European wine drinkers seek brand stories, but mostly in vain

July 20, 2017
3 min read

The power of storytelling in brand marketing is currently a buzz topic. However, the wine industry’s reluctance to tell its rich brand stories contrasts vividly with the beer and spirits sectors, where great brands have been built on powerful narratives.  This reluctance to tell stories is especially evident in Europe, where tradition has long dictated that wine producers focus on the physical and rational – rather than emotional – attributes of their products, such as the physical terroir, grape type and vintage. However, Jonathan Cahill, an experienced marketer and author, argued recently in Drinks Business that ‘of much greater potential is what might be called “emotional terroir”’. The consumer power of such “emotional terroir” is evident in how many wine purchasers in key European markets are ‘more likely to buy a wine brand with an interesting and authentic back-story’. In France, as many as 51% of wine purchasers agree with this statement.

Story-telling can help wine brands to differentiate from the clutter

Storytelling can help European wine brands to better differentiate themselves from the cluttered “wall of wine” in retailers, which is a result of intense industry fragmentation. Mintel research shows that the younger generations in Europe are put off by too much choice, and rely on brands – and brand stories – to help them navigate a complex category, where many products look and sound the same. Indeed, one third of French wine consumers claim to be put off by the amount of wine choice in supermarkets.
Even in the stories they tell, wine brands are often more similar than differentiated. Felicity Carter, the editor-in-chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International, tracked different family wine stories and found that they all used the same linear narrative arc: the founder finds the perfect location, plants a wonderful vineyard, and before long the wines are acclaimed.
Yet, Carter suggests that the best and most memorable stories involve highs and lows, with the hero having to overcome serious odds (such as terrible weather perhaps) before eventually prevailing. Concha y Toro’s Casillero Del Diablo brand is a great example of this storytelling arc. The brand tells the story of how in the nineteenth century its founder Don Melchor noticed that some of his best wines kept disappearing from his cellar. To discourage the thieves, Melchor spread the rumour that his cellar was haunted by the devil, which led to the creation of Concha y Toro’s highly successful Casillero del Diablo brand.

Wine can communicate its inherent craft story credentials

Storytelling among alcohol brands has accelerated in recent years as craft beer and craft spirits have driven sales in their respective categories — mostly by leveraging the power of brand storytelling. Wine brands are very slowly waking up to the fact that they can do this too. In fact, they arguably have more right than any alcohol category to communicate “craft”, with many wine brands representing the epitome of artisanal, small, hand-crafted producers. Wine brands rarely do communicate this story, but Mintel’s data suggests they should, as around half of all wine purchasers in key European markets “would be prepared to spend more on a “craft” wine”.

Jonny Forsyth is Mintel’s Global Drinks Analyst, responsible for researching and writing all of Mintel’s UK drinks reports. He brings ten years of experience working in the marketing industry, with roles at Starcom Mediavest, AB-Inbev, and Trinity Mirror. He is a regular contributor in global and national media outlets such as BBC, CNBC and Bloomberg.

Jonny Forsyth
Jonny Forsyth

Jonny Forsyth is Associate Director, Mintel Food & Drink, monitoring and engaging with latest innovations and market developments in all alcohol and coffee categories.

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