“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” … according to Apple legend, written by Steve Jobs
No doubt that there’s been little in the way of positive news in print, on radio or via telemedia in the last 18 months. If we were to give credence to all the naysayers, then I’m thinking that we would all be building underground bunkers in our backyards. But clearly that’s not the case. In fact a few of my friends with large holes behind their homes insist that’s just for their new pools. Umm hun! I just ran into a friend at the local 7-11. He was buying a couple of quick pick Lotto tickets, and after the purchase he held them up and said, ‘this is my new 401 K. Yikes! And he’s the CEO of a very successful wine business. Well here’s how the eyes of a ‘seasoned wine veteran’ see this world in these transformative times.
Sign of the Times
Yes, the times and consumer behaviors have indeed changed. Millennials seem to be still experimenting with their beverage choices, and have recently migrated back to gastropubs and craft beers, and are driving a movement to more casual dinning. Boomers have seen a tsunami-like movement in their retirement account charts, a devaluation of their housing assets, and a lowering of their credit lines, and as a result their rate of savings has increased from less than 1% to more than 5% of income. Credit card debt is being retired at record rates, and credit use has declined significantly. Eating-in has become the new cool, as white table cloth restaurant rethink their formulas and presentations. Businesses are enacting what my UK friends refer to as redundancies and T&E budgets have been slashed, all impacting the sale of wines above $50. So, just what are you the winery’s chief marketing officer to do? Actually, all is not lost. Yes, the economic thermostat has been reset. Reset to perhaps a more realistic temperature. The case for the return of the great depression has been somewhat overstated as we focus on the greed and hubris of the worst in the financial marketplace. The rebound seems to have started even as we assess our individual spending behaviors.
Today’s conspicuous consumption may be met with significant societal approbation, but perhaps there is identifiable pent-up demand in the marketplace. Some signs point to this. Even though the restaurant segment of the fine wine market has been in decline in this period, data seems to support the continued consumption of fine wines, albeit at home with wine purchased in a local wine store or where legal in a grocery, at price points obviously lower than wine list pricing. Smart sommeliers are constructing more diversified lists with wines from lesser known varietals and/or regions, creating opportunity for new brands by engendering consumer exposure and trial. This idea of creating trial has been around for quite sometime. One of the primary tactics was to participate in wine tastings. But as the wine marketplace has become brand saturated and wine tastings have indeed become grand, what is the best way to now engage potential wine consumers, and to convert them to customers and then to be loyal clients. It’s time to rethink this experience, and to now, as Steve Jobs once compelled us, think different.
Open Your Eyes
Like the young girl at the end of the Apple ‘Think Different” television commercials, are you ready to open your eyes and see the possibilities, to lead and create change for your brand(s)? While there may be political motivation behind the participation of wineries in large tastings that attract crowds in the thousands, the question remains, ‘what’s in it for your winery.’ In these challenging times, the need to imbue your events calendar with a healthy dose of pragmatism seems obvious, and the necessity to ask just this question – ‘what’s my desired outcome for my participation in this event?’ Awareness could be an answer, but is that possible at a tasting with hundreds of wineries multiplied by 3, 4 or more wines per table? Your interaction is minimized. Your ability to capture names rendered impractical by the crowds and short interaction intervals. And, if a consumer has difficulty remembering the name of that wine they had at La Toque in Napa for their anniversary while shopping just down the street at JV’s, do you expect them to remember your wine days later after a 30 second tasting? Marketing research tells us that the average wine consumer has a limited set of brands in their personal brand set, somewhere between 5-7 unique brands. More often than not this preference is overridden by merchandizing techniques within the store. So, Don Sebastiani or David Mirassou spending a Saturday standing in a store somewhere in America signing bottles from an end-cap display while talking to customers on a one-to-one basis, forming an emotional bond between vintner and end consumer, seems to be a more efficacious use of resources and time, then standing in a pavilion at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center with 250+ other wineries. Well, an end-cap display was sold into the store in advance of the tasting. Lift and velocity (increased sales/depletions) over normal shelf placement was achieved, leading to future display activity and perhaps additional shelf facings.
A Few Short Case Studies to Get You Thinking
Eric Sussman of Radio-Coteau has a rustic facility (think Aloxe-Corton 30 years ago) on the edge of Sebastopol, in the Green Valley not quite guest ready. Eric’s artisan production Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is limited, and more than 50% of this production is sold on a DTC basis. Like all wines with retails in the $50 range, broad market sales, while still strong, have at times required more of Eric’s presence in the market. Eric has a good understanding of creating and forming relationships with key lighthouse accounts in the broad market. And he has an understanding that large wine events are not a good use of his small wine company’s resources. In an effort to maintain his visibility and to grow his relationship with Four Seasons Hotels he elected to participate in the Four Season San Francisco’s Second Wine Maker Series. On August 4th, supported by a Facebook post, and an email blast to Radio-Coteau’s local mailing list members, the Radio-Coteau event turned out to be the most successful tasting in this summer’s series. The relationship with the Four Seasons was solidified, revenue was created for the account, and depletions were created for Radio-Coteau. As a side-note, executives from Facebook HQ saw the Facebook post and drove up from the Peninsula, and are now new R-C mailing list members.
Someone who’s mantra must be ‘think different’ is Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz. Randall has been an innovator and an agent of change in the wine industry from day one. When I think of Randall, at least my first impression, is his persona as wine’s philosopher king. He chose to make wine out of Rhone varietals, when only a few were and no real market existed for the wine. And then Reisling from the Pacific Northwest, when the category was shrinking. He valued his customers and refused to talk down to them by elevating the conversation while attracting a loyal set of passionate clients. Randall and Bonny Doon have had many iterations, and I’m not sure what version this is, but I know it seems to be working. By chance I sat at Randall’s table for the Hospice du Rhone Taste Live Event at Estate Sonoma, where he talked about the necessity for his increased presence in the market. I next saw Randall at the Wine Bloggers Conference pouring his wines and conducting one on one conversations with those that could replicate his message. Randall is on Twitter, and I follow his in-market travels. His communications are a masters class in wine marketing. He gets it and holds conversations in the ether and engages those of us in the wine trade in meaningful dialog. Randall’s micro-posts also happen to be literate and quite funny. Randall is renewing old friendships and winning fans and clients one at a time. What’s old is now new again.
“I want to put a ding in the universe!” … Steve Jobs
So you’re not Don, David, Eric or Randall, but if it was ever time in our wine business lives to be creative innovators that time is now. Jeff Stai of Twisted Oak has found a way. Lisa de Bruin of Hahn Family Wines has found a way. Chris Donatiello at C. Donatiello has found a way. David Simpson at the Mendocino Wine Company has found a way, and so have many other of our peers. Find your own example and then mirror them, or better yet use your innate talent and think of new ways to identify and capture customers through an insightful strategic analysis of your event strategy. Spend your human and capital resources wisely, and with specific expectations of a tangible return on the investment of your time. The rote way of marketing your wines, engaging in group think, or repeating activities because ‘we’ve always done it this way’ no longer seems to be effective. Make your mark. Think Different.
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