We bought a bottle of Merlot the other day. It’s an estate-bottled wine, and we got it because we’d been buying wines from this estate for a while, and wanted to try their first commercial bottling. It’s a decent Merlot, though slightly less taninous and with a weaker personality then I like my wines to be, but that’s not the point. The point is that had I seen this wine on the shelf, I never would have gotten it, because of the label.
There is more to labels than just design and legally mandated content. Behind every successful label is an understanding of the consumer, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the labeling of wine.
Wine is particular as a good, as my MBA colleagues and I had the chance to ascertain a few years back, when we did a consumer-centric strategy for the Cricova wineries in Romania.
It’s an experience good, whose intrinsic qualities cannot be known until after purchase and consumption, so consumers rely on extrinsic clues such as shelving, price, label design and content, as quality markers. Otherwise put, in a purchasing situation where the consumer is unable to try the product, he or she relies on outside cues as a proxy for the internal qualities that they are looking for. This is especially important if you look at the variety within category. Where a typical FMCG would have 10-12 competing products, a wine would have around 700, many on the same shelf. In such a crowded market, consumers usually rely on wine labels and point of sale material as a source of information to base their decision on. It is important for the label to be noticeable in a positive way, but it should also define the wine. (for example most labels for new entrants on the market don’t assume prior knowledge of wine. Maybe a Chambolle Musigny Pinot Noir does not need to specify how dry the wine is, but a Romanian Merlot sold on the Romanian would need a label saying dry red wine beneath the world Merlot.)
It’s a high involvement purchase, which researchers have often jokingly compared to the purchase of a car. Except, of course, the out-of-pocket is smaller and the frequency of purchase is likely to be higher. But like a car, the wine you buy, depending on the situation in which it is consumed (in a restaurant, at home among friends, at a business dinner etc.) carries certain social cues about the position and sophistication of the person buying it. Being a connoisseur of wine is considered a mark of the rich and refined, and therefore the purchase of a good wine is an aspirational activity. The bottle you bought must exude class or quality when seen by others.
Not being a designer, I can’t create a better label for this quite enjoyable Merlot, but being a marketer, I cannot emphasize enough that understanding the consumer and how they approach the purchase of your product needs to be at the basis of every step of the go to market process, from the packaging of the product to the promotional messages.
I’ve attached below an excerpt from the presentation of the project my colleagues and I did for the winery, back in 2008, just to explain a little bit better how deep one must go into understanding the product and the consumer BEFORE putting it on the market.