Tag Archive - marketing

Is there a Grand Cru in your future?

1976, BA begins Concorde flights

Another classic that failed to keep up with the times? Image via Wikipedia

I went to a great tasting event not that long ago, but the kind of “trade” tasting that has me scratching my head. Who goes to these things, and what do they achieve?

“Trade” tastings are officially intended to offer insights into certain wines (by region, style, importer) etc. to those whose job it is to buy, promote, review, or sell wines. However, this definition encompasses a great many people, and the reality is that they are mainly about reaching out hopefully to try and find an audience and champion, and avoid too many people coming simply for the free booze.

The problem is that they cost a LOT and achieve rather less, and the biggest issue is that many of the people there selling their wines don’t know what they want to achieve.

Anyway, the tasting in question was the Union des Grands Crus de Chablis (I’ve linked this, but since the site has not been updated since 2008, not much point clicking through). An organisation of some of the best producers of a marvellous style of wine, Chablis, representing the top fraction of wine produced in what is already a tiny region in France. The thing is, those who are invited all KNOW they are great. Why spend so much money hiring a room, marketing an event, flying over and pouring free samples in order to tell us so?

In order to try and work out what they were hoping to achieve, I asked most of the producers there who they thought their customers are. I got two “stock” answers:

  1. Slightly older consumers, already well off, who know what they like, buying these wines in top restaurants
  2. Those who recognise that Grand Cru Chablis is “better value that other top White Burgundies”

Well, the second answer is just ridiculous. Buying my own Boeing 747 might be cheaper than running my own private Concorde, but I still can get around the world quite easily without either.

The first is more worrying. Not only does it show a worrying lack of any understanding of the nature and motivation of those who choose £30-£50+ bottles of wine, but those folks are disappearing!

Being almost 40 (shock!) I remember a time about 20 years ago when ordering a “Chablis” was still a demonstration of great wine knowledge. When faced with hundreds of French & Italian wine options, knowing this one word made a great difference. These drinkers, trained on this style, were then more likely to ‘trade up’ to Chablis Premier Cru for special occasions, and eventually maybe discover Chablis Grand Cru as the boom-time bank accounts allowed.

The problem is that keen wine novices are no longer weaned on Chablis, and these are no longer boom times. Choices in general are much better, better value and more varied. Ordering a bottle of Chablis is no longer the ‘quality default’ it used to be.

The Chablis consumer pipeline is drying up.

“Classic” wine regions that simply rest on their laurels can become outmoded and struggle to become relevant again. Think about Sherry, Madeira and others . I’m not saying Chablis will disappear, but will it become sidelined?

The time has come for several things:

  • Cooperate! Producers need to work together, properly, to promote regions and their brands. Regionality is a key differentiator in wine that needs better promotion, and the benefits only come if producers can communicate its distinctiveness.
  • Invest! Investing in marketing and working out who the customer is and what motivates them – then work out how to reach them.
  • Engage! Stop preaching to the converted at cosy trade events, and reach out to consumers. If people want to buy the wine, the trade sales will follow. Two year old websites are an embarrassment.
  • Stay relevant! See these wines in a much broader, modern, context – understand that consumers have many more options.

Hopefully a new generation of consumers can be reminded that Chablis wines ARE distinctive and delicious, and that exploring them can be rewarding, but the UGCC must get its act together if these new customers are to arrive before the current crop die out.

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Turning Wii into Wine

Wii and Wine

I’m guessing that you’ve heard of the Wii? A large number of you will own one, or someone in your family will. I know mine do – they ALL do in fact. I’m also guessing that until the Wii came out, many of those who now have one would not have said they would be buying a games console.

Did you realise that the Nintendo Wii has almost 50% market share of games consoles around the world? That’s almost 70 MILLION Wii units in houses across the globe. I didn’t. Now, I’m not a gamer, and you probably aren’t either, so WHO CARES?

Answer: Any business who wants to go from nowhere to 50% share in 3 years should care, really!

So what helped to change their minds?

