Hearing voices

I get it. Really I do. You are using a marketing/pr consultant because you are time poor. You don’t  understand the game or how it is played. The marketing people have experience, they have done it all before. For people/brands/labels/whatever.

But do they have a voice?

One would presume that you like the wine you produce. That by having the pride to put your label on it, you want the world to love it too. So?

So, bugger the marketing gaff. No-one knows this bottle better than you. With the possible exception of your long-suffering vintage widow. Maybe words are not your strength, but there is no-one who can replicate your love for the bottle in your hands. And that in and of itself is a far greater tool than a handy manner with language.  This is your voice.

The voice is how we sell. It is the story, the passion, the silly anecdotes and the vintage anguish. It is not knowing which side of the slope might find the chardonnay  vines; rather, it is knowing how icy the wind gets at the first rows at three thirty in August. Or where to sit to catch the last rays just before vintage starts. Or where the bloody snakes seem to best prefer… It is understanding our land and our vines, and how to turn those somewhat prosaic agricultural assets into the bottle in our hands, the romance and beauty of the wine.

PR  experts are an asset in terms of their contacts. They know everyone, because it is their job to know everyone. They are a great channel, but would you prefer to have your voice tell your story, or another, retelling your story?

Because they can only repeat the story you are telling them. In which case, why not tell the world yourself?

But. Do take care with that voice. It will always be associated with that bottle. The two go hand in hand, so pick your voice with care.

Price is undeniable and infectious. But pride so very easily trips into arrogance. And arrogance is poisonous to a brand, and is often circulated quicker than the infectious pride amongst the wine community. Pride with a dose of self-deprecating humour. A joy in wine. An inquisitive nature. The sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm for another’s wine. An evident love and respect for the various levels of the industry, from remembering the name of the kid at the bottleshop to respecting their opinions and their understanding of their customer base.

Don’t fib. Don’t fluff the details when you aren’t sure. Learn the details so you don’t get caught out. Don’t presume they will be more responsive to you because you are an owner, or a viticulturalist, or a winemaker, rather than one of their reps. At the end of the day, you are selling a product, which makes you a rep, too, and no more or less important than the others queued outside.

And if you don’t understand the chess match that is wine sales, well, have you not being paying attention? Ask someone who knows.

Spend a day with a rep. Pour wine at a trade show and watch how the good ones can sell the story with a minimum of fuss and with the effervescent joy of the wine industry.

And be very sure about the voice you choose. Whether it is your own voice, that of an agent, a distributor, a PR guru, or your winemaker, it must truly represent your passion for the bottle in your hands, and your utter faith that this is good enough to bear your label.

Most of us do have people who sell for us. Might I suggest that we cease thinking of them as reps, and start seeing them for what they are: advocates for our story. And as with legal advice, you must trust your advocate with you voice, your story. Otherwise, why should we bother? Why should anyone out there bother buying our wines?

Find a voice. Own it. Who knows you and your story better than you yourself?

The existential question

If a tree falls in a deserted wood, does it… yada yada.

If a premium wine, with a generally accepted RRP of $60 a bottle is advertised through any outlet at $30, is it still a $60 bottle of wine?  Well, probably not.

Due to the internet, and the rise of the smart phone, anyone can run a search: “Wine X discount” would usually do it. And people do. I have watched people in cellar doors try the wines, and then search for the best possible deal. And once that information – Wine X at $30 – is out there, you can probably kiss goodbye your $60 RRP.

Will the consumer pay $60, or $80, or $100 while there is so much perceived discounting in the market place? Well, for some wines, yes. But they may buy more, and a more diverse range of wines than previously. And for some, no. Some are merely bargain hunters. But you know what? They generally would not be buying at $60, $80, or $100 anyway. Who knows what vagaries live within the heart of man? (Apologies for the poetic turn. Waiting for caffeine to kick in…) Will the buyer see such joy in the wine that they will return at any price? Will they revisit the brand, and try other wines in the range? Will they simply move on, and chase the next deal?

This obviously all carries on from the last post – and is about assessing the risk of using a certain channel, and weighing up the reward. And for some it is simple – sell all at $30, or sit on stock dribbling through at $60. Risk versus reward. And for each producer, that consideration has different imperatives attached.

