It is the ultimate signal of what’s in the bottle, yet the wine label is often the victim of misunderstanding on the part of the brand owner. Can consumer sentiment help?
When asked about their archetypal consumer, many wine brand owners default to a similar answer: someone educated, high earning, well respected, aesthetically sophisticated, thoughtful, adventurous, enlightened, looking to demonstrate their cultural maturity but not in a flashy way. In other words, a sort of idealised version of themselves.
It is true that such consumers do exist, and some niche businesses have made a success of selling to people who look, sound and act a bit like the owners of those businesses. However, for most wine brands, and especially those operating at scale, the customer-as-version-of-producer archetype tends to break down.
The reality is that consumers of wine in any market are a broad church, with some common characteristics but a lot of differences too. In most markets, the reality is also that these consumers tend not to be quite as sophisticated as the brand owner thinks they ought to be. These consumers are not dumb, but in all likelihood they don’t have as much confidence in a wine as the person who made it, and need reassurance and comfort as well as excitement and intrigue. This is a problem, because many wine labels are commissioned to reflect the aesthetic vision of the brand owner – more intrigue, less comfort – and therefore fail in a market where consumers have different values and needs to those that the brand owner was assuming.
Why does this matter? The US market is the world’s largest market for wine, and also the most valuable, with the largest sales of premium wine (retailing for over USD 15 or equivalent) in the world. As such, it is also one of the most competitive environments for wine sales on the planet, and one where every lever at the disposal of a wine producer – awards won, high points scores from influential critics, good distribution, and standout packaging – needs to be deployed for the product to have any chance of success.
While awards and points are well understood catalysts for boosting consumer motivations to buy, there is less clarity on the impact of the label. In part this is because design value is harder to quantify than a 95-point score from a leading critic; it also reflects this aforementioned broad church of consumer needs. Some consumers require more reassurance and traditional cues; others feel more comfortable with bolder design statements. Whatever the answer, it behooves brand owners to look beyond their own prejudices when deciding what their product is going to look like when it reaches the shelf.
The evidence presented our new report, Wine Label Design in the US Market, is not meant to provide a definitive answer as to what label your wine should have. Instead, it should be seen as a body of evidence about how label archetypes interact with consumer typologies, to help untangle the challenges of building a product that looks and feels right for your target consumer. In the end, the brand owner’s vision as manifested by a skilled designer should triumph. But it should come from a position of knowing the consumer you are ultimately designing for, and why.