Grapes of Brand
Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
There are few better experiences than enjoying the sights and smells of a Napa Valley vineyard at harvest season. At the Phelps Vineyard—known for Insignia, one of the first branded products in viniculture—I enjoyed a tasting tour of their wines but also a counterintuitive conversation on branding. Because branding is basically delivering on a collection of promises made to your customer, most brand managers focus on delivering a consistent and reliable set of product attributes. That is the powerful essence of the McDonalds, Hilton, or Audi brands. Regardless of where you are in the world, you as a consumer know that these blue chip brands will always make good on the experience you expect. No surprises, no excuses, just perfect execution against the promise.
For most vineyards, especially in the mass market categories, delivering a consistent sensory experience is also the name of game. Ensuring consistency of taste, structure, and bouquet builds a relationship of trust with the consumer. Each time we grab that bottle from the shelves we know what to expect including how it’s going to complement our burger with blue cheese or our mushroom risotto. That achievement, delivering on the promise, is no small feat. It requires these vineyards to balance a varying blend of grapes as well as introducing the yeast and sugar necessary to acquire this consistency of sensory experience.
But for the great wines of Napa—or Grand Crus of France—the brand promise is not an unwavering devotion to a formulaic and reliable sensation but rather a commitment to a quality process and expertise that fosters great anticipation year after year. These brands aren't trying to satisfy customers. Their aim is nothing less than awe.
Since the objective is awe and not just consistency of taste, the vinologists are free to experiment, create new sensations, introduce surprise, and take risks. Ultimately, it's brand power built on extraordinary trust. Each year the customer knows that these legendary vineyards will change the product they already love. Yet their confidence in the brand's ability to produce an exquisite, albeit uncertain, experience keeps them enthralled. It’s the magic of a great marriage and the obsession of a great brand.