Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Look of the Label (A 3 Part Series)

This is the first of a three-part series exploring the impact wine labels and marketing have on wine sales here in the Northwest.  In today's post we hear from a designer about the importance of marketing when it comes to sales and brand identity.  Part two of the series will include the perspectives and goals of wineries when creating or working with a designer on their labels. The wrap up (Part 3) will have us hearing from retailers who have first hand experience with the impact a label can have on whether or not a wine sells.

There's an old saying we've all heard: "You can't judge a book by it's cover." The sentiment is great, but we all do it; whether it be books, people, or bottles of wine, they are picked or passed on based on how they look.

Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin professor, conducted a twenty-year study looking at the correlation between physical beauty and success. More attractive people were hired and often given promotions, raises and better job packages with greater frequency than their average or unattractive peers. Hamermesh's study indicated that people assumed that the physically attractive candidates and workers had more positive traits, and were therefore given more responsibility and rated higher on performance. The conclusion: appearances matter.

Luckily we are an attractive bunch here at the Northwest Wine Anthem and so none of us is worried, particularly since none of us is getting paid for this. However, I would say there are sharp correlations between how society treats attractive people and how most of us treat other products, for instance: bottles of wine. The most salient piece of Hamermesh's research for these purposes is that when a candidate or employee was found attractive, it was assumed that they had other positive characteristics; they were thought to be more intelligent, harder working and just simply more interesting. All of this is based on just looks.

Is it such a stretch to imagine that a more attractive wine label communicates the same possibilities? If the label is attractive might the consumer assume that it's more interesting, and just tastes better? Whether they make all those associations consciously or not, wine consumers are clearly buying wines based on the labels. Since we know that's a truism, why are there so many boring, and in many cases ugly, wine labels still out there?

The design firm Boxwood has worked with several wineries here in Washington, lending their expertise in everything from winery design to website and labels. Boxwood helped create the Obelisco Estates label, re-imagined the Pepper Bridge label and created complete branding for the super slick Wines of Substance. Joe Chauncey, Prinicpal at Boxwood, notes that the challenge often goes beyond just the label, "The issues that can get in the way of creating a label are surprisingly elemental: the winery does not know who they are, does not know what they want to say about their wine, and does not know who their customer will be."

It's folks like Joe and firms like Boxwood who work to help wineries answer these questions. According to Joe it's the design team's job to get you to pick up the wine the first time and the winemaker's responsibility to make sure you come back for more. 

When it comes to the consumer, time is short, and you've got to make your point. "A wine label must make an impression very quickly and that is exactly what you want. A package that appeals to one's sub-conscious mind where decisions are processed quickly is better than one that needs study and contemplation." Many wineries make the mistake of overloading that quick decision by either providing far too much information, or being completely unclear about what might be inside the bottle. 

"A considerable portion of brand identity, even perceived quality, is about the package. It is usually the first connection that a buyer has with the brand." According to Joe, the packaging, the label, needs to catch one's eye from a distance, and keep the gaze long enough for the wine to be picked up off the shelf.

So for the consumer who is buying wine based on a label it's easy, you pick out what appeals to you. For the winery it's a little trickier, figuring not only where that appeal lies, but also figuring out a way to communicate your identity on a small paper square in a matter of a few seconds. For wineries who have garnered a larger reputation perhaps the label is less important, but for those that consumers have never heard of, it's all they have to go on.

Wineries that don't take their label seriously do so at their own peril. This article pegs the number of people who buy wine based just on the label at 40%, conservatively. That's a huge consumer base that is largely uninformed about what's inside the bottle. Ultimately if you're in a grocery or busy wine shop where the staff may be busy or lack any sort of personal touch, the label has to do the heavy lifting and ultimately it may have to sell your wine. Sentimentality, watercolors and dogs will not.

The old adage "beauty is only skin deep" certainly applies in these circumstances.  A glossy label on a bottle of terrible wine will not fool the consumer more than once. Wineries should not shift their focus from creating quality a high quality wine to marketing something that is not up to their standards.  The point is however that most people will not have tried a wine, skin deep is as far as they'll get.  Not concerning themselves with what might appeal to the uninitiated customer is a terrible mistake. 


I must say, that I tend to concentrate on a label, and if it strikes me, I buy the bottle, usually Cabernet. Being that I am into painting and art, I tend to like the deep colors of the Old Masters, such as Rembrandt - - an example: I once found a couple of bottles of Cabernet, with labels that appeared to be nude figures of plump men, of a painting of the 16 or 17 century. The wine was from Italy. It was a find for me, for I managed to get the labels off the bottles intact, and had them mounted and framed - - making both labels, and the print names a work of art, to hang on the wall. The wine was inconsequential, at that time - - and it was not to my taste. However, now that I am a bit older and wise, I check the year, and what vineyard. I once had a Mondavi Cabernet, 15 years ago, in Bob Burns Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. It was a delight, smooth - - leaving you ,wanting to take a case home. The label was their white traditional CK label - - which does seem to attract.

Seems our tastes change, both in the wines and the labels themselves.

Very deep insight on wine labels! I agreed that labels hugely important in customers decision making. I always buy a wine bottle that have a creative label on it, its my tendency. Labels are now become the part of marketing strategy.

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