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A top designer’s advice on wine labels

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The San Francisco Business Journal last week had an article on a topic that’s long interested me: the importance of label design in marketing wine. The article talked about “people in grocery or wine stores looking perplexed” when confronted with the Wall of Wine. (Last June, I blogged on this topic.) So when I ran into my buddy Thomas Reiss, who owns one of the Central Coast’s top wine label design firms, Kraftwerk, I asked him seven questions concerning the ins and outs of label design. Here they are, with his answers.

Thomas Reiss

How do you come up with a label for a start-up brand?
TR: Three things. Research the target market. Then develop the best possible creative solution, which is often directed by the market. For example, we sometimes want to do something super-creative, but a lot of our clients are mainstream, so that would be a mistake. Finally, customer service. I wouldn’t mind having most of our clients over to my house, and a lot of people forget about that.

How does a winery know when it needs a label redesign?
TR: Sometimes, distributors will give them negative feedback that the brand is stale and they need to do something about it. But unfortunately, most brands don’t notice until it’s really hurting them, which makes it harder. The more ground you’re losing, the further behind you are. If you wait until your biggest distributor drops you, it’s too late, whereas if you do some research earlier, you have not as much to catch up.

What’s the worst idea you ever heard from an owner?
Oh, they’ll want to add more junk [like] bad colors. Or they’ll come in with a design and it’s just awful! But I always tell them. It’s one of the things I’m famous for, keeping it real.

What are the main target markets?
TR: There are three. Snobby high-end wine collectors where price doesn’t matter: “I have to have it.” The 25-35 age group, which is the fastest growing segment. Some designers think a label aimed at them has to be cool, hip, funky and crazy, but a lot of those people want to seem more grown-up and conservative. Finally, there’s the price shopper who wants a decent wine for a decent value.

If you gear to one demographic, how do you avoid turning off the other ones?
TR: That’s where you have to take into consideration other things. If you have a small production, you can afford to turn some people off. It gets harder as you get bigger. Then you have to make sure you don’t alienate people too much by putting all your eggs in one basket. The bigger you get, the more safe you have to get.

What’s your advice to wineries in these hard economic times?
TR: The most important thing is your price-value relation. A few years back, lots of wineries with a $20 bottle sold it for $30. Now, consumers are smarter. So you have to have the right price and keep it fair. The label is only a door-opener.

  1. I am always fascinated by how consumers respond to wine labels.
    Most sales analysis shows that it is a major indicator in the consumer’s decision of which bottle to purchase.
    Especially if they are taking the bottle to a dinner party, the label has to be evocative of how they present themselves to the world and an indication of how they view themselves.

  2. Timely post Steve. Label design and redesign can be a very long, hard process. Being able to trust the designer is really important.

  3. your post got me thinking about another take on the wine label question.
    specifically the labels geared towards female consumers
    i posted it today on mydailywine.com

  4. Steve,

    Grat article on labels. i found your write up while ponder what type of label to creat for my new business ventue bring wnes from Uruguay. I am diing in head first a wine noivce (One who dosen’t drink also!) I have been training my nose to do my tasting. I also find wine label designing to be a challenge not wanting to go critter but wanting to be appealling enough to attract a diversity of wine drinkers at the same time. Time for Wine class with Jancis Robinson the Dvd course keep up the good work I will have to send you samples. Boa Noite!!!!

  5. Steve,

    Great article on labels. I found your write up while pondering what type of label to create for my new business venture bring wnes from Uruguay. I am diving in head first a wine noivce (One who dosen’t drink also!) I have been training my nose to do my tasting. I also find wine label designing to be a challenge not wanting to go critter but wanting to be appealing enough to attract a diversity of wine drinkers at the same time. Well time for Wine class with Jancis Robinson the Dvd course keep up the good work I will have to send you samples. Boa Noite!!!!

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