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How does a “Family Vineyard” Standout in a Market Swamped with Family Vineyards?

I had lunch with Steve Heimoff in Oakland back in August last year. I was promoting my new book and Steve kindly agreed to hear more about it. He has a reputation of being very cynical about social media, so we talked through the basis of his cynicism (in short he believes it’s oversold but can be part of the marketing mix, my words not his). As part of that discussion I asked him how a winery could successfully sell wine in such a competitive market? His answer was to focus on making great wine. To which I said, if there are 500 or 1000 or 10,000 wineries making great Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, then how do you standout amongst the crowd? To which Steve mulled over the options (new varietal, new appellation, new personality) and then decided it was one he needed to think about some more.
How does a Family Vineyard Standout
A few days before I’d also been talking to a winemaker near Healdsburg who was trying to break into the wine market by making some highly rated award winning wines (a few thousand cases pa as a sideline to his Chief Winemaker role at a largish winery). I asked him a similar question, to which he responded that ratings and awards didn’t seem to move the needle anymore.

I didn’t bring that up with Steve, I wasn’t there to be combative, merely to talk through wine marketing online. But it’s probably the core question that needs to be asked in a market swamped with brands. The core answer is to come up with a good brand proposition.

Here’s the normal brand proposition,

Such and Such Family Vineyards is a family-owned and operated boutique winery making estate grown wines, located in this Appellation, [using organic / biodynamic / sustainable farming practices].

I absolutely understand why winegrowers use this phrase. It’s heart-felt, it’s authentic, it’s got the basis of terroir that is so important to premium wines, and family is the core of their life(style). I’ve been a cellar hand so I also understand how many in the wine industry feel “dirty” by having to use chemicals, other “artificial” additives or viticulture sprays, so end up going organic.

The issue with the normal wine brand proposition is that everyone else is using it. If there are 60,000 wine brands in the market, or 1000 wine brands on a retail store shelf, how is that proposition going to stand out?

In the brand management section of my book (p. 101) I point out the four key truths about why people buy wine and why this helps to explain why brands are so important:
1. Wine drinkers never understand a premium wine as well as the company that sells it. Their relationship is not through months of hard and loving graft but rather fleeting and superficial.
2. Wine drinkers perceive premium wine brands in their own terms. Given they have imperfect knowledge of the wine they have to select something relevant to them—perhaps by label design rather than taste.
3. Wine drinkers’ perceptions will focus on benefits that are often intangible — this can seem irrational to wine growers. This is because consumers focus on what a wine can do for them rather than what it actually is. The benefits to them are intangible but are still real in their minds.
4. Wine drinkers’ perceptions are not at the conscious level. When we ask people why they purchased a wine we may get a rational answer but not the whole story. Feelings about wine are not always easily articulated because they are complex and emotional.

The brand proposition is how your brand benefits the consumer. Not your heart felt statement about yourself. Although family and chemical free wine making practices may be important to you, are they the driving reasons why someone would choose your wine? And if you think they are, how else are you going to standout versus other family wines in the consumer market?

It’s hard work to come up with a good brand proposition, even if you’re a brand management specialist. I use a 5 step process that looks like this:
Step 1: Understand your customers
Step 2: Analyze your competitors
Step 3: Look at your company goals, personalities, and stories
Step 4: Choose your niche
Step 5: Create or define your brand

We’ll look at this process in coming blog posts. Thoughts or comments? Please make them below.


  1. Paul Smart says:

    My only thought is I am waiting for the following blog posts

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