I love the wine trade. It’s fun, full of interesting people, and it’s incredibly open and friendly.
But it is a bit of a bubble. We talk to each other all the time. We assume everyone is like us. And as a business, it’s not so sharp. It’s more like a group of hobbyists.
The chief problems: (1) we fail to understand the perspective of normal people, who like to drink wine, but have no special interest in it; and (2) we fail to segment the market, and assume that the rules that apply in the fine wine segment also apply further down the feeding chain.
The segmentation issue is a big one. Now, for a site like this, I am communicating in a way that – while I hope is accessible – is really for the converted. I don’t expect my friends, who like drinking wine but who are not wine geeks, to read this blog. Reading about wine is quite an abstract activity: we are using words to describe tastes and smells, and words are not very good at this.
You could criticize me for being elitist, but I am writing for my market segment, and my web stats show that there are enough wine nuts around to make this worthwhile (and I thank you for reading). Others try to popularise wine – a noble goal, indeed. The problem with this popularisation is that even though you are trying to broaden your readership, you actually end up writing for a very small constituency of readers. The sorts of people who drink £4 supermarket wines don’t want to read about wine. They just want a wine that tastes OK at a good price. I love communicating to wine newbies, but I find the best way to do this is to share the experience of wine with them.
Back to the bubble concept. I think the Champagne houses are the best at escaping the bubble. They have brands that have reasonable volume and which sell for enough that they have a proper marketing budget. With these marketing $$$ they are able to reach beyond the trade bubble, get brand recognition, and tell a story.
Wine brands find it trickier. One of the problems with wine is that there are just so many different brands. It is a highly distributed market, and a complex one. At one level, this complexity is the strength of wine. At another (in another segment of the market), it is a big problem for normal people who are utterly bemused by the diversity on offer. Also, my impression is that big Champagne brands are often better quality than equivalent big wine brands.
But in all these discussions, the golden rule is this: segment. There is not just one wine market. There is no such thing as ‘the’ consumer.