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Brand repositioning in Covid times - the Sol Montis project through the eyes of the client and the agency

Brand repositioning in Covid times - the Sol Montis project through the eyes of the client and the agency

Orsolya Szabó Chief Operational Officer, Partner 28/01/2021

Chief Operational Officer, Partner

I’ve been planning for a long time to tell you about one of our heaven-sent projects from last year, the Sol Montis project. What makes this article exciting is that it shows both the client and agency side of the project. So let us start the Sol Montis story, a bit differently than in usual PR articles.

In February 2020, Zita Kovács, the communication manager of the - then - Kovács and Daughter Winery in the Mátra hill region, contacted me saying that she needs professional help for a large-scale project. To tell the truth, our relationship started some time ago.

We first met three years before at a Women’s Day wine tasting. Back then I just wanted to find out who had made the wine that the whole room was talking about. The winemaker was Zita, and the wine was the “Little French”. As years went by, we bumped into each together several times at wine events, and two years ago our agency invited the winery to be an exhibiting partner at one of our events.

Solya: When we started talking about the project in early March, we already sensed that something very bad was coming. When we got to the point of working together, the virus came, and all businesses switched to survival mode. Yet you decided to go ahead, no matter how risky it would be.

Zita: Well, you helped us a lot to make this decision. We have known for a long time that need to go ahead: the new winery has been built, we can produce significant quantities in the same quality, and we were planning to enter foreign markets. I remember how bad if felt to write the letter, saying: “listen, Solya, now we have to rely on our financial reserves, so I have to ask you to postpone our project”. I was very surprised by your answer, in which you wrote that we should start work, because there will be grapes anyway, there will be wine anyway that we have to sell, and we’ll surely figure out a payment schedule that works for everyone. I only encountered such a flexible attitude very few times.

Solya: However, I don’t think it is easy to make such a big decision in a family business.

Zita: We’ve been planning this for a long time, figuring out what we want, going through countless ideas, and among others, made spontaneous and passionate decisions. We knew we were going to embark on a difficult project, as Kovács and Daughter were a proven, known brand with many loyal consumers. One needs to think twice before starting a new chapter in life. The need for a change, after a while, was unquestionable both for my father and the third owner. But despite the responsibility, we believe in ourselves, in the brand and, of course, in our wines.

Solya: However, Hungarian wine marketing is still in its infancy indeed, especially if we compare it to Austria. Repositioning a brand in the country’s second-largest wine region, which is only now being discovered by consumers, is a huge risk. I know there were doubts: okay, here we are as Kovács and Daughter, they know us at home, we have loyal consumers, but under a new name, a new image, we may have to start everything all over again.

Zita: We knew that the rebranding would not take a mere 1-2 months. It will take a long time to sink the new name in people’s minds before they automatically look for the new packaging. We know we can count only on ourselves. It’s a huge job to communicate this change, educate our resellers, explain to hypermarkets why this happened ... just think about it, it takes almost six months only to re-list a product in a large department store chain.

Solya: We finally started the project in May. The goal was to reposition the growing family winery: create a new brand, give it a name, and create a new image. I will never forget when you sent me the new name that you came up with, the smile faded from my face. We got a brand name proposal from an innovative, aspiring winery that zigzagged in each direction, except ahead.

Zita: Luckily, we retained professionals for the job (laughs). I knew we were not up to the task on our own. We really needed your professional agency approach, a partner that explores the market and comes up with the appropriate strategic proposals. I was happy with the result: already at the first agency presentation we got so many good ideas that we couldn’t even make our choice. After that, I chased friends and relatives for days to help me to decide.

Solya: Looking back, I know that everything was decided when you first saw the material. In fact, the end result looks almost entirely the same as the one we presented to you along with the first plans.

Zita: Of course, it was clear, all I had to do was to encourage the people around me, and obviously my Dad had the last word. It was evident that Mátra would be the cornerstone of brand building, and Sol Montis grabbed my imagination instantly. It sounds very good in Hungarian and in foreign languages, too, as it means “sunny hill”, which is our beloved Mátra hill. The image of the hill was clearly present in the packaging design plans that you brought along with this name proposal.

Solya: There were no surprises, besides “Mátra”, we also included a reference to the family, and tried to think in symbols that express you. But as the goal is clearly to promote Mátra hill in Hungary and abroad, you have made a good decision. This was the plan that best supported the jointly defined communication goals. In addition to the name and design, your product range has also changed. I admit, one of my favorite parts was when we had to come up with new names for two well-known varieties in your premium wine selection.

Zita: To be honest, I was a little scared of this. It was clear that we would soon find the right design for the new arrivals in each wine family, which meant the red cuvée for the classic assortment and the viognier and rosé for the estate wines. However, our premium wine family is completely different. In their case the wine names represent their character, and each has an important story. It was hard to replace the names of the two most lovable characters, but it was necessary because other wineries entered the market with the same or very similar names. We decided that once we change the brand, we would renew these two flagship wines as well.

