Tag Archives: consumer

MIND THE GAP: “Phase 2″ Proves Elusive For Wine Industry & Millennials

About a BILLION years ago (well, more like 6 months), Gary Moore, author of Vinotrip: A Maryland Wine Blog, put into type-written the words what EVERYONE looking to reach out to Millennials should hear. Everyone in the wine industry, anyway.

In a short and sweet post about the increasingly big deal being made about wine companies reaching the millennial consumer, he finished with the following invaluable question:

“You sell alcohol. How hard can it be to sell alcohol to college graduates in their mid-twenties?”

LISTEN TO THE MAN. He certainly has a point.

His words have been echoing through my busy little head ever since he wrote them. At first, I lol’d. A lot. Then I started thinking more and more about this. Why on EARTH does the wine industry need me to say all this stuff? It really should be simple. I shouldn’t have to constantly reverse engineer the needs, wants, desires, dislikes, etc. of myself, my friends, and others in my generation in order to re-format these things into easily digestible somewhat sporadic how-tos for the world to read (though I do enjoy it quite a bit).  So, really. Why?

Look familiar?

In the time I’ve had to clarify my thoughts on the matter, I’ve come up with an answer to Gary’s question: it’s HARD. And here’s why: Survival. (Tough love is incoming, people. Fair warning.) To clarify, it’s difficult because of the the attitude and image that the wine industry in the United States has carefully cultivated in order to emerge, survive, and thrive over the last 40 years. The inability for the wine industry to change the marketing tactics that it has been using for the last almost-half -century accounts for the failure to appeal to millennial consumers.

In the mid 1970′s, when US wine became an international contender on the wine scene, both wine producers and wine drinkers embraced their (well-deserved) status with evangelical enthusiasm. And as evangelicals do, they sought to prove that Americans could be just as knowledgeable, critical, and refined in taste as their European counterparts. And though I was not around for this incredible time, I believe this image and attitude is exactly what the US wine industry needed to survive.

This is the foundation upon which current wine culture in America is based. Throughout the decades, the industry has not lost the evangelical zeal to display its knowledge and refinement. Marketing campaigns embrace it, wine publications tout it, and wine drinkers from this era flaunt it.

It was effective to market wine in this way to generations 40 years ago – even 20 years ago – but it’s NOT WORKING NOW. For the next generation of wine drinkers, this attitude tends to turn us off. Some people are annoyed by it, some people are intimidated, some people don’t identify with it, the list goes on.

RANDOM STORY THAT THIS REMINDS ME OF: The story of my friend’s grandmother. This woman lived through the great depression as a child with a large family and went through unthinkable hardships: poverty, starvation, the death of young siblings. Though she didn’t speak of this much with my friend, this time weighed heavily on her throughout her long life. When she passed away, my friend and her father went to clean out her home to sell it. When they went into the basement, they found over 20 boxes of canned goods – some recent to some almost 50 years old. Because of her formative years in need, this woman had been buying and hoarding thousands of cans her entire life because she felt that she would someday need them; in reality, however, she had been spending her family’s hard earned money on a misappropriated sense of safety.

I find this very similar to what is happening with the wine industry today. Today’s attitude was created in a time of need – it helped the wine industry emerge, survive, and thrive for years. However, that’s not what it takes to survive today and certainly not tomorrow. Attempting to create new “brand ambassadors” using the same old tactics is proving to be a failure.

EXAMPLE: How many new brand ambassadors from the target millennial demographic did your company’s last full-page, full-color ad in Fill In The Blank Glossy Wine Publication get you?

Too far? Ok, my apologies. Snarkiness aside, clinging to the safety of what has worked in the past is exactly what will torpedo efforts now and in the future. By no means am I encouraging companies big or small to do away with what has gained them their current following. There is value to that approach, but only to one’s current customer base. In other words, to maintenance – not to growth. This is why I’m not suggesting  companies completely amputate this approach.

I do, however, highly recommend that if any company wants a NEW consumer group, that you create a NEW marketing plan for them – separate from your existing plan. This means a new attitude and image for this group. Put in the effort to find the aligned interests of the demographic and of your brand and work from there. If you personally don’t know what I’m talking about, find someone that does. This kind of work won’t be easy at first, but it WILL be worth it.

