The many faces of the wine consumer

Should producers trouble to find out who, exactly drinks the wine they make? Robert Joseph says they should.

Photo by Nainoa Shizuru on Unsplash
Photo by Nainoa Shizuru on Unsplash

Who will be president of the US at the end of this year? And which electors will have helped whichever of the two old men who wins the contest, to do so?

For the sake of this post, I’m not interested whether Biden or Trump is the preferable candidate any more than I’m concerned whether a $30 Burgundy is a preferable wine to a $30 Pinotage from South Africa or a $30 orange wine from Slovenia. My focus, like that of the people trying to get Biden and Trump over the line, is on understanding the character and motivation of the likely and potential buyers of those and other wines. 

For far too many producers, the question of who is and isn’t buying their wine is only really considered when not enough people are doing so. And possibly not even then. The nature of the traditional wine trade separates most of the people who pick and ferment the grapes from the ones who do the drinking. Once the pallet or container of wine has left the cellars and the payment banked, the focus of the producers’ attention shifts to the next harvest, or bottling session, or trade show where they might very well find themselves talking to importers, wholesalers and agents who often have little more direct contact with the final consumer than they have. Again, and especially in the US with its three-tier-system, the imperative lies in moving cases out of the warehouses to the retailer or on-trade business that will take on the responsibility of selling it to the person who will ultimately consume it.

Specialist retailers and sommeliers have a better idea of which of their customers is more likely to buy the Burgundy or the orange wine, but they may not know why that young woman often opts for a Brunello and that older man favours Muscadet – or why neither of them ever seems to go for a Bordeaux. Supermarkets with successful loyalty cards have a lot more understanding, thanks to the lists of other items the customer is putting into their baskets, but even they put money and effort into focus group research aimed at revealing the background to all of those decisions. Bigger wine companies like Gallo and Constellation, as well as a growing number of smaller brands, now have employees whose job title includes the word ‘insight’. 

These are the people who told Treasury about the gap in the market for a brand aimed at young men, which the company filled with 19 Crimes, one of its most successful brands. They were also almost certainly instrumental in the current ‘Exceptional’ campaign for Penfolds.

Trump or Biden has to do more than energise their ‘base’. They have to identify and get the votes of tens of millions of people who are undecided. Unfortunately, the way this science has been used by campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic to use targeted social media advertising has been questionable, to say the least. But it’s effective.

Until recently, sophisticated targeted advertising was the preserve of direct marketing agencies, political parties and big corporations. Today, even wineries with fairly limited budgets can make us of a growing list of consultants whose skills lie in using social media and other means to analyse the market and create ‘personas’ – imaginary but representative human beings with jobs, homes, families and friends – who might be interested in a specific wine, if only they knew it existed. Talk to these personas effectively and, in theory at least, your message will get through to real live people who will go out and buy your wine.

Traditional wine professionals often look at this kind of approach in much the same way that older sportsmen view the tailored diets and exercise regimes favoured by modern trainers. The idea that football managers might, for example, now be employing ‘sleep coaches’, would probably make them splutter into their coffee, but the fact that the list of the teams concerned includes Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United puts their spluttering in context. 

Many of the smallest and most hands-off wineries now acknowledge the usefulness of replacing pesticides with natural pheromones to attract welcome insects that will dispose of unwelcome ones. The science behind this is highly sophisticated, but is it really that different from using data to target likely customers for a product? 

When we get to November 3rd, I bet that a lot of people who can’t imagine themselves doing anything as sneaky as targeted advertising will be crossing their fingers in the hope that the candidate they prefer did so more effectively than his opponent.

Robert Joseph


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