I’ve had the great fortune to spend the last few weeks touring Argentina and Chile. Together Gloria and I explored fascinating sites, ate wonderful meals, enjoyed spectacular wines, and met very gracious and hospitable people.
Not only did we try great wines, but we visited wineries in both countries and saw how the wines are made and what goes into making them so special.
Some of the wines we were introduced to were described in industrial terms: their weights, measures, time in the barrel, time in the bottle, temperatures they were processed at, and so forth.
The technical information did help us understand the wines better, but taste-wise most of them were ultimately forgettable — especially to someone like me who is an uneducated and unsophisticated oenophile in the first place.
Some of the wines we tried were described in more romantic terms: their histories, their struggles against bad weather and drought, and their experiences in French oak casks and on the tongue, for example.
Of course, some of these stories sounded a bit overwrought and implausible. But one really touched me.
We were talking with the winemaker and the sommelier about their Sauvignon Blanc. As the sommelier explained it, the roots of grapes grown in soft soil don’t have to work very hard to find water. The wines they produce, therefore, are drinkable but not interesting. Or as he put it, wines from unstressed grapes are soft and lazy. Easy to drink, but once you’re done you’re left with nothing of value to think about.
But he said that his winery’s products were superior. That’s because of all the effort their roots had to go through to find healthy purchase in the rocky soil of the Leyda Valley. By working hard to break through the rough terrain of coastal Chile, the roots developed a strength and character that was reflected in the wines all that effort produced.
While I was listening, I was thinking skeptically about this anthropomorphic technique of comparing wines to people. The winemaker must have read my mind because he too equated wine with people. To him, the trials, tribulations, and travails people go through in their lives is what makes them interesting and gives them character. And that’s what he looked to do with his wines.
Then he brought out some samples and let us taste what he was talking about. I don’t know whether the wines actually tasted better because of what they’d gone through or whether I simply enjoyed the wines more because of what I learned. Either way I did taste a substantial difference. The romance of the story either gave me a reason to prefer his wines or it gave me the vocabulary to understand what I was tasting. Regardless, the wine experience was better because of the story.
Of course, we all know the power of suggestion goes a long way to influence the enjoyment of wine. When you listen to a knowledgeable drinker talk about aromas of fresh flowers, baked bread, stone fruit, blackberry notes, and subtle hints of citrus blossoms, it’s easy to be cynical and poo poo the descriptions. Because while you might be able to determine the ingredients in a stew or a sauce — cilantro and garlic, say, or tomatoes and basil — those items are actually in the food. But the descriptions of wines’ aromas and flavors are fanciful because none of those components are actually in the bottle. Instead, the tastes you perceive — minerals, fruit, herbs — are all created from grapes and the talents of the winemaker.
Now how does all this relate to your business? What can you learn from the world’s great wineries? It’s simple.
Do you simply sell what you do based on the ingredients that go into your products or services — your MBA, years in the business, licenses and patents — for example? Or have you created a romantic story that helps your clients (and your potential clients) better understand and appreciate what you do for them?
Always remember your clients don’t only choose you for what you can do for them. If you simply offer them legal advice, bagel delivery, new eyeglasses, or cybersecurity services, for example, they can always find those things cheaper somewhere else. But if you provide them with a sense of who you are and what you do, they will choose you for what you stand for and how you make them feel.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m suggesting you can get away with not being the best in the business. You can’t. Your functional offer must be the best there is. I’m only pointing out that at the highest levels of business, your function is cost of entry. Once your clients understand what you sell is the best, then they can further actualize themselves and their companies by including you in their businesses and their lives.
Porsche sells performance automobiles yet most of the people who own their cars drive them back and forth to their offices.
Fender and Gibson sell iconic instruments played by every guitar hero from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page. Yet most of their customers will never play at Wembly Stadium or Carnegie Hall.
Speedo sells the swimsuits you’ve seen on Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps below their gold medals. Yet most of their products are worn by splashers and sunbathers.
And my sommelier friend’s wines are all made with unbelievably painstaking care and passion. Yet most bottles will most likely be enjoyed by people who wouldn’t know a focused palette of black currant and hints of cassis from a complex nose of violets, mint, and white pepper. Or Riunite on ice, for that matter.
Does this mean the struggle you went through earning your education or building your business is for naught? Of course not. Just like the noble fight those little roots put up to get through the soil, your travails not only made you capable but provided you with a heroic story that the world wants to hear.
Because as we’ve said so many times before, a good brand makes people feel good. But a great brand makes people feel good about themselves.