And then we have the other side: if a brand does not discount, or conduct some kind of deal, ever, is that wine not more valued because of it? Suddenly a $60 wine becomes more valuable on the auction market, because the brand has chosen its position, and stood its ground. This is my $60 wine, I will sell it at $60. Respect. Because if you choose that position, and stand by it, then that shows an utter faith in your chosen price point, and in what the wine delivers for that investment. It possibly also says that there are no cash flow issues, or sudden need for whatever reason to clear space in the cellar.

But will the customer, with such (perceived) discounted choice before them, ever spend the $60 again? The existential question, part two. It is a piece-of-string question, and one which presumes a knowledge of the predilections of people. All people. And everyone is different. Some will see $30 as a great deal, and a way to find something new, which may well set them on a journey to bigger, better, and more expensive things. Bargain (perceived) wine as a gateway drug to, well, more fun wines. Some will take the bargain, and think nothing more of it. Nice deal, back to buying my stock standard now, thanks. Some will use it as an opportunity to try something new, or different. And that can never be a bad thing. And some will keep bargain hunting – at which point the wine itself almost becomes irrelevant. It is all about the deal.

And the deal. Think about your existing customers as you weigh your options. Think about the restaurant that just spent $15 wholesale on the wine now advertised at $12.50. About the long-term customer who regularly spends hundreds on full priced wine at your cellar door, or direct sales. Think about the retailer now having to explain their perfectly reasonable price point to customers. Now weigh up your risk versus reward.

Yes – the deal has a slightly lesser impact at the higher prices. A $30 investment per bottle is already in the narrow end of proceedings. The people spending that, are interested in wine. Willing to spend. A $60 bottle advertised at $18? Different story, and brand suicide.

So, yes. I would love people to dig deep and spend on my reserve wines, and they often do. I would love people to take a chance, and try something different. I would like people to appreciate that they often spend north of forty dollars on a wine at a restaurant – why not do the same in retail every now and again?  But I do also see these channels – chains, online, (insert new innovation here) – as a great way for the punter to extend their scope. To get excited. To try something new.

But at the end of the day, that tree is no longer falling in a deserted wood. Because now, the world is watching. And tweeting. And searching.  And a $60 bottle becomes a $30 bottle at a click of a button.

Friends and Enemies

So, it seems my last post created a request that I look at online wine sales, with a specific nod to VinoMofo.  The tone of that request was not entirely complimentary to the online dealers, but I do think it bears a quick look.

So the wine sales game was all about cellar doors. And local, knowledgeable retailers. If you were lucky, a smart restaurateur.

And then it became about distribution, and sales teams. And relationship building with venues and stores.

Then the experience side of things blew up again – wine tourism. A great time for the wine game, and a chance to grasp your punter by the heart, and let the wallet follow.

And then… Coles and Woolworths became the dominant players.  A game-changer. Collective buying had an entirely new identity. Or rather, two identities. Producers had a route to market on a national scale. Out of that has grown the collective price pressures. Wine exclusivity for one rather than the other. Demands of time, deliveries, and sometimes, shortening margins. But national exposure in the major supermarkets.

Until they became wine warehouses, with an overwhelming interest in ‘own’ brands. How to stand out from the crowd in that pasture sized concrete cavern? Price pressures. Or other agreements… whatever they may be.

And, more recently, the online forum. Cracka. VinoMofo. Winery Lane. Get Wines Direct. Deal-a-day businesses too numerous to mention. The deals are sharp, and the wines are generally pretty smart. Many of these businesses are run by wine lovers, taking advantage of an avenue which requires no bricks nor mortar, and can be often run on a shoe-string.

And we use them. We are all using them. We buy from them as much as we sell to them. We all like a deal, and the world market today loves a deal. There is less brand loyalty (outside of super-premium, global brands), and more snap purchases.

You know what? I wish the industry didn’t need to ‘clear’ wine through any avenue. But occasionally we do. It might be a failed export order, the last pallet of the last vintage, a label change, or just selling through a wine declassified out of the regular labels due to vintage variation (see: Vintage, 2011).  It might be revenue raising, as, at times, cash flow can stall for whatever reason. Or the distributor has gone broke. Or for whatever reason there is. And the chains, and the online businesses provide that channel to a growing market.

In an ideal world, perhaps we would like everyone to pay full RRP for everything, all the time. But the world is evolving, and e-commerce is the name of the game. Ignoring that is extremely dangerous. And stupid, truth be told.

