29.07.2014 Pod3.jpg - Cracking the label code

What your label says about your brand can be a crucial element in consumer choice

What is the point of a wine label? Aside from the obvious legal requirements, wine labels are there to convey information quickly and clearly to the potential purchaser and/or consumer. As such, they need to be able to tell a story, quickly.

To tell their story, many wine labels fit within certain style groupings or archetypes to communicate their suitability for certain tastes, occasions and budgets. They typically use a form of visual shorthand (often called a “heuristic” in marketing literature) which consumers can use to decode and categorise multiple inputs in a wine aisle and quickly come to a conclusion that they feel is right for the occasion, budget and taste preference.

Similar heuristic languages can be found in almost every consumer goods category (and some business-to-business sectors). Between them, category heuristics define the set of rules that a product must adopt to be part of a consideration set. For instance, cleaning products use bold greens, blues and yellows and consonant-heavy names (Clorox, Tide, Harpic, Lysol) to convey their suitability to clean your home. Within the strictures of the cleaning products aisle are opportunities to convey points of difference, using colour, shape and label design.

Wine, of course, is a more complex category, and – in theory at least – more interesting to consumers than bathroom cleaner. This leads us to two fundamental problems with wine labelling. Problem 1: To solve the complexity issue, wine labels need to use heuristics that consumers can decode quickly; in so doing, they may encounter Problem 2: they make themselves anonymous, boring, or interchangeable, and lack standout on the shelf.

For our ongoing study of wine labelling preferences among consumers, we tend to focus on Problem 1 (an entire industry of designers and marketers exists to help solve Problem 2 at an individual brand level).  For our US Labels Report, due to be published later this week, we tested the appeal of commonly found label categories in the US wine market, to see which connect and engage best with different consumers and for different occasions. We first conducted this research in 2011, identifying key similarities between the vast arrays of wine labels in order to ‘segment’ them into easy to understand groups. The ten groups used for this study, include several new categories since the 2011 US label report, to reflect current trends that we are seeing in the market.

Together with Amphora – a design agency specialising in wine labelling, and the only one headed up by an MW – we developed some new wine labels to illustrate the core defining features of each category which ranged from the traditional “Prestigious” & “Stately” through to the modern and even playful “Light Hearted” & “Text Impact”. These ten labels were then tested in our online survey with over 2,000 US regular wine drinkers, to measure attractiveness, quality, price perceptions, likelihood to buy (formal and informal occasions) and imagery associations.

So what did we find? Firstly, the label category we have christened “Stately” proved the best ‘all-rounder’, suitable for formal and informal occasions alike, and popular across consumer groups. Unfortunately it is also the label category that represents the vast majority of mainstream brands in the market at the moment, and is therefore most liable to Problem 2. Indeed when we look how consumers describe this label type, it lacks strongly distinctive associations beyond being seen as “elegant”.

Industry heuristics do change from time to time, and wine is no exception. This year we introduced a new category, “Themed”: a relaxed, distinct and contemporary design balanced with traditional cues. We also changed up the label of our “Eclectic” archetype, with a dominant vintage-style photo of a wine barrel and dog. This last one tested particularly well with younger American consumers, which could indicate a change towards a market preference for more fun and unique labels in years to come.

Author: Lulie Halstead

Email: lulie@wineintelligence.com