The Conversation

Naked City Detectives, Harry Bellaver, Paul Burke, & Horace McMahon“There are eight million stories, in the Naked City. This..has been one of them.”Stirling Silliphant (The Naked City ABC TV series 1958-63)

The Rain

The sound of rain, and just not the sound of rain falling, but the sound of people talking about the rain at the end of what had may just have been the perfect vintage, seemed to divert attention away from the economy, at least for the time being. While the rain, and all the wine country conversations that the rain started, provided a welcome relief from the constant drone that it’s hard out there. It’s really not the time to take your eye off the ball and to forget the market challenges inherent since the onset of the ‘Great Recession.’ For each winery and each winegrower or vineyard owner there’s an unique story. The folks on the flats in mid-Napa Valley likely had a different take on this year’s growingDoug Shafer giving his take on Vintage 2009 season weather than the folks in Calistoga, Carneros, the Vaca or Mayacamas ranges, or in Western Sonoma County, Mendocino, the Willamette Valley, Walla Sun and rain in Oakville, CA looking at the RObert Mondavi Tokalon VineyardWalla or in Santa Barbara. While each unique story suggest a similar outcome, this is a vintage that will unfold over the next several years. Perhaps the critics will pronounce estimates of Vintage of the Century or speculate that the rain has dashed all hopes for a positive result. Perhaps I lack the prescience or the hubris to judge the future of an entire vintage during harvest and crush, but I do have an understanding that a vintage is the sum of the individual experiences of each participant. And, I have an understanding that it’s in the telling of your story that will connect you to your customers.

The Bounce

In this brave new world of permission marketing, and in this time of growing consumer detachment and cynicism driven by the perceived systemic failure of our financial and Henry Paulson,  Bush Treasury Secretary governmental institutions, a review of your traditional marketing message methods has been necessitated, even as the mixed message on the state of the economy is being delivered by traditional mass media. A mention of the names Paulson, Geithner, and AIG tend to initiate a gag reflex in even the most jaded observer. However, today the DowTimoth Geithner, Obama Treasury Secretary Jones Market Index reached a 12 month high and once again climbed above 10,000, in part driven by reports that Goldman Sachs made record profits in Q3. Also noted as a sign that the climb from the bottom is underway are stories in Ad Age Talent Works that Google is Hiring again; and The New York Times reporting that Apple profits are up 47% on Strong Mac Sales. The story on the state of the wine business is even more mixed. Like the citizens of the Naked City, each wine business has its own story, some up by 10%, some flat, and some down 30%. Many wineries are going through an extended period of stress. Vic Motto, Co-Founder, Chaiman and CEO of Global Wine Partners, a St Helena, CA wine industry iBank recognizes the industry wide stress; but, doesn’t see a significant long term dislocation in wine consumer’s buying behavior. Having heard the sea change story before, most recently with the Vic Motto, CEO and Chairman of Global Wine Partnersprediction that Two Buck Chuck would drive consumers permanently away from luxury wines. Didn’t happen. It’s Mr Motto analysis that the American wine consumer is ‘aspirational’ and that wine is and will be viewed as an ‘affordable luxury.’ I’m also in the camp that believes wineries that survive this very tough period will likely, at some point, see a return to the pre-recessionary trends in buying patterns. In an October 15th Associated Press interview, Safeway CEO, Steve Burd sees signs of the turnaround in an uptick in the coffee sales mix and a move back to growth in the premium wines segment.

The Conversation

Technology has provisioned wine industry CMOs with a whole new marketing tool kit. Technology is a tool to be used and appreciated, but not one to be viewed as the long hoped foThe CLUETRAIN Manifestor silver bullet. How we now communicate with our customers has dramatically changed with the development of the web, email, texting, blogs, video, Facebook and Twitter. And in this new paradigm there are three words that have become the mantra of this new technological world in which we all now communicate our stories: transparency, authenticity, credibility. I’d like to add one word, human. This commonsense point was first made in ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto,’ by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Wineberger, first online in 1999 then in print in 2001, Copyright © by Basic Books. BTW: a 10th Anniversary edition of this must read biz book is now available. While the 10 year timeframe has dated some of the jargon, the core concepts of the treatise remain, especially those listed in the seminal 95 THESES:

  1. Markets are conversations
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice

The first five points in the “Cluetrain’ 95 THESES are a construct that is now an unavoidable communications directive for your consumer facing business. People grow your grapes. People make your wine. People sell your wine, and people buy your wine. Your story, while sharing traits with almost all others in wine’s corner of the CPG market, is unique to your circumstances.

