Millennials are not killing the wine industry. Gen Z is not killing the wine industry. We are killing it with our snobbery and a refusal to listen and see what’s going on around us. We refuse to adapt, maintaining that everything is (and should be) the way it was 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Do you know what happens when we don’t adapt? We die. We don’t care about our consumers, we don’t want to listen to what they have to say or what they like, we don’t even know where they spend their time or how they choose their wines.
It’s easy to blame others for our failures. We didn’t do anything wrong. They’re at fault, destroying our traditions and the good old days. We blame the rise in popularity of gin and beer, the death of the high street, Millenials’ lack of spending power, but we never stop to think that the blame might lie in large part with us.
How many people saw this stunt in real time, and how many more were able to enjoy it through social media?
We hate wine in a can, wine named White Girl Rosé or wine made by Jon Bon Jovi because they’re not made by “wine people”, but let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, who says good wine can only be made by “wine people”? Why have we evolved as an industry into this big snob club where only the ones in the “know” are entitled to enjoy wine and those that aren’t are outsiders who aren’t entitled to be part of it?
We are our worst enemies
Sometimes the wine industry can turn into its own worst enemy. Why do we care so much about how people hold their wine glass? Yes, it might get warm and it’s a little clumsy, but do you honestly think that people who don’t know about wine care? Of course, they don’t! They just want to drink wine, they want to put ice in it, they want to mix it with fruits and commit a whole host of “atrocities” that I myself have complained about several times in the past. The reality is that we shouldn’t care, they are opening their wallets and buying our wines and if that’s how they want to do it, then so be it.
Make your product aspirational and never underestimate the power of great creative imagery.
Let’s make our industry and wines interesting and welcoming for those we expect to buy from us, and they’ll be energised to learn, and ultimately, spend more.
When we make wine, like my family has been doing for more than 100 years in Mendoza, Argentina, it’s natural for us to expect people to respect the hard work and dedication behind every bottle, and pay a fair price for it, so why wouldn’t consumers also expect you to take into consideration their needs and respect their choices? Most people start drinking wine that they can buy in the supermarket for £5 to £8, so why would we expect them to expand on their knowledge and spend more if we’re not welcoming them into the club with open arms? The first step is bringing them in, then we can think about how to encourage them to spend more money on our wines. Yes, education is the key to increasing consumers’ spend on wine, but think about it: Do you seek to educate yourself on things that you’re not interested in? Let’s make our industry and wines interesting and welcoming for those we expect to buy from us, and they’ll be energised to learn, and ultimately, spend more.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that there are about 2.7 billion people using Facebook a mere 15 years after he created it. There are more than 1 billion active users on Instagram and 275 million on Twitter. Facebook alone saw its advertising revenue jump by over 42% between 2017 and 2018, a trend that is set to continue to grow. So, what does this mean? Businesses are seeing the success that social media has on their bottom line. Consumers have adapted and use platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as a means to gauge how trustworthy a brand is, explore their services and connect on a much deeper level with them than ever before. Can anyone explain to me why wine brands still think they don’t need social media? How could we have been so wilfully ignorant for so long?
Collaborate with non-wine influencers? Yes, please! We need to start targeting our real buyers, not only wine geeks and connoisseurs.
[Social media] is particularly powerful for the small guys, those who 10 or 15 years ago simply could not participate in large scale marketing reach.
Nowadays, not being on social media is a luxury only very few well-known, old school brands or very small producers can afford. Anyone in the middle needs to use it as a major element of their marketing strategy, there is simply no way around it. Some people will try to convince you otherwise, but they are either lying or more likely, have no idea what they are talking about.
I can guarantee you that if we don’t change our ways, wine sales will keep declining and the same people that are telling you that you don’t need social media will be blaming millennials and other nonsense for their “bad luck” in the future.
All is not lost
I’m glad to say we’re not alone in thinking our ways need to change, nor we are the first to point this out. I’ve seen many people and publications addressing this for a long time, but it seems that this hasn’t yet been enough to convince the vast majority of the industry.
One of the best articles I’ve found about this is Reka Haros’ Why wine communications suck published on her website ReframeWine and on The-Buyer.net, where she clearly explains how the wine industry “loves to make their bottles the heroes, the champions, the gods and goddesses of our communications” whilst leaving the consumer out of the equation, and how our industry’s focus on wine education “has created this notion that to be able to even say “wine” one needs to be knowledgeable about wine. That if you don’t know enough about WINE you are not good enough for the trade, and not good enough as a simple consumer.”
Reka also perfectly captures in this article why wine companies refuse to adapt, and what they are risking by this: “Why would we want to stick to a business model that worked well in the last century? People, drinking habits, distribution and media channels, resources, revenue streams, partnerships, and tools have all changed. We should work towards a business model that fits with the future we want to see and be part of.”
Show off what makes you special. Not every post needs a hard sell angle.
Is social media the only sustainable way to engage with customers? No, but it’s certainly one of the most accessible platforms from which any brand (big or small) can start making a meaningful impact.
Another person ploughing his energy into changing the state of the industry is Paul Mabray, whose frank and spot-on observations on the echo chamber mentality plaguing wine professionals should hit home, wherever you sit on this issue. On his company's website, he writes “Immerse yourself into a circle of wine professionals [...] and you’ll generally hear something along the lines of this: “If we just educate customers, they’ll choose better wines and naturally, they’ll gradually move up the value chain.” I’m not saying I disagree that education is always a valuable tool – it is, trust me – it’s just that the journey of a wine consumer doesn’t always start with being more informed, it often starts by being more engaged.” Whilst this analysis should not be overlooked by the wine industry, consumer engagement does seem to be a priority eluding many.
The future is here
Is social media the only sustainable way to engage with customers? No, but it’s certainly one of the most accessible platforms from which any brand (big or small) can start making a meaningful impact. It’s free to use and available to anyone, and it’s particularly powerful for the small guys, those who 10 or 15 years ago simply could not participate in large scale marketing reach in order to effectively compete with wealthier counterparts. Now that you can, what are you waiting for? Learn how to use it properly or hire someone that does. I don’t care how you do it, as long as we don’t keep collectively neglecting as an industry how the rest of the world is evolving. It’s time to start connecting with our consumers where they actually spend their time, where we’ll be able to listen, learn and evolve, and ultimately, where our stories will be heard.