In an ideal world, I wish the prices were not quite so low, but they are. And we need not fling mud at the purveyors, because that pricing is at the very least approved by the brand. A conscious decision has been made to sell that wine at that price. Be it through Coles, Dan Murphy’s, Aldi, Costco, Cracka or VinoMofo. Or even Get Wines Direct. Choices are made. And at the moment? At the moment the smart consumer can get some truly fantastic deals. Ethically? Well, some questions have been raised in every area of the market. But the wines are on the market. And somebody chose to use that channel to the market.

If you want to be smart about it, sell the wine as cleanskins. Or create a second label, in order to protect your brand integrity. Or find another channel. Think around the edges, and make your wine the best deal for a buyer without selling your soul into the bargain. Sell as it is, but know the effect this may have on your brand. Be aware, and – if you are smart – be proud about it . Scream it from the rooftops: “This is my wine! It is great, and this, my friends, is the deal of the century!”

Because then, they might come back and find you for a less bargain-oriented wine.

Oh, and tell your distributors if you are going to trade like this. They deserve a heads up.

The market is more bargain-focussed than some of us might like. But each of these channels is a path to the consumer. Take that path at your own risk, but you cannot say that you are unaware of the consequences. You simply need to make a decision, as a consumer, and as a producer – do the rewards outweigh the risks?

Make a choice – who are your friends in this business, and who are your enemies? My friends are the sellers I use, and the consumers buying my wines. My enemies? Well, there may be a list of people with whom I have chosen to not conduct business. For better or for worse.  I make no endorsement of any of the players mentioned here. I simply see each as a valid path to market. Make your choice, and be proud of it.  This is the world today. It might not be ideal, but it is us who makes the choices.  Choose to be smart.  Whatever that means for you and your brand.

Common courtesy

There are some truly wonderful people in the wine game. The people who don’t know you from Adam, but who take time from their day to throw you in the back of the ute, and cruise around the property, and then crack open some lovely wines for no other reason than because.

The wine industry is built on those people. The people who recommend the neighbour down the lane for woodwork, or because their chardonnay is better, or different. Who build a community by knowing their neighbours, and their customers. And by understanding that the key to this whole game is listening to people. Be they neighbours, or punters, or writers, or some bloke who got lost looking for the local. Listening to the people around you makes you a better person. It makes your business better, and it makes grumpy sods like me happy.

So why do I get the feeling that there are not quite enough people adhering to this simple guideline? I visit cellar doors, and can barely wring the directions out of the driveway from the person pouring the wines, let alone a heartfelt, knowledgeable recommendation about where to go next. And they keep not listening to the friend who really does not like white wine. “Just try ours. You’ll like it”. She won’t, you know. And because you weren’t listening, she is barely likely to spend money with you.

The cellar door experience can be a beautiful thing, but it is being tainted by the entirely valid, yet slightly sour taste of commercialism. If I recommend somewhere else, will they buy wine here? Maybe they will buy more there? We all need to sell our product or service, but – and I may be walking a slightly worn path here – listening, and finding the best option for that customer, be it your own, or be it that of a neighbour, a competitor, will leave the customer with warm and fuzzy feelings about your business. They will recommend you to others. They will probably buy something anyway, as a gesture of thanks. They will remember you for all the right reasons.

It is naught but common courtesy, but it seems to be left by the wayside a tad, as we compete for a $20 sale instead.

A slight tangent, but…: common courtesy says that if you request a sample, it would be nice to contact us later with a quick email saying why it was or wasn’t chosen. For whatever reason. Feedback is never a bad thing.  A lovely gentleman contacted me a month or two ago. He has a social group which gets together once every couple of months, and tries some reds from a theme region. They then vote on the wines, and the winning wine – and the winning wine only – is purchased  for the group. Around 20 dozen. Yes, he asked for a free sample, but he also asked for vineyard information, contact details, and price lists for all participants should anyone want to get in touch. My wine didn’t win, but I received a detailed written report within days, and a phone call to offer thanks. Oh, and new subscribers to my mailing list.

And yet samples sent to businesses whose business it is to trade wine often disappear into the ether. Emails go unanswered, as do phone calls. Or they cannot remember tasting the wine. Or they have sold it.  Or they have drunk it because they were thirsty and it was there.  Or they just don’t care enough and have moved onto the next deal of the week.  A bar places an order then rejects it two days later because they have changed their mind. Pick up the phone. We would rather know. These things cost us money, and ultimately affect the price of the wine. Maybe if everyone had a little more common courtesy they would be a bit more upfront: “Not right now; can you come back in a month? Boss has told us to tighten our belts.” Even, a ‘Bugger, I lost it” would be nicer than the vacuum.

