Browsing Category

Tough Love

Unwritten Research: Understanding Behavior Driving Trends

Research: Ur Usin It Wrong

Despite my newfound love for international women’s water polo, this post will have absolutely no connection to the Olympics. (You’re welcome.) It will, however, focus on a little issue that is near and dear to my heart: Research. Or more specifically, how companies misuse it.

Anyone who has read this blog KNOWS that I do love me some research in my area of specialty. By the time the data has been gathered and shuffled into a presentable report form, I’m able to see the numbers and test the theories, developmental work, and campaigns from the last year to see if what I’ve observed in the millennial market via culture has been reflected in the research. (Turns out, I have a very good track record. Score.) Targeted research is incredibly important to my work as a marketing specialist – and as a sporadic blogger. It tells me what I’ve been on point about, what I’ve missed, what the trade is interested in measuring, and how the industry is reacting.

What I’m disappointed* to see, however, is how research – especially (but not limited to) millennial research – seems to be utilized in the beverage industry today.  There is an increasingly disturbing knee-jerk reactionary trend among companies developing for millennials. And what I mean is UR DOIN IT WRONG.

Here’s an example of what I see being done across the industry:

STEP ONE – Get the numbers.

STEP TWO – See that Product Type X is trending/gaining in sales among target demo.

STEP THREE – Develop a copy of Product Type X.

STEP FOUR – Profit$$$?

That is not innovation. That is embarrassing. This is not proactive. It’s reactive. And most importantly, as far as I can see, it’s not paying off.

Most consumer research tracks behavior: what is a specific region or demographic purchasing, what are the leading brands in a category, etc. OBVIOUSLY, this is valuable stuff, knowing consumer behavior trends.You know what’s even more valuable to know along with the data? WHY consumers are behaving in that way.

Think of it as Consumer Therapy and you’re the psychologist – sure, you can address the behavior and hope for the best, or you can dig down a bit to what is driving the behavior and address that. What do you think will be more successful?

This shouldn’t be news for anyone, it’s basic business. If you can fulfill a need or desire for your market that your competition hasn’t, you’ve got a sound – and most likely profitable – investment. But in order to know what needs or desires aren’t currently being filled, you’ve got to know what those needs and desires are. You’ve got to respect your consumers and take the time learn about them, not just make assumptions based on Column E.

IT’S LIKE WISHING FOR MORE WISHES, PEOPLE. Dig a little deeper, it will pay off.





The Secret To Using Pinterest As A Brand

Pinterest Grid

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Pinterest lately, and it’s become a big topic of conversation as the fastest growing social media platform at the moment. Everyone wants to know THE SECRET. I figured I’d post my advice and feel free to use or discard as you see fit.

Oh. And it’s probably not what you want to hear.

The “secret” to using Pinterest effectively as a brand is first using it personally. THAT’S IT. This goes for any social media platform. So many companies are going in backwards and jumping in blind as a brand. That’s a great way to look corporate/douchey/completely disconnected.

Use it first yourself, as a consumer. See what you like about it, how things are received, the pins you respond to. Do this for a couple weeks BEFORE doing anything with your brand. Don’t be concerned about getting in “late.” You must first have an understanding of WHY your future customers are even using Pinterest – by using it personally yourself – in order to get any use out of Pinterest at all. Next, sit down and create a strategy for your brand using the platform that you know – how can you contribute to the Pinterest community? Or SHOULD you? THEN start your brand page.

After your personal trial (at least 2 weeks), you’ll know if the platform is right for your brand and how best to use it. If you choose to do a brand page then, you’ll be way ahead of the competition because you’ll have a better understanding of WHY consumers use Pinterest. You’ll be able to actively communicate and engage them naturally – ideally converting them into customers. And isn’t that what using social media as a brand is all about?

That was a trick question. That’s exactly what using social media as a brand is all about.


ps: Personally, I love Pinterest. You can find me all up in it HERE (


Wine Industry: Please Try Harder

I thought long and hard before I put up my last post. It’s a little harsh (surprise) – but it’s honest. And it’s important for me to support that POV with some more information. Typed information. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free take the 30 seconds or so to get caught up.

