Disrupting traditional wine marketing: one augmented reality label at a time

Matthias Vollherbst, CEO and Managing Director of Vollherbst LABELS, a 98-year-old premium label printer and fourth-generation family business, elaborates on their recent digital brand called LABELimotion, which is slowly disrupting the traditional wine industry with augmented reality application.

What was the inspiration for LABELinmotion?
We started conceptualising ideas on and about augmented reality five years ago, and this was given renewed inspiration with the Living Wine Labels app developed by Treasury Wine Estates from Australia. They made a massive statement with their 19 Crimes augmented
reality wine labels, featuring the stories of criminals sent to Australia in the 18th century.

As this app was developed by a wine brand, we saw an opportunity to develop an independent app not linked to a winery. With this thinking as background, LABELinmotion was developed as a simple and universal augmented reality app. While our company specialises in wine and spirits labels, we offer augmented reality services to any label that wants to apply this powerful technology, whether wine, gin, beer … or milk!

Once you had the concept, what were the next steps?
Designing the concept and the brand of our augmented reality app was our first step. We developed the strategy together with our youngest employees aged 18 to 35, the age group which we believe is the target market for augmented reality labels. After only two brainstorm sessions we had a concept that was promising enough to develop and launch. We programmed an example concept of a flashing lightbulb that eventually bursts on the screen, which was surprisingly easy to do – augmented reality is far less complicated than one might think.

The next step was to bring it to the market and convince clients to give it a try. We have always had an inspiring relationship with KWV in South Africa, one of the most admired wine brands in the world, and they were really excited about this concept. They partnered with LABELinmotion and developed an engaging AR experience for the Cathedral Cellar range of wines. Since then, we have launched two more augmented reality experiences on top of our initial showcase project. One of them was for Germany-based winery Michel Schneider, and features a lion jumping out of the label and telling jokes!

So, for now, you are mainly focused on the wine industry?
Yes, this is how Vollherbst started in 1921 and what still defines our business today. We work with a broad range of wineries, from the boutique wine farms to big global players. With 65% share they are our biggest industry, followed by spirits. What unifies our partners is their understanding of strong marketing and self-awareness. They understand that a label defines a brand and that a brand defines business success. Vollherbst and LABELinmotion partner with brands that consistently improve their brand awareness with professional and innovative wine labels.

What do you think appeals to them about LABELinmotion?
LABELinmotion and augmented reality offer wineries a fantastic new way to capture audiences at that crucial decision-making point during sales, and it also offers engagement at the point of consumption. Wineries therefore have multiple opportunities to start conversations about their brand in a memorable way. The possibilities in which these stories can be conveyed are also endless: brands can use multimedia like video and sound to get consumers to interact with their wine labels while guiding them to the winery’s website or social media channels. Alternatively, the whole brand experience can live on the label only, offering a fully immersive experience without distractions.

Are more wine brands realising that this is the future of wine marketing?
We should not forget, that everything that can be, will be digitalised in the future. The clever wine marketers are aware of this and they are figuring out how to make the digital space work for them. They are learning to understand consumer behaviour in the digital world, and the ones that do, are the ones that are outperforming competitors. For those wanting to win loyalty in the Generation Y and Z consumer market, this is a key success factor.

What have you learnt about wine in the digital space?
We are constantly learning and understanding more about the wine consumer behaviour in the digital world, and we are seeing the importance of storytelling more and more. We see that entertainment and surprise elements work and that people are open to whole new (non-technical) stories about wine. This is obviously an area augmented reality excels in. Currently we are seeing the intangible benefits of strong brand awareness among innovative companies.

Your company, which is a traditional label printing company embarking on a modern digital journey, seems to reflect the conundrum of the wine industry?
Yes, label printing is still a rather traditional industry, which in its simplest form is printing and finishing paper that is glued onto a product – be it a wine bottle or a honey dispenser. Nothing of that has been changed in the recent years. However, we are closely monitoring the disruption of industries at the hand of digital technologies, like Uber has done for the transportation industry or Netflix for the entertainment industry. I am inspired by concepts like that for the label business as well. That’s why it is so important to not only notice but participate in developments like AR labels and innovative print techniques. We see more and more wine brands wanting to engage the millennial market and that is why we value our young employees, aged 18 to 35, so much. They are actively involved in the development and creative AR processes. If they don’t like what they see, we go back and adjust the concepts. This openness in the development process and valuing the input of the perspective of our young employees is something more wine brands should do too, I think.

Have you seen a lot of success in the South African market?
Yes, our South African market has been growing double-digit in the last two years and we don’t necessarily feel the need to conquer new regional markets as we still see huge potential in the ones, we have experience with. We especially see a strength in the countries with the same time-zone as Germany as this allows for efficient use of hours and Skype meetings which allows all parties to get things done hassle-free and quickly. South African wines are also increasingly popular in Europe, and we assist brands to tell the right kind of stories to this market, too.