Ashley Ratcliff, Ricca Terra Farms general manager, explores the value of branding for grapegrowers and vineyard businesses.

IN THE BOOK The Purple Cow, author Seth Godin refers to his first visit to Europe with his family. He wrote of how beautiful the herds of brown cows were grazing in the countryside as he drove along the highway. Yet, after only a short time, passing herd-after-herd of brown cows, he made a personal observation – the cows were becoming very boring and had very quickly lost their unique attraction. Godin states, “wouldn’t it be great to see a purple cow”. Now that would be exciting.

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“The end game is not about beating a competitor, or winning a sale. The end game is to earn profit through establishing brand loyalty.”
The ‘brown cow’ paradox is present in most industries. One of the attractions of wine to the end consumer is the romance and uniqueness of where the grapes are grown that make the wine, the vineyard.
Successful wine company marketers have been able to etch an image in the consumers’ mind of grapes being hand harvested by the farmer’s weathered hands and then delivering his/her grapes to the winery in an old Bedford truck where the grapes are forked off and pressed in an old wooden basket press.

A brand is a name, term, symbol, design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller and to differentiate from those of competitors.
A brand is essentially a company’s promise to deliver a specific set of features, benefits, and services consistently to the consumer.
The branding challenge is to develop a deep set of positive associations for the brand. If a wine company can establish a brand with a deep set of positive associations then the wine company can establish a brand with a high degree of brand awareness and brand acceptance among consumers, which can lead to brand preference (consumers preferring a specific brand over other brands as a result of superior features, benefits, and services). The ultimate goal in the brand building process is to obtain brand loyalty.

Achieving brand loyalty and hence having customers who are advocates of a brand contributes positively to a business’s bottom line. For example, a business can charge a higher price than its competitors because the brand has a higher perceived value.
As a result of greater brand awareness and loyalty, a business does not need to invest heavily into marketing programs and a business will have more trade leverage in bargaining with distributors and retailers as the customers expect them to carry the brand they are advocates for.
If successful brands deliver value to wine companies and companies in general, why does it appear that the grape growing community has failed to embrace this cornerstone of business? The challenge facing many grape growers is the goods (their grapes) that they grow and sell to their customers (the winery) in many cases look and taste the same as their competitors (other grape growers).

Basically many grapegrowers resemble another brown cow in another herd of brown.
There are a number of reasons why grape growers, businesses and people in general want to be part of the brown herd. Basically a herd provides comfort and safety, but the trade-off is that it is difficult to stand out and be noticed when part of a herd. The essential ingredient behind building a meaningful brand is to stand out and be noticed, meaning comfort and safety needs to be risked… so being part of a herd is not the best place to be to establish a successful and lasting brand. In relation to establishing a brand for a vineyard, unique elements of a vineyard’s operation (features, benefits, and/or services) that differs from neighbouring/competitor vineyards need to be identified.
These unique elements could be adopting different farming practices (organic/biodynamic production, growing alternative varieties, and/or farming in a collaborative manner with other farmers), identifying and promoting distinctive attributes of a vineyard (soil, old vines and/or location) or using the intangible assets of the vineyard (history and story of place and people) to create a memorable story.
These are just a few examples of unique elements that can turn a brown cow purple.

So what are some of the potential reasons behind why grapegrowers have failed to brand their farms?
The reasons could be:
• A failure to truly identify the customer;
• A failure to truly understand the customer’s needs;
• A failure to identify the value of branding and intangible assets;
• A fear of being different; and/or
• A lack of understanding.

This article first appeared in the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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