Hungry for wine

Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass

Hungry for Wine is maintained by Cathy Huyghe, wine writer for and author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass.

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30 Lessons in Wine Communication for Italian Brands

At VinItaly on Monday I was part of a panel called 30 Lessons in Wine Communication for Italian Brands. Other panelists were Robert Joseph (who spoke on packaging), Damien Wilson (websites), Reka Haros (advertising), Rebecca Hopkins (public relations), and I spoke on social media.

What, I asked the #winelover community and others on Facebook, would YOUR "lessons" or advice be? 

For ease of reference, especially for anyone not on Facebook to access, here is the discussion thread with full commentary from the #winelover community:

Fabien Lainé If you have most the key informations on the front label on a quite large label then I think it helps consumers as being in front of many references a consumer won't turn back all the bottles to read infos or get websites adresses, QR codes and so on

Elena Roppa If we consider wine communication in the world, the real values are already expressed and put into practice in the Italian wine world. The Italian wineries need to focus on their way of life (the Italian way of life): our vineyards are gardens, our wineries are stylish and comfortable, our villages are nice, wines and food are excellent. We have to improve our self confidence. The prices of our wines have to be the right prices (yes, I know that some wines are very expensive, but they are "exceptional case"), but it’s impossible if we follow the crowd (for example, screw cap is a good alternative, but it’s not our tradition and it is often affiliated with young and cheapest wines). Italy is one of the centers of wine culture and we have to tell our history. My advice for every winery is to trust in themselves and to meet winelovers with the simplicity of their story.

Robert Joseph Elena, you make some good points. But we were not talking about how to sell Italian wine v French or Spanish; we were looking at how one Italian wine producer can persuade a consumer to buy one of his/her wines than another brand of Italian wine.
You work in marketing, I believe; I'm not sure that 'trust in yourself' is quite enough as a marketing strategy, but 'meeting wine lovers' is definitely a good idea.

Elena Roppa Robert, "trust in yourself" is finally communicate what they usally do everyday and I think here it's not the place for marketing lessons 

Damien Wilson There's increasing evidence of 'the front label attracting attention', and 'the back label making the sale'. Remember that most of your sales will be with new customers. So overloading the front label with information just makes it more difficult for the new customer to determine what's important. Keep the front label clear, consistent, and distinct.

Fabien Lainé 2 years ago I wrote a post on labels -

Cathy Huyghe Thank you, @FabianLainé! Two points Robert Joseph made about packaging was adding a Call to Action to QR codes (if the brand uses them) and increasing the font size of website addresses. I'd add making the label easy to read/photograph and "scannable," in light of how many consumers now snap photos of labels with their phones in order to document their wine consumption via apps like Delectable. All good, simple, direct info!

Robert Joseph Damien, I think it depends hugely regarding the particular wine (style, quality, price) and the situation. In supermarkets, where the majority of wines are sold, most are bought without recourse to a back label. Ironically, however, in specialist stores where purchasing is often more considered and back labels are of greater value, European producers often prefer not to have one.

Cathy Huyghe Elena Roppa, thank you for your feedback here. I completely agree with you that the Italian way of life is compelling and appealing! What will happen when wineries go further than that to distinguish themselves individually, within the Italian lifestyle umbrella? How COULD they go further? I'd encourage wineries to identify what makes them distinct and unique, and then use that as the foundation for communicating in a dialogue with consumers.

Damien Wilson True, Robert, but I'd suggest that the purchasing experience explains that observation. In supermarkets, there's (almost) no personal service at the point of sale. As such, the back label provides more assistance. It was also in a wine retail study that they found that almost 90% of wines picked up off the shelf and examined end up in the trolley. The difference at independent retail is that the staff are on the spot to help/inform/advise, and back labels are less useful.