We understand that you are short of time. We get that. So are we. But perhaps if you tell us why a wine didn’t suit, the smart people would stop wasting your time showing you lean tight chardonnay when you are after something richer, and more round. Then the smart ones would be filing that information away, and using it to ultimately get a better result.  The smart ones would not be wasting their time and yours, let alone the wine.  And the less heedful ones? Well, you will identify them soon enough, and can probably shift your attention to the people who were listening.  And save some time.

And there are so very many who understand this. But there appears to be a creeping edge of carelessness and discourtesy.  And this in turn makes suppliers wary. Cautious. Often less willing to contribute time, wine, and general bonhomie. Which in turn… You get my drift. Circles go around. Maybe it is time we all actively started taking a little more care, and injecting a little more courtesy into our days, be it as suppliers, salespeople or buyers.

Thank people who do the right thing, whether they are placing an order or not. Listen to the whys and the explanations, should they be offered. Often much consideration has gone into them. Appreciate a venue might actually know their own customers better than you, and they know what they want.  And remember the ones who are not observing the courtesies of business. Listen to your customer and point them in the right direction for them; rather than the right direction for you. Help build the wine community up.

Play nice. We all have businesses to run. Listen to your customer, and play by the unwritten rules.

Oh, and thanks to some lovely people. I am sure you know who you are but for those playing at home:

@LongviewWines

@BosworthWines

Claymore Wines

@SomerledWines

@TashStoodley

@ChapelHillWine

…just for starters.

Ask someone who knows…

Simple enough, one would think. But we are not omniscient, perfect creatures, and it does pay to ask someone who might know better. Even if it is solely to endorse your own opinion.

Don’t guess. There is no reason to guess, particularly when speaking/writing/tweeting/blogging/posting to a public forum. There is Google. And Wikipedia. And #asktwitter. Sure – take nothing on faith, but the list of details I have learned by asking those who might know better is extensive.

So, if you are playing around with wine labels, talk to a retailer. And a cafe owner. Preferably, talk with a few of each.

If you are wondering why the last month’s sales were good, or bad unexpectedly, ask another supplier or distributor. Ask a retailer how their month was. Filter the bullshit, and take notes. Plan for next year using this information.

If your wine isn’t selling, look at what is selling. Pay attention. You need not change the wine or the package necessarily to generate sales, it may simply be the sales approach which may need adjustment. Or an understanding of the market within which you are working. Ask someone working in it what they want. Ask them what their customers want. Maybe this market, or channel, or venue just does not suit your wine.

If you are trying to sell your immense PR skills to a winery, maybe don’t misspell their name. Maybe don’t misspell your own name. Maybe spellcheck everything, just in case. Maybe research their business first, and ask yourself if you can actually help them. Wasting people’s time is rarely endearing.

Actually, on that: everyone, pay attention to spelling, grammar and syntax. Not doing so is sheer laziness. And yes, this is the pedant in me coming out to play… I am well aware of that. And I do expect to be pulled up on any errors I may make.

Wine writing and blogging can be a beautiful thing. For the rest of you, would you mind double checking facts? And proof-reading? And maybe credit your reader with a little intelligence. If the reader feels they know better, they will stop paying attention to you.

Food and wine matching is always a fun one – I often wonder if the scribe has even tasted either of the offerings. Ask someone who knows – ask a sommelier. Ask a chef. Ask the interested young staff member who just seems to get this stuff. Ask the rep who sold you the wine. Hell, email the winery and ask. (We love those kinds of emails…) Learn the basics – tannin likes lean meats; pinot loves mushrooms, but often not so much in Asian spices. Although, sometimes… Sauv blanc and goat’s cheese can be wonderful, but be careful of the tropical, swigging-sauv b. With goat’s cheese they can become cloying and unbalanced.

What to sell your customer? Here’s a hint: ask them what they enjoy. Listen to them, and actually pay attention. Don’t bully them into your favourite drop of the moment, but instead offer to help them. If you have nothing for them, recommend someone who does. Your kindness will be remembered. The customer is the one who knows their palate the best. Sure, you may not agree, and I am all for nudging the more malleable, adventurous sorts, but the vast majority want something they will just like. Without necessarily needing to know which side of the hill it grew upon…

Take a chance, but understand it. Learn, and you will be better at making, selling, and building relationships. Ask someone who knows. It will make you smarter. And being smarter can only be a good thing.

