Wine marketing: listening to the consumer

By Juan Park

I must confess that I know of hardly anyone who voted for Brexit or Donald Trump. I live in London; I have dual British-American citizenship, but there were no signs. No conversations within my circle of friends, with my work colleagues, or on Facebook or Twitter gave an inkling as to what was to occur in 2016. I woke up a little shocked, as many did.

Despite the polls indicating it was neck and neck, particularly in Britain, the fact that no one thought that result was possible is interesting. It may be because commentator’s social circles are very like mine: urban professionals.

As a market researcher, I think we can learn a lesson from all of this, as we sometimes do not realise how far removed from reality we really are.

We marketing professionals do not represent average consumers:

How many consumers look at their phone whilst watching TV? A 2016 Ipsos study in the United Kingdom found that 19% of consumers do so. However, marketing professionals estimate it is around 50%, an estimation error of more than double.

Whilst consumers spend an average of 8 minutes a day watching “on demand” TV programmes, marketing professionals estimate that consumers spend 81 minutes a day doing so. An estimation error over ten times higher. Whilst consumers spend 16 minutes a day on YouTube, marketing professionals think they spend 62 minutes, three times longer. And I could go on. 

Marketing professionals vs. consumers with respect to the use of media in the United Kingdom:

We marketing professionals do not know much about the actual habits of the consumers our marketing targets. Our consumption habits are very different to “normal” people’s habits.

And this is possibly why the “Remain” campaign was so weak, as despite what the polls indicated, they never thought they would lose.

The world of wine:

The wine industry is not so different. Actual changes in the consumer world go unnoticed, whilst the revolutions predicted by gurus rarely come to fruition.

The most significant changes during my 10 years researching the United Kingdom include:

  • The growth of the Pinot Grigio grape variety
  • The growth of the sparkling wine Prosecco
  • The establishment of the screw cap
  • The growth of “Discounters” in recent years
  • The regression of fortified wines

Aside from possibly the establishment of the screw cap, market experts or consultants would not have predicted any of those changes. On the contrary, some of those same experts and consultants are very vocal in their resistance to Pinot Grigio or Prosecco, as they do not consider those wines sufficiently sophisticated.

 % of consumers who have consumed Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava in the United Kingdom:

However, more and more consumers are buying Prosecco, and in greater quantities. They rate it; they find it refreshing, palatable; they recommend it, and they drink it. Wineries sell its production; they can pay their workers’ salaries and invest. It generates wealth, which is what the marketing profession is all about. And there are very good ones too.

The perception of Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava among sparkling wine consumers in the United Kingdom (% that associate it with each item):

It is difficult for wine marketing professionals to understand the consumer’s perspective. In the U.S.A. for example, monthly wine consumers can spontaneously recall between one and two brands. When prompted with stimuli, consumers can recognise around 12 wine brands. A respectable number, but a drop in the ocean compared to the more than 100,000 brands on the market. Consumers are aware of 0.012% brands on the market, on average. This is the market in which we have to convince to buy our wines.

The growth in social networking websites has engendered a perception of closeness, but it is somewhat illusory. Social networking websites have undoubtedly enabled interaction with some consumers of your wine, but their impact has been overestimated. Let’s look at the major U.S.A. brand Barefoot, for example. This brand has one million Facebook followers in the U.S.A., but those followers only represent 1.6% of those who know the brand. Any Facebook campaign would exclude at least 98% of their consumers.

However, disaffection is not the whole story. We also see how consumers want to keep products “real”, evident through the success of craft beers, and with music too, a similar domain to wine, which has curiously seen the highest sales figures for vinyl in the last 25 years.

Therefore, whether in the domain of political elections or wine marketing, gaining a proper understanding of the true market dynamics and consumers enables us to understand what works and why. However, that often involves obtaining a true understanding of end consumers.

Juan Park
Juan Park is the Director of Wine Intelligence, a market research company and consultancy based in London. Wine Intelligence studies the behaviour of over 80,000 consumers a year in over 30 countries and analyses over 700 new products or services to understand consumer trends. Juan has a Degree in Sociology from the University of Salamanca and has a master’s in Research from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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