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Labeling: The Outside Is What Sells The Inside

02/5/2020 • Shawn Patrick

Appearances matter, even for craft spirits. While a distillery's success ultimately relies on its product, the label still needs to get customers to buy a bottle and give it a chance.

Tasting rooms and social media are great, but many times the customer is going to be standing in a store looking at dozens of different brands deciding what to buy. Here, the label means everything. A spirit's label is the elevator pitch or clever pickup line. It should get people's attention enough so that they want to learn more. 

Hire a Label Design Team 

Design software has wrongly convinced many people that they can do a competent job designing things like logos and labels on their own. Technically, they are right. All it takes is an afternoon or two, and someone without any design skills can crank out a label that looks decent. 

It's commendable that they try, but the best they can hope for is making a label that seems the same as a couple of dozen other brands. A professional graphic artist can make your name stand out, but that's only the start. 

A label should convey brand identity and the spirit's competitive edge in a prominent, yet unobtrusive way. Finding ways to grab a potential customer's attention is a growing imperative.

Products only have a few seconds to net a customer browsing the shelves, and labels play a vital role. Customers are bombarded with more choices than ever before. In Virginia, for example, there were fewer than ten distilleries a decade ago. Now there are around seventy. 

What Labels Need to Tell Customers 

Labels have the impossible sounding task of being as many things as possible to the most significant number of customers. Appealing to a broad consumer base must also be done subtly so that the brand doesn't look like it's pandering to customers by trying to be all things to all people. A well-designed label can walk that fine line. All suitable labels do the following things. 


Labels should tell customers exactly what a product is. Customers should be able to find out instantly what type of spirit is, its ingredients, the process that went into its production, and any other pertinent information. Being as precise and accurate as possible will also make the TTB label approval process more manageable. 


A label must be eye-catching. Customers won't notice an unappealing, plain label that doesn't immediately speak to them. Keep in mind that plain and minimalist are entirely different concepts. The label must also match a brand's mystique and message by evoking the intended emotional response. A whiskey marketed as having a southwest feel shouldn't have a label that makes people think of New York. 

Buyer Connection

Well-worded copy can establish an emotional connection between a brand and the customer. The label should create a story that makes the distillation process and ingredients feel unique and better than any other brand on the shelf. Other important aspects, such as a distillery's sustainability measures and social outreach initiatives, should also be included even if it's a simple "made from recycled materials" stamp. 


Creating a label that does all of these things well is more complicated than most people realize. And with the growing number of craft distillers popping up across North America, the importance of a well-designed label is more critical than ever. A nice label can get customers talking. It lends to the mystique that compels people to share their outstanding experiences. Generating word of mouth is often more effective than the best traditional marketing efforts.