- Consumers don't buy wine to learn the production details or sensory analysis of a wine. They buy it to enjoy it.
- Consumers want a reason to fall in love with a wine. People don’t fall in love with facts.
- In the last twelve months the Wine Spectator magazine rated 10,441 wines. 6,514 of them scored 90 points or better.
- Stories are always about people, not about things.
- Making wine is not the biggest challenge in the wine business. Selling wine is the biggest challenge. Wine better solve the problem how to sell it soon, or it will be left far behind.
In a memorable study by Thach and Chang (2015), American consumers listed “taste” as their single most important reason they choose a wine—83% cited this factor. But close behind came: “It helps me relax” at 70%, “to socialize with friends” at 59%, and “it goes well with food” at 49%. What about tasting and analyzing the wine with friends? Only 9% of wine consumers do this.
So why do we keep selling wine as if most consumers care about these things? Despite what most people in the wine business seem to think, consumers don't buy wine to learn the production details or sensory analysis of a wine. They buy it to enjoy it.
So why do wineries keep talking about the technical details? Because they simply can’t learn to talk about anything else. They don’t know about people, they only know about wine.
Learning from Apple
The most powerful brand in the world today is Apple. When Apple releases a new product, do they ask the engineers who designed it to explain how it works? Hardly. They show excited and enthusiastic people using their products in a joyful way.
Does Apple suggest that if their customers understood how computers were made, they would appreciate Apple products more? Obviously not. But we in the wine industry know better than Apple about how to sell a product or create a brand. We insist that our customers should learn more about wine, so that they can appreciate it. We ask our winemakers to explain every detail of production--and we never once connect with the hearts of our customers.
Focus on the consumer: How NOT to talk about wine?
The market today is saturated. Your competition is overwhelming. Consumers are overwhelmed. And in response, the wine industry seems to think that consumers want to know every single detail of how a wine is made. They don't. They want a reason to fall in love with a wine.
People don’t fall in love with facts. If you want a customer to remember your wine, you had better stop talking about water retention and calcareous soils, and start telling them something that touches their hearts. You cannot intellectually convince anyone to like a wine, but you can tell them such an endearing story that they want to drink it. In short, the best way to talk about wine is to tell a good story.
Don't provide tasting notes for your wines.
In a tightly controlled study by Cornell, price sheets without tasting notes outsold price sheets with tasting notes by 40% in both New York and Napa Valley tasting rooms. And yet wineries still insist upon providing tasting notes for their wines. Do you know what kind of guitar strings Eric Clapton uses? You don't. But you love his music. That's a good example for the wine industry. Stop talking about how it is made and instead, talk about why you make it.
Don’t teach chemistry.
Consumers buy wine so that they can take a short vacation via the bottle of wine. They do not want a vacation to their high-school chemistry class. The romance and charm of wine have nothing to do with pH or titratable acidity.
Don’t teach geology.
Consumers don’t need geology lessons. The advantages of calcareous or volcanic soils do not move them to rapture. No consumer has ever walked into a wine shop and asked for a bottle of wine from calcareous soils.
Don’t teach botany.
The difference between rootstock 1103 Paulsen and 5C adds little to their dreams of the wine country.
Whatever you do, don’t teach enology.
The differences between Slovakian, Slovenian, and Slavonian oak should remain a mystery. Wine is the most romantic beverage in the world. Every consumer knows this. If you think that cold-soaks, indigenous yeast, and malolactic fermentations are romantic, you are very ill, indeed.
Don’t talk about ratings and medals.
We talk about points and ratings and medals as if they were priceless. In the last twelve months the Wine Spectator magazine rated 10,441 wines. 6,514 of them scored 90 points or better. Consumers appreciate the fact that your wine is good, but with more than 6,500 good wines to choose from, your score is hardly unique. More importantly, very few hostesses will serve a wine accompanied by a point score.
“A journey to a beautiful and interesting place.”
Our customers just want a story. They want to fall in love. They want to open a bottle and take a journey: a journey to a beautiful and interesting place, where people live not for mortgage payments, or politics or school report cards, but for the quality of life itself. Tell them that story about your wine. Tell the story of the people who make it with love and attention.
Telling a good story
What makes a good story? For a start, note that stories are always about people, not about things. As humans, we need stories to understand the world. Most wineries would be much better served explaining why they make their wine, rather than providing endless technical explanations of how they make that wine.
Here’s a good example of what we do wrong in the world of wine.
Would you like to know more about her? If she were a wine, this is how we would describe her? She is:
- Oxygen: 61%
- Carbon: 23%
- Hydrogen: 10%
- Nitrogen: 2.6%
- Calcium: 1.4%
- Phosphorus: 1.1%
- Trace elements: 0.9%
Obviously, that is not what we want to know. We want to know who she is. We want to know what she does in her spare time. We want to know what makes her laugh, and if she likes wine. If you want to sell wine to consumers, you need to stop spouting statistics, systems and schematics and start telling real stories that capture the imagination of your customers.
Create a human connection
Sadly, many wineries are not run by people who understand the sales process. In most cases, they are run by people who make the wine. Making wine is not the biggest challenge in the wine business. Selling wine is the biggest challenge. And most wineries struggle to do this effectively. Does the story you tell about your winery or wine meet this standard? Fix it now. Tell a story that creates a human connection, an emotion around the brand: talk to their hearts, not to their heads.
You want to read more? Paul Wagner provides insights in his book, “Wine Sales and Distribution: The Secrets to Building a Consultative Selling Approach (co-authored with John Crotts and Byron Marlowe, from Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).
His books can be found here.