“How do I tell a story that makes my $15 Cabernet different from your $15 Cabernet?”
The roomful of wine industry pros leaned forward in their seats. They’d gathered for a daylong discussion about how wine brands can use storytelling to win consumers’ hearts and minds. This session: “Telling the Story,” a panel discussion moderated by Nomacorc’s Katie Myers, communications manager for the Americas. Her question snapped everyone to attention.
“Well, it’s not easy,” replied panelist Steve Heimoff, disappointing those hoping for a quick-fix. Heimoff is a wine journalist and director of wine communications and education at Jackson Family Wines. It depends on who you are, he continued, how big or small, how well you know your consumer. “You have to think, brainstorm, analyze—
—it’s hard work.”
Michael Fox chimed in. He’s vice president of brand and innovation for Safeway, and previously worked as a consumer strategist at PepsiCo–Frito-Lay. “All of you here are communicating the magic of Napa. You’re showing beautiful hills and beautiful sun and great grapes, the winery dog… And it’s all beautiful, but it’s all the same.”
“One of the challenges is in not trying to be everything to everybody,” panelist Matt Sitomer added quickly. He’s a founding employee in VaynerMedia who consults with Fortune 500 companies on brand strategy and brand storytelling. “Don’t try to embrace all of that rich heritage.” You have to be yourself—uniquely yourself.
Clearly, differentiation is key. But how can brands distinguish themselves in a crowded, noisy marketplace?
The answer lies in transforming wine marketing into wine storytelling. And that demands a whole new way of working, a willingness to ditch tired tropes and trite clichés, to look beyond the features and benefits charts, the price-value equations, the “This wine got 91 points!” blah blah blah.
“Positioning statements are like Mad Libs for marketing,” said Fox. “Just fill in the blanks! It feels really forced. A much easier model for talking about product is to articulate it in the tone of a story.”
And not just any story—your story, one that’s scrupulously authentic. For wine brands, that means looking at the company’s origins, its people and mission, to find product and brand narratives that are both compelling and truthful.
Consumers are skeptical of being manipulated, and younger consumers—the Millennials now squarely in wine brands’ sights—are the most skeptical of all. The point of telling a story is not to persuade someone of something that isn’t true. It’s to persuade someone of something that is true.
So, how should wine marketers transform themselves into wine storytellers? None of the panelists professed to have all the answers, but below are five recommendations gleaned from this rich discussion.
A Path to the New Wine Marketing:
1. First, figure out who you are.
Review your winery’s origins and ethos. Sitomer suggests asking yourself simple but essential questions: “Why does this winery exist in the first place? How did it come to be? What does it stand for?” The answers will help you define your enduring brand points, which you can use to drive content marketing across channels.
So for example, if food-friendly wine is part of your brand ethos, then “Go all in on food and wine. Make it all about that,” he says. Own the idea of food and wine pairing, and tailor that idea to channels where it can really shine. Create Pinterest boards featuring your wines surrounded by recipes from around the web. And not, “Here’s a recipe for poaching salmon in our Sauvignon Blanc,” he cautions, but recipes that deliver value to anyone.
“Be true to who you are, and be honest about what the brand is all about,” he says. “Then drive storytelling from a point like that.”
2. Decide how your enduring brand points differ from your neighbor’s, then make that difference central to your approach across all channels.
For example, at Frito-Lay, Fox led an effort to reposition Stacy’s pita chips. The existing marketing showed the chips in beautiful natural light, and “It was pretty, but it was boring.”
So his team took a tour of the plant to look for inspiration—a return to the brand’s origin—and learned that it takes 14 hours to make a single batch of chips. “The plant workers were like, ‘Yes, it’s totally inefficient, but it’s totally the right way to do it.’”
Fox’s team had found their differentiator, and this led to the new brand slogan—“the hard way, the better way, the Stacy’s way.” Testing this message with customers proved it would be a home run.
“You all have differentiating details in all of your brands,” says Fox. “Latch onto them.”
3.) Build stories with tension points and conflict.
“There are five narratives in the world,” says Fox. “How can you connect your brand to one of them?”
Regardless of whether you believe there are five or seven or a dozen, all story archetypes hinge on three elements: protagonist, goal, obstacles. There is always a conflict or struggle, some loss, a success, perhaps a transformation.
So, if you think of your brand as a protagonist in a story, ask yourself, What is it trying to achieve? What’s in its way? That’s the stuff of true drama, with your brand as the hero at the center. “You must look for tension points and conflict,” adds Fox. Then connect your brand to the resolution.
4.) Keep it fresh.
Let’s say you’ve successfully built a dedicated fan base around your brand. Your loyal customers always know how to find your wine on store shelves. How can you innovate without alienating these important consumers?
To get the answer, go back to fundamentals, conducting qualitative and quantitative research to understand what drives the consumers’ connection to that brand.
For example, at Safeway, Fox recently led an effort to re-fresh the Lucerne line of dairy products. He conducted consumer focus groups to understand which factors drove their feeling of emotional connectedness, then used those as the basis of the re-boot.
“You have to ask yourself both ‘What’s the timeless truth about your brand,’ and ‘What’s the timely expression of that truth?’” he says. Then modulate and refresh the look staying true to those drivers.
5.) Continuously refine your voice.
Try a brand voice session, suggests Sitomer, gathering your team and posing questions like, “How would this brand say thank you? How would it say hello, or goodbye?” Find that voice, then figure out how to keep all communications human and conversational.
This is especially critical in the wine social channel, where the chatter’s always happening in real time. Keep it light, don’t get bogged down. “There’s a tendency to overthink it,” cautions Heimoff. “But it’s just us!”—just a lot of people talking about something they love.
Photo Credit: Wine Folly