“Why do marketers and leaders in wine and spirits businesses so often assume that our consumers are like us?” That’s the view that Lulie Halstead believes holds so many drinks producers back when trying to engage with and market their products to their target audience. In her latest article for The Buyer she sets out why companies need to stop looking at the products they produce through their own eyes, but what they mean to the people they expect to buy them.
Lulie Halstead, founder of Wine Intelligence and non-executive director at IWSR, sets out three ways businesses can put in measures that means they are genuinely listening to what their customers want.
If you’re still deliberating on how to build a sustained growth engine in your wine or spirits business, the answer is readily available: it’s called market orientation.
At the heart of market orientation sits the simple and ancient business truth: the customer, generally, is right. A business serving a market can develop a product, price it, bring it to the point of sale and then invest in promoting it. But if it is not what the customer (consumer) wants, needs or values, it is one thing and one thing only. Wrong. The wrong product, at the wrong price, in the wrong place and no amount promotional noise or even worse, promotional discount, can save it.
On the other hand, a truly humble, thoughtful and market-centric approach can be spectacularly successful. A great recent case study in our sector is how Guinness became the bestselling beer in Britain. Reading Mark Ritson’s account of how Guinness became the UK’s most popular beer brand, it’s clear the lessons of market orientation have been carefully applied to making a very old brand very relevant to consumers in the 2020s.
So, why do many wine and spirits businesses get in a mess when diagnosing what their customers really want, value and most important, will pay for? In a nutshell, it’s when decision makers throughout the organisation think that the customer is them. They can’t get out of their own way and embrace the perspective that market orientation offers.
From my observations, marketers frequently and often significantly overstate the level of connection, knowledge and involvement drinkers have with wine and spirits. As professionals in the drinks sector, we are generally off-the scale knowledgeable and involved. It’s our job to be and what we get paid for after all. It might even have been the reason we got into this industry in the first place. However, in most markets, typically around 10% of consumers have a high level of category involvement, seeking out the new, the detail, the production method. That leaves 90% of consumers who don’t.
Do they mean us?
So, why do marketers and leaders in wine and spirits businesses so often assume that our consumers are like us? As human beings, we have an inherent tendency to see the world through our own lives and experiences – it’s what we know after all. Truly listening to and observing others from their point of view is actually really difficult to do, given that our worldviews are built on what we experience. It’s challenging to leave our own experiences and biases at the door. However, the role of a marketer is to see the world through the eyes of our consumers. That’s our number one job.
As marketing professionals in wine and spirits, we build up knowledge over time of how our consumers think and feel, what attitudes they have and how they behave. Whilst this knowledge is really important, I believe the key is to constantly re-visit, continuously listen and observe and be open-minded to what our consumers actually need, what and do.
Ideally, all wine and spirits businesses will be investing in ongoing primary and secondary consumer research, seeing this as a critical investment rather than a cost. Beyond this investment, what can wine and spirits organisations do to ensure they are truly listening and observing reality?
Here are three recommended actions I’ve used that you could start today.
1. Produce a quarterly or half-year update summary report to distribute across your organisation on consumers trends, drinkers, latest NPD etc. I’ve found that by setting an expectation that this will be done within the organisation, it forces us to dedicate time to it and avoids the inevitable procrastination that we (or should I be honest and say I) suffer from.
2. Get team members from across your organisation involved. Ask them each to visit places in their local area that they’ve never been to before – two bars, two stores and two restaurants for example. Ask them to report back on what they observed, who was buying and drinking what and what they feel the threats and opportunities will be. By going to places you personally wouldn’t normally go, you get to experience life outside of your own ‘bubble’.
If like me you are in your 50s, when did you last visit a bar full of 20-somethings? Observational research is highly underrated and doesn’t cost anything beyond some time, planning and the price of a drink or two whilst you are there. And how lucky are we that we can do observational research in wines and spirits that is actually really enjoyable and fun. Imagine what it would be like if we worked in toilet paper or toothpaste! Or perhaps best to not imagine that…
3. Strike up conversations with other people and clearly in a safe and non-creepy or threatening way. I chat to people whenever I can and have a reputation in my family as a result. As my now adult children often comment: ‘Mum’s off talking to another person in a bar, in a queue, on a plane…again’.
Yes, I am that person. Joking aside, it is amazing how open other people are to talking about wine and spirits, their choices, their likes and their dislikes and why. Gather a group of friends, neighbours, members of your sports club, for example, and say: ‘How about an hour together over a drink on me and you tell me what you think, like and do when it comes to your drinking choices?’
The power we gain from listening and observing out-weights our own projecting and talking by orders of magnitude. And perhaps, it may just ensure that our reality is kept in check.