Who turned on the lights?

“Well we’re movin on up,
To the east side
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.”

… ‘The Jeffersons’ … Lyrics by Jeff Barry & Ja’net Dubois

Moving on Up

In a conversation at the recent DBTA symposium at Ferry Plaza, Qupe winegrower Bob Lindquist (and many others) referred to 2009 as “a very tough year.” Well, even if US wine market conditions are still challenging, it seems as though a significant change in the direction in the US wine market has finally occurred, and that the lights in the marketplace have been turned-on. The dynamics of change are complex, and driven by multiple factors, including significant promotional spend and discounting. In addition, this uptick was aided by new wines entering new channels, and new route to market tactics being implemented by winecos who formerly relied on a few traditional channels, such as Tasting Room DTC efforts, and on-premises channel exclusivity. Some of the changes have happened due to innovation, sheer panic, or as a result of the ongoing recognition of wine market trends. But the evidence of a wine bull market is now unmistakeable.

Sometime in mid to late August 2009, an inflection point in the US market had been reached, as domestic wines sales took an upturn in both value and volume. As reported by Rachel Nichols in Wine Business Monthly on January 15, 2010, The Nielsen Company reported that “wine sales for October were up 2.3%” year/year. And in the rolling 52 week report dollar sales were up 3.5%, and for the same period case goods volume was up 1.7%, possibly reflecting higher price point wines entering the US Food & Drug channel tracked by Nielsen, and the concomitant significant promotional across the board spend for this period.

In a November 10th WBM article, Liza B. Zimmerman noted that “retailers, restauranteurs and wholesales” had expressed optimism that wines sales were indeed moving in a positive direction. But the YTD market seemed to be driven by the value segment; and, as noted by Suzanne Gannon in the November 2009 issue of Wines & Vines, by wines in alternative and environmentally friendly alternative packaging, with dynamic growth being shown by wines in Tetra Pak and bag-in-box formats.

The March 2010 Wine Business Monthly Retail Sales Analysis headline on page 56, reads “Retail Wine Sales See 6 Percent Holiday Bump, Signs of Life for $20 Sales,” with sales increasing in value by 6.3% and volume gaining 5.6%, with wine above $20 gaining almost 10% in both value and volume. This represented a dramatic change of events in a market that has been referred to as the toughest in years. A change in the trend line that not even CNBC‘s Jim Cramer or Danny Brager, Vice President of Client Services for The Nielsen Co. had forecasted.

A Sea Change

Consumer and market confidence seem to have returned with sustainable results now, not only possible, but probable for the remainder of 2010. The major sign beyond the US Food & Drug wine sales increase trends tracked by Nielsen, as seen by Think Wine Marketing, was the February 20, 2010 Premiere Napa Valley Barrel-Futures Auction. The Napa Valley Vintners reported that the auction raised $1.9 million, a figure that is a 30% increase over the 2009 results and represents the 3rd best revenue total in the Premiere Napa Valley’s fourteen year history. According to the Napa Vintners, the top-selling lot of the day was from Shafer Vineyards, a five-case offering of Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold to Napa-based Winebid.com for $37,000, or $616 a bottle. In response to the winning bid, Doug Shafer, President of Shafer Vineyards remarked that “It was exciting to see the support and enthusiasm for our wine, but it was just as good to sense the cautious optimism in members of the wine trade that things have turned a corner economically.” The sales at the NVV Premiere event marked a sea change in market sentiment by those close to consumers, the wine trade. Gary Fisch of New Jersey’s Gary’s Wines noted that his customers were “starting to drink more premium wines, and they’re calling for us to bring these kind of wines home.” And, JP Richard of Cache Road Liquors in Oklahoma observed that “you can feel that the energy is springing back.”

New Routes to Market

Nielsen trend analysis and auction results alone are not the whole story. A recent Think Wine Marketing survey of wine e-commerce sites revealed vigorous market activity and enviable revenue accretion in 2009. In response to my inquiry Shaun Bishop co-founder and President of wine e-commerce pioneer WineCommune and JJBuckley.com stated that “at JJ Buckley, revenues grew 19% in 2009 vs 2008. We focused on product selection, pricing and service – and customers responded. People are spending, but they want to be smarter about how they spend and are focusing their purchases with retailers they trust. We tried to make it easy for them to save money and get the wines they wanted.”

George Studdert of wine.woot! remarked that “my controller tells me that 4th Qtr numbers aren’t quite in yet, but conservative numbers indicate a 50% increase again this year over last making it three consecutive years of 50% or greater growth.  We can also say that we shipped out in excess of 75,000 packages on behalf of wineries direct to the consumer.”