Robert Joseph Yes, Damien but… Your wholly reasonable point overlooks two crucial aspects: 1) a lot of wine shop customers prefer not to ask for advice. Indeed it's a reason why some successful retail shops leave wine books and guide around for customers to peruse. And 2) with over 500 wines in some shops, the level of knowledge of the manager (or his assistant) is often less than satisfying...

Elena Roppa Cathy Huyghe there is no “magical formula”, but in my experience the unique for a winery is the place where it’s located. In Italy that means wine + food + culture + art + tourism: so it’s important to communicate this 360° image. How? Every tools can be good: NFC for the label (more interesting than a qr code, because it will be connected with the winery ecommerce and more for example), short videos that show the life in the vineyard and in the winery, a good monthly newsletter, a wine club (not something exclusive, but occasions to meet the consumers): all tools and events that can create a contact, so the consumers knows that if they need more information they can get in touch with the winery thanks to tech. In my last panel with winegrowers, I suggested them to start to use whatsapp as costumer care: someone told me they already use it, and it very good also to sell the wine directly to consumers. I don’t need more infos on the label, if I can have real time infos from the winery (and I want it, because now it's possible).

Reka Haros Elena, but if all or even 20% of Italian Wineries started communicating wine + Italian food + Italian culture + Italian art + Italian tourism; don't you think that US consumers (as the session was US focused) would continue feeling confused? These topics are huge, and confusing to Italians let alone to foreigners. Cathy is looking for a key distinguishing point for communications. Sometimes, and I would argue always, the distinguishing point is not about the product/history/territory/culture. Those are points that Italian wine communications for the US use already, not always effectively I would assume. Italian lifestyle as concept can work, but not very distinguishable. Label is crucial for 1st - 2nd- and 3rd hand passing on of the bottle. But what in your opinion could be the true key factor for an excellent brand communication?

Magnus Ericsson Informative back labels are one of the most underrated tools in the trade. If you are in a store or are drinking at a wine bar you might get very handy info from the sommelier or the store owner. But you can remember just so much verbal info - especially if you do not know much about the subject. If you hold the bottle in your hand and can read the story about that wine - that's worth a lot.
Another underrated tool is no bullshit informative home pages. Be transparent - tell all you can in an as straight forward way as possible. Information and a feel for the product must go hand in hand. 
The San Leonardo label is a good point. For a new customer - where the f%&€ is it from (btw - I love the wines!  ).

Reka Haros Authenticity is a key point Magnus! Website design for usability is another key point!

Elena Roppa Reka Haros the 360° image has to be linear and referred to the winery, not to Italy in general of course (no confusion, but richness). The disorganization creates confusion, and this is an Italian problem. Wine is different from other products, so I don’t agree with you: the distinguishing point in this case has to be the territory/product/history/culture and maybe "family". The value of a wine is connected with a territory (soil, land). If there is no communication of the territory, the wine is an “industrial” product , so a very different message to create.

Reka Haros And what if the brand value is connected to consumers' values instead of territory/product/traditions/family? What happens if the brand value is connected to consumers' emotional world instead of the glorification the winery itself?

Fabien Lainé It reminds me of a great Ted speech

Elena Roppa Glorification? You are too dramatic. Every brand is a glorification (beacuse it tells its story or its point of view). I know very well what you are meaning, and it's important (to tell a story that can be also your story, sharing economy / "sharing branding"), but not the only (it depends on the tactic and on the subject) 

Cathy Huyghe One of the points I made in the presentation was about WIIFY -- What's In It For You, "you" being the consumer, rather than the winery. The consumer needs a reason to see the winery/brand as relevant to them personally. It's why they think, I'm going to buy THIS beautiful Italian wine rather than THAT beautiful Italian wine. Try turning the lens around. Relating the narrative to the consumer's interest, I think, rather than the winery's can be a key differentiator for a lot of brands.

Reka Haros And this was leitmotif our presentation, from packaging to SM.

Reka Haros Fabien, a more complete concept about this is Leo Burnett's HumanKind principle for content development.

