. it's huge gap in the wine industry which is called "marketing" - more thinking about branding, packaging, website design, looking after small details. i'm a marketing pro, so there is no need to add anything more.
    2. do you know this brand? http://www.casamariol.com/en/ great in terms of standing out of the crowd + giving you impression what's in the bottle + suggest drinking temperature + food paring. every label has been "designed" in MS Word 95 :)

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  5. Maciek, I don't know the brand you referenced. I like the idea of the wine industry finding entry ramps for new users. Maybe products called "goes with beef", "goes with chicken", "fun for the beach". Help consumers jump into the category. Thanks for the comments.

    ReplyDelete

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