While both of these businesses are wine e-commerce sites, their individual models are significantly differentiated from one another. Of the two businesses, JJ Buckley is the longer standing e-commerce site (as WineCommune founded in 1999) with an established and recurring revenue base offering a dynamic selection of products on a daily basis, while functioning as a virtual bricks & mortar retailer. While wine.woot! is a newer business launching in 2006 offering 3 individual wines per week from selected wineries, allowing the featured winery to interact directly with clients, and functions as a marketing agent for each offer. Interaction seems to be the key to the success of both companies. The idea that relationships with customer and clients is paramount and that customer service is the driver that builds trust and sales. These are but two of the more than 250+ wine e-commerce sites available to US winecos, albeit two of the more successful operators in the space. In the long-tail, fast product cycle wine industry, and in this saturated market JJ Buckley and wine.woot! offer winecos a voice that seems to transform the “noise to signal” (<– term via VinTank’s Paul Mabray).

Wine e-commerce is a solution that many wineries have discovered, and one, that as broadband infrastructure buildout occurs, will become more popular with wine consumers. In the recent survey results of ‘Affluents,’ households with more than $100,000 net income, Ipsos Mendelsohn revealed that 98% of these households have a broadband connection and frequently shop online. However, e-commerce availability doesn’t appear to be the lone motivator, but selection, service and relationship development are the prime movers of purchase behaviors. With a 72% growth in worldwide mobile broadband data bandwidth usage in H2 of 2009, and the announcement by the FCC that “the goal is to bring super-fast broadband to every corner of the U.S. over the next 10 years, giving the country the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation,” the trend of adoption of the wine e-commerce channel by a wide segment of US consumers will tend to accelerate.

The Aspirational Consumer

The idea of aspiration and the American consumer is a long discussed concept by psychologists, organizational sociologists, and economists, and defined as “being ambitious” and/or “desiring success.” And the idea of aspirational consumer behavior as defined in the ‘Business Dictionary‘ is that ”Consumer motives or goals can be represented by the values they hold. Values are people’s broad life goals that symbolize a preferred mode of behaving (e.g., independent, compassionate, honest) or a preferred end-state of being (e.g., sense of accomplishment, love and affection, social recognition). Consumers buy products that will help them achieve desired values; they see product attributes as a means to an end.”

Susan Hader in a MarketingProfs article notes that ‘aspirational consumers – (are) affluent and middle income consumers willing to pay more for high-end goods and services.” Purchasing these brands “provides aspirationals with feelings of success and status.”

Dr. Issac Mostovicz, a consulting academic with insights into drivers of human behavior in practical business situations, reports in the current issue of ‘Janus Thinking’ that he sees that the US is seeing the return of the ‘aspirational consumer.” “Trends happening in places such as Silicon Valley suggest that American’s with expendable income are regaining the confidence to spend it.” This conclusion is based on January 2010 retail sales figures. “The monthly sales numbers offered further indications of returning demand for prestige and luxury goods, with Saks and Neiman Marcus, the luxury fashion department stores, reporting increases of 6.8 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.”

The  Long View

In his article ‘Wine in a Downturn,’ Vic Motto, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Global Wine Partners tracks the wine market through it’s ups & downs from 1973 on. An article worthy of review. Mr. Motto has on several occasions referred to the aspirational American wine consumer. Wondering if this observation has changed, I asked the following:

TWM: You’ve often said that the American wine consumer is aspirational; so, in light of the challenges facing the US wine market in the last year what’s your current view?

VM: “Hit by the shock of the recession, we all feel and are a little poorer, so our spending patterns reflect that.  But, we don’t give up. As we recover financially, we always revert to our normal spending patterns. Old habits are hard to break. There are centuries of history that demonstrates this – including the post-recovery of the great depression, which went from the lowest low in U.S. history to the highest high. There are many reasons that premium wine sales will recover, including very important and ongoing long-term drivers of industry growth and premium trends with over 25 years of momentum behind them.  But the core reason that premium sales are already beginning to recover is that we humans are aspirational. We always seek to improve our lives and quality of life, and we don’t give up on that – no matter what our status. People really do want quality, and they appreciate the difference. So, I wouldn’t bet against the American consumer, or the U.S. economy. I just don’t think that’s a good bet.  The time for hunkering down is passing. It’s a good time to go long.  I’m already buying better wine than last year.  How about you?”

