Millennials are changing the face of the wine world. And they’re doing a pretty kick-ass job of it.
Propelled by a thirst for authenticity and discovery, this new generation of drinkers is embracing both old-world traditions and experimental styles. They’re not just drinking more, they’re drinking better.
Producers around the world are eagerly trying to engage this lucrative yet elusive market. And overall, they are not doing such a kick-ass job.
With a mass of curious new-comers on their doorstep, most of those trying to sell to them are doing so in the cryptic lingo of the wine aficionado—with promises of “bramble berries,” “old saddle leather” and “forest floor” as an attempt to start the conversation. While others, fueled by trends reports and superficial demographic data, are pursuing an opposite yet equally flawed strategy, of bending over backwards to show their audience how well their wine will fit into a mundane, millennial existence. (“You can pair it with pizza! You can take selfies with it!”)
Neither strategy is working all too well. While overall wine sales are growing, there is a concern about a lack of brand loyalty coming out of it. If you hang out with people in the booze business you’ll hear a lot of grumbling (sometimes with data to back it up) on how noncommittal many young consumers are. Sure, they’re up to try anything, but then it’s on the next adventure—today it’s Croatian whites, tomorrow it’s orange wine from Hungary.
The reality is that millennial consumers can be fiercely loyal, they just don’t settle easy (this is as true in brand loyalty as it is with employment and even marriage). And while great brands in almost every sector have cracked this code, the wine industry, by and large, has not.
The opportunity they are missing and, in fact, misinterpreting, is that you can’t quench a thirst for discovery and authenticity with marketing alone. In short, wine producers must learn how to behave like a brand.
I’m not just talking about branding. This isn’t about a need for pretty labels and playful names. This is about wineries and wine regions really owning an idea of who they are, what makes them special, and then using that to shape a strategy for engaging their customers.
First you need a Story. A big, capital “S” Story that feeds all other stories. One that is unique, compelling and consistent. (If you have any doubts on how important this is, I urge you to check out THIS roundtable, where participants literally made comments like “Maybe if the story was more interesting I might have liked this wine more.”)
Once that Story is in place—be it in the form of a brand narrative, a purpose or positioning statement, or all of the above—you need an experience strategy that brings it to life for customers across a variety of touchpoints.
In addition to inspiring creative, unique, and meaningful ways to engage their customers (both within and outside of the standard distribution channels) a holistic approach to customer experience will also force purveyors to finally face some contradictions in their business models. For example, if you want to be regarded as a world-class region, you can’t flood the shelves of Total Beverage with cheap wine—where every bottle of bad, $10 vino undercuts the image you’re trying to project. A sound brand strategy will help producers and promoters of wine to work around such contradictions, if not tackle them head on.
We’re experiencing, what I believe is just the beginning of a renaissance in wine appreciation and consumption throughout the U.S. and beyond. It only makes sense that a populace with a passion for all things authentic and artisanal, would eventually fall in the love with the most authentic, artisanal product of all. But in order to forge a meaningful relationship with their customers, wineries and wine regions need to start getting serious about brand experience. They can no longer define their value in a list of functional benefits or flavor descriptions. They must stop chasing trends and start looking inward–to translate the mystique of a place, its people and their passion into an all-encompassing experience.
Great wines already do that. Now it’s time for their brands to catch up.