Now do me a favor. Think about who your competitors are in the market place. Go ahead. Have a name or two in mind? Good. Now think again.

Image from the 6/27 Ad Age article, Bottom's Up! A Look at America's Drinking Habits

Your competitor isn’t that winery that’s doing better than you in sales, it’s not the winery down the road or the segment leader you get reports on. Your competition is beer. It’s liquor. Sure everyone’s striving for a bigger piece of the pie, but how about this: How about we get more pies? With the staggering number of millennials open to wine, the time to do it is NOW.

Sounds great, right? Sure. But it’s not going to be easy. We’ve dug ourselves into a lame little hole, wine industry. I’d like to use a little tech analogy to illustrate the competitive gap here: If beer is google, wine is the lost and found box in the local YMCA.

The wine industry as a whole must take a good, long look at itself as compared to other industries. We lack reach. We lack creativity. We CERTAINLY lack drive. We’re just floating around in our own juices, happy that no one has ever once demanded that we change. Do you know why no one has questioned the dismal way in which wine is marketed and generally “put out there?” Neither do I, but I have a few guesses.

1) People don’t care – they like wine and they’ll keep buying it regardless of how lazy the industry is. DAMN STRAIGHT. Why do you think wine has been skating along for years without making one major shift in marketing approach? It’s certainly not because our core consumers are energized by seeing another freaking vineyard with a photoshopped bottle or two in your Wine Spectator ads. Don’t you think that maybe – JUST MAYBE – that if we actually try as an industry to authentically reach our consumers (and potential consumers) that it MIGHT just pay off in the form of cash money?

2) Consumers have basically zero in the form of expectations for the wine industry. So we as an industry could either keep coasting along and pulling paychecks thanking the Good Lord that we’ve got this thing down blindfolded, OR we could actually try something different – something active – and blow everyone’s mind.

Now, you may be thinking “Leah, we ARE innovating. We’re using social media and making QR code hangtags.” And to you I say: starting facebook and twitter accounts and slapping QR codes on your bottles is not innovating. I’m talking about shifting the way in which we talk about wine. Changing the way we communicate. I’m talking about QUALITY people, not about “new outlets.”

Need some inspiration? Think about some of the most boring industries or products out there. Perhaps insurance comes to mind. Or maybe soap? Hell, carpet cleaning is so boring, I bet it never would have even popped into your mind. Now look at what these folks are doing:


Allstate “Mayhem”

Geico “Could Switching To Geico Really Save You…”



Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”



Stanley Steemer “Carpet Guys”


I think you get what I mean. The product that we are selling is, I don’t know, about A BAJILLION times cooler than insurance. And carpet cleaning. And definitely more awesome than soap. Why is no one treating it that way? That has to change.

Get hungry people. Or thirsty.

Dear Wine Industry: Put Your Back Into It.

Dear Wine Industry Letter Image


Dear Wine Industry Letter Image

Another tough love letter to the wine industry. I’m tough on you because I know you can do better.

Here’s Your Sense Of Entitlement

Not Great Expectations

Not Great Expectations

Welcome to my world. I’m not going to lie – overall it’s pretty awesome. It’s fun, weird, creative, but also at times incredibly annoying. For example, do you want to know what I hear ALL DAY LONG? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

“Millennials have an unrealistic sense of entitlement”

“Millennials feel entitled to anything and everything”

“Trophy kids”

So admittedly I hear more than this all day, like how we don’t spend money on wine (bull) and how we’re just not “mature” enough to understand how wine is marketed (I throw up a little everytime I hear variations on this theme) – but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about entitlement and expectations.

Now, if you are the parent of a millennial and you want to wax poetic to me about how your kids have a sense of entitlement, go for it. If you are in HR and want to vent to me about the generation’s unrealistic expectations in our careers, have at it.

It’s fine. You’re talking about your children or your employees.


If you are marketing wine and you are talking about this demographic, you are talking about potential consumers. Potential CUSTOMERS. You are not talking about the fruit of your loins or an employee. You’re talking about a person whose money you would like to have in your pocket. We are no longer talking about ENTITLEMENT. We are talking about EXPECTATIONS.

Which brings me to my next point.

EVERYBODY is talking about how millennials expect special treatment. Let me break this down for you, wine industry. In two easy to digest layers.

