What is your concept of ‘Brand’ in a wine 2.0/web 2.0 world?

Coach Lou Holtz, July 2007 “I never learn anything from talking, I only learn things when I ask questions .”
… Coach Lou Holtz

If one ascribes to the idea that the concept of “BRAND’ is a promise made between the originator and the end-user, based on  a perceived, or aspirational set of outcomes, has the concept of ‘BRAND’ evolved? Or, have the methods by which ‘BRAND ‘ is communicated changed? As wine marketers we inhabit a new world, and we need to be acutely aware of the rapidly evolving cultural environment that shapes the wants and needs of our targeted clients and customers. As marketers we can no longer speak at our customers, we need to talk with our customers. We need to tune-in and listen to the ongoing conversation.

Old Starbucks storfront As a case study in point re. iconic liquid brands, Starbucks comes to mind. In 1990 I was running a small  Washington winery, located in the tiny village of Wapato, just south of Yakima. We had a Seattle tasting  room on the alley by Pike Place Market, just down the way from the original Starbucks, and, a then new  Sur La Table. Seattle was jumping in 1990. Innovation was in the air. St. Michelle had gained significant  traction, as my competitor and friend, Bob Betz’s tireless efforts and constant travel to spread the news, initiated significant customer to customer buzz on Washington State wines that helped to create a category that benefited us all.

Starbucks talks to its customers I’ve been following Starbucks Coffee as a company ever since. Starbucks did very little marketing in the   traditional ad placement sense, growing on the dual strategy of word-of-mouth, and creating a culture   of community. However, Starbucks Coffee has not been sheltered from the current economic downturn,   or the significant segment bleed to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee, as these competitors through timely, aggressive marketing positioned Starbucks as the $4 coffee drink. The Starbucks Coffee ‘BRAND’ was in danger of coming off the rails, because in its desire for growth Starbucks had stopped listening to their customer.

At the annual 2009 March stockholders meeting CEO Howard Schultz opined that “We’ve allowed other people (sic: competitors) to define us.” Starbucks on a spot market basis is now running television ads to support the ramp and launch of Via instant coffee. However, Starbucks, now attuned to the conversation, is replicating the video on YouTube, and has established a Twitter account, http://twitter.com/Starbucks , with 128,000+ followers. Starbucks Coffee has also started a web-page to generate customer ideas, mystarbucksidea.com , with more than 60,000 customer responses, and  with 230+ of these customer generated ideas acted upon, it seems that Starbucks is now engaged in the conversation.

How does this study help us as wine marketers? Well, a few days ago I sent out an e-mail asking a basic question, ‘what is your concept of ‘BRAND’. I believe that the idea of ‘BRAND’ has evolved from the days of hallmarking silver or pottery/china.; and, that the relationship of  a brand with it’s customers has morphed from the 1960‘s model memorialized on AMCs ‘Mad Men’. Let’s now listen to what other’s have to say:

Kathy Whaley, Marketing/PR Director, Cecchetti Racke (Wine Company)

“I believe the traditional definitions of a brand still apply as the overall business goals remain the same.  A strong brand like Coke is still Coke.  What has changed is the method of Brand Building. I n1471851295_30257240_3972527jpg1had a conversation the other night with a business associate (Monica Granados with Balzac Communications) about this new dynamic and she really nailed it calling it the American Idol Phenomenon.  In days past the “music industry” decided what artists the American public would get the privilege of hearing.  With the introduction of American Idol the power has shifted.  The consumer voice is getting louder and stronger.”

“The wine business is not far behind. Smart brands are spending less on traditional wine marketing (advertising, brochures, handouts, etc..) and relying less on the scores and ratings of established media.  Instead these brands are engaging their customers directly in growing social media channels.  I am observing that brands that are authentic and present in these channels are quickly gaining ground: Twisted Oak, St. Supery and Peju, just to name a few.”

Brand Guru, Rick Barkas Rick Barkas, http://justbrand.me http://twitter.com/rickbakas http://rickbakas.com

“A few weeks ago I did a case study on Truvia as a brand.  I wanted to explore the launch of a new product   with additional brand messaging channels available. Truvia was rolled out using traditional media        channels like television and magazine, but wisely utilized Twitter and YouTube as a brand extension.”

“What came out of writing that blog post is the importance of a brand to make a promise.  Social Media is about trust, and building trust.  When a brand makes a promise, it gives its audience an idea of what to expect.  Trust is the bridge between traditional channels, and is especially true online.  Since brands need to connect with their audience on a more personalized level in social media, trust becomes more important.”  http://rickbakas.com/?p=110

“Here’s another post about branding.  This one about registering with the Lizard Brain has some useful nuggets in it:”  http://rickbakas.com/?p=177 “Especially the part about where a brand registers on the human brain.  It either registers on the front of the eyes or the deep inside the brain.  When a brand registers on the eyes, it doesn’t live very long in the consumer’s thoughts.  When it imprints on the back on the brain, the brand registers in the sub-conscious.”

“As branding pertains to the wine industry, I define/echo the idea of a ‘BRAND’ as establishing trust by creating an expectation.  Consumers will associate their expectation with the visual and audible brand cues.”

