Wine Package Design and Marketing

Wine Package Design and Marketing – Brief Article

Marilynn Thoma

Most of us who have been through package development projects relish the creative process, yet realize how elusive a successful wine package can be. Take, for example, the creative execution that wins accolades for the designer but fails to illuminate the product. Or, the safe, traditional tombstone-style label with elegant insignia that does not distinguish itself from a crowded field. Savvy marketers rely on a conceptual framework, described below, that focuses attention on the brand’s core identity as the starting and ending point of the work to be undertaken, and, serves as a yardstick along the way in evaluating creative options. Savvy marketers also know that package development projects tend to take twice as long as expected. The steps they take to influence the creative process for the highest probability of on-time, on-budget, on-target success are described in the paragraphs that follow.

There are other elements in the wine package that must be managed successfully for a new design to reach the marketplace. Important roles are played by market research, sales management and promotion of the new package. In this article, we will focus solely on management of the creative process so that the final package is a distillation of the essence of the wine brand in a compelling package that competes effectively in a retail environment.

Start With Brand Identity. Creative Strategies Follow

Throughout any creative process, our divining rod should be brand identity. Brand identity defines what is special about our product that sets it apart. Some call that its unique selling proposition, or its reason for being. Especially in the wine business, many brand identities derive from the personality of the vintner or a legendary family. That’s why brand names are frequently family names. Other identities take their meaning from the geography of the vineyard or man-made landmarks such as “chateau.” Frankly, there is such a proliferation of wine brands that we all have to work hard to identify aspects of regional history, location and personal history to distinguish our brands.

Why is it important to tie creative strategy to brand identity?

(1) Because marketing is expensive, all communications should drive home a consistent message. This is true regardless of the target audience–consumer, trade, press–or the medium–package, advertising, public relations.

(2) The package –a winery’s most powerful marketing tool–should provide a meaningful reason to buy. As Marc Gobe put it in his book, Emotional Branding, “Packaging is the essence of a brand crystallized in a small space.”

(3) When it comes to creative, everybody is an expert. As the marketer in charge of the packaging project, your ability to keep the project focused depends on a well-defined brand strategy which supplies the yardstick against which creative can be evaluated.

(4) A new package triggers the redesign of most marketing tools. Design costs extend far beyond label development. On one of my recent label redesign projects, the design costs for wine package and shipping case ran $35,000, and were almost matched by the design and printing costs of subsequent collateral materials.

(5) There are significant opportunity costs associated with a so-so creative execution. Figure you’ve only got one shot with consumers every three years. Not every package will be a creative breakthrough, but packages which are not perceived as on-target or, in the case of existing brands, improvements on the previous package represent lost time, lost sales and lost prestige.

With all this emphasis on brand identity, we cannot assume that a package that captures the brand’s essence will guarantee a successful introduction. There are many elements in the product’s progression to marketplace that must be in alignment. Product quality, a price appropriate to the product and the economic times, perceptions of the gatekeepers (distributors and buyers), quality of sales support and product reviews all can derail the sell-in. In the long run, however, those wines with staying power tend to be those with a simple concept engagingly communicated.

Enough talking. Lets look at examples of brand identities that were the starting points in package development.

Brand Identities for Four Brands

Brand Identity: A new brand which expresses the spicy, full-flavored character of Mendocino’s signature varietal, Zinfandel, in a package and price which lend themselves to restaurant sales.

Brand Identity: A new line of six grape varietals that celebrates the laid-back charm of Mendocino and a vineyard heritage that produces grapes as fine as any wine region in the world.

Brand Identity: Wines given structure and nuance by the cool evening wids which flow into Willamette Valley through the Van Duzer Corridor in the foothills of the Oregon coastal mountains.

Brand Identity: Since 1932, Parducci wines of Mendocino have expressed the fruit character inherent in each varietal, and honored the dignity and authenticity of the small-scale vineyard tradition.

To get the package development process rolling, we clients will prepare a written statement of creative objectives that describes the scope of the project and nature of the market for the new wine brand. Many of the creative objectives dealing with shelf visibility and differentiation from competitive labels are common to all wine brands.