Insights and Recommendations

The just released qualitative and quantitative research study on today’s American consumer By Ogilvy & Mather Chicago in partnership with consumer insight company Communispace has revealed the emergence of a radically individualistic consumer who is re-imagining a more sustainable future for themselves. This post-recession consumer wants fewer, but still high quality consumables. “We are finding (that) consumers make very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives into balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of,” As discussed in ‘world tea news,’ the concept of ‘affordable luxury’ seems to be well applied to wine: “It seems that the next big buzz word for consumables is affordable luxury. The trends of consumers trading down their purchases due to the economy while staying at-home to re-connect and enjoy the finer things in life are fueling a new perspective in Americana. Add the fact that consumers are demanding higher quality products, faster without added cost or complexities; affordable luxuries seem to have found the perfect storm in the late 2000’s.” Another key attribute of the new consumer exacerbated by recent economics is the idea of ‘cocooning’ introduced in the 1990’s by trend forecaster/marketing consultant Faith Popcorn. Consumer cocooning is being redefined and actualized by this new consumer, who is eating out less, and socializing more at home, necessitating new route to market strategies by wine companies. The forecast by Ms Popcorn that cocooning would lead to stay at home electronic shopping, has in fact come true. So, as wine marketers, it is our job to identify consumer movement and consumer keys and develop a plan to create commerce.

Please note the following suggested steps to enact as part of your post recession marketing action plan:

Ramp-up your customer service: Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Digital Strategic Services at Nielsen Online, in his 2009 WITS keynote address said it all – “Service is the new marketing. It’s the most important activity.”

Route to market: Consider a diversification of your channel strategy and consider multiple market touchpoints, to include e-commerce. Note that single channel marketing strategies are no longer viable.

Talk to your customers: The idea of customer relationship management (CRM) may have morphed into the concept of “Social CRM.” But regardless of platform, understand that every consumer touchpoint matters. Develop, nurture and build a relationship with each and every customer. Make your customers your clients.

Ask your customers to talk to you: Today with so many ways to connect to your customers via social media (which you should monitor via Cruvee), don’t forget the basics, like the ‘contact us’ button on your web site, the basic 1-800 #, and those one-on-one conversations (remember talking to your customers) that you can have in person. And don’t forget those capture/feedback forms in your tasting rooms or at tasting events. Oh, and hand out a lot of business cards with your contact info.

Reevaluate your promotional spend: According to Olgivy’s Graceann Bennett “The consumer is moving forward, but many marketers are projecting the stresses of the economy in their marketing and are not connecting with the new consumer mindset…” “It’s time for marketers to reflect the new positive self reliance of today’s consumer and to tap into building relationships with more one-on-one marketing efforts” … “it is important for marketers to tread carefully into the discount space, because brands that are associated with deprivation and the recession may conjure up less than positive associations once consumers have a bit more cash to spend.”

Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing Blog® All rights reserved.

Managing your wine brand message in a wired world

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” … Mitchell Kapor

One of the strategic issues currently under discussion in wine marketing meetings is how to address the fact that winery CMOs and brand managers face significant points of friction in our wired world. A wired world where a winery’s brand message is often modified by users across the universe of sites including mobile apps, marketing agents, ecommerce portals, bricks & mortar retailers with an ecommerce presence, blogs, forums and social networks. The same passion that you put into the production of your wines is mirrored in the story inherent in your wine brand. However, user-generated content often retells this story in a way that obfuscates your unique, value added proposition that differentiates your wine products in a crowded and increasingly difficult market. This all too common outcome is not unlike the results achieved in the traditional dinner party game of ‘Telephone’, where a short story is whispered into the ear of the person next to you, and repeated through a chain of individuals until the final person in the chain is asked to then tell the story, often to the laughs of all involved. The facts have been so modified, having passed through the filter of each person, that the final story bears no resemblance to the original tale. But the act of having your winery’s product information modified in this manner is no laughing matter and tends to diminish brand identity, and will effectively, over time, erode brand image and value. But just how can a winery effectively standardize their brand message and brand image across this vast, fragmented information cloud without imposing an onerous work load and cumbersome time management restraints on staff?

The unintended consequences of Moore’s Law

The simple idea, in the late 1960’s, of migrating from germanium, or the by then the more common germanium/silicon mix as the primary material for solid state electronics, to silicon as the base material for integrated circuit design was the genesis of a movement that had significant unintended outcomes. By 1965 Gordon E. Moore at the time head of research at Fairchild Semiconductor and later co-founder in 1968 of Intel, predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. This was likely based not only on his own observations but on earlier predictions including the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart the co-inventor of the computer mouse. Moore’s paper was the foundation document used by the semiconductor industry as the targeting platform for future planning, research and business development. Caltech professor, Carver Mead coined the term ‘Moore’s Law‘ in the early 1970’s. Moore’s Law has driven innovation in ways never foreseen by these early Silicon Valley bootstrappers, from the exponential development of processing speed and memory capacity to new miniaturization technologies, impacting the development and the worldwide use of digital tools by both businesses and consumers. This rapid development of technology made possible by the research of the post WW II generation of scientist has led to the development of tools and products that reach and impact our lives daily, and not only in obvious ways. Integrated circuits are in our cars, our toasters our washing machines and refrigerators. Integrated circuits enable the technology that heat our home or allow municipalities to efficiently deliver utilities to end users. So many ways, that we now accept these developments without much fanfare or notice. They just are.

