Wine is such an experiential brand, I absolutely adore it. Not just for it’s lush taste, but no other everyday product in my mind comes close to evoking so much emotion, lifestyle or delight of the senses with one glass clink. There are so many branding lessons we can learn from our favorite wines and how they behave as businesses.
Continuing my interview with Alan Baker, Cartograph’s wine maker and owner, who we had the good fortune to meet on a trip to Healdsburg, California back in August. In Part One, we heard Alan’s amazing tale of how he got from radio engineering in Minnesota to winemaking in Northern California – and the four lessons he learned to make it happen.
Today, Alan shares how he effectively creates an experiential brand and differentiates from the competition.
RS: Glad to have you back, Alan! Tell us Cartograph’s brand story. How do you position it against the competition? What experience do you hope to convey and how do you do that in your customer interactions?
AB: Both Serena and I come from other careers and we each found wine in different ways. Our brand story is right on our label. The logo shows the five points on the globe that brought us to wine and then brought us together to make wine. Wine is more about emotional connections and memories than simply about the perfect taste and aroma combinations. Putting a graphic representation of our story on the label helps people remember us and hopefully keeps our story in their minds if they have a great experience with our wines. (Tweet this!) Our brand is about those wonderful moments when an experience with a great bottle of wine gets etched into your mind forever. And while the front label tells our story, the back label plays to our nerdier side, illustrating the growing season and winemaking history for each wine. So looking at the labels you can get a sense for what the growing season was like for each vineyard.
If our customers know anything about us, it’s that we personally handle every piece of our business from grape sourcing, through winemaking, and then personal correspondence after they buy our wine or join our club.
RS: What is the best branding lesson you have learned from building an “experiential” brand? What are some brand hits or misses you’ve experienced?
AB: Focus focus focus. Do one thing really well before branching out. (Tweet this!) As a winemaker, I’d love to play with a dozen grape varieties but we needed to knock Pinot out of the park and doing that first was my main goal. Now that we’ve had success with Pinot, we can do a few small specialty wines for club-only release but our public face is all about Pinot Noir.
What brand actions work? Winning fans by talking directly to them on social media and through other channels. Our most loyal clients are all connected with us on various platforms and we share a lot of ourselves with them.
Things that don’t work? We’re still learning the best way to run promotions to increase sales during slow times or to move more volume but discounting is not the way to do it in our circumstance. People see a premium product being discounted and they will wait until they see that price again to buy. There are other incentives to encourage purchasing. We can’t compete on price point due to our vineyard sources and tiny lot sizes. We have to give wine lovers an experience to remember and hopefully they become our friends.
RS: Wise words. What is your winery’s specialty wine or most popular seller that people should try?
AB: We are a very small winery and celebrate year-to-year vintage variations. A great example of how weather affects the finished wines is comparing our 2009 and 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Pinots. 2009 – warm year – is lush and round on the palate, a classic Russian River Valley Pinot. 2010 – cool year – is racy and vibrant with the focus on bright red fruit. It is a truly elegant wine that should be very age worthy. Both are great examples of Russian River Valley Pinot but quite different when tasted side by side.
RS: Now, some fun stuff! What is your favorite way to enjoy wine?
AB: Working as many hours as we do, we don’t have a lot of free time but those warm evenings when we get home in time to enjoy a glass of wine while plucking a few things out of the garden for dinner is a real treat.