You’ll know it’s working when it’s no longer difficult to sell your alcoholic beverage to a twenty five year-old college graduate.

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Filed under Basics, Growth, Marketing, Outreach, Tough Love

People To Impress With Wine

The time is nigh for holiday gifting, which means it’s time for everyone to take a deep breath, RELAX and revel in all the people we can impress by giving them a bottle for the holidays.

For a minute, at least, then seriously get back to work – you have way too much to do.


PEOPLE YOU CAN IMPRESS WITH WINE AS A HOLIDAY GIFT:

Co-Workers

Bosses

Crushes

Future In-Laws

Winos

The Entire Crowd At “White Elephant” Parties

Acquaintances That You Know Will Get You Something Even Though You’re Not That Close

Hosts & Hostesses

(You may have seen this on the WTF Los Angeles site, my nomadic wine tasting group in LA – in which case, I am truly impressed with your internet travels)

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Filed under Basics, Direct Sales, Holiday

Small Indulgences in Hard Times: How the R-Word Can Work for Wine

Back in August I was invited to a press tasting here in Los Angeles. Normally, this would not be something to write home about – or in this case, the entire world – but this particular event fascinated me.  It was not at a trendy restaurant during the off-hours of a weekday, it was not during cocktail-hour at one of the dozens of ultra-luxury hotels in the city, and it wasn’t a dreadful luncheon.

Setting for the Press Tasting

Setting for the Press Tasting

Ruffino Wines was holding their press tasting at Voda Spa in West Hollywood – complete with manicures and massages. Upon first glance of the invite, I marveled at the balls-out audacity of securing RSVPs by offering free spa services and thus guaranteeing a completely captive audience of press. And all of this with no obvious connection to wine – especially Chianti.

Upon further inspection of the materials, however, I was absolutely taken.  They had found a simple and luxurious way to work WITH the recession in order to market their wines.

HOW IT WORKED

In 2008, the New York Times ran two stories on The Lipstick Index – a term coined by Leonard Lauder of Estée Lauder that described his experience of selling more lipstick in times of economic hardship. The theory behind this term is based on the idea that when times are tough and big luxuries – vacations, cars, even couture clothing – are no longer realistic expenses, people seek small indulgences, like nice lipstick, to see them through the times. Sound like a stretch? Check out the article for yourself.

The brains at NY-based Cornerstone PR, Ruffino’s public relation firm, read the article and decided that wine could be a similar small indulgence. Riffing off this idea, Ruffino soon had a press campaign called “The Chianti Index” and set up tastings at Spas that featured wines in the $8-$25 range, along with Chianti-colored manicures.

SO WHAT?

So many companies in the wine industry seem to be putting on a brave face and pretending (at least in public) that either there is no recession, or that it’s not affecting them.  In the meantime, behind closed doors these same companies are panicking about dropping prices, decreasing wine club membership, and the uncertainty of sales this holiday season.  For marketing wine, behaving as though nothing has changed DOES NOT WORK.

Marketing a product to the masses as “the ultimate in luxury” will not be effective when the masses are not comfortable spending money on true luxury items right now.  HOWEVER… Being able market that same product as a small indulgence – the flexibility of adapting to the mental state of the times, the idea of The Lipstick Index and Recessionistas – can mean the difference between a rise in sales, or a drop.

Imagine: Let’s say a particular winery has a $50 bottle of wine that is marketed as the absolute top-tier, ultimate in luxury, single vineyard, special lot, 18 months in new French Oak, yaddah-yaddah of it’s class. The current branding says “When you want the absolute best wine, this is the wine you get.”  Now let’s look at a consumer. Doesn’t matter if they are 45 and lost 40% of their kids’ college fund in the stock market, or if they are 25 and making $30k a year, we’re looking at the average consumer that is feeling the pressure to cut back. Think about your own spending. About the conversations you’ve had with friends.  The first cut-backs are on things we don’t need. The Ultimate in Luxuries. The nice-to-haves. The new german cars. The big vacations. The best new gadgets.

By continuing with the branding of “Ultimate in Luxury,” our example wine has placed itself squarely in the Should-Not-Buy category of products. The odds of our consumer purchasing this wine are pretty slim.