Old school goes new school

When I was in college in Morgantown, the campus was wired to an IBM 360 computer. As a student who wanted to make use of the computers, I had to take courses in the then evolving computer coding languages of BASIC, Fortran and COBOL. The WVU Computer Center’s IBM 360 was in a building a block square and 6 stories high. I now can hold that computing capacity in my hand, no longer waiting 24 hours for a 10 lb report printed on a daisy wheel printer. I’m now able to receive instant feedback to any inquiry or search. I can go down the wine aisle at JV’s in Napa and using an iPhone wine app take a picture of the UPC or the label, and get immediate information on that specific wine, 1-2-3, just like that. Smaller, faster, better seems to be the mantra driven by robust competition between large and emerging technology companies. We’ve been climbing this graph of technological development that has colored and shaped the current wine marketing landscape. One of the developments that has come on the scene is the introduction of user generated content into the brand conversation. Starting out with FTPs then BBSs which evolved into forums, then migrating to usenet, and then through a variety of ISP pipes such as Netscape, AOL, MSN and Yahoo. A movement that gained traction with the development of broadband availability and use, was topic specific blogging using services such as Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr. In 2006 Twitter introduced microblogging to the world, basically taking old school instant messaging meant to be used within a small group of friends or utilized as a business communications tool in lieu of e-mail and making it available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Facebook emerged as a college based IM service that allowed friends to communicate on a closed circuit basis. That was your dad’s Facebook. Facebook is now a marketing powerhouse platform for individuals and brands.

Modern wine communication modalities

As an example of how brand communications have evolved, on January 28, 2010, I took part in an online multi-media wine tasting experience featuring Walter Bressia who is a winemaker of note in Mendoza, Argentina. The tasting was a live, real-time online event with feeds on Twitter, USTREAM, and GoToMeeting. Invitations were initiated through the Vines of Mendoza Facebook Fan Page. The event included a number of wine and wine business bloggers who actively participated in the tasting of three of Walter Bressia’s wines. Conversations occurred between the tasters and the winemaker, and between each other. It was fun, informative, and a best practices use of technology. But, this wasn’t my first online interaction with winemakers. On Earth Day 2009, I was engaged in a beta test with Lisa Mattson and Wilson Daniels with Nigel Greening of Felton Road who was in his home office in Wanaka, NZ and Bernard Lacroute of WillaKenzie who was in his winery office in Yamhill, OR. So an online connection and conversation on sustainable faming practices occurred between St. Helena, Sonoma, Wanaka, NZ and Yamhill, OR, and a personal connection was forged between the winemakers and a wine business writer halfway around the world from each other.

The Wine Directory

A constant comment that I get from winery clients or winery friends is the amount of misinformation concerning their brands that they find in online searches. The old saying of garbage-in – garbage-out has never been truer. Incomplete or misconstrued information plagues the wine industry. And this has been exacerbated with the proliferation of consumer and ecommerce generated input. Real and false information alike is replicated in the blink of an eye. The methods of communication between brand owners and brand users has changed. Consumers now have access to tools that empower their input, and help create and influence brand discourse. The idea of brand while still evolving is essentially based on a set of attributes promised by you the brand owner to the end user. This is a basic concept that may be lost in an age of instant consumer input. But the fact remains that you are the brand owner, and an inherent attribute of ownership is your responsibility to factually shape the conversation concerning base information, also known as data, for you brand and products. This has been addressed by the team at Cruvee with OwnIt, changing the way your wine is viewed online. And now, 9 weeks into the launch and adoption cycle, of OwnIt,  as a member of the Cruvee Board of Advisors I had a chance last week to sit with the Cruvee team to do a dry run through the release of the Wine Directory. In explaining the Wine Directory, Cruvee CEO Evan Cover said “ the directory is intended to show you how your products and your winery are visually represented online. If your information is accurate here it will be accurate across all of our partner sites and applications. This means controlling your brand’s image with millions of customers visiting the biggest social networks, tons of mobile applications, online retailers and more.”

In conclusion

A first step in  regaining control of your brand message is registering your brand and inputing information into the OwnIt database, which is free other than the allocation of time to correctly input your wine brand and brand product data. James Jory, Cruvee VP of Technology sees OwnIt and the Wine Directory as “the chance to eliminate the Balkinization of your wine brand data within the online community.This is a solution with a low barrier to entry that enables you the brand owner to control your winery’s product information facts.” The idea of passively sitting by and letting others define any brand is a notion that is anathema to me, and it should also be unacceptable to you the brand owner. So, step up, sign-in and take control of your wineco’s brand information, and OwnIt!

Note: Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved