“Rather than have cellars full of wine ageing quietly in barrels, that tell you the plot, varieties, blend and vintage, why not bring them to life and include the name and a QR link to the back story of the customer or customers that have invested in it and become part of that producer and winemaker’s success.” That’s a vision of a genuinely consumer-first driven wine businesss that your customers are being offered – and are increasingly demanding – from the brands and companies they invest in. Richard Siddle explains why drinks producers need to wake up to the fact they no longer own the brands they produce – their target consumers do. And if they don’t those drinkers will vote with their feet and buy into brands that believe in them.
Brands need to completely rethink how they can be relevant to a growing consumer base that wants to feel part of your success and be rewarded for the growth and impact you make, says Richard Siddle. This article first appeared in Jack’s Journal produced by South African winemaker Bruce Jack (details at the bottom).
It was the moment that legendary music journalist, David Hepworth, says he will never forget. “Would he like to go on BBC radio and talk about new music sensation Amy Winehouse?”
Now, usually, being able to share his decades of experience writing about the latest rock stars and where they sit in the pantheon of music history was an opportunity he would have grabbed with both hands. Only there was a slight problem. He had never heard of her. But 1,000s of everyday music fans had. It was months before she had even released her first single, but Amy Winehouse had already been discovered by a large fanbase on the internet. Hepworth realised in an instant his position as one of the world’s agenda setting music journalists was over.
All those years hosting the BBC’s iconic The Old Grey Whistle Test, responsible for creating and launching pioneering music magazines such as Smash Hits and Q, never mind co-hosting Live Aid around the world. None of that mattered any more. The fan had taken over.
Rather than rush with excitement to their local newsagent to pick up their weekly music paper, carefully, and oh so knowingly crafted by Hepworth and his all so powerful journalist friends, they were simply going online and finding the music they liked for themselves.
Brands’ Amy Winehouse moment
It is the same situation happening with brands, retailers and businesses up and down the high street. Covid-19, the global lockdown and our universal switch to online and e-commerce has meant every consumer brand and business is now faced with its own ‘Amy Winehouse moment’.
Are they, too, going to be deemed irrelevant, consumed by the internet, or have they made the all important switch, and put all their key decisions into the hands of their customers?
All a bit too dramatic for you? Well, look around you. In any major consumer goods sector there are now breakthrough, start-up brands, that are taking on some of the world’s most famous names and setting that category’s agenda. Be it Peleton in health and fitness, Glossier in health and beauty or Hello Fresh in food and drink.
Brands that have connected with people online and then spread like wild fire by the power of viral word of mouth.
In some cases the threat to major consumer giants has been so great they have either bought out the pesky starts up – Unilever was prepared to spend $1.4 billion to get its hands on the Harry’s men shaving subscription brand – or have set up their own start-up divisions, like Unilever Ventures and Diageo’s Distill Ventures. In a bid to spot, recruit and tap into that entrepreneurial spirit at source – and save them a whole lot of money too.
Customers are king
If your customer is not running your business then you are doing something wrong and could soon be going out of business. Every decision you make now needs to be based using the sales data, the social media analysis of what your customers are liking, sharing and saying about you.
Take online retailer Naked Wines, that relies on its customers – its Angels – making a monthly payment for it to invest in winemakers to make wines Naked knows they are going to buy. Its wine director Ray O’Connor says every wine decision it makes is based on tracking the sales data and analytics of its customers. It is constantly talking to its Angels asking them about the wines they like and which winemakers they would like Naked to invest in.
It builds an invaluable three way connection between Naked, its Angels and the winemakers it works with around the world. A bond that is arguably more powerful than other wine subscription services because the customers, the Angels, are emotionally and financially invested in the wines they decide to buy.
For years 1,000s of new products have been launched that quickly crashed and burned because they were based on a gut feel their target customer would like it. Now successful brands don’t have a ‘target’ customer, they have followers, supporters, stakeholders, and committed Angels. They know their customers are going to like their brands because they have spent the time to invest in them, to listen to their needs and know what they are going to like. Their past sales data, spending behaviour and social media activity will have sent out enough smoke signals to base any new product launch on.
Understanding consumer trends and behaviour has also opened the doors to brands and services we did not know we even wanted, but can’t do without, now we have them. Like the iPhone, Netflix, or Spotify.
Ripping up traditions
So what does this mean for old, traditional based categories and products? Let’s take the wine industry. Here the brand owners will say they are dictated to not by their customers but by the climate and yearly cycle of weather that determines the size and quality of harvest and subsequent price of their wines. It does not matter what consumers want if there are not enough grapes to make those wines.
Well, think again, and fast. The traditional wine production story has to change to one that puts the consumer first. If wine’s genuine USP is the emotional connection a consumer can have with the vineyard, the terroir, the sense of place, the winemaker, then why not make that the driving force of the brand. Personalise that emotion.
Give customers the chance to blend their own own, to design and create their own label. Make it unique to them. Or at least offer them enough “personalised options” they can choose from that make economic sense for the producer to make.
Rather than have cellars full of wine ageing quietly in barrels, that tell you the plot, varieties, blend and vintage, why not bring them to life and include the name and a QR link to the back story of the customer or customers that have invested in it and become part of that producer and winemaker’s success.
It’s a business model that is just staring up in the spirits sector with the launch of Still In Cask. It hopes to give spirits lovers the chance to invest in aged spirits that are usually tucked away slowly maturing in barrels, never to be seen or heard about until they are ready to be bottled.
Still In Cask is working with distilleries and brand owners to open up those casks to every day drinkers who are allowed to buy up to the equivalent of three bottles and then share in the story of how that spirit slowly matures over the years. Crucially Still In Cask will only work with distillers willing to bring those consumers into their businesses, and talk to them, allow them to visit, and take part in tastings at each stage of the ageing process.
Illy Jaffar, one of Still In Cask’s co-founders, believes the concept “democratises” how spirit investment works, as he explains: “You are not just buying into a ready made story of a brand, but you are actually creating your own story, your own brand. You can talk to the actual distiller at each stage of that journey. It’s such a unique opportunity.”
There’s surely now an open goal for new start ups like this to offer this sort of personalised offer using tanks, barrels and wine and spirits stocks from anywhere in the world. Most consumers don’t not care about viticulture, but they do, increasingly, care about exclusivity, the experience, the moments they can share with others. Wine – and spirits – can do that in spades.
The conscious consumer
The internet has given consumers the power of search. To compare and contrast. To find out the best deals, the promotions that mean the most to them. It has effectively put the high street in the smartphone in their pocket.
They don’t want to be sold to, but to call the shots, or at least feel like they are. To buy into brands with a purpose, that they can believe in. It’s why we now see so much brand marketing that is all about what that product can do for us, and how it makes us feel. Even banks want us to feel good about giving them our money. Like BankMutual’s “Trust. The feeling is mutual” campaign, or American Express’ simple ‘Take Charge’ message.
The more we live our lives online, and the bigger and more powerful our personal data becomes, then expect to see consumers up the ante and expect brands and businesses to pay for that data.
“We have become digital, phygital beings,” is how Michael Becker, founder of personal data, Identity Praxis, describes it. “Consumers are wanting more control over their connected and personal data.”
How consumers go about “managing and controlling” their ‘phygital data’ is a completely different battleground on which brands and their customers are going to have to navigate, stresses Becker.
The more machine learning, artificial intelligence and Big Data combine to offer us new brand experiences is going to both excite and scare consumers at the same time.
It will result in consumers wanting to take greater control and have a “seat at the table of this personal information economy,” warns Becker. A brand’s customer will soon want to know what they get in return for their business.
Blockchain mentality & NFTs
Noticeably the Still In Cask new spirits investment model is all powered by blockchain technology. For two key reasons. Firstly it provides third party, independent control over all the data, transactions and investor details for in perpetuity. Secondly it’s what younger consumers, in particular, understand and want – control over their data.
“That’s where the blockchain comes in,” says co-founder, Liam Hirt. “Any trust and guarantee assurances that customers might have about committing to such a long term partnership with Still In Cask are covered by the blockchain that collates and records all transactions and data relating to every cask sale investment,” he explains. “With a blockchain you don’t have to rely on trust.”
He adds: “If we disappear all the accounts of our customers and their cash shares are stored on the blockchain which can pay out on request.”
We are now seeing luxury and premium wine and spirits brands turning to the blockchain to sell limited edition and exclusive bottlings through NFTs, giving consumers a new way of not just owning and buying into a brand. but giving them the power to then make money out of that investment by selling it on to other consumers.
New platforms have been set up, most noticeably, Blockbar, which claims to be the word’s first online NFT marketplace for “luxury liquor brands” to offer a new way to buy, collect the most coveted wine and spirt brands. Blockbar says it can provide an independent platform that assures brands and consumers alike that all brands sold through its platform are protected by the blockchain.
It has signed “partnerships” with a host of big name brands, including Hennessy Cognac, Glenfiddich, Tequila Patron and Penfolds, that can use Blockbar to offer exclusive brands as NFTs for collectors to buy, or sell on. Monkey Shoulder is offering the chance for 10 Blockbar users to bid and create 100 personalised NFT bottles with their own design and brand name. Then there is Wokenwine launching in June which promises to offer a “fair, transparent and ethical ecosystem” for wine collectors. Each bottle registered on the platform will have its unique identity by minting an NFT.
All powerful consumer
The pandemic and global lockdown has only fast tracked how powerful the average consumer has become. Their standards, expectations and benchmarks of expected behaviour have all got higher. Next day delivery has become same day, or within an hour. Amazon Prime is now the benchmark, the level of service people now expect whether they have paid for it or not.
If we don’t trust or like what our leaders say we are now willing to invade government buildings or famous football stadiums. Rightly or wrongly, we’ll take the law into our own hands.
We expect big business and brands to have an opinion, a stance on the big issues of the day, a purpose we can support. Stay quiet, do nothing and you will be ignored, or brought to account.
Social media has given us all a voice. An equal status. The rich and famous need to line up for a selfie just like anybody else.
But above all else the new consumer also just wants to be loved. To be cared for. To know they matter. The brands, businesses and services that can do that are the ones that are going to be cared for and loved back.
- This article was first published in Jack’s Journal, the breakthrough new lifestyle, culture, arts and wine magazine produced by South African winemaker Bruce Jack. A magazine that looks to capture Jack’s vision of “wine is a way of exploring almost everything else in life, from religion, to science, to socio-political angst, to geology, to imagination, to history, to business, to cultural eccentricities, to art, to… to the very source of life”. All of which can be found in every unique issue of Jack’s Journal. You can find out more about it here.
- Richard Siddle will be hosting a debate at the London Wine Fair on how businesses and brands can grow by developing a loyal and engaged community and the steps you need to take to attract, keep, entertain and give your target customer what they want and grow your brand as a result. The panel will take place in the Discovery Zone on June 8.