In just over a decade Mirabeau has become not just one of the most recognisable, influential and fastest growing Provence rosé brands, it has successfully crossed a line few wine brands have been able to achieve and become a lifestyle brand in its own right. So much so that other household lifestyle brands, particularly from fashion and health and beauty, are keen to bask in the halo effect from the aspirational, escapist Provence imagery that Mirabeau has captured so well. Here founder Stephen Cronk, in the second part of his extensive interview with The Buyer, explains how the business plan for Mirabeau was to create a brand from day one and the steps they have taken to make it happen.
“We make beautiful wine in a breathtaking place and our brand is able to share that world. I think we are evolving into a lifestyle brand as a consequence of that,” is how Stephen Cronk explains Mirabeau’s strategy that is taking the brand outside just the wine category.
When Stephen Cronk first started out to create what has gone on to become the Mirabeau success story he did not have a magic formula on how to create a winning wine brand. Far from it. But he knew that was the right thing to do for his business model to work. As he explained in the first part of The Buyer’s interview: “Most people who do this buy a property and we realised we should do this the other way round and build a brand first.”
To do that he needed to know what brand building was all about, before he even thought about what sort of wine to put in a bottle and where to get it from. That’s where he says he was massively influenced by three individuals that sit mostly outside the wine industry.
Firstly, Gary Vaynerchuk, who made his name in wine on social media, before becoming a management guru, and his breakthrough book “Crush It” which effectively helped Cronk answer the one big question he kept asking himself: “Why should people buy my wine?”
Then there was advertising agency legend, Sir John Hegarty, responsible for many classic TV campaigns, such as Audi’s Vorsprung Durch Technik. He was able to see a talk he gave to the Institute of Masters of Wine where he lambasted the wine industry for speaking in a language that nobody outside it can understand or relate to.
“You should be entertaining people and not ostracising them,” was his key message, says Cronk, from a speech he listened to, transcribed and returned to time again. A core message the Cronks have taken completely to heart with all their communication, marketing and messaging with Mirabeau.
Finally Cronk says he has also been strongly influenced by American author and educator, Seth Godin, and his book ‘Tribes’.
All three made him realise he needed to “obsess about the consumer”. “I need to build a following of people and speak a language they can understand,” all centred around “being an engaging brand”.
How to stand out
If he was to stand out from the 600 other wine estates making wine in Provence he needed to be doing something different that really connected with consumers in a unique way.
So before he had the wine, Cronk started his own YouTube channel where he would interview different wine figures and ask “them the dumb questions that no-one else who knew about wine were afraid to ask”. It was his way of trying to break down this intimidatory world to the everyday wine drinker.
“We wanted to demystify wine. That was the thing we talked about a lot. Why do we have all these protocols that no-one understands. That’s what we still do now. We think from the consumer’s point of view and what are they going to care about.”
(The YouTube video of Stephen Cronk opening a bottle of wine against a wall – that went viral – is all part of Mirabeau’s success as a brand)
A series that culminated in over 300 episodes. It was, though, the 222nd video which everyone remembers. The Cronk video that went viral of him popping a cork from a bottle by placing it in a shoe and bashing it against a wall (click on the link above). It quickly got over over 5 million views on YouTube within a month and helped put Cronk on the consumer wine map.
One of many
Mirabeau may have gone on to make its name as one of Provence’s fastest rising stars. But it is not alone. The region is blessed with a number of major wine brands that have grown and grown over the last 10 years. Cronk, though, sees that as a collective strength of the region. With each brand’s success helping the category grow as a whole. “There are several really good brands now and there is only a finite amount of wineries to work with,” he says.