Consequently, designers will listen particularly closely for what we as clients expect to communicate to consumers and our beliefs about how it should be communicated.

Case Study #1: Sketchbook

The “Sketchbook” brand, introduced in 1998, grew out of the realization of the new owners that certain grape lots from our many growers possessed remarkable power and character. Rather than blend them with other lots, we developed a brand premise for a line of varietals that romanticizes the scenic and human character of Mendocino and highlights its vineyard heritage. In meetings with the designer, we brought meaning to the brand identity, examining Mendocino as the northern-most wine region in California, the 150-year-old history of vineyards planted by Italian immigrant farmers and the red varietals which proved themselves over time as most suitable for the slopes overlooking the Russian River. We tasted the fruit of those select vineyards which would source the six varietals in the collection and established its appeal relative to superior vineyards elsewhere in the world. Then we explored Mendocino’s unique sense of place, both in terms of scenic beauty but also the colorful, independent-minded people.

At this point, I should tell you that our first experience with a designer was not fruitful. After six months we had a name and creative executions but neither captured what was special about the brand. It was shaping up to be a beautifully executed but decidedly me-too package. Midway through that experience we formulated a list of criteria for evaluating creative executions that have guided our package development work since then.

Criteria To Be Used In Evaluating Creative Executions

(1) Does the execution explain the brand’s reason for being?

(2) Is it emotionally engaging? Emotional branding engages consumers on the level of the senses and emotions. The brand comes to life for people and forges a deeper, lasting connection based on the desires and aspirations of customers.

(3) Is it distinctive and memorable?

(4) Is the visual identity appropriate for the price point and brand concept?

(5) Is it tasteful?

(6) Does it possess a strong shelf presence?

(7) Is it extendable to collateral material and secondary product lines?

(8) For established brands, does it provide continuity with the existing package?

The Sketchbook brand was subsequently given shape by Dave Sanchez of Red Wagon Advertising and Design, the same designer who translated the Zingaro product story into a striking gypsy icon. Before going to creative executions, we successfully hammered out a design concept that described how the brand identity would be embodied/honored in the creative execution.

Brand Identity: A line of six grape varietals that celebrates the laid-back charm of Mendocino and a vineyard heritage that produces grapes as fine as any wine region in the world.

Design Concept: Recreate an artist’s sketchbook filled with the storied landmarks, vineyards and people of Mendocino; reinforce product quality and price through quality of execution; distinguish six varietals within the collection.

The Design Concept is the most critical step in the creative process. Until client and designer agree how to link creative execution to brand identity, executions are likely to be off-target and valuable time wasted. The Sketchbook design concept suggested the following strategies.

Design Strategy

(1) Name: Sketchbook Mendocino Collection.

(2) Employ a wraparound label to fully capture Mendocino’s unique sense of place and distinguish the package on retail shelves.

(3) Dispatch pen-and-ink artists to sketch Mendocino’s landmarks, people engaged in every-day activities and grape harvest.

(4) Distinguish the varietals in the collection by bottle shape and color.

(5) Employ typestyle and captions to communicate the nonpretentious character of Mendocino.

(6) Enhance the sensory appeal of the package through the use of elegant bottles, embossed textures, and richly water-colored and tea-stained surfaces.

A new package identity, of course, calls for a complementary case shipper and collateral material.

At each stage of package development, it’s helpful to revisit the criteria used in evaluating creative executions to keep the work on target and to address any shortcomings while they can be dealt with efficiently. As we look at the Sketchbook package, were we successful in satisfying the criteria?

Did We Satisfy The Criteria For Creative Executions?

(1) Reason for being.

The package clearly creates a Mendocino sense of place, which is the brand’s point of difference and unifies the six traditional varietals in the collection.

(2) Emotionally engaging.

