I am a fan of wine. Note that I didn’t say I was a connoisseur because, I frankly don’t feel I am close to that. Not only is a great wine an enjoyable experience, it is an example of branding at its best.
As an anniversary trip for my wife, I arranged a series of wine tastings in Napa and Sonoma. I called up a company named Destination Cellars and they set them up. Now these weren’t just the standard tastings, these were once-in-a-lifetime tastings. We were scheduled to meet some of the owners of the various wineries and in one case, even had dinner with them at their home.
I had no idea how wine was made or what was the difference between a great wine and a good one, so I was pretty fired-up. Little did I know that I would learn that for me and I think most of us, learning the story behind the wine makes it taste even better.
Our first stop was at Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul is one of the geniuses in winemaking. He has played a role in numerous wineries for decades. My wife and I were lucky to visit his winery at “crush” when they were harvesting the grapes. It was an electric time. On our tour, the guide introduced us to half a dozen people who were gathered around pulling the stems from the grapes one at a time. Our guide introduced each person by name. I was impressed that she knew the workers so well. She told us, “Actually these people help run the winery, one of them is the marketing director, a couple are customer service people, one is the controller,” and so on. I then learned a great lesson in managing a brand as she continued, “You see when you are hired by Paul, he makes it very clear that when it comes time for crush, that we all pitch in and do what it takes. If that’s something a person finds beneath them, well, they don’t last long here.” We even met Paul Hobbs himself and we discussed everything from wine to his love of the Midwest, where his daughter was attending school. To this day, I remember all this when I uncork his wines.
We then visited Fisher Vineyards. Our guide was none other than Cameron Fisher, the daughter of the founder. We had lunch in their office, toured the grounds, met their dogs and learned how they were growing their wines naturally. I learned their family’s heritage and how the children plan to make wines and pass that on to their children. As we open our bottles of Cameron (named after Cameron herself), I feel a closeness to them.
Next, we had the opposite experience when we visited another winery that truly didn’t understand what the great ones do. We were rushed into a warm room and had to swat away the fruit flies as we were given a very hurried wine tasting. We were told the owner of the winery was busy and didn’t have time to meet with us. The wine tasted unremarkable and soon I was ready to leave. That wine, by the way, is consistently highly rated, but not for me. I’ve had opportunities to buy a bottle of their wine and have thus far turned it down. I’m sure the wine is excellent, but the experience was so poor that I link it to the wine’s label every time I see it.
Our final tasting was the most memorable. We were driven to a property in the middle of nowhere and entered the grounds of what had been an old boy’s school. Greeting us was a beautiful dog and two warm, friendly people, Mike and Treva Harris. Mike, a retired pediatric dentist, had purchased this property for their retirement. Unknowingly, they were sitting on some of the most fertile wine growing land in the area. When they found that out, they ventured into the world of winemaking and that indeed, their land was magical. Their first wine was regarded as magnificent and since then they have expanded their offerings. I asked Mike if the wine industry was lucrative and he smiled as he replied, “The best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.”
I can’t begin to convey the details of what Paul, Cameron and Mike shared with me regarding their wines, but their stories turned me into a lifetime fan of their brands. And that is precisely what we must do with our brands and products. Who cares what a grape looks like or how it sits in a barrel for months? But I do care that Paul Hobbs learned the ropes of winemaking at Robert Mondavi Winery, Opus One and Simi. I do care that the Fisher Family is dedicated to natural wines. I am impressed that the Harris’ land has actually three different terroirs (or environments) that enable them produce three very different wines on their land.
Our brands and products all have a story. If we merely present them as being basically the same as the others, then we shortchange ourselves. Every great brand from Harley-Davidson to Apple has a story, a reason that the product was created or how it endured against the odds. To connect with a brand, we need that, because we need to be told why something is unique to appreciate it. And once we know the story, it becomes part of us and it actually enhances our experience.
My entrepreneurial confession: If a product has a good story behind it and a company communicates that story in an engaging way, I’m much more likely to choose that product over one that has no story or character surrounding it.
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