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Thursday, 17 September 2015

On Italy, Wine, PR and Branding

Linda Foltran, of Italian agency Gheusis, came over to London this week for a series of wine events.

I was not able to attend any of them, so we arranged to meet up for a chat at what proved to be an apposite venue; as the embodiment of a Spanish bodega in King's Cross, Bar Pepito has led the charge of a revived sherry culture in London.

Linda started by asking me what sort of profile Italian wine has in the UK; Prosecco and Pinot Grigio have great recognition, of course. But Italian wine is, like Italian driving, strange, chaotic and bound by its own, impenetrable rules. It is also generally not that well-known over here.

By contrast, as importers of a large part of our food culture, we have adopted Italy's gastronomic and coffee traditions en masse.

The weakness (low awareness and understanding) of Italian wine in this country contains within it an opportunity for raising awareness, a blank canvas for messaging.

From a branding perspective, meaningful differentiation is not the solution to this challenge; rather, it is meaningless distinctiveness.

Keep the messaging very simple; don't try to raise interest in the complexity of Italian wines or educate about every detail. Rather pick a small number of key ideas to focus on and make it compelling, a few very strong reasons to try a particular wine or region.

France, in contrast to Italy, categorises fantastically; I can rattle off the major wine regions and I know what to expect of an Alsace, a Bordeaux, a Burgundy and so on.

The re-emergence of sherry over the last five or so years has been a textbook example in how not only to generate renewed interest in a terribly unfashionable wine, but also how to keep moving forward subsequently, bringing innovation, fashion and trend-setting to a hitherto staid product.

This has been part of a multi-year plan, starting with basic awareness and taking the audience on a journey of discovery over a decade or more by influencing the most influential influencers initially; sommeliers, lifestyle writers, MWs and high-end, small-scale retailers like Harrods or Fortnum's.

High-end wines with low awareness are best introduced via hand-selling in restaurants; the UK tradition of marking up wine by around 200% means that quite upmarket places will need an entry-level wine to sell at mid-£20s.

Wine-writers come in three main types: critics, like Parker; educators, like Jancis; entertainers, like Oz.

The role of the critic is explained by Behavioural Economics; wine appreciation as a form of competitive status one-upmanship "I see your 90-pointer and I'll raise you a 95-pointer".

The entertainer builds an emotional bond with a wine that does the job of long-term brand building.

The educator provides a rational message that is akin to short-term sales activation.

Hanging out with the influencers is relatively straightforward; sociable by nature, most wine writers are active on Twitter and Facebook.

There is a distinct gap between wine writers' interests and what the data tells us about wine consumption in general; writers are interested in the new and the different, whereas most wine is sold for not much more than a fiver and is Sauvignon Blanc.

Further reading:
The Long And Short of It
Behavioural Economics in Action

Other related articles
On Wine, Branding And Behavioural Economics

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