And I promise, the next time I write, it will be joyous. The rant has its place, but so does celebration. As @whiteswines told me, “Rage is wasted without optimism.”

k

These are the things I know…

The wine industry in Australia is not in a particularly happy place. The chains run the retail market domestically. The public have an insatiable desire for Kiwi sauv  blanc, generally at the expense of Australian aromatic white styles. We are all under pressure to sell more of our wines. The 2011 vintage was problematic. Dry July hurts the industry.  Most of us talk the talk, but the audience don’t appear to be listening.  Online sales are growing exponentially, and developing a penchant amongst the public for a bargain, rather than developing a relationship with a brand.

All of which has been addressed in a number of forums – not least Twitter – over the last few weeks. And months.

So where do we go from here? Do we complain, and talk amongst our own? Do we develop grand plans over gorgeous wines which are forgotten, or deferred, or are just too hard in the cold light of day?

I am an optimist, on occasion.  I do believe  that as an industry whole, we are capable of great things. I do also think that the ego needs to be removed from the people, the brands, the wineries and the regions for this discussion, and we need to start being excited again, and to add to that, a healthy dose of being smart.

If people aren’t buying our wines, we need to ask why.

We need to listen to our customers, and find something they might like, rather than pushing them to try something which is not within their scope.

We need to understand that using bargains and deals will damage our brands.  If we need an avenue to shift some volume, maybe we just need to manage our customers better. If someone else is offering a better deal, and we are then paying a cut out of our measly take,  how can we be smarter in working within that forum?

If we deal with the chains – and here I am generally referring to the smaller brands, with less recognition factor – make the effort, and look after your existing restaurant/retail/direct customers. By which I mean? Make a slightly different label. Make a slightly different wine. Offer one to one market, and one to the other.

Yes, 2011 was a difficult vintage. That does not mean that there are no good wines. Unfortunately there are people already avoiding some beautiful wines because of media influence, and the lack of a solid positive voice from our industry. And you know what? Most of us learnt some huge lessons in how to deal with a raft of issues, and how to take advantage of our fruit in the best way possible. That only makes us better at what we do. Every vintage runs the gamut of quality. Try our 11s. They could well surprise you.

Kiwi sauv blanc? Don’t look to me for answers. Just appreciate that many of those customers may now be drinking wine for the first time and enjoying it. A percentage of them may go looking for something else, and might just find it a little closer to home.

And Dry July? Yes – it hurts because it hits brands in a month when sales generally pick up, and it is firmly targeted at the wine-drinking public, not the long-neck-necking drinkers. But, it does raise money for a very good cause. $10million in five years is no small effort, and I dare say most of us know someone affected by the big C. So we work with them -we are asking them to be more specific in terms of the health benefits, and to look to work with our industry next year.  Accept it. We cannot change it, nor should we want to impact such a charitable organisation. We are simply asking them to be a little smarter about it.

And in order to balance Dry July out, we are in the process of creating another monthly focus – something along the lines of getting people to focus on the new, the unusual, the diverse and the fun. Pick up a bottle of something  you wouldn’t normally. Drink less, but better (thanks @ozwinereview!). We are approaching media, and little retailers, the chains, and the hospitality industry. I think that raising money for improved mental health services in rural areas is a good cause. Because we are farmers at heart, and I dare say most of us know someone who has suffered. Suggestions gratefully accepted.

It has been a while since we have needed a truly innovative approach in the wine industry. And don’t get me wrong – the daily victories and innovations are beautiful.  But perhaps we need to learn how to be smarter. To be better. To be more accessible. And to understand our markets. To listen. And to learn to be better at playing the game.

We need to work with the issues in the industry – and not just rage against them.

Howdy…

So, I suppose I had better start with a quick description of why I am here.

I am quite happily embedded in the Australian wine industry – a creature which as often befuddles and frustrates as it does delight and engage.

And I am often in need of a channel to voice this frustration and despair, joy and beauty. And so here I am.

Views are clearly my own. This is simply a place to chat about the wine game, to delight and to explain. And occasionally, to rant.

Because I am rather capable when it comes to the art of the rant…

Rants, exhilaration, and bemusement to follow. On the occasions when I am not entirely laden with work.

k