HOWEVER.  If that same $50 wine adjusts it’s brand message from “Best of the Best” to “Small Indulgence,” it’s chances increase dramatically. If the message says “This is how you can pamper yourself – no vacation needed,” then that wine no longer resides in the Should-Not-Buy zone for our consumer, but rather the We-Deserve-This zone. The Stay-cation zone. The I-Can-Share-This-With-Friends zone.

What wine needs to do is take a tip from the Lipstick Index. By sticking to traditional branding, companies are making it more difficult for consumers to qualify spending their money.  By adjusting their branding, companies are making it easier for consumers to make the decision to buy. I know it sounds simple. That’s because it is.

Don’t look at this as a magic bullet. Think of it as the bullet that wine companies can save by NOT shooting themselves in the foot.

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Filed under Basics, Marketing, Outreach

Millennials: Mythical Beast or Wine’s Last Frontier?

Tapping into the Millennial consumer market is a priority in ALL industries, not just in wine.  Wine should have it easier, since it is well documented that Millennials are already drinking wine in record numbers, and we are already having a positive financial impact on the industry as a whole. So why is it SO HARD for the wine industry to reach out to us?

Let’s take a quick look at how wine and Millennials seem to view each other.  From my own work with small businesses and huge companies alike, the Millennial consumer group tends to be viewed as some kind of mythical creature that has magical powers to bestow on whomever finds and befriends it, but is almost impossible to reach.  Sound familiar?

The Mysterious, Mythical Beast

The Mysterious, Mythical Beast

Yep, Unicorns. In most of my preliminary conversations with companies that want to tap into this consumer group, you could pretty much switch out the word “Millennial” for “Unicorn”  just about every time it’s mentioned.  As in “Unicorns have come of age in an era unlike any other,” “Unicorns are very savvy, they can sense when people are trying to pander to them, and they do not like it,” “Unicorns have the ability to communicate with thousands of people in just an instant” or “If we could just reach the Unicorns, we would make millions” and my personal favorite “Why do Unicorns drink wine?”

Now, this is not to say that all of the above statements are not true (at least as they pertain to Gen-Y), but what I take away from these conversations is that businesses still don’t understand us. At all.  Let’s take a step back – we are your neighbors, your kids, your co-workers, your interns, your baristas – not some mythical forest creature.  Yes, we stand to be the wealthiest generation in the world, and yes we grew up being marketed to and now the bar has been raised – but think about it: Why do Millennials drink wine?  Because it’s delicious, interesting and fun.  Why do you wine? I’m sure we’ll come up with some things in common, here.

If that’s how the wine industry views Millennials, then how do we view wine?  This is an easy one, folks:

Sorry, Members Only.

Sorry, Members Only.

In this case it’s just that simple – the wine world tends to be a private club to most of us.  And rather than hiking it to the top of the stairs with the rest of the plebeians, then going through the initiation rituals and membership fees, we’d much rather just sneak in with our friends after dark when the security guard is gone and enjoy the club OUR way.  It’s a thrill, it’s fun, and we don’t have to be someone we’re not.  Eventually, of course, this sneaking around loses it’s thrill, and rather than join the existing club, eventually we will build our own.

So what do these charming analogies teach us?  On some level, each party feels that the other is beyond reach. The irony, of course, is that despite this, Millennials want to drink wine (and are) and wine companies want to reach this powerful consumer group (and are trying).

Unfortunately, there is such a wide gap to bridge in this relationship before the wine industry will start benefiting from Gen-Y.  It’s tough to hear, but it’s true: the responsibility for changing both of these viewpoints lies with the wine industry.

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Filed under Basics, Growth, Marketing, Myths & Legends, Outreach

Reaching Millennials: Don’t Believe the Hype – YOU HAVE THE RESOURCES

In keeping up with blogs, research, and ideally all things Millennial, I generally tend to come across well-intentioned but TERRIBLE advice. The latest was on a staffing company’s website encouraging human resource departments to create new, Millennial-friendly corporate handbooks. A fine idea for corporations, but incredibly flawed in execution – which is why I’m pointing out an alternate solution that everyone can use.

