21st Century Branding Lessons From an 8,000-Year-Old-Product

The culture around wine drinking has always been confusing, contradictory, and a little elitist. But believe it or not, today’s consumers are currently living in a golden age of wine, with access to more information about their beverage of choice than ever before. You don’t have to go too far back to find a time when consumers were a grudging afterthought to wine producers.

Here’s how it used to work. Wines produced from the most famous French vineyards were seemingly labeled to be as unhelpful as possible. Bottles from well-known regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy told the consumer only what specific plot of land a wine was guaranteed to come from, and what year the grapes were harvested – and little else.

Under this system, it was nearly impossible for the average consumer to know anything significant about what to expect by glancing at the packaging – which defeats the purpose of labeling a product in the first place.

Experienced wine drinkers and sommeliers could deduce more information thanks to their expertise, but most wine drinkers were left in the dark.

But then something miraculous happened: smart winemakers, particularly in Australia and the United States, started to implement successful branding and marketing strategies. First, they began to list the name of the grape (called the varietal) on each bottle, instead of merely the particular vineyard. Incredibly, this had rarely if ever been done before — and most top French winemakers still don’t do it.

With this one innovation, a wine drinker would at least know with certainty if they were purchasing chardonnay, merlot, or zinfandel. Thanks to this simple branding tweak, overall satisfaction increased, because consumers knew what they were getting before the purchase was completed.

Later, winemakers moved even further away from the original system by creating individual brands. Forget listing a specific vineyard where the wine came from, or even what type of grape went into it. Rather, wine brands often listed huge geographic areas where the grapes were grown, such as California and South Eastern Australia, and began prioritizing a consistent flavor above all else.

Why is this a big deal? With wines made from a single plot of land in Burgundy, a 2015 red wine might be heavenly, while a 2011 disappoints; yearly fluctuations in weather conditions will make or break a wine.

But by taking grapes from throughout “South Eastern Australia”, newer winemakers were able to blend the good and the bad together to guarantee a relatively stable flavor from year to year and bottle to bottle.

These changes, along with several others promoted by forward-thinking producers (Rosé All Day, anyone?), have revolutionized the wine industry. Look no further than Australia’s Yellow Tail brand for a great example of game-changing branding strategies. The Australian brand went from relative obscurity, to becoming the #1 selling wine in the U.S. in less than five years, outselling all French producers combined.

Purists hated these innovations, and personally I prefer the confusing single vineyard wines over the mass market stuff. But you can’t deny the savvy branding and marketing involved.

So what’s the takeaway from all this?

Smart companies think about their customers first. Having a consistent and clear brand identity helps customers understand what you’re selling and your specific value proposition. By providing more information about their products, smart companies can empower customers while also getting a leg up on the competition. Who wouldn’t drink to that?

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