Most people want to pick up a bottle of Sketchbook when they see it. The sketches, the texture, the wire coil engage consumers on a visual and emotional level. Wine consumers are purchasing more than a beverage. They invite us wineries to speak to their romantic visions of wine country and the pleasure of sharing a bottle of wine. That is our job, within real estate of roughly 20 square inches of label, to touch those dreams and aspirations.

(3) Distinctive and memorable.

The large label filled with compelling sketches and captions creates a distinctive presence. Capsules are an underutilized element in the overall wine package. These colorful capsules, in non-traditional colors, help Sketchbook claim more than its fair share of shelf presence.

(4) Appropriate. Tasteful. Shelf presence.

These criteria are addressed primarily through the quality of the execution, that is, the elegance of the bottles, the tastefulness of the design, the quality of printing, the paper stock and embossing, even the beauty of the typeface. The eye is amazingly perceptive of these distinctions, and has come to expect great design value in wine packaging.

(5) Extendable.

The sketches and other graphic motifs such as the wire coil, the tea-stained background and the oval logo provide abundant raw material for the design of compelling collateral material.

Hope for the Best. Prepare for the Worst

Once we marketers have identified a package designer who has shown through his or her work that he or she can accomplish our creative objectives, we clients need to bring them to where we are in our understanding of the market and our brand’s unique selling proposition. We can’t assume that they know as much as we do or that they can read our minds. We must be explicit, going overboard to acquaint the designer with the design sensitivities–biases, if you will–that are held by decision makers at the winery. Some of the insights we should share include:

Ways To Influence Creative Process For Highest Probability Of Success

(1) Explain how you see the market, the product, the opportunity: (a) Visit vineyards, retail sites; (b) Recreate in the designer’s studio a retail shelf stocked with the brand’s competitive set.

(2) Identify “successful” packages.

Many successful packages benefit from a powerful or evocative illustration. “A good picture provides insights that words cannot convey at any length.” This insight comes from the scientist, Stephen Jay Gould, in his foreword to a book on The Art of the National Geographic. Humans, he points out, learn visually and integrate pictorially. Such that “the visceral impact of illustration can hit us hard in the primal gut.”

(3) Outline your expectations: (a) timing; (b) conceptual thinking; (c) budget; (d) creative objectives; (e) criteria to be used in evaluating creative executions.

(4) Insist on evaluating creative executions against the objectives and stated criteria.

(5) Lead through example: (a) Study typestyles and art of period; (b) Become a champion of brand; (c) Will it to happen.

(6) Be willing to say “It isn’t good enough.”

(7) Prepare a contingency plan in case the project doesn’t come together as expected.

The conceptual framework which worked well with the new product Sketchbook worked equally well in other cases. The process of translating brand identity to design concept proved reliable with the redesign of an existing wine label, Van Duzer Vineyards of Oregon.

Case #2 Van Duzer Vineyards

Van Duzer was introduced in 1993, an early tribute to the similarity of Oregon’s cool-weather site to France’s Burgundy region. The original classic Burgundian label reinforced the similarity of terroir and wine style. But by 1998, the label was looking tired and we new owners had established a new winery in Willamette Valley which would assure higher standards of winemaking. The brand is distinguished by its location within the Van Duzer Corridor, that notch in the coastal mountains through which cool air enters the Willamette Valley on summer evenings.

Like the Carneros wine region, our site experiences lower temperatures earlier than elsewhere in the valley. The effect is to create a pleasing balance in our wines and to extend the hangtime of grapes during veraison when flavors are evolving. As owners, we believe that the grapes should speak for themselves without a heavy oak character, yielding elegant Pinot noirs and Chardonnay well-suited for consumption with food.

Brand Identity: Wines given structure and nuance by the cool evening winds which flow into the Willamette Valley through the Van Duzer Corridor in the foothills of the Oregon coastal mountains.

With our designer, Anstey Healy Design of Portland, we agreed upon a design concept that reflected the central influence of the ocean breezes on our wines.

Design Concept: Link the wind to the Van Duzer name and location in a convincing and engaging fashion, and reinforce the strongly-held values of respect for terroir and varietal/clonal character made accessible by virtue of a food-friendly wine style and fair pricing.