To keep things short(ish) and sweet,  I’ve decided to summarize below (though if you REALLY wanted to see the original in all it’s glory, you MIGHT find it in my @millennier tweets, and it MIGHT be under TRAGIC MILLENNIAL ADVICE: PIMP MY CO.S HANDBOOK…).

Everyone in the wine industry can learn from this far too common mistake.

The information was found on the company’s website  from June 2009.  The title of the piece was Create a GenY-Friendly Employee Handbook, and like many of these pieces, it was fairly insulting in an odd, benign way.  In the How to Write a Handbook section, the writer suggests personalizing it with current events and fads in order to really get through to us.  It gives the following suggestion as an example:  “compare customers to stars competing for ‘American Idol’ stardom.” While I realize that we may be younger than the person giving this advice, WE ARE NOT CHILDREN.  We do not need a company to create a mascot and a “let’s pretend” example for every single situation we may encounter in the big, bad world.  While I have plenty to say on this topic, I’m going to stop because the point here is that this NOT GOOD ADVICE.

I do want to say in all seriousness GOOD FOR YOU, STAFFING COMPANY. Thank you for putting in the effort to encourage your clients to support their Millennial employees. Unfortunately, you COMPLETELY MISS THE BOAT.

Not on a boat

Not on a boat

Is it a bad idea to want a handbook for a company that will resonate with Millennials and get them excited about the company that they work for?  No. In fact it just might work, if it’s done well.  What will that take?  American Idol allusions?  In depth research on gen Y?  Watching Family Guy reruns from the first season?  NO.  It simply takes a Millennial.  If these companies selected a couple employees in their target group to actually write the new handbook, it would be completely customized to their own tastes and interests while communicating all the information a handbook needs to get across.

I don’t understand this trend.  Business has realized what a powerful consumer group we Millennials are, enough to launch campaigns for millions of dollars just to win gen Y hearts – and yet most don’t even think to reach out to us to help shape these campaigns.

Everyone in the wine industry can learn from this far too common mistake.  Many businesses are creating their Facebook pages, holding events (hooray!), and thinking of new ways to reach out to gen Y.  Yes, research is great – I recommend that you check out the links on the side of the blog for some awesome resources. However, an invaluable tool that we all have ARE THE MILLENNIALS THEMSELVES.  Consult your gen Y children, your neighbor’s kid that’s back from college for the summer, your intern, your new tasting room employee – these people can give you valuable feedback and help to shape each of your projects.  Listen to their critiques, learn from their approach – it will save you time and energy and give you a direct line in to the consumer group you want to reach.

If you want to reach out to gen Y, don’t overlook the Millennials right in front of you – they could be the most valuable resources at your disposal.

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Filed under Basics, Growth, Marketing, Myths & Legends, Outreach, Tragic Millennial Advice

How Millennials View YOU, Wine Industry

Everybody’s attempting to do the brand new dance now – it’s called TRY AND REACH OUT TO MILLENNIAL CONSUMERS.  Well, what do Millennials think of all this?  Granted, there aren’t nearly enough people attempting, but let’s look at the landscape.

dancefloor

It looks a lot like the dancefloor at the last wedding you went to.  Now, not everyone is out on the floor – it takes a certain amount of courage to get out there.  Of the people out on the floor, you observe a few different types.  First off, there’s the “kids.”  They’re looking pretty good – they know the music, know the moves, and they’re having fun.  Then there’s the “grandparents” – we love them just for getting out there and trying.  Then there’s the “parents” – they’re a bit older than the kids, but they’re out there.  They’re trying.  Some of them are attempting to bring back their own famous dance moves from back in the day – with little success.  Some are trying to copy the “kids” since they must know best, right?  This can be pretty embarassing to watch.  Some of them, however, know the music and know the scene and can get right down to business.

Welcome to the party that is the wine industry right now.  Good for everyone on that dance floor for just getting up and trying.  As an observer, though, you can see that not everyone is… let’s say effective.  Most of the “kids” look great.  You want to go up and hug the “grandparents” just for being awesome enough to try.  But it’s the main population of the dance floor, the “parents,” that are tough to watch.  The best people on the floor know the music and the scene – regardless of whether they are 14 or 62 – the rest are trying, bless their hearts, but they’re not really getting anywhere.

officedance

Let this be a warning...

So if the dance floor is made up of companies vying for the Millennial consumer, that would make the Millennial consumer… YOU. THE OBSERVER.

