What is Your Wine Label Communicating to Consumers?

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

Part 1

I’m constantly amazed at the vastness of my local wine store; it does a great job organizing thousands of bottles by region and varietal within region—all with enticing endcaps and displays. But unless I’ve arrived with a specific bottle in mind, I still have to decide which one (confession: it’s often bottles, plural) makes it into my cart. After I narrow down my desired region, varietal, and price point, what else is there to draw me toward a particular bottle?

Truth told, it’s the labeling.

I’m no sommelier (though I’m married to one in training) but I have been around the wine industry and purchased and consumed more than my share of bottles over the years. Still, labels—cosmetic presentations of contents and quantifiable characteristics—consistently break ties for me in the wine aisle. And I’m not the only one.

I’ve researched the alcohol beverage category on and off for over twenty years and have worked with winery teams on countless objectives, from sensory evaluation with product development teams to brand perception for marketing teams. Having talked to consumers at every stage of their wine-purchasing decision, perceptions, and consumption behavior, it is crystal clear that labeling is an increasingly critical component to the consumer experience.

Curious then, with the importance of labeling to a consumer’s purchase decision and the immense competition on retail shelves, why aren’t wine producers more inclined to leverage consumer research during their labeling efforts? I suppose one could argue that wine labels are largely artistic, and thereby their appeal is simply too subjective to be quantified in such a way so as to drive corporate investment decisions. But I would argue that with the ever-more creative labels appearing on store shelves, it is more important than ever that your label effectively communicates what YOU want your brand to represent, thereby solidifying your place on your target consumers’ tables and minds.

I ran across a quote recently that reads: “It’s always the ones who know the least about you who judge you the most” (author unknown). I’m inclined to agree. When it comes to wine, it’s your label that opens the door to the first nonverbal communication with prospective buyers. Your label is your brand’s face and the most visible means through which you market to your target audience. Label styling, artwork, and overall tone are likely to define consumer perception of your brand over time. I’ve worked with producers whose labels were effective 20 years ago, but now find themselves losing share to competitors largely because that 20-year old label is now perceived as stodgy or “wine my parents drink” (read: “not for me”).

If you’re a legacy brand with declining sales, you need to understand whether your labels are effectively communicating your intentions over time. Your brand identity may not have changed over the years (or has it?), but consumer perceptions may have, and label design trends almost certainly have. This is reflected in how different retail wine shelves look today versus a couple decades ago. But fear not! Updates to your label do not necessarily need to be total overhauls or significant departures from your current look. Sometimes a gentle refresh is just what the doctor ordered. Conversely, if your brand is a line extension or relative newcomer, it is more important than ever to start off on the right foot.

Either way, can you really afford NOT to conduct labeling research?

Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll talk about a few practical methods for labeling research. Till then, don’t hesitate to ping me to learn more about how we can help you in your wine labeling efforts.

Merrill Research—Experience You Can Count On.