Brand heritage

As I write this post, a group of wine enthusiasts in Bordeaux are using Twitter to tell me what they’re up to as they investigate the latest vintage. They’ve just uploaded a picture of the new Cos d’Estournel chais on Twitpic. Apparently the ’08 Cos is as impressive as the new building.

You might think these updates are coming from a new, savvy online wine site. The online edition of Decanter? Or the ever enthusiastic Wine Library TV, perhaps?

They are, in fact, being tweeted by BBRBoysInBDX, the buying team from Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Brothers and Rudd. Berry’s has serious history. They’ve been operating out of the same shop in St James’, London since 1698 and have been supplying wine to the Royal Family since King George III was on the throne.

It’s not unfair to assume that any business with 311 years of history might be a little stuffy, especially one which is based in St James’ and deals with a luxury product (as Berry’s do; they’re more Château Lafite than Jacobs Creek). Look a little closer at Berry’s and you’ll be surprised.

Where Berry’s have excelled is in their ability to avoid getting stuck in their ways. They are a business with heritage, but they don’t let this hold them back. They’re changing with (often ahead of) the market and they’re not afraid to try some new things (like Twitter) along the way.

Simon Staples, Berry’s Sales & Marketing Director, explains that “Berry’s has always embraced the new, in fact, we were the first wine company to have a website in 1994, and we are still winning awards for it to this day. Following on from the success we had online, in 2006 we decided to create a blog as an outlet to share our expertise and views with our customers and give them an opportunity to communicate with us on various subject matters. Twitter is a natural progression as it allows people to get up-to-date information on the exciting Bordeaux 2008 vintage and helps bring us closer to our customers.”

Change is, of course, something that every 300 year old business has to be good at. Simon explains that “Berry’s realise that different customers want things in different ways and we pride ourselves at being able to embrace new technologies and ideas, without changing our traditional values of good service and excellent quality.”

Berry’s natural business sense means the brand is well looked after. I think they do four things to ensure this:

1. They do service well
Fundamentally, Berry’s are a service brand. Of course they have strong, trusted, relationships with their long-term clients but they also serve their day-to-day customers excellently as well. Once you get over the threshold of their intimidating St James’ shop, you’ll find they take as much time and care advising on a £10 bottle of wine as a £500 bottle.

2. They haven’t lost their passion
Their staff are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about wine, and they’re willing to share that knowledge and passion with their customers.

3. They are synonymous with quality
Their buyers won’t stock bad wine, and they offer great value on a lot of bottles. For example, their own label Good Ordinary Claret tastes better than anything you can buy for £7.30 in a supermarket.

4. They’re not afraid of change
They understand that heritage doesn’t mean constantly looking back. For Berry’s, heritage means remembering the values, spirit and passion of the company and not being afraid to look forward and innovate. Their presence on Twitter, and their well maintained blog are just expressions of this.

A lot of businesses try to separate their business activities from their brand activities, they treat their brand as a changeable veneer on top of their business. Berry’s is a good example of how the two are inseparable.