Millennials have had advertising campaigns shoved in our faces since we were propped up in front of our parents tvs.  It’s safe to say that we’re a pretty savvy group.  It’s not like we don’t KNOW that we’re being marketed to. We fully realize this – we’re used to it.  In fact, we get perturbed if we are NOT marketed to, and yet a company telling us that they are hip will not make us consumers.  We are innate experts at taking in and analyzing information in order to form opinions.  And we are REALLY good at forming opinions, as any Millennial parent will tell you.  And just as it’s crystal clear to anyone looking at that dancefloor that Uncle Billy is making an ass of himself, it’s just that easy for us to see which companies are wasting their time.

Possibly the most simple and powerful example of this comes from a recent post on FineArtsLA.com.  The post is a piece on a new wine tasting group in Los Angeles (WTF LA – yes, this is my group and apologies for the plug, but there is a reason for it…).  The freelance writer, Jenia Gorton, is a Millennial and has some VERY interesting things to say about how young people are treated as consumers in the wine industry.  I think the most interesting is this quote:

It seems like there is “good” wine, which young people are expected to know nothing about, and “cheap” wine, for us ignorant 20 and 30-somethings, bums, and broke alcoholics.

It speaks directly to what many companies and marketers think of young people consuming wine today: we aren’t educated and we won’t spend the money.  Yep, we hear you loud and clear, but maybe we don’t want some company’s version of 2 Buck Chuck.  Or the new Yellowtail.  It’s possible that we want to be respected as consumers and have a company or two reach out to us based on qualities other than our wallets.  Like our tastes, our sense of humor, our lifestyles, our shared experiences – but if a company is not connected to any of these things… that effort will still be a FAIL.

So what can marketers learn from Millennials like Ms. Gorton? If you’re going out on the floor, you better know how to DANCE.

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The Wealthiest Generation Ever: Wine Must Go Grassroots

Take a tip from Millennials: Go Grassroots

Take a tip from Millennials: Go Grassroots

According to Deloitte Research, Millennials born between 1982 and 1993 have an annual income of $200 billion and can expect to inherit $17.8 trillion from previous generations, making this the WEALTHIEST GENERATION EVER.  Many industries are frantically trying to capitalize on this, from insurance companies to banks to the automotive business, so where does the wine industry fit in?

It is crucial that the wine business harnesses the potential of this affluent generation now.

Millennials love wine and are buying it in record numbers. We have already made the choice to enjoy wine, much to the amazement of many industry professionals.  However, many young people do not feel like they would be accepted in the current wine culture and therefore don’t seek to be a part of it.  For example, many would rather purchase the same big brands in the anonymity of a grocery store aisle rather than risk being embarrassed by lack of knowledge in a wine shop.  For the US Wine Industry, this means that a large part of the generation (which John Gillespie calls the “future of the wine industry”) could potentially continue to support the same few enormous companies that they find in these stores – both domestic and foreign – instead of supporting the thousands of  smaller independent producers and merchants that the American wine industry has to offer.  It is crucial that the wine business harnesses the potential of this affluent generation now.  There must be a paradigm shift.

Take a tip from the Millennials: go grassroots.  Every person in the wine industry that deals directly with consumers has the potential to make an impact.  Be an ambassador.

Invoke The Campsite Rule

Invoke The Campsite Rule

The next time a Millennial enters your store, tasting room, restaurant, bar or event, take the time to speak with them.  Answer their questions, ask some of your own, and add to their base of knowledge.  Many newer wine drinkers, not just Millennials, are intimidated by the “old school” exclusive and snobbish wine culture – make it your goal to debunk this stereotype.  Welcome them into the wine community.  It’s time to invoke a variation on The Campsite Rule: Leave each young wine-drinker with a better wine experience than when you found them.

If we in the wine industry can take advantage of the circumstances and cultivate this group not just as the new generation of wine buyers, but as the NEW GENERATION OF THE WINE COMMUNITY – we can create a lasting relationship that will benefit everyone for years to come.