Solya: One of them is Fruska (Little Girl), which your customers just love: an easy-to-interpret sparkling wine made of yellow musk. The new name of this wine was Illangó, which clearly refers to bubbles, and playfulness. With Gavallér, which is a wonderful tramini, the job was a bit easier, as the new name, Naplevente, popped in our minds at the first brainstorming. Did your consumers like the new names?

Zita: It may sound weird now, but the first thing for us was that we could really identify ourselves with the new characters, and we feel that they are ours. We don’t just like them, we truly love them! On the other hand, we need to stay on the ground with both feet, as we know these wines will be searched for in stores and in our winery by their old names for a long time, but we try to educate and tell visitors why there was a change and how the new characters were born. They will love the new ones very much too, it just takes time for everyone.

Solya: Let’s talk a little bit about the new labels. You chose a very brave version, which was also our favorite. The color scheme has remained the same, however, due to the lengthy shape of the bottles they just jump off the shelves.

Zita: Yes, we really like the black, white and gold colors that have been characteristic of Kovács and Daughter, as well as Mátra hill and the piece of land in the front, they are best represented in the chosen form and shape. But I still remember when I went down to the packaging workshop in the design phase and weighed the height of the labeling equipment, I almost got a heart attack. I realized that our labeling machine will not be suitable to produce it because it does not reach the height of the label, and we either replace it, or we change the height of the label, but in the latter case it won’t be as visually prominent as we wanted it to be. However, we chose the second option, but fortunately we are only talking about millimeters and the original idea did not change much, still, I had quite a few sleepless nights because of it.

Solya: By the time we got to the point of selecting the paper type and later started printing, we did not get to sleep any more, either. Slovakia was closed due to COVID, we could not contact the selected printing house in person and we had to use the old, traditional method, which was sending us the proofs by post, and we only saw the final labels when the postman arrived with a package of thousands of pieces, right in the middle of an important online meeting. Although almost everything was digitized, in such situations personal presence is still terribly important, but it was simply not possible any more. We were only relieved when we held the finished product in our hands.

Zita: By then, thousands of new bottles of wines were waiting to be labeled and delivered immediately. Had something went wrong with the labels, we wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the orders and it would have resulted in a huge financial and reputational damage. But the labels were beautiful and we could deliver our first 2020 new wine order in time - already under the name of Sol Montis.

Solya: The communication campaign was also a big challenge. Everything was transferred to the digital space and by the time of the campaign launch, by mid-November, almost everything was closed again, as restrictions were back in place. Thus, the press conference was also held in the virtual space, and all tools supporting the introduction eventually became digital. Until then, we had worked almost completely without online sales, so we had to develop our our existing website to receive orders, as the holiday season was approaching very fast.

Zita: It was an old item on our To Do list, because potential buyers could not order through our website. However, besides the brand change, there was no time or energy left in 2020 for webstore development. I think we’ve managed to come up with a well-functioning interim solution, and our customers’ feedback and the figures prove that.

Solya: Our common work was not over at the end of the year, as we are now preparing for something big, which is still a secret. But perhaps I can tell you that in addition to the existing three wine families, the fourth will arrive in a couple of days, which, in terms of design, was perhaps an even more exciting challenge than the previous one.

Zita: All we can say is that we are going to reach out to a new target group, with a very unconventional design, which I thank your designers very much, not mentioning your brilliant stories (kisses to the creative writer!), with truly authentic characters, ones, that have never been seen in Hungary before. I will always remember how your eyes were shining when I told you the idea, and when I told you one of the name suggestions, you could barely breath, I actually had Déja vu then (laughs). Let me thank you for thinking ahead, and for finally giving birth to such a promising, new wine family that we will perhaps love even more than the others.

Solya: In this case, the customer was really right (laughs). It was a real professional joy to work both in the brainstorming and design phase, as well as taking part in the marketing campaign, we really feel that we love and enjoy our job when working on such projects!

Zita: Would you have thought there, three years ago, at Women’s Day wine tasting, that one day our acquaintance gets this far?

Solya: It is no secret that I’ve been familiar with wines for quite a few years now, and I was just about to graduate from a formal vine educational institute, but the virus had other plans. However, I travel a lot to wine regions in Hungary and abroad. My goal was to leverage my 18 years of communication professional experience in a wine project - and this was really the apple of my eye. This was a project where work and hobby came together. I do not believe in coincidences, the other day I read old posts in my _borsolya_ insta blog, and among the first posts there is a post on your Little French vine, even though we didn't know each other then.????Right from the beginning of our joint work, there was trust, thinking together, inspiring each other, openness, constant communication between the client and the agency, and it soon became clear that our cooperation was not just a one-off occasion.

Zita: I normally do not call my clients at 10:00 p.m. with some world-saving idea, or when I get stuck and need an idea to find the right direction. ????It’s really great that we are always on the same page: like late last night when I texted you, that I have a new idea and I wanted to know what you think of it.

Solya: My answer was, believe it or not, that I've been thinking about the same for a couple of weeks now, and I think there's potential in it, let's go and do it!????

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