The Case Study

Mike BenzigerIt was harvest time in the fall of 1994. Mike Benziger came out of the winery office to check on the grapes to judge when to start picking on the Family’s Estate Vineyard, located in a collapsed caldera on the Sonoma Valley side of the old dormant Sonoma Mountain volcano. Times were good. The vineyard was always busy from the days of the Glen Ellen Winery start-up through the launch of the premium value tiered Benziger Family Winery. Wines that always over delivered. Mike should have been smiling, but instead he looked troubled. He cocked his head as he stood on the edge of the vineyard, puzzled that he heard nothing. Nothing at all. Just up the hill at his home in Jack London State Park, he rememberedBenziger Family Winery Ariel Shot hearing birds chirping madly as the sun broke through the morning fog. But as he looked down the neatly groomed rows of vines, he noticed that there wasn’t a wild flower, a weed or a blade of grass on the bare dirt underneath the vines. As he walked the rows, Mike noticed that there were no bugs on the vines or flying through the air, no dragonflies, no butterflies. Stopping and reflecting he knew what was bothering him, the vineyard was no longer a living space. Mike thought a moment and considered his options. He knew that this wasn’t the way things should be. At that moment in time he vowed to change the way things had been done, to change the conventional wisdom of how things had always been done. This ancient bowl had supported life Benziger Family Winery Bloggers Visitfor millions of years, and in just a decade of intensive modern farming that had all changed. But, it wasn’t working any longer, and the Benziger farming practices needed to revert to the old ways, to the ways defined by closed system agriculture. Benziger Vineyards needed significant cultural change to recreate a new living farm. And change they did, after 3 years of concentratedThe Insectary at Benziger Family Winery study, a sustainable, biodynamic vineyard started to take shape. The first step was to establish biodiversity. So island gardens were established within the vineyard space to help support beneficial insects; and between every 10th vine row a bed of host plants and flowers were seeded to support a vineyard population of the good guys. Sheep and cows were introduced as natural lawn mowers, with their waste the base of a closed system compost program, so that no chemical fertilizers would ever be needed or would ever be used. Land that was dead just ten years ago was, in less than a decade, now a classic biodynamic closed system living farm. Earth, nature and man came together in a special place that happens to be in my backyard, just north of the town of Sonoma.

Mike Benziger & Kathy Benziger Threlkeld talking with the wine bloggersOn Saturday, October 3, 2009 I had the opportunity, along with a group of wine blogger colleagues, to hit the Benziger Biodynamic Trail at the Benziger Family Winery on Jack London Ranch Rd, just up the hill from the village of Glen Ellen. Our tour group had the opportunity to interface with Mike BenzigerKathy Benziger Threkeld, Colby Eirman, Director of Gardens, and Winemaker, Rodrigo Sotto. The passion in the delivery, even from the well practiced folks at Benziger, was  impressive, especially in closeColby Eirman, Director of gardens at Benziger family Winery quarters over 3 hours. This was a one-on-one conversation and the telling of the story, starting with that moment of enlightenment in 1994. There wasn’t any ducking questions in the active exchange of ideas. We weren’t being sold on a story. We were being invited into an experience. This was a conversation between humans. A few points really stuck with me. The first was that ‘the wines weren’tRodrigo Soto, Winemaker at Benziger Family Winery necessarily better, but that they were different.’ That they reflected this place. The second point that hit a nerve with me was that ‘each year the wine was a time stamp of the vintage.’ Not once were scores mentioned as a descriptor of any of the Benziger grown and produced wines that we tasted that day, although the Rodrigo Sotto’s wines have gotten rave reviews and scores in the traditional wine press. My take away from the day with the Benziger Family and team members was one of transparency, authenticity, and credibility. A team that understood that their plan, in a world now dominated by pull marketing, was that by communicating in this human voice missionaries were created, replicating the message and influencing friends.

