shutterstock 283361957 - Marking your territory

Regions the world over know the value of establishing “territory brands” – but to do so they need a coherent agreed strategy

An increasing body of research within marketing is converging on two fundamental, and perhaps, in retrospect, obvious truths. The first is the importance of maintaining a heightened level of awareness of your brand, especially in the minds of your target audience. Broadly speaking this is the view espoused by the academic Byron Sharp, whose work at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia has advocated the strategy of building awareness and availability over all other priorities. My Wine Intelligence colleague Juan Park is exploring this question for the wine category as part of his PhD thesis, and has written about it in the Network News blog before.

Another is what’s become known as “territorial” marketing, which requires brand owners to focus on the perceived uniqueness (and quality) of the place from which the brand, or product type hails. Think California raisins, Provence rosé, Greek feta cheese. The territorial brand could be the category itself, or the product as a unique expression of a region, or some combination of the above.

The territorial branding approach requires a few prerequisites. For instance: some kind of legally definable, and defendable, “territory”, which is the impetus behind the explosion of applications for geographic protections for food, drinks and other “regional” products throughout the world. Another is the formation of producer associations, sometimes with the help of state financial support, to try to formulate a definable message for the region, and follow the Sharpian model of building widespread awareness.

Above all, it turns out, the territorial brand needs a coherent strategy. At the Association of Wine Business Research Conference at Sonoma State University this past July, a formula for success in marketing the regional trade association was presented by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Kedge Business School, using Canada’s up-and-coming Okanagan wine region as its case study.  Having won significant mindshare and sales in Canada, the Okanagan wine region, by its own admission, has not attained the level of growth in global markets that it would like. Several winery owners’ interest in taking the region to the next level, coupled with a surge in imported wines in their home market spurred local players to take action.

The researchers acknowledged that the Canadian government’s fairly tight regulatory stance towards the alcoholic beverage industry, and the various taxes levied on such businesses, have probably been a factor in holding Okanagan back. However, their conclusion was that the more telling impediments was that the region has up until recently lacked cohesion, that is, a shared strategy, communication platform, and set of operational priorities to advance the target consumers’ awareness, and perceived quality of their region that is so important to the success of territorial branding of wine regions, both new and established.

Kedge designed a multi-day, retreat-styled format to kick-start an organizational structure that would nourish collective knowledge, trust, communication and cooperation. Similar to structures observed in other emerging and established wine regions, the structure needed to allow for collective knowledge, trust, communication and cooperation (Migone and Howlett, 2010).

The Okanagan wine region needed territorial cohesion; it needed to develop a “strategy from within” that fostered group-initiated and directed growth, organically, by the very people who would be most affected by its consequences (Culver et al. 2015).  External participation would of course be welcomed for its own expertise and perspective, as was the case with the involvement of the Kedge Business School.

Case studies abound that merit their success to this process of building a strong, own-rooted marketing strategy.  Small, family-owned Domaines in Chablis, for example, undertook collaborative efforts to penetrate specific markets under the umbrella of the more powerful ‘brand’ of Chablis as its own brand rather than on their own, individual merits, and won entry to important global markets (Ditter and Brouard 2014). Another example featured a collaborative strategy by family-owned wineries in Nova Scotia to capitalize on the tourist trade by creating an experiential bus tour that linked them all together (Sears & Wetherbee). And countless success stories at all levels continue to be written.

But in the end, it is the degree to which a region can collaboratively design and execute its own strategic plan, “from within”, that will best lead to the success in marketing its own brand.

Author: Stephen C Fahy