• Ross Sleet on creating Rascallion for Millennials and Generation X

    There is so much research and analysis into the opportunities, but also the perils of creating a brand that is aimed directly at appealing to millennials. But it is a tightrope that Ross Sleet has been prepared to walk across by creating the Rascallion wine brand that deliberately looks to not only get millennials on board, but also connect with Generation X. In this fascinating piece he talks openly about the thought process involved and how travelling the world and talking, listening and seeing how people, young and old, connect with wine and brands in general has helped Rascallion become an international success.

    There is so much research and analysis into the opportunities, but also the perils of creating a brand that is aimed directly at appealing to millennials. But it is a tightrope that Ross Sleet has been prepared to walk across by creating the Rascallion wine brand that deliberately looks to not only get millennials on board, but also connect with Generation X. In this fascinating piece he talks openly about the thought process involved and how travelling the world and talking, listening and seeing how people, young and old, connect with wine and brands in general has helped Rascallion become an international success.

    By February 25, 2020

    “Why did you do that?” is the question that Ross Sleet finds himself being asked time and again as he travels the world promoting and talking about the Rascallion wine brand that he’s created specifically to appeal to millennials.  

    I travel a fair amount doing what I do, selling wine in many different places around the world. It’s a rare privilege and although being away over 130 days a year sounds like fun, (and yes it is largely fun!), it’s not the fun side of things that gets our wines sold. More often it’s the face to face, door to door, outlet to outlet activities and interactions that gets the brand sold. For many liquor store owners, bar managers, or wine buyers, to speak to someone who has travelled thousands of kilometres to ask them to sell our wine on my behalf, is a rare thing, and hence this personal touch is what helps immeasurably.

    Ken Forrester has done this in the US for many years, Kobus Basson from Kleine Zalze in the UK, and Johan Krige from Kanonkop in a multitude of markets worldwide. I by no manner of means equate these three gentleman’s’ examples with my own – we have only been around for two years and they have all been around for a number of decades. But the example that they, and many others I have met from around the world, set, are the lessons that I have tried to learn and emulate in some small way.

    Ross Sleet travels a minimum 130 days a year listening, talking and understanding what different markets and consumers want from wine

    It’s about being in front of people and telling them who you are, what your brand is about, sharing your wine with them, and returning to do it all again next time around.

    Appealing to millennials 

    The challenge that struck me when I was coming up with the Rascallion concept was how could I engage with millennials and make our brand stick with this allegedly flighty consumer base, when we didn’t want an eponymous brand, don’t own any vineyards or have a cellar, and we don’t have a rock star winemaker of our own. Our consultant winemaker Rianie Strydom is a thoroughbred rock star in her own right, but she can’t lend that lustre to our brand as she has her own standing in the industry.

    How could we connect with the what I consider to the future of the wine consumer conversation, the millennials, whilst not alienating what I also consider to be the primary revenue source, Generation X?

    The concept behind Rascallion is to promote it as “This is not wine”. Or at least not a wine brand as we have become used to…

    This conundrum was actually relatively easily to resolve once I had gotten over my reluctance to dance like a ‘Dad’. In other words, whilst I am the father of two millennials, and one post millennial, I don’t want to be “down with the kids”, because frankly that would be ridiculous, but I do want to communicate with them and engage with them.

    How…

    What I did next was to find out what millennials really want from a brand. There is a host of literature on this, and a number of VERY vocal opinions to be sure, but what I took from the debate was the following:

    • Millennial consumers are immediately engaged by brands that have high visual appeal.
    • They like attractive labels, demand value, and want an enjoyable brand interaction and experience.
    • They want new wine styles, demand innovation and change from the industry, value personal appearance and well-being, and want a multi-sensorial experience.

    So far so good. Now what? What about Generation X consumers? Well my take-out from the various pieces of research was that Generation X consumers know what they want brand wise and understand value and aggressively channel their brand advocacy traits.

    The Rascallion’s initial Word range was designed to stand out, challenge and not present itself as a usual wine brand. But one that makes you think…

    Not a lot to go on I admit, but when we mirrored the millennial and Generation X consumers’ desire to engage with our brand on their terms, things began to happen, and in key markets such as the US, Japan, and Canada.

    Our key consumer engagement is not to instruct, but inform, not to lecture, but educate, not to use wine speak, but consumer speak, and above all to listen to our consumers. Sounds easy, but actually it’s very difficult as you have to apply the right hearing aids. Clearly, we use a multitude of platform engagements which include social media as this is the most direct way to articulate our brand and receive instant responses.

    We have found that our brand indexes extremely highly with these two consumer groups as we are an artisanal brand with the beginnings of a global reach. This is slightly contradictory admittedly, but as we are not pedalling a couple of thousand bottles, but many tens of thousands with ambitions to sell many hundreds of thousands, our approach has to engage consumers where they are, not where we want them to be. Ergo, over 130 days of travel per annum.

    Since our launch two years ago, we have channeled these demands into our wine and branding execution, and our success in eight countries so far with their diverse consumer bases, is adequate proof that our approach is working.

    Prepare for the unexpected 

    Millennials don’t all act as one, all the time, but they do behave in a predictable manner, argues Sleet

    Spinning all the way back to the question “Why did you do that?”, which is most often followed by “Well that’s not a real job is it?”, gets to the kernel of what we are trying to do. Millennial consumers in multiple markets do not behave like sheep and act the same, and neither do Generation X consumers, by the way. But what they do, do, is to act in an unexpected and yet predictable manner.

    They respond because we listen to their stories as to how they engage with our brand (and others), they like the self-deprecation of a brand like Rascallion, which by our very name isn’t trying to create an aura of mystique, and we strip the very essence of what we do, down to drinkability factor of our wines, the ease of engaging with us, and our emphasis on the complete enjoyment of what is in the glass. The predictability is that they want a different engagement, and the unpredictability is that you can’t always know what that engagement is. It might be Instagram one day, and an event the next. A fine dining experience on Monday, and burgers and wine on Friday. The key is that it’s many things, all the time. Which is why our own engagement remains multi-faceted. And our brand face is multi-faceted by design. 

    The With Love from The Cape brand has been created to tap into millennials interest in the authentic, but also sense of discovery and adventure

    Our Wine Collections engage consumers on a multitude of levels. The Word Collection are classically inspired blends, whilst our Vinyl Collection wines are funky, very esoteric blends, and our Winemaker’s Collection are the very finest example of what we think South Africa can bring to the dinner table. And our With Love from the Cape Collection is a straight emotive play as to what we love from the Cape, and therefore South Africa. It’s a simple execution of an idea that positive self-reflection is good, and the high visual appeal attracts millennial consumers, whilst the excellent value for money holds their attention.

    The summation of all of this research, many days of travel, multiple tastings and many hours of blending, is that we haven’t created a wine brand for millennials (or Generation X for that matter), but that these consumers have created this brand. The brand exists because these consumers make it so, not the other way round. And long may this last.

    • You can talk to Ross Sleet about the full Rascallion range and the thinking behind it, including the launch of the new With Love From The Cape, at ProWein in Hall 9B Stand 38, Wines of South Africa, Stand Booth 57. To make an appointment email him on ross@rascallionwines.co.za.

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