Episode 108: Wine, Bottles & Branding With Cynthia Sterling

Episode 108: Wine, Bottles and Branding With Cynthia Sterling

Cynthia is the Principal and Creative Director of Sterling Creativeworks, a strategy, branding and design agency. She joins us this week to talk to us about wine labels, and what goes on behind the scenes of wine brands. We learn about what must be on a wine label as well as what cannot – and this may surprise you. Pour a glass of your favorite beverage and join us for a fun interview and some wine bottle label stories with Cynthia, Steph and Val.


Discussion Topic: Interview With Cynthia Sterling

Remember when we had a wine label bottle babble in episode 95 with the Side Hustle Wino? We loved, loved loved that episode with Cathie Schafer! Well, wine labels intrigue just about everyone and so we thought we would continue an aspect of that conversation. For an encore of entertaining and educational perspective, we brought a branding expert onto the show to tell us all about how wine labels are created and the philosophy behind them

This week we had the privilege to Interview with Cynthia Sterling, Principal and Creative Director, Sterling Creativeworks.

Cynthia Sterling is the founder and creative director of Sterling Creativeworks, a strategy, branding, and packaging design agency dedicated to building standout premium wine, spirits and food brands. Her firm’s work has been instrumental in the growth of category leaders including Beringer and Chandon. As a luxury branding specialist, she partners with some of today’s smartest marketing minds to figure out how their brands can capture attention, then engage and delight consumers so they, in turn, share their discovery with friends. Cynthia is also the author of Branding: Distilled, a comprehensive guide to branding and packaging for craft distilled spirits.

The inside scoop …

… on wine label creation taught Steph and Val quite a few things. You may be surprised about what is actually required on a wine label as well as what is NOT allowed on a wine label. Did you know that it’s not permitted to show people actually drinking the wine on the label? What? Everything is quite regulated. For example, certain printed information has to meet size requirements, and be located in relation to other information.

With wine being a more-or-less emotional purchase (although we could debate this, as we like to think of it as a grocery item), Cynthia’s job as a label designer is to develop and convey a story about a brand on that limited 4 x 4 space. Whether it’s the winery’s heritage, history, sense of place or craftsmanship, she’s challenged to not only relay the authenticity of the wine’s brand, but  also to engage archetypes with respect to wine and spirits packaging. Of course knowing the target market and the visual content that will clearly communicate the desired message is crucial. Getting the images to convey the message of quality onto the label, and then translating to the eyes and into minds – and desires – of the consumers is the main mission.

The future of wine brands

What kind of innovations are on the horizon for wine & spirit marketing? Cynthia filled us in on alternative packaging, competitive concepts, even at the high end of the wine quality spectrum. The ideal single serve experience that’s more eco-sensitive, not overly expensive, but still contains great quality wines is coming more into focus. Additionally, she tells us, we’re going to see emerging technology built into packaging that will allow products to be chilled without refrigeration to be compatible w/ more mobile society and variety of – and customized – tastes.

Wine and spirits packaging

How is branding different and/or similar for wine versus spirits? Cynthia explains how (generally) spirits packaging often has a tendency to be bolder, perhaps less nuanced. It’s more to the point, where with wine there’s a different emotional payoff. Instead of the romance & leisurely meal often associated with a bottle of wine, there’s more of a focus on fewer drinks, purely social setting, mixing – not so much food-oriented – when it comes to spirits. Perhaps it has a more masculine approach. Wine label imagery is more elegant and complex as opposed to what goes on the spirits package. She gives an example of the bold, striking Jack Daniels labels.

Another trend in spirits packaging is the apothecary design, yet this is starting to carry over into the wine labeling as well. We find this interesting as Val lives with a Pharmacist and Steph is also a pharmacist. Not to mention, many spirits have their roots in medicinal applications.

We hope you will listen to this entire, informative interview with Cynthia Sterling, particularly her experiences with working around great wine families, like the Mondavis, and her unique, funny wine story at the end of the show! Also, you can check out her book for more insight into the world of branding and craft spirits.


Connect with Cynthia:

Website: SterlingCreativeworks

Email: Cynthia@sterlingcreativeworks.com

Twitter: @SterlingCynthia

Pinterest: Sterling Creativeworks

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Until next week, Cheers!