Wine Marketing is Education

Two of the most common classes in any marketing curriculum are Marketing Research and Consumer Behavior. The course names may change from school to school, but you get it ingrained in your head that studying what customers want and how they react to products is vital to a company’s success.

And then there’s the wine industry.

Wine marketing has evolved a lot over the last 20-30 years and is massively different than most of what you see from other products. If you go back to the 70s and 80s you actually had a decent number of wine commercials on tv. Think of the last time you saw a wine commercial. I’ll wait.

Those old commercials tried to build the mystique of wine as an ultra high end, almost unattainable good, even though the price point wasn’t anything outrageous. Beer was fun. Liquor was fun. But if you weren’t smart enough to know about wine, you didn’t need to bother trying to drink it.

In some ways that aura has lived on, and wine can still be an incredibly intimidating purchase. What if you choose the wrong wine for your meal, will the waiter think you’re uncultured? And all those bottles at the wine store, how are you supposed to narrow down hundreds of options in to the one bottle?

When consumers don’t know what they want, the right solution isn’t running more focus groups, it’s educating them. And this is what the wine industry does better than almost anyone. So much of wine marketing centers on education now. You have wine tasting classes, winery tours, and expert reviewers whose ratings end up on store shelves. Even if you don’t know what you want, you can see that Robert Parker or Wine Spectator gave that $13 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc a 96 and feel really good about your purchase.

The world of complex or intimidating products goes well beyond wine, though, and the HBR article above lists out three steps that any company can employ to start using eduction to grow the business.

  1. Envision Something Extraordinary
    Wine didn’t turn into a commodity good, it’s still something aspirational
  2. Mobilize Those with Influence
    Winemakers engage with key critics and publications to tell their full story and build emotional connections, not just push their products
  3. Let Consumers React and Share
    As you educate the next step of buyers (wine stores, restaurants, etc), you empower them to share their education with more end consumers.

When you can use education to shape how people view an entire product category you are much less vulnerable to disruption. Especially when your competitors are more focused on selling their own products than educating the end consumer.