Was it the graphics speed? Was it the control device (wiimote)? Was it the funny name? Was it the design of the console itself that was so desirable? Was it because it loaded faster, or more easily? Was it made by special kinds of robots, or with particular components? Was it because it won all sorts of awards?

I doubt it.

Most importantly, what are the lessons to be learned for wine? Simple. It is about Benefits & Features. Nintendo didn’t just try to steal market share from competitors, they set out to “get new people playing games” [from Wikipedia].

While Sony & Microsoft tried to out-do each other in innovations of features that were important to gamers (graphics, sound, movie tie-ins), Nintendo focused on making their product fit into our lives. Yours and mine.

To this audience, the features of the Wii, or any games console, were immaterial. This audience simply had no reason to want to play games involving shooting zombies or scoring goals.

So was the brilliant thing the Wii did then? They convinced us that it wasn’t a games console, it was a family entertainment tool AND a fitness aid.


They stopped talking about Features and found new Benefits.

I could go on (many gaming sites don’t seem to understand this issue either it seems), but lets get back to wine.

How many times have you read: “Handpicked”, “Careful selection”, “de-stemming”, “french oak”, “tannins”, “fruit”, etc. on a wine label? Pretty much EVERY time. These are FEATURES of the wine, and not only that, they rarely vary from one wine to another.

We (all) happen to have palates that can distinguish minute chemical differences between these wines, which is just as well, because in terms of message, wine brands are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

What could you say about your wine, or the wine in your glass, if you couldn’t talk about ANY features and only mention benefits? Most of us would struggle, because the only benefits we are used to talking about are “being more social” and, ultimately, inebriation.

Wine does not have a ready-made lexicon of terms for the benefits of this product, but it MUST develop one if it is to reach out to consumers and make wine relevant to them. Only the most creative, brave and switched-on brands will have the capacity to drive this forward, and the problem is that these are very few and far-between at the moment.

However, this is not just a money game. What is interesting is that this problem *might* be resolved by throwing lots of money at it; recruiting global advertising agencies, research bodies, copywriters, media buyers and more. It might also be resolved by speaking to consumers and actually asking them what the wine brand means to them, and that is where clever, lucky and energetic wineries with social media strategies can actually benefit.

Who knows if this will happen. I feel strongly that it is something that the wine business needs to resolve. We cannot continue to flog the dead horse of today’s wine messages. We are not reaching the consumer and the business is suffering.

I’m off to play Wii Tennis with my kids and get fit. What about you? Still drinking that stuff made from hand-picked grapes stuffed in wooden barrels for ages? Boring!

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Where on Earth?

SIngapore Under Construction Sign
Image by hellochris via Flickr

It is has been too quiet here recently. I did have some amazing ideas for posts, but none have made it past the draft stage yet. Sorry!

My intention is to keep the main part of this blog for more general wine marketing and communications topics, and to keep details of the wine events that I attend in a separate area. One day soon I shall integrate them here properly (a site redesign is underway). However, I have already started writing about some of my wine and food experiences in the last few weeks.

In case you have missed them, there are two ways to read some of these:

  1. Click on the “thirstforwine” tab above and get a snapshot of tweets, posts, videos and photos that I am posting on a daily basis
  2. Visit thirstforwine.posterous.com – my new way of sharing details of some of the interesting wine and food experiences I come across

Here are a few of my recent favourites that I hope you’ll enjoy:

Back soon!

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Twitter, how do I use thee? Let me list away

Menu and Wine List - Enoteca Vino Bar
Image by avlxyz via Flickr

No, this time it isn’t THAT kind of wine list.

This is about the the Twitter List facility. This particular social media tool is somewhat flawed in my opinion, however, if you want to provide value to others then you should consider using them.

Lists are a means of keeping up with a particular group of twitterers. It isn’t just about the group of people that are included, it is a way of seeing all their tweets in one … list*.

If you are in the wine business, you should consider using them to provide value to yourself and others. Many users simply create generic categories such as “wine” or “friends” with 100+ members. If they follow thousands and need a way to separate this group, that’s fine, but the value to anyone else is very limited.