But he says the wineries themselves need to take far more credit than they do. The big Provence brands would not have been possible without the vision, and “the big investments came from the wineries themselves,” he says. With the Cave Co-ops and big estates leading the way since the early 2000s “when they realised this was a wine style [rosé] they needed to focus on,” he adds
That’s when Provence, he says, become the first wine region in the world to make rosé their number one priority – now over 90% of its volumes. It is the work the wineries have done in bringing in machine harvesters to harvest at night, cooling equipment, relining their concrete cellars that have allowed the brands to make the wines they can, he says. “The wineries of Provence have really upped their game,” he adds.
All that investment and hard work is now being seen in the scores and awards that Provence rosés are now getting in major wine competitions.
Cronk says he’s proud that Mirabeau has been able to establish itself as a brand that consumers clearly relate to, and is now emerging as a lifestyle brand in its own right. All of which goes back to how hard they have worked from the beginning with the memorable labels they created, the colours, the photography on the website, to every image the brand shares on social media and Instagram.
“That’s why our photography on Instagram is fantastic. We make beautiful wine in a breathtaking place and our brand is able to share that world. I think we are evolving into a lifestyle brand as a consequence of that. We are really encapsulating and showcasing one of the most stunning parts of the world. The people who have made it in life choose to come and live where we live every day and that is pretty special. We love to share the magic of where we are.”
It’s why he and Jeany have spent the last couple of weeks in London manning the Mirabeau stand at Taste of London. They know how important it is for people who love the brand to be able to meet the founders and owners. “We want to be there ourselves. That personal connection is so important. It’s also so nice to be able to say thank you to people because they have helped us live our dream.”
That personal touch is also the approach they take on social media. Jeany often replies personally to Instagram queries and the Mirabeau team takes the time to share the posts of Instagram users on how and where they are drinking Mirabeau. Their goal is to build a vibrant and connected community around the love for the life and style of the South of France that unites them all.
Becoming a social media brand
The Mirabeau story has also coincided rather neatly with the explosion in social media in the last 10 plus years.
“Social media was a complete game changer for us,” says Cronk as it suddenly provided them with the platform to bring their wines, and the Mirabeau brand to life, for relatively low cost.
It meant simply by taking the right sort of photographs and videos you could start talking to a wide and growing audience, says Cronk. The investment you needed to make was not necessarily a financial one, but the ability to be able “understand how this world works”.
But its use of social media has also changed, he adds. Whilst it started out on YouTube and Facebook it has migrated across the various platforms at different times, but has very much come together on its Instagram feed where the visuals and imagery are so much more important.
“That’s where Vaynerchuk’s book was such an eye opener for me,” says Cronk. “He was effectively saying that whatever your passion in life is, social media gives you the chance to make it into a business. You have a chance to engage with consumers that only the big brands could do before and that was massive for me at the time reading that.”
The Mirabeau team will also look to work closely with its retail and on-trade partners and make sure it is sharing and liking any social media work they are doing to help support them as well by putting them in front of its 90k Instagram following.
It also increasingly links up with other similarly minded lifestyle brands from other sectors – like L’Occitane, the Provence fragrance brand, or lifestyle brand Anthropolgie– to see where they can share ideas and promotions and give their respective followers something a little extra special. The team also always aims to share something of value with their community on the various social platforms, such as easy to make recipes, travel tips or how to set a Provençal table in style. “It is so important for us to reach out and create that connection rather than having an egotistical “look at me” approach to the consumer”.
Crucially it handles all its social media in-house as only the Mirabeau team really know the genuine personality of the brand, he adds. “We did not want to have that risk of not speaking with our true tone of voice. It’s so important. It’s very hard for an agency to know that.”
It also means its social media posts and themes are very consistent and 100% true to their values and beliefs, he says. “It’s authentic, it’s real. It’s not contrived. How we communicate as a brand is what we are, which is why we do have such engaged consumers.”
He says the pinnacle of that consumer connection is when a couple approaches them about having Mirabeau at their wedding. “That’s the ultimate compliment if they want to share that moment with us as a brand.”
It also shows how far Mirabeau has come as a brand in its own right and what it means to its consumer base that have grown up with it.