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The HOW Series 2: Building a Millennial Customer Base

question-mark

A big concern for many of us in the wine industry is price points – will we have to drop prices in order  to make money these days?   Many people associate price drops with the Millennial generation because it’s assumed they buy cheaper wines.  What if instead of dropping prices and hoping to gain sales, a business could build an additional customer base with their EXISTING prices?  A business will have to change a few things in order to create a Millennial customer base, but  prices don’t have to be one of them.  Each Friday I’ll be bringing you a specific tip and serious insight on how to reach out to Millennials as CONSUMERS.  You can put these tips into practice immediately and see for yourself how effective they can be.

Last week we discussed the danger and tendency to generalize an entire generation.  This week we continue our example of the young couple in a winery’s tasting room…

ASK QUESTIONS

This is key.  As a sales person, asking questions is how you find out if your young couple that just walked in the door are looking to buy a $35+ bottle of wine or if you need to guide them.  Keep your questions casual but targeted.  Find out if they are from out of town – if they have taken a special “wine country trip” they may be in the area to buy bottles.  If so, be sure to mention some “insider tips” on wine and buying – they are obviously serious. Ask where they are staying – an old trick for finding out what their price range could be.

As a business owner, you are not only learning more about a group, but you are making a sale creatively and perhaps one that you never expected.

If from your questions you discover that they wouldn’t normally purchase a bottle in your price range, point out a special occasion or a gift possibility.  According to my own 100+ blind survey (stay tuned for full report) the majority of Millennials are willing to spend more on a bottle of wine as a gift, and 80% of Millennials sampled buy wine as gifts. Have you found out why they are in the area?  Is it a vacation? A family wedding? Getaway weekend?  A special bottle that they both enjoy could be a wonderful keepsake for these trips.  Before I even worked in wine, my boyfriend and I had a getaway to the Central Coast where we decided that we’d splurge on a great bottle we loved in order to lay it down and open it the next year.  Suggest that for a special occasion – it’s something they might not be thinking of.  You get the idea.  You can only make these suggestions if you have a working knowledge of who they are and why they are in your tasting room.  The more you know about them, the better you can tailor your sales pitch.

Again, this is a simple and logical step, but one that is not taken by the majority of business owners with Millennials.  It pays off all around.  As a business owner, you are not only learning more about a group, but you are making a sale creatively and perhaps one that you never expected.  By asking questions, you are focusing your attention and not judging them. From their point of view, they see that you are investing energy and time in them and will have a positive experience along with their purchase.  This means positive feedback outside – facebook, twitter, yelp, blogs, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Congratulations – you’ve started to build a new customer base.

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Meet a Millennial

I’m a millennial and I love wine – and I’m not the only one by a long shot.  In the inaugural post of this blog, I want to take a minute and point out (in case anyone has been living in a cave lately) just WHY Millennials are such a big deal to the wine industry right now, and why an industry blog written by one of us can be so valuable to individuals working in the business.

There are so many different parameters and definitions for The Millennial Generation – let’s clarify.  For the use of this blog, we’ll use the definition that Millennials are people born between the years 1977 and 2000.  There are between 70 and 76 million of us out there, and not even half of us are drinking age.

2008 Wine Market Council New Growth Chart

According to several studies and industry observations this is the generation that is generating the biggest growth in the core wine-drinking population.  Because of this trend and today’s market, this age group will be crucial in supporting the U.S. wine industry through the current recession.  John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, suggests that Millennials are the future of the wine industry.  “What’s unique about Millennials is how quickly they are discovering and embracing wine as core consumers, rather than slowly incorporating wine into their lives as we’ve seen previous generations do,” says Gillespie.

There are between 70 and 76 million of us out there, and not even half of us are drinking age.

After switching careers from a big deal Hollywood talent agency into the world of wine, I wanted to get my hands on some research – and lots of it. Specifically the effects and prognosis of my generation on the industry. After searching, reviewing, subscribing, reading, listening and watching just about ANYTHING available, I’ve found some incredibly valuable information, interesting POVs, and some egregious fallacies.

The Millennier Blog seeks to share important information as it pertains to Millennials and wine, to bring in valuable feedback and opinions from millennials, and, when necessary, to call out the bull.*

This blog was built to help teach individuals in the wine industry how to reach out and tap into this next generation of wine consumers.

*First thing to learn about Millennials, if you don’t already know: We tend to speak our mind pretty freely.

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