1) Go find the person that’s in charge of your wine club. Seriously. Find ’em? Good. Now ask them if your wine club members expect special treatment. They will either a) laugh in your face b) dismiss you with a quick yes and get back to that newsletter they’ve been working on or c) they will think that you are asking them a trick question. If you are their boss, it will almost certainly be c). The reason I’ve asked you to do this little experiment is to show you that EVERY customer you have expects special treatment. You are not a diner in Queens – people do not expect to give you their money and be treated poorly – or vice versa. This goes for any customer of any age.


2) Let’s say that millennials are  NOT your customers – they aren’t in your wine club. You WANT them, but if they expect special treatment from you is it really worth all the extra effort just to get them in the door? I won’t answer that for you in this post (read the rest of the blog for the answer), but what I CAN say is this:

CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, millennials do not expect special treatment from you, wine industry. In fact, millennials don’t really expect much. In my experience, millennials expect you to be dismissive of them, they expect you to be somewhat snobbish, they expect you to pretty much act like every other US winery, in other words. And congratulations, you’re doing a great job so far.

Just like any consumer, if millennials don’t like you, we just won’t by your stuff. We’re not begging for you to change and we CERTAINLY don’t expect you to. There’s plenty of other wine out there to purchase. And we’re buying it. The person that’s begging you to change is ME. Personally myself, Leah Hennessy of Millennier, who also happens to be a millennial, I EXPECT YOU TO CHANGE if you want to make some cash off of this generation. Learn about us. Respect us as consumers and as wine drinkers. Learn to communicate with us. I, personally, expect you to give millennials special treatment because consumers deserve special treatment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you don’t want us as consumers, then don’t worry about changing.

The expectations that we SHOULD be talking about are those of the wine industry. Marketers EXPECT the same old marketing tactics that have been in use for the last 40 years to still be effective on a new generation of wine drinkers. They EXPECT that simply by starting a facebook page that every millennial will crawl out of the woodwork to buy their wine. They EXPECT that 70 million people with a proven dislike for wine’s “attitude” will just “grow into it.” And finally (and my favorite) they EXPECT to not change a thing, not change the way they communicate, not change the way they view an entire generation and they EXPECT to make money off of millennials in return.

Let’s think about that. Whose expectations really need to change?

Dear Wine Industry: Thought You Should Know

Dear Wine Industry: There's a rumor going around that says...

Dear Wine Industry: There's a rumor going around that says...

Dear Wine Industry…Another tough love letter

Dear Wine Industry: 70 Million Millennials Aren’t Going To Just Disappear So Deal With It

"Dear Wine Industry" handwritten letter

"Dear Wine Industry" handwritten letter

WHY SO SERIOUS? Brands Today Need To Grow A Sense Of Humor

Why So Serious Joker

Why So Serious Joker

Stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s some advice that almost any brand could (and should) use. That being said, I don’t know if I can think of an entire industry that is in such dire need of a playful shot in the arm as wine is right now.

For decades, it has been an industry built on luxury, discerning tastes, and taking everything – even the scent of cat pee – seriously. And for decades that’s what consumers wanted and expected of the wine industry. That has changed.

Let me repeat myself. That HAS changed. Already. Past tense. This is because there’s already a valuable group of consumers out there – millennials – that have little interest in this serious attitude. Other industries have already recognized this, from car batteries to anti-virus software, but wine is playing catch-up.

Smart, creative humor is one of the quickest paths to millennial consumer’s hearts (and facebook news feeds). Don’t believe me? Then take it from MTV’s head of research, Nick Shore, whose mantra of late has been “smart and funny is the new rock ‘n’ roll.” Amen.

Fortunately, humor and wine make a fantastic pairing. We celebrate with wine. We share it with friends. We enjoy it. How can humor NOT factor in? Wine brands that are looking to reach millennials today must rethink their traditional approach and attitude and start having some fun.

If you want to reach millennials and you don’t have a funny bone, I suggest you find someone that does. Fast.


Why Bother?
Why Bother?

The question of the moment.

Summer’s over, September’s here, and it’s time for me to address something head on.