Cathy Huyghe And IDEO's user-centered design http://www.designkit.orgThese are obviously not concepts traditionally applied to the wine industry but I do think there's a lot to learn from them and apply.

Annette Lizotte The question is really what is the "added value" of your product for the consumer and find the adequate way to communicate it. It can be a certification: Bio, Demeter, Vegan etc... no added sulfites and you might just want to put a sticker on the bottle, or maybe just put the information on your homepage and brochure? It maybe the information that the product is extremely rare, limited and unique for a reason you'll have to explain. Famous awards are key to enter some markets. Maybe the wine-food-pairing information is seen as added value. I agree with Cathy Huyghe - the producer HAS to learn to put himself into the role of the end consumer when he decides on the content of his communication, visuals etc... Be authentic and coherent, don't make your story too complicated. Every communication tool should express the same base message, only in a different manner.

Reka Haros Yes Annette, first you need to know who your consumers are, understand their "why"-s and real motivations for purchasing your brand. Then deliver your message on what is important for them.

Robyn Lewis Is this question about selling Italian wine in general or one individual brand?

Cathy Huyghe Individual Italian brands, Robyn Lewis. Would love your input!

Jennifer Gentile Martin It's a matter of education, especially with the lesser known grapes. This is part of the reason why I write my blog as well as others. It's a matter of getting some of these wines into the states to begin with. Then when they are on the shelves I feel it's the labeling. They all can't be hand sold and some labels don't tell enough to the uneducated consumer.

Sean Piper They should communicate that they are real humans making drinkable wine in another unique place on the planet earth and care deeply about the quality of their product. 

Then - if they're feeling frisky - they should say that they got massive awesome number scores from critics and that they only employ the master masters of wine.

Cathy Huyghe Thanks, Sean Piper! One idea that came up in the VinItaly session yesterday was "real humans" and showing the imperfect sides of wine too. Maybe not what you'd want in a print mag ad, but very appropriate for social media sharing. Yes, Reka Haros?

Sean Piper I almost forgot, they should also say that their wine regions and areas and wine blends are better than anywhere else on planet earth. 😎

Sean Piper And they should cite history and tradition to reinforce the fact.

Sean Piper And they should ignore the bliss and loveliness of being alive and touching the flavors of life.

Ole Udsen I'm not the right guy to ask, because I seek out the wines, they don't have to come to me, but a few thoughts I have wrestled with in respect of how I would do it myself: 1) Track record. Do verticals, if you can. Show a constance of quality and purpose. Show an evolution towards an ever better product. Show your (humble) ambition and passion through the wine, and how that happens over time. 2) (and closely related) Keep your selection simple and constant. Don't add new wines all the time. Take the time to build a following for something that remains constant. Do away with all the "fantasy names" (which are not vineyards, but are family, history, stories etc. - only a select few can remember and keep track). Keep the labels simple and constant through the years. 3) Show team spirit. Speak well of and promote your area, your neighbours; build an area and/or variety presence. 4) Go to where the consumer is, literally/physically. They want to meet you, look into your eyes and observe your body language as you show your passion and pride, your constance of purpose etc. 5) Maintain an active social media presence. Wine is - deeply and essentially - a social thing, as lubricant, conversation piece, identity builder, prestige object etc. People want to communicate it, and they want to be communicated to about it. Use that to your advantage. 6) Avoid BS. There is too much BS in wine, too many "perfect soils", "perfect climates", "chemical/additive-free wines" etc. etc., which doesn't stand up to scrutiny in the long run - not because it is not true (it might be), but because too frequently the grasp of both the wine producer and the consumer of the real science involved can be a bit weak. Instead, communicate the soul of your wine. What's it like, why, can the consumer expect it to be such going forwards, what are the choices made (but simply!), why are YOU doing it etc.? I realize these aren't quick fixes, but wine is very much a time thing also. You have to be in it for the long haul. There are no quick bucks out there in wine land.

