Imagine how a luxury car is designed: Yes, the engine is absolutely important. But far more effort goes into developing the exterior: sketches, renderings, 3D models, sculpture, all to ensure that the physical expression of the brand is visually stunning.
Why is that? Some die-hard automotive enthusiasts make purchase decisions based on the performance of the engine that’s under the hood. But most of us stroll the dealer’s lot and choose the model that looks fantastic — the car that we want to be seen driving.
Brand Design Sets the Tone
Premium wine and spirits brands can learn from this design-first approach. Especially in the distilled beverage category, where consumers have difficulty distinguishing the taste and quality of one gin or vodka from another, brand design gives a huge competitive advantage.
The spirits world is full of examples:
Malfy Gin — the Italian entry in the gin category plays on its Amalfi Coast roots with a marine-influenced color palette and a “La Dolce Vita” vibe. The product line marries citrus flavors that embody the brand’s ethos.
Casamigos — co-founded by George Clooney, this brand invokes imagery of hanging out with your fabulous Hollywood friends; the name is a play on the Spanish “house of friends.” Clooney and partners came up with the brand, then sought a distilling partner to make the product according to their tastes. Diageo bought the brand in 2017 for $700M.
Italicus — another design-forward Italian brand is leading the aperitif category thanks to an elegant, award-winning sculpted bottle and a brand story that positions it as a historic drink (though it was introduced in 2016). Pernod Ricard scooped up a controlling interest in 2020.
Winemakers have historically taken a product-first approach to branding, focusing instead on the grape variety, terroir, vintage, and other characteristics of the liquid. But to build a following and recognition, they need to consider branding and packaging as well.
According to wine marketing expert Larry Lockshin: “Branding has been and will be the most important factor in how consumers choose wines, probably simultaneously with the price. … For the vast majority of people, what they will buy is only something they think about temporarily. … And that is why branding is so important – it is a shortcut for thinking. When someone goes into a store and sees several hundreds of wines, they are not going to look at every label. They will look for something familiar and recognize it from the brand and packaging.”
Design & Brand Before Product?
It seems counterintuitive to essentially figure out the brand vision and package design before you’ve finessed the liquid that goes with it. But a few brands we’ve worked with have done just that. It can be a smart approach for smaller brands particularly if they aim to attract investment or acquisition.
Our client Torelaani Mineral Water leveraged the gorgeous bespoke bottle we created for them to successfully pitch investors. We designed an elegant bottle with scalloped ribs and a debossed logo on the neck, complemented by a luxurious label with gold-tone foil.
We’ve also worked with clients whose products were unfinished. As they were working to refine the spirit, they were inspired by the packaging design we developed to hone the final recipe and launch it into the market.
Our client partner from the Ammazza brand knew exactly where he wanted to sell the product, who his ideal customer would be, and when the spirit would be consumed. As he was refining the product, a super-premium sambuca, we helped him differentiate the product with a luxe gold and metallic red label and a dimensional medallion with the brand insignia. The brand is primarily destined for on trade, and we created a package that will attract patrons’ attention when it’s displayed on a back-lit bar shelf.
How to Make it Work
Adopting a design-forward brand strategy requires a close partnership among the product manager, marketing team, and design partner. It doesn’t just happen; you have to put the work in.
The idea is to leverage advertising and promotion early in the brand’s life, even before launch, to excite consumer demand and secure distributor relationships.
You start with market research and find the niches and gaps that you can fill. It’s far more difficult to create a rival to a strong product that already exists; instead, find an opening to penetrate and then grow.
Lead with the visual expression of the brand’s story, build on it with marketing, and launch a product that goes viral and catches investors’ eyes.
Leading with design is a smart pathway to attract investors. This is a capital-intensive business, and if you have a strong brand and package it’s much easier to bring on investors early in the process to get the brand off the ground.
If your ultimate goal is to create a product that catches fire and attracts acquisition, you’ll need a package that’s sure to gain buzz among your audience, win industry awards, and get distributors excited. Let’s begin a conversation.