The grandchildren of the founder of Park Benziger & Company, and the children of the founder of Glen Ellen Winery, Bruno Benziger are well versed in the finer points of wineNow that's biodynamic, at Benziger Family WInery marketing. But, change must be in their DNA. First selling Glen Ellen, then converting a 200,000+ value brand to a slightly more than 110,000 caseMike Benziger pointing out the native raptor population at Benziger Family Winery sustainable, biodynamic super-premium/luxury brand, while changing their farming practice as stewards of the land. In a time of declining circulation numbers and disappearing newspapers, an effort has been made to maintain contacts with the traditional press, in both the wine and consumer lifestyle focused print media arenas. The Benziger marketing team has fully embraced new media, including Twitter, and wine bloggers. Benziger POS is also available as an online deliverable, further enhancing the green story, while insuring the timely delivery of product sheets, neckers, sell sheets and cut case cards on an as needed by market basis. If you go to the Trade/Media section of the Benziger web site, you can download the Chris Benziger narrated video sales presentation which is a masters class in wine brand marketing. And, if you ever find yourself near Glen Ellen, stop-in and take the tour. As a small family wine marketer, you need to identify and mirror the success stories. The Benzigers have successfully differentiated their wine brands in this difficult, brand saturated market. And, by the way, their wines just aren’t different, the Benziger wines exhibit a specific point of view and IMHO are damn good.

The Story

Mike Benziger in the wine caves at Benziger Family WineryThe Benziger family and team recognized that their best path to the market was through their authentic story told in a human voice to groups of consumers, members of the trade, and to traditional and new media writers. A story that has been replicated to the point that in 2008 almost 175 million media impressions were created. Even though the Benzigers produce in their Demeter Certified Winery 1.32 million bottles of wine, the consumer impressions and strong word of mouth campaign along with a vibrant visitor center program help to create demand beyond the produced supply.  Through their objective mastery of pull marketing tactics, tactics based on an authentic and credible story, the Benzigers have been able to not only create an awareness envied by any enterprise wineco, but a model for any family wine business. The question that now begs to be answered: what’s your story and what are your winery’s marketing plans to maximize brand awareness and sales in what continues, even as the turnaround starts, to be a challenging marketplace?

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Revisiting Wine Marketing 101

Leo Burnett“If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.” … Leo Burnett

Chicken Little

Yes indeed, the sky may be falling. The Great Recession, which in the 6 months from September 2008 through March 2009 stripped in excess of $6.6 trillion from USA personal wealth, may be with us for awhile. The access to credit that drove US consumer spending behavior and the economy has largely evaporated. Although consumers have paid down debt at aiDepression Bread Lines coming soon to your neighborhood record pace, banks continue to reduce credit availability, expecting to retract an additional $1.5 trillion by lowering home equity loan access, consumer credit card limits and commercial lines of credit, restricting the ability of the US economy to recover recent spending patterns. Something lost in the swirl of marketing images from luxury Paneri Watchesconsumer brands such as Panerai Watches, Hasselblad, Hermes, Ferrari, Tom Ford, Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors, et alia, is that under the aura of glitz America has been on sale for quite sometime. Just like disco, to many consumers the idea of the luxury brand may be dead, at least for the foreseeable future. Value has coexisted with the concept of brand as long as brand has existed. It’s the yin and yang of the retail continuum. Walmart created explosive growth in the 1990’s with the concept of everyday low prices, and then created significant competition to chain grocers with the introduction of consumables in both Walmart and Sam’s Club stores. Costco has been in the game for awhile, and has become a major factor in wine sales. Target introduced the idea of designer products at value pricing, and now will match Walmart pricing toy for toy this Safeway Cut Case Wine Display w/Sale pricingChristmas. And then there’s Amazon. Amazon is no longer just your bookstore, but now a major online retailer across several categories of consumer goods and electronics. And, as soon as the compliance situation, delayed by the well documented situation at New Vine Logistics, can be sorted Amazon will be a major factor in wine sales. Trader Joe’s introduced the concept of healthful foods at value pricing back in the 1970’s. With the latest US Labor The Economic Elevator's going SouthDepartment statistics pegging the jobless rate at 9.8%, this is a dramatic understatement of the now real number that’s closer to 17% including people no longer actively looking for work and those now underemployed and working non-benefited minimum wage part-time jobs. It’s not surprising to see major retailers and grocers follow a strategy of value pricing. For anyone in this neck of the woods if you’ve been in Safeway recently the major merchandising theme is SAVE, and the yellow sale tags are inescapable. Lucky stores are following their philosophy of everyday low prices. And overriding this is a spirit of the new consumerism. It’s now cool to be frugal and save money.