Reka Haros Sean, authenticity is key for communications, scores and critics' endorsement need a different context.

Patterns I've Been Noticing...

I've noticed the pattern that learning about coffee is similar to learning about wine. Start with less potent iterations (lower alcohol for wine; more milk for coffee). Understand origin (of the grapes for wine; of the beans for coffee). And narrative assists memory, always.

I've noticed the pattern that many people smell so similar. It is a pattern of sameness. But, really, shouldn't we all be smelling... like ourselves, rather than like each other? 

I've noticed that asking the same question of motivation -- why? -- several times in sequence strips a dilemma down to its essence. It is revealed.

I've noticed that, almost immediately afterward, the pendulum swings back the other way and the essence is covered back up again. The layers are added back in. It's sad, but necessary. Because we cannot, any of us, operate from a place of persistent essence. It would be too raw.

I've noticed that none of us have the luxury of being raw, at least not for many moments beyond the quick, hot flash of true, naked essence.

I've noticed that on the rare occasions when I rely on my subconscious to create a solution overnight, while I sleep, I am taken by a brazen sense of triumph when I wake and access the solution that has presented itself. The triumph is completely out of proportion to the scale of the test -- it is always only one discrete solution to one discrete problem. Yet it fuels my momentum for weeks and weeks, that this ability exists and can be practiced. It is a gift I seek infrequently, so as not to dilute its power.

I've noticed that when I travel I share the dinner table with many different people for many different reasons. The common variable (the pattern left on the table...) are empty bottles of wine.

I've noticed that what holds my attention is assertion. Of belief. Of opinion. Of desire. Of the expressed ability of my companion to Live.

Wine Travel GAH

The title of this post should really be Wine Travel YES and, by the end of saying what I need to say, it will be.

But let me work something through first.

I'm at that moment of a trip, at the very beginning, when I've said good bye to my husband and children, when I'm on board the plane, when I'm leaving on the first leg of the journey. The physical side of me is ready to go.

This particular trip, however, isn't to Napa or Oregon or Switzerland or New Zealand. It's to Turkey. And for that reason, it's taken the emotional side of me a few ticks longer to be ready to go.

Partly it's because the trip was almost canceled last week, when political protests intensified in some areas where we planned to be and, rather than postpone the trip entirely, we rearranged the itinerary around the sites of those protests.

Partly it's because of the sharp contrast of news coverage, between the sources I consult at home in the US and the sources my husband consults back in his native Belgium. He reads his news on the Belgian newspaper's app on his phone, and this morning he told me in detail about a US general's presence in Turkey, trying to convince Ankara to intervene in an aggressive takeover attempt of Kobani, a town along the Syrian border. (Belgium is home to a significant number of Turkish expatriates, and their national news addresses that population.) However, I had to dig -- deep -- for similar coverage in the US news sources that I regularly consult, which includes a website that claims to prioritize international news.

Maybe the US news sources are oblivious. Maybe the Belgian news sources are alarmist. Probably some of both. The bottom line is that I've got to cobble together information, which heightens my anxiety.

[several deep breaths and a take-off later]

There's something about starting, about stepping off, that adjusts my perspective.

This train has left the station and, since I'm along for the ride, my emotions need to recalibrate along with my physical location. It's a subtle shift but a critical one, from being anxious to being eager.

When I travel I am focused. I accomplish more work on the road than I do at home. I attribute this largely to my husband who, when we're both at home, is the biggest soaker-upper of my attention! (See what you get for marrying an incredibly interesting person??) And of course I miss our children, but the truth is that they've got fun and highly responsible people taking care of them. They are fine. They will be fine.

And so will I.

This is the kind of trip I adore. It is unusual. It will be challenging. I expect to learn things I won't learn anywhere else on the planet. I expect to meet people -- and taste wines -- that are distinct and unique in the industry.

So, yes, we have arrived at Wine Travel YES!

And for that I am extremely grateful.