Meaghan Fu, HBS '08 Meaghan Fu, HBS ’08 Scott Becker, HBS '08

Scott Becker, HBS ’08 , Vice President, Global Wine Partners

“The definition of a brand has not changed.  A brand says as much about the consumer   as it does about the product. The consumer looks to a brand for cultural or social affinity.  Back in the 1950s, people drank Coca-  Cola or smoked Marlboro cigarettes because consumers resonated with the image each brand represented.  That same concept holds true today. While the definition of a brand has not changed, the consumer and the marketplace have changed in three important ways:”

  1. “ Consumer values have changed as evidenced by the increasing importance of social responsibility and individuality.  From “going green” to seeing “Red” (at the Gap), brands are finding new ways to define themselves with customers.”
  2. “Technology has enabled micro-segmentation, or niche marketing. There’s room for Coke, but also Jones Soda, SoBe, Honest Tea and lots of other specialty beverages.”
  3. “Trends can change faster than ever. Crocs or Ugg boots could be hot one season and not the next.  By the time MySpace got big, people had moved on to Facebook.”


Successful wine brands today, not only represent a promise based on aspirational, social, or cultural affinities with their customers, but actively engage in meaningful dialogs with their customers. A strategy of creating this dialog is rapidly moving through a variety of digital media methods. Most contemporary wine marketers have tended to have followed this, or a similar path, as we engaged in the search for more effective communication tools

Fax > E-Mail > AOL > Yahoo IM > MySpace > Facebook > Twitter > Blogs > Wine 2.0 Search

While I would not suggest completely abandoning the ‘old-media’ models, such as Newspapers, Radio talk shows, or, the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, The Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits, etc., I will suggest that, if your brand strategy is to find a more efficient point of entry, or, is a volumetrically smaller brand, or perhaps a start-up wine brand with limited broad market distribution, and, a DTT or DTC channel model, then it is my suggestion that you communicate your brand primarily through new media models.

The basic questions that need to be answered in establishing and communicating the concept of your wine brand in today’s marketplace are:

  • is your brand authentic
  • does your brand have intrinsic value
  • does your brand have a social media presence?
  • are you talking with, and listening to your targeted audience?
  • do you have a relationship with key wine bloggers, and influencers?
  • have you encouraged your customers in the posting of reviews of your brand sku’s on key Wine 2.0 search engines?

Look for the upcoming vintank social media white paper to assist you in identifying these key resources. Also, note that cruvee offers services in defining new media resources. Inertia Beverage now offers Direct to Trade services. Wine Business Monthly has a list of followed wine bloggers . Best wishes for a successful brand, and keep listening to your customers.

So, in the context of this think piece, just what does the concept of “BRAND’ in a wine 2.0/web 2.0 world mean to you? Let your fellow readers know your thoughts and ideas.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “What is your concept of ‘Brand’ in a wine 2.0/web 2.0 world?

  1. This is a powerful piece. A lot of people lose sight of their overall goal when trying to define their “brand” with small objectives designed to target instant gratification. Marketing, and brand marketing in my opinion, needs to be about establishing not only a relationship with a consumer, but a friendship and overall trust that your product can deliver what THEY want in the future, not what YOU want.

  2. Interesting, John.

    As a complete ignoramus as far as marketing is concerned, I’ve only just become aware of the need to market my brand. Every insight I gain is a help.


  3. hi John – Thanks for the mention! Well done piece, the only thing I would add is that, while it is about the conversation, often you have to go where the conversation is. You don’t always get to choose the forum, not that that should be a problem. 😉

  4. While I agree with much of what’s been said in this thread, I think it would better serve readers (wineries) were it more focused on the What of Branding rather than the How of marketing communications.

    >>What, exactly, is the “promise” a winery makes to its customers?
    >>What “aspirational, social, or cultural affinities” can it rightly share with them?
    >>What is the “point of entry”?

    What I am talking about is Brand Positioning — something every winery must figure out, regardless of which channels it chooses to use.

    To paraphrase the chaps who coined the term: “Positioning is not what you do with your product; it’s what you do to shape the perception of your prospect.”

    Ask most wineries what their Position is – what they stand for in the minds of their customers – and you will get either a blank stare or a laundry list of generic quality attributes (hand-crafted, terroir-driven, state-of-the-art, yadda-yadda).

    Wineries are simply too product-centric to grasp the concept of Positioning. And that’s okay – it’s a pretty squishy subject. But if the goal of this blog is to help wineries improve their in-market performance, then it might be more helpful to profile wine brands that actually stand for something.

    Here are some obvious candidates: Bonny Doon, Roshambo, Silver Oak, Tablas Creek, Sine Qua Non, Navarro. These wineries represent a range of size, price, varietal and appellation. But they all stand for something beyond that. That’s what differentiates them. It’s what gives them their What of Branding.

    • Fred: Thanks for taking the time to read and comment at length on my post; and for engaging in the conversation. You make several valid, on-point observations. My blog post is, perhaps, less about the answer, and more about the question. Without the right question, the correct answer mostly will remain obscured, unless, perhaps, revealed by random chance. I interviewed more than a dozen individuals, across disciplines in Wine, CPG, Finance, Tech, and Design; and, to a person a single theme emerged: Brand is, and has been about the ‘promise’; but, what has changed is the dialog of ‘promise’, i.e., BRAND. In the past was an asymmetrical monologue, in that the conversation was primarily one-way, from the brand holder (owner, ad agency, PR firm, etc) to the consumer. Now the model seems to rapidly be moving towards a symmetrical, dialogue model. So, you’re completely correct, the question and analysis, while being just one step in a long chautauqua, does not address your point about brand positioning, but that will be a Q&A in a future post. So, please stay tuned.

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