As Millennials become more of a focus in the wine industry, I’ve been getting more and more blowback both online and in person regarding the value of this demographic. Now if I’m getting this feedback – a person openly dedicated to establishing the value of this demographic within the wine industry – one can only imagine the general opinion at the moment. I feel it’s timely and appropriate to address this.

Most of the opposing feedback I’ve gotten can be summed up by the following question:


Great question.

Here’s the answer:


That’s it folks. If you want to make more money, cultivating millennial consumers is a no brainer.  The concept is basic – it’s a huge group of people that spends a lot of money on wine that you don’t currently have access to. Period. It’s the same reason folks are reaching out to the Chinese market – same reason, different scale.


If you WANT to cultivate millennial consumers, you’re going to have to change the way you reach out to this group (marketing, advertising, branding, etc.), because we don’t respond to the same outreach tactics that our parents did.

Think about it: is this really surprising? Do you – personally – respond the same way to ads, marketing, branding , etc. that your parents did? Why would millennials be any different? This is a basic concept, but one that’s important to understand in an industry that’s been utilizing the same outreach tactics for the last 40 years.

If this is too much of a pain, or perhaps better said, too painful for companies to realize, then it’s a waste for these folks to go for millennials.

There are still SEVERAL companies and individuals out there who dismiss the 70 million millennial consumers as kids, as buying cheap, or in some other way completely irrelevant to the wine industry. To those people I say thanks for reading the blog and best of luck – clearly our money is no good to you, so I and my 70 million friends will buy someone else’s wine.

HOWEVER: If a company DOES want to reach the millennial market effectively, that company MUST change its tactics. The purpose of this blog is to help people do just that.

Building a Brand: What Makes You Unique?

You work in wine right? Ok.

Pop Quiz

Pop quiz, hotshotWhat makes your brand unique?

Seriously. Think about it.

Have your answer?


Is your answer “our wines”?

You just failed.

Is your answer a variation on “our hands-on approach/small lot fermentation/unique vineyard location/new French oak/anti-mechanical pumpovers/hand harvesting/etc.”?


Is your answer a variation on your “passion for winemaking/wine”?

Not good enough, people.

What makes my brand unique? This is the first question you’ll want to ask yourself when you are re-working or creating a brand. It’s the foundation upon which all of your marketing and pr work will sit.

Ok, so let’s take a look at these three answers.

Though the middle answer would work for the question “what makes your wines special,” it has nothing to do with your BRAND.

The last answer is entirely NOT unique, being that most people get into wine/winemaking because of their passion for it (as evidenced in the old chestnut: Q: How do you make a little money in the wine business? A: Start out with a lot).

And now for my favorite answer. When I ask winery folk (including marketing-types, btw) what makes their brand unique, the overwhelming response is “our wines.” There is a special place in Branding Hell for this answer.

It’s not that your wines aren’t unique or a part of your brand, it’s just that it’s a terrible answer. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but it’s true. It’s as if you were to ask me what makes ME unique and I answer with “my fingerprints.” TECHNICALLY I’m not wrong, but by choosing this boring and obvious answer I’m missing the opportunity to tell you:

That I almost became a Hollywood agent


That I started a guerilla film production company in NYC when I was 20


That I name my pets after action movie characters


That I once dyed a teeny part of my hair purple in high school because my parents told me I couldn’t, but then wore a baseball hat everyday until it turned back to its normal color.


Basically anything.

But no. I told you that my fingerprints make me unique, so you don’t know anything about me except that I apparently am boring and like to state the obvious. Every winery has wines, and every wine is unique. Kind of like finger prints. Your wines might be incredible – I bet they are – but hundreds or thousands of wineries claiming that they are entirely unique because of the same reason is counter-productive for all of those businesses. At the moment, I can’t think of another industry that gets away with this approach.

Think about it. Imagine that I just started a soda company and you asked me what makes me special and my answer is “My soda is really good.” Are you getting your checkbook out? I don’t think so.

When you are creating or recreating your brand, focus on what REALLY makes you unique.  There are probably lots of reasons. Now pick the most interesting (and appropriate). This will most likely take a while. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. It’s worth it.

Building a Brand is a new series on Millennier where Leah breaks down today’s process and pitfalls for brands in the wine industry.