Uncorking the Parallels Between Wine and B2B Branding – They Have More in Common Than You Might Think

Conventional wisdom has it that the two worlds of B2B and B2C have very little in common when it comes to branding. And for many good reasons which we go into elsewhere at BrandingBusiness. I support that proposition. So, it might seem like a stretch for me to suggest that wine and B2B brands are very much connected. But, bear with me – my judgement isn’t impaired. I write this with just a cup of coffee by my side rather than a glass of Pinot.

Having recently joined the team here at BrandingBusiness after 18 months of (figuratively) toiling in the vineyards of the wine industry, there are some surprising parallels with the B2B world.

Think about this: the wine business has historically been a three-tier system, whereby producers are required to go through a distributor and/or a retailer before the product makes it to the consumer. In a sense, it was mostly B2B2C prior to the pandemic. As with many other industries, Covid accelerated change in the wine industry. It demanded more mastery of direct-to-consumer, for example.

Here are a few other compelling commonalties between wine and the world of B2B branding.

The first lies in the questioning and breaking free of long-standing industry norms that might not be serving the brand. No doubt it’s difficult resisting the pull of muscle memory and those tenured individuals (and consultants) who are fearful of defying the status quo. But, for years, people in the wine space approached marketing and branding a certain way, and it suffers from being a sea of sameness. Walk down the aisle at any Safeway or glance online at Wine.com and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

There is often a similar dynamic in the B2B space – organizations can be slow or resistant to considering other ways of positioning or presenting themselves because they’ve never had to, or because ‘it’s always been done that way.’ The result is that we see B2B brands that lack distinction in their category; they aim for relevance but with that singular goal they end up looking like others. Those brands that have taken off over the past several years are the ones that have thoughtfully bucked convention.

Related to that first point is the undeniable but overlooked benefit of looking outside of a category for inspiration and ideas. Wineries are notorious for looking within; perhaps it’s the prestige factor or hubris of ‘we’re different’ in wine. The same can often be said for the B2B space. Brands frequently limit their perspective to their own industry, and they end up with tunnel vision. This leads to sameness of messages, ideas and expressions – ripe territory for new entrants to exploit. Brands that borrow learnings from other categories – and why not, we all interact with a range of them – are able to distinguish themselves and connect with customers more successfully.

Further complicating matters in the wine industry is the tendency for brands to emphasize attributes that are more functional in nature. Historically, they have celebrated characteristics such as terroir, family history, blocks of certain vineyards, and nuances about the liquid in the bottle…over and over again. Brands that are breaking out are the ones that shine a light on who they are, what they believe, or where they’re headed. In this, the B2B world is no different. All too often the focus is on the rational and functional parts of the offering rather connecting on more emotional levels. Regardless of the category, those brands that operate at a higher level and engage with consumers in a more human and compelling manner are separating themselves from the pack and connecting more intimately with audiences.

Another great example of an opportunity that was accelerated by the pandemic was the need to embrace digital technology. Historically, wineries relied on three traditional channels for sales – off-premise (grocery stores, for example), on-premise (restaurants, etc.), and tasting rooms. During the lockdown when people had to stay home, online direct-to-consumer became a lifeline. And although the leading B2B brands do a phenomenal job of leveraging their digital channels, too many organizations still have a limited digital presence – their websites are not up to the expectations and demands of the customer, serving simply as an online brochure. Social media is also often underutilized, and digital marketing is an afterthought.

Underpinning many of these opportunities is the immutable reality of changing customer profiles. In the wine category, for example, the data tells us that the millennial consumer is looking for different experiences, product, channels, and information from brands. Their purchasing power has recently surpassed the older generations and wineries are having to respond. The same is true in the B2B space – the top of the millennial age bracket is 40, so they’re in positions of leadership and influence and they too have different expectations from the brands they choose to work with. An organization’s purpose, it’s vision and stance on environmental and social issues, and how employees are treated, are just some of the elements that increasingly matter to this audience and play into the brand. In short, they really want to know who you are and what you believe, not just what you do.

Recent years have witnessed a sea change in branding, accelerated by the global pandemic. There has never been a better time to re-evaluate your brand or how you go to market. The worlds of wine and B2B have served up some great reminders of the opportunities before us to truly stand out in the market, connect with audiences, and ultimately drive growth for brands.

Let’s raise our glasses and drink to the opportunities ahead in 2022.