Everything is Marketing

“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.”

--Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot

How did a nearly 250-year-old champagne house become one of the largest brands in the world if their first and only advertising in company history was last year?

Spoilers: Everything is marketing.

Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (née Ponsardin), was born in Reims, France. Widowed at 27, she was determined to takeover her family’s champagne house. Her decision was vocally opposed by her father-in-law, who built the winery, and her own father, both of whom felt that business was no place for a woman.

But the widow was relentless. She petitioned her father-in-law, saying effectively, "I will risk my inheritance, and I’d like you to invest an additional million dollars into the champagne business." Her father-in-law reluctantly agreed under one condition: she would go through an apprenticeship, after which she would be able to run the business herself–if she proved her abilities.

During the process, Clicquot learned how to make wine, but the wine didn't sell. In fact, it was such a failure that she had to go back to her father-in-law and petition again. Moved by her tenacity, he invested again and in 1805, the Widow Clicquot (Veuve Clicquot in French) became the first international businesswoman. How did she do it?

Madame Clicquot created a “champagne campaign” that focused on the principles of communications that we use every day: know the customers, market the innovation, build a cult of followers. By doing this she created one of the most celebrated and innovative beverage brands in history, which transcends borders and defines beverage marketing as we know it today.

Position Your Product with Your Customer

At the same time Madame Clicquot was receiving her second investment, the Napoleonic Wars were ravaging Europe, and she watched her country slowly lose to the Russian Army. Reports were coming in toward the end of 1815 that Napoleon's Grande Armée was losing hundreds of thousands of troops in the Russia invasion.

War is bad for business, especially if you're on the losing side, and Madame Clicquot knew that if she didn't sell her inventory, the champagne house would fail completely. Looking for a solution, Madame Clicquot looked to her country's opponent and found people who adored champagne. She also knew that the celebration after Napoleon's defeat would be epic, especially in the Russian capitol, St. Petersburg. There was only one problem: the naval blockades.

Wisely, Madame Clicquot parked an unmarked ship filled with champagne outside of Amsterdam, a bold and seemingly foolish move (to park most of your inventory on a boat in the sea). However, as soon as peace was declared, the shipment raced into St. Petersburg, beating her competitors by weeks.

Soon after her champagne debuted, Tsar Alexander announced he would drink nothing else. Word spread throughout the Russian elites, and Veuve Clicquot immediately became a "household name."

Market the Innovation

Madame Clicquot enjoyed everything about champagne. But that wasn't the sentiment of Europe at the time. Still wine was the preferred choice of the elite, because of one unsightly annoyance in champagne--bottle yeast.

Methode Champenoise
The expired yeast that was found at the bottom of champagne bottles is a cloudy, unappetizing mess. If you've seen it, you know.

Determined to eliminate the yeast, Madame Clicquot invented the riddling rack, a procedure by which the sediment from secondary fermentation (the fermentation that gives Champagne its bubbles) is slowly encouraged over months of bottle turning into the neck of the bottle in order to create the clarity of the Champagne that we see today.

She wisely marketed this innovation and two others that we use today: vintage and rosé.

In 1811, a comet raced across all of Europe. It lit the night sky and was visible for months. Coincidentally, that year was an exceptional harvest, and Madame Clicquot decided to bottle the entire 1811 harvest into a single run of bottles, in order to celebrate and remember this historic moment.

Clicquot dubbed her production le vin de la comète and added a star to the cork. The champagne sold like crazy. Fueled by the enthusiasm of the comet, Clicquot began bottling "the take" of each year and putting the date on the bottle. Each year could be marketed and collected, again by Europe's ruling class.

It is not formally attributed to her, but it is believed that Madame Clicquot created the phrase "rosé all day."

She loved the pink wine. But in the 19th century, rosé was made by adding red fruit juice to white sparkling wine (it's still acceptable practice for champagne today). Clicquot knew they could do better.

Utilizing the dark-skinned pinot noir grape (her favorite), she allowed to juice to remain in contact with the skins for a short period, between two and twenty hours, as opposed to weeks or months for a red.

Combined-- "methode champenoise," vintage and rosé became the three innovations that established House Clicquot as the favored wine for the elites of France and made champagne as the definitive drink of high society and nobility throughout Europe.

Cult Builds Culture

Madame Clicquot's destiny became her story, and her story became the Veuve Clicquot brand. Utilizing her innovations, her savvy and her resolve, she created a small cult of influential enthusiasts and leveraged their passion in the market.

In 1830 Clicquot chose to retire from day-to-day management of her business. She sold a portion of the business to a German accountant, Eduard Werler, who had zero knowledge of how to make champagne. WAIT? WHAT?

It was a bold move. Notably because during the Napoleonic era, a woman would never have had a chance in business to begin with, and if she had remarried, she would've lost her identity and the name of her business. By bringing on a partner, she was making the same risk. Werler's gaps in wine-making were compensated by his understanding of marketing and branding. He understood the importance of Madame Clicquot's name and identity among champagne consumers and rather than change the name of the wine, he double-down on the widow.

He put her signature on the bottle. He rewarded her cult following and turned them into vocal brand ambassadors. She became revered among wine collectors and Veuve Clicquot moved from the elites into an expanded and global market.

As a result, sales steadily increased, rising from a modest 17,000 bottles of champagne in 1811 to 43,000 only five years later, and more than 200,000 by 1836. In 1850, when Werler took over full control of the business, the house sold 400,000 bottles.

Madame Clicquot is a model for all businesses who want to be leaders in their own markets. From risking her inheritance on a failing business to gambling her champagne against a naval blockade, Clicquot built her champagne empire on innovations, a keen understanding of her customer, and a story that only SHE could own. She spoke her mind, lived decisively and marketed her strengths. By doing so, she created a business that has survived generations.

Your brand can be as powerful and everlasting as Veuve Clicquot. We hope 2020 is an exceptional vintage for your company, and we look forward making that possible by following the principles of the Widow Clicquot.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
The Burch Partners Team