Design Strategy

(1) Employ a classic god(dess) of the West Wind, Zephyr, as the embodiment of wind which favors vineyards and extends hang time.

(2) Utilize typestyle and design structure which recall Arts & Crafts style, which is based on natural art forms, handcrafting and strong, simple shapes.

(3) Enhance eye appeal with complementary patterns and textures.

(4) Distinguish varietals and reserve designations within a unifying design concept.

Drawing on Greek mythology, we identified the gentle west wind of ancient lore, Zephyr by name, as our inspiration. An iconic character such as a zephyr serves as shorthand for the spirit of the brand. Our strategy was to present the zephyr theme within a design context that reflected our own values in winemaking, namely respect for nature, simplicity and accessibility. The Arts & Crafts movement of the turn of the last century embodied those sensitivities, so it served as the springboard for label design and typestyle. One characteristic of that art movement was the use of complementary patterns and textures which we put to good use in the panels and background patterns of the label. Our designer located a talented artist, John Martinez, who pursued a similar technique in his illustrations of operas and class plays.

The label design evolved smoothly enough, meeting all the design criteria except one. The proposed label depicted a classic, refined goddess within a distinctive Arts & Crafts format. Conceptually, it was right on-target; however, it was not emotionally engaging. As illustrated, the zephyr was remote, distant and cool: It lacked visceral impact and failed to actively connect on an emotional level. Lesser designers and illustrators would have pointed out that they had done what was asked of them. Winery management, faced with a tight bottling schedule, could have agreed to go with what we had. But they didn’t. The label design and illustration were remodeled with a significant improvement in emotional appeal.

Evolution of the Van Duzer Zephyr:

(a) initial label designs; (b) 2nd round; (c) 3rd round with pattern and recessive goddess; (d) Smiling zephyr; (e) Finished label; (f) Bottle shot–three labels; (g) Bottle shot– reserves.

The design theme with its Arts & Craft styling was easily extended to a reserve line and a full complement of collateral materials.

Design Concept Applied beyond Package: (a) Brochure; (b) Sell sheet, tech sheet, letterhead.

What Designers Have to Say about the Process

Clients, of course, initiate and set the tone of the design process. Package designers must adapt to all types of clients, so their perspective of effective management of the design process is significant. Here’s what the designers involved with the Sketchbook, Van Duzer, Zingaro and Parducci design projects had to say about what clients can do to influence the creative process for the highest probability of success.

What The Designers Had To Say About Client Direction

What kind of client direction do you find most helpful?

* Client expectations of mood, style, feel, attitude.

* Label examples that are the right direction for their brand.

* What’s different about the product?

* Seeing the client’s design history.

Complete the sentence: Savvy clients…

* Won’t settle for the “expected.”

* Give the designer freedom to explore outside what they are asking for.

* Won’t dictate the design.

* Select a designer for whose body of work they feel an affinity.

* Don’t stop short of seeing the design through a quality execution.

Where do you start to bring meaning to the brand concept?

* Ah, that’s my secret.

* I put my head into the consumer’s head. What will stop them in their tracks?

* It’s a mixture of inspiration and strategic thinking.

* The best design solutions reveal a core “truth” about the product.

This last statement captures in 11 words the whole point of basing package design on a brand’s identity. This identity or core truth reveals to consumers how the brand is different from competitors and is the key to building a lasting impression for the brand.

(Marilynn Thoma is co-owner of Parducci Wine Estates located in Ukiah, Calif., and Van Duzer Vineyards of Oregon. She brought to the wine business a background in consumer goods brand management at Quaker Oats where she managed the Aunt Jemima and Cap’n Crunch cereal brands. Later marketing assignments included cellular telephones and voice messaging. Her most recent marketing undertaking has been in the public arena–a referendum on the ballot for an increase in the tax rate for the school district of which she is president. Thoma received an MBA from Stanford. These remarks were taken from her presentation at The Fourth Annual Global Wine Package Design and Marketing Conference held in April.)

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