Instead, you might consider putting together something specific to your area of interest, relating to your own brand values & story. Your knowledge (and time) could be worth lots to someone else, a value they may repay in other ways.

For example, I don’t have a generic ‘wine’ list (apart from anything, I follow almost 3000 and lists are limited to 500 people). Instead, I have created 4 lists of reasonable value, I hope, to different people but which would have been difficult for them to put together themselves:

Masters of Wine on Twitter (Members: 30 – Followers: 93)
UK Wine Merchants on Twitter (Members: 72 – Followers: 43)
UK Wineries on Twitter (Members: 12 – Followers: 6)
Bordeaux 2009 En Primeur Campaign (Members: 56 – Followers: 40)

Some have ongoing value (such as the MWs list), some are more temporary.

The last list is what prompted me to write this post. I wasn’t greatly involved in the En Primeur campaign, but others asked me my views on twitter. Rather than retweeting lots of individuals’ thoughts, I created an easy way to track comments about the campaign from those who were actually there. An amazing development compared to past campaigns.

Now anyone could easily see hundreds of tweets each day about the Bordeaux 2009 primeur tastings from some of the top names in wine writing and retailing. Reading all their columns and reviews could cost you hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros in subscription charges (not to mention the cost of the wines). This was free and immediate.

I’m not sure the Bordeaux list has ongoing value (little binds this group of 56 individuals other than their shared interest in wine), but for a moment it was a valuable service.

What lists could you create? Wineries in your region? Tourist resources in your town? Wine merchants selling your wines around the world? Wine bloggers you have met?

* Note; one thing often forgotten about Lists is that they do not include @ replies (messages to another person directly) UNLESS that other person is also on the same list. Confusing!? Thought so. In any case, this is not the entire output of the listed members, but should represent their most ‘public’ messages.

If you’ve got a list that is particularly popular, or should be, let me know. I might create a list of wine-related Lists on the blog

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Save money, invest in the future – if you have spare cash

It is possibly no coincidence that in the same week that the world’s top wine ‘experts’ head to Bordeaux to evaluate the latest “vintage of the century” from 2009, that Naked Wines has chosen to update the concept for more modern times.

The annual Bordeaux en primeur scramble sees wine writers, retailers and other influencers run from winery to winery on a glorified “Chateau Crawl” tasting each of the top wines to rate them WELL BEFORE they are released.

“Let the customer decide how good a wine is, how much it is worth, and IF they are prepared to pay in advance for an allocation”

Do the Chateau offer this for fun? For education? For marketing? No, it is all about points, prices and sales. The global demand is such that the judgement of the visitors, plus the ego and history of the winery, helps to set prices for bottles that will only leave the winery years later then probably rarely be drunk and many spend decades being sold by one investor to another.

It is a shame. In principle the idea is a good one: Let the customer decide how good a wine is, how much it is worth, and if they are prepared to pay in advance for an allocation of that wine, to lock-in some discount on the final retail price.

Interestingly, regular consumers CAN start to do some of this, and not be restricted to Bordeaux either. Naked Wines has created a “buy early, pay less” system that means that the earlier that consumers are willing to commit to buying a wine, the greater the discount they get on that wine. They have even already selected a small number of wineries, some of them well know names (such as Teusner Wines) to launch with, and they do not cost £200+ a bottle.

It ticks a lot of boxes for me on The Wine Conversation: it focuses on unusual wines with unique stories, it engages consumers with the wine process (which inevitably includes distribution) and it still gives them a unique price advantage (i.e. discount).

I do worry about how many wine consumers are really willing to part with their cash in advance, when the wine could take months to arrive and they have to buy a case, but it is a great start.

I also wonder whether the discount being offered is really attributable simply to removing risk and some of the costs of sale (it amounts to a 40%+ discount in some cases), but if the consumer is satisfied that the final retail price is real, and that they really are getting a discount and offering help to wineries, then maybe the model will become established.

We might be seeing something very new in wine buying here, it could be fun to be part of it.

Disclosure: I am a Naked Wines customer and I have already “invested” in one of these wines

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