Imagine that the New York Times publishes an article and an accompanying short documentary on your wine brand three years from now. 

Being the New York times, this article is not just for wine geeks. What would they write about? Who would be interviewed, and what would the photographer document? What locations would the documentary crew insist on filming? We often ask these questions in discovery sessions with our clients. And they’re surprisingly reliable in uncovering the true, human, and potentially newsworthy stories behind a brand.

There’s a common disconnect between what wine companies market as their brand story, and what the actual story is. Wine producers are usually very good at telling stories in-person but sadly not as adept at storytelling in their marketing – whether it be a website, social media, advertising, or print materials. Counterintuitively, telling great stories in your marketing may require you to temporarily remove your marketer or brand builder hat and start thinking like a journalist or documentarian.

How to tell your brand’s story through a journalistic and documentarian lens

Many leaders of successful wine brands spend a good deal of their time looking to the future. Unsurprising, the story they often envision and end up communicating is the story they’re in the process of creating rather than the current story of their brand. At the other end of the spectrum, many wine brands continue to focus on an overly romantic version of their origin story at the expense of the present. Both approaches can result in messaging that doesn’t ring true, and worse, doesn’t support their business goals. As with wine, balance is critical.

Honest wine storytelling requires giving attention to your history, present, and future goals, and loosening your grip on the process. It can be uncomfortable.

The good news is that unlike a news article on your brand, internal story and brand work can always be edited, or if needed, take a new direction. The key is to resist your urge to control or change course too early in the process. 

Here are some elements of journalism and documentary filmmaking that can help the wine industry tell better brand stories:

Follow the Story

Think about some of the best documentaries you’ve seen. Films that start in one place and end up in a completely unpredictable direction. The story lingers in your mind for days, and you tell your friends about it. This doesn’t happen by brute force or by accident. Unlike fiction, documentary films don’t follow a script. They are dependent on paying constant attention to the story presenting itself in the field, or sometimes, not revealed until months later in an editing room. And once the story is clearly in focus, the process never moves into mindless execution. Everyone who touches the documentary, from interviewer to color grader, makes decisions big and small that influence the story.

The key to applying this approach to wine storytelling is to work with people who don’t see themselves just as executors. You may be surprised how many writers, designers, and photographers are adept at collaborating on the nuances of brand strategy as they are at executing stories. And remember that the first draft of an article is never what gets published and that film directors almost always hate the first cut of their film. Be patient throughout the process, and trust that if you’ve hired good people, given them the right information, and provide good feedback along the way, you’ll end up with more engaging – and effective – storytelling.

Embrace Conflict

The most evocative stories are human-centered and not lacking in conflict. But struggles, failure, and hardship are often missing from brand stories and plans.

We’ve seen countless reasons for this exclusion, a few of them being:

• Fearing the optics

• Seeing their product as an escape from the toil of daily life

• Having a single-minded focus on the aspirational

• And surprisingly, the most common – just being uncomfortable in revealing anything that touches on the personal.

The reality is, when you focus your brand storytelling only on what you think your customers want to hear, you’re on the fast track to a vacuous brand. Without conflict, stories lack substance. And customers notice. The bottom line? Embrace the conflict of your story and everything in between. If your brand’s true story is one worth telling, humanity in your storytelling will create a deeper connection between customers and your brand.

Gather information from multiple sources

Before starting an article or film, journalists and documentarians gather information from multiple sources in multiple formats. After all, you can’t tell an objective story from just one source. 

A discovery process that collects information from all corners of your brand can be illuminating and immensely valuable to tell your brand story. Conducting interviews from your leadership all the way down to the interns can be crucial for getting insight and inspiration from all angles. Even if you’re lucky enough to have alignment, you’ll gain value from uncovering the nuances of individual perspectives. 

Also, consider looking beyond your team. What has been said about your organization in other sources? Traditional media, social media, and informal conversations with wine industry insiders can provide perspective and depth to existing brand stories and inspire new ones. This approach will also give you a better sense of the gap between how you want your brand to be perceived and how it is actually perceived.

Structure your story like a news article

Journalists write stories using an inverted pyramid structure. This means they put the most important information at the beginning of the article, leaving the less important details toward the bottom. 

While it’s obvious to adapt this principle to your content and storytelling on touchpoints like your website, it can be just as relevant to your brand and package work. For example, your packaging doesn’t need to tell the whole story. Instead, it can function as the equivalent of an article lede or a prompt to question the brand answers in other materials like social media or your website.

Also, think about telling your story in different ways, including multiple voices and sources. While powerful, a singular brand voice isn’t the only or best option for every brand. The nuance introduced by including a wide breadth of voices from your company can add depth to your story and encourage trust.

And if you need someone to tell your story, think about hiring someone with journalism in their blood. You won’t need to tell them to take this journalistic approach because it’s already innate. They’ll have a keen eye for what’s most newsworthy about your brand, upping your chances of a story that gets recognized in earned media.

Don’t lose sight of why you’re telling stories

Of course, the business goals of journalism, documentary films, and wine companies are very different. In your pursuit of better storytelling, don’t lose sight of what you need your customers to do. Your sales objectives don’t change just because your tactics do.

Conversely, remember that your brand efforts are about more than short-term sales. Not every story you tell should connect to a call to action. Through embracing the human element, great journalism and documentaries can connect people at a deep level to stories and subjects they weren’t previously drawn to. As fine wine looks to expand its reach, it is relevant more than ever to embrace telling your true story.