The New Wine Consumer

San Francisco TrafficAs I worked my way to the Mission Street Garage traffic slowed to a crawl, in part due the rerouting of traffic away from Market Street. I was in the process of doing a NorCal broad market survey of grocery and independent package stores for a privately held family winery client, and it was time to break for lunch. Since my last two stops were in SoMa, I was headed to the food court in the Westfield Center, and to Charles Phan’s ‘Out the Door.’ Even though it was only 12:30 on an early October Friday, the joint was jumping. The food court was packed with shoppers, most holding multiple bags. The noise level sounded, well actually felt, like a low roar, creating a sense of excitement not present in the City’s shopping Out the Door at the Westfield Center, San franciscodistrict for several years. One of my early retail lessons at Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Village, was to look for the bags in shoppers hands as an indicator of a good or bad day, and this looked like a good day. All of this economic activity seemed to be driven by the aggressive mark-downs and clearances in the stores in the Center. Pricing motivated by the need to make room for holiday merchandise, and these pricing strategies seemed to be working. Consumers have been on the sidelines, even during the recent back to school shopping period in August. But sharp advertising and in store media seemed effective at getting shoppers to reopen their wallets. The efficacy of the various campaigns will be reflected in each stores daily flash reports. The tide may be turning, however slowly, as consumer sentiment seems to be Inflection Point Graphdriven by value, with the economic thermostat having obviously been reset. An economy that now seems more driven by consumer needs rather than by wants. And the need for value seems to be paramount as a new inflection point in consumer purchasing behavior has been reached. So, in an age of cash for clunkers, extended unemployment benefits and tight credit what can we do as wine marketers to meet the contemporary challenges of the market. Let’s take a quick revisit to the basics of consumer packaged goods marketing (I’ll try not to be too wonky) by first asking the following questions:

  • Who are the buyers?
  • How much will the buyers pay for my wine?
  • Where and how will the buyers purchase my wine?
  • How do I create buying situations?
  • Is the customer happy after purchasing my wine?

Marketing 101 Revisited

  • Product – the want satisfying offering of your winery (branding, packaging, product features)
  • Price – what you charge for your wines. Price is a measure of value. Price in the marketplace is a rough measure of how your consumers value your wines
  • Promotion – the communication of information between your winery (the seller) and the potential buyer in a defined channel (Place) that tends to influence attitudes and behavior
  • Place – making goods and services available in the right quantities and locations when your customers want them, resulting in the transfer of ownership from producer (your winery) to your customer/client, taking into account strategies and tactics applicable to any middlemen, brokers, marketing agents, wholesalers and retailers

Wine Business Monthly Top #0 US Wine CompaniesToday most wineries are micro marketers. Even wineries in the WBM Top 30 approach the market on a segmented basis. Micro marketing is the ‘performance of activities that seek to accomplish an organization’s (your winery) objectives (selling your wine on a timely basis) by anticipating customer or client needs (marketing research) and directing a flow of need satisfying goods (your wines) from producer (you) to customers/clients’ (via DTC, DTT, broad market).

