Too many labels, too few brands

One of the things that never fails to get my goat is when I hear people in the wine trade use the word “brand” when really all they’re talking about is a label. The two are not interchangeable.

A brand is the invisible layer of meaning that surrounds a wine. A label is merely the most visible manifestation of it.

The distinction is worth making. But first, two important points:

As of 2021, there are over 11,000 wineries in the US, with over 4,700 in California alone. Total production is some 320 million cases. A lot of people are making a lot of wine.

118,048 American-made wines can be found in the ratings database with 31,670 having a score of 90 points or higher. A lot of the wine made in America is truly excellent.

If you’re a producer looking to make money and not just wine, these numbers should be all the motivation you need to actively engage in building your brand.

That’s because, no matter how much time and money you spend improving your wine, there will still be hundreds of wines better than yours. And that’s if you succeed in making really awesome wine. If you don’t, then you’ve placed the success of your business in the hands of critics. I can’t imagine any entrepreneur would want that.

Creating differences between your wine and everyone else’s in the consumer’s mind is what building a brand is all about. And while this doesn’t happen independent of your product, neither is it just about what’s inside the bottle.

One of the best definitions of a brand comes from a fellow named Marty Neumeier:

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company… Each person creates his or her own version of it. While companies can’t control this process, they can influence it by communicating the qualities that make this product different than that product. When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand.”

As consumers, we know this to be true. A moment’s reflection on any of our favorite brands proves it. My feelings about the Audi I drive are a function of a) the car itself, my experience of its design and performance, b) my values and how the car expresses them, c) what my friends think d) what “tribe” owning an Audi puts me in e) Audi marketing, f) car magazines, and so forth.

The point is, businesses that get branding discourse in differences. Business that don’t, preach platitudes. So what’s different about your brand?