It is important to understand that we are no longer in a wants period of aspirational or conspicuous consumption, but in period of meeting the specific identifiable needs oAbraham Maslowf your targeted audience. Without entering the maze of Abraham Mazlow’s ‘hierarchy of human needs,’ here are the basic definitions of wants and needs and demands:

  • Wants – desires for specific satisfiers of deeper needs; i.e., the particular choices (including types of products/specific brands) that consumers aspire to buy to satisfy perceived needs.
  • Needs – a state of felt or real depravation of some basic satisfaction (the difference between a consumers actual condition and their desired condition).
  • Demands – wants for specific products that are backed by an ability and willingness to pay for them.

Wine Consumers at Benziger WinerySo, as wine marketers it is important to understand that we don’t create needs. Needs preexist marketers and their brands. A marketers function is to influence wants. A good marketer takes the initiative in stimulating and facilitating commerce. A key part of this function is understanding the market and your consumer. So, how can one identify the best possible markets, and then influence consumer purchasing behavior? Engage your marketing research resources and ask:

  • Who are the people with identified wants?
  • Where are these people?
  • What’s their purchasing power?
  • What’s their buying behavior?

Having asked and answered the above questions, what degree of market exposure do you want, or more importantly can support with your production, allocations and resources, human and capital?

  • Intensive (ubiquitous distribution for large production, enterprise wine companies)
  • Selective (by channel for mid-sized winecos, or for products within an enterprise wineco where price dictates targeted distribution)
  • Exclusive (small- family winecos with limited channel distribution, or luxury brands model)

Having now identified your market and your desired level of targeted distribution, what sort of consumer behavior response do you want to engender – routinized response behavior or adoptive response behavior?

Routinized Response Behavior – the regular selection of a particular way of satisfying a need. This is typical of low involvement purchases, generics or purchases motivated by price or perception of price.

Adoptive Response Behavior – the demand for a specific product that meets, on a regular basis, the hierarchy of needs of a buyer, and the continued ability to purchase your wine(s). This is typical of high involvement purchases, usually of products (wines) within a consumer’s brand set.

Sale tags on all the winesAs a marketer, if you plan to sell your wines in a saturated market based only on price, in essence creating a commodity and not a brand, in what has to be by nature a rapid depletion exit strategy, then the idea of routinized response behavior is the way to go, and pricing and display allowances will be your primary marketing tactics. However, if you want to build a brand even in this challenging market, then engage in marketing tactics that create adoptive response behavior within your identified consumer set.

Wine Consumer Adoption Process

Awareness – comes to know your wine(s) through your brand awareness plan that may include category specific magazine reviews, scores, story placement, newspapers, blogs, forums, and social media.

Interest – the ease of finding information on your web site, forums, blogs and traditional wine press. Events like Twitter Taste Live, open that Bottle Night or Tweet-ups.

Evaluations – providing information and access to your wine. In addition to the traditional wine press new points of information such as Cellar Tracker, AbleGrape, and approximately 800 wine bloggers are a resource that you need to identify and utilize.

Trial – the chance to try before committing. Wine by the Glass, in-store sampling, winery tasting rooms, winemaker dinners.

Decision – to adopt or reject. A whole set of modifiers come into play, such as varietal, pricing, packaging, where and when available to purchase.

Confirmation – the reinforcement that the decision is good. This can be in the form of availability or rarity, appealing to cultural values (sustainable or biodynamic wines), based on acclaim, reviews or a wine blog, or on the affirmation from friends or family.

The Game

Twins beat Tigers in one game playoff 2009Without a thorough grounding in classic CPG marketing fundamentals and a clear understanding of wine brand marketing concerning human motivations in regards to purchasing behaviors, success in today’s highly competitive and product saturated marketplace is not likely for your winery. This somewhat academic take, a departure from my usual ‘how-to’ articles was written to encourage you, your winery’s marketing officer, to think about your current brand plan. Concerning your brand – what is it that you do and why do you do it? Is it working? What would you do differently? What are you doing to differentiate your wines? It’s not a time for indecision in your consumer facing wine business. Faced with declining sales in his collection line Michael Kors quickly introduced a consumer approachable ready to wear line and is thriving in a brutal retail market. Yes, times are tough, and consumer behavior has been reset, but commerce moves on. It is important to be in the game, so sharpen your pencils and fire up your synapses. Preparation and planning = performance.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.