Hello wine industry – it’s been a little while. I missed you. I would be lying if I said you hadn’t been on my mind these past few weeks.
I’ve been both excited and nervous to write this post. Here’s why:
I’ve been writing on Millennier for a little over a year now, discussing many different facets of the buying power and influence of millennials for the wine industry. There’s been theory, there’s been practical applications, and there’s been examples of companies trying/succeeding/failing to reach this demographic group. So, one could say I’ve been “talking the talk.”
What many people don’t know is that during this time I’ve also been walking the walk. Last year, I started a wine tasting event group called WTFLA aka Wine Tasting For Los Angeles. As the name (and my professional focus) suggests, it’s a group that was created to target young wine drinkers in LA and connect them with wineries. We did a few smaller-scale events (50-60 people or so) in 2009 and gained a core following of awesome young people in LA that love wine.
This Spring, I reformatted the group to work with both small and large wineries, and to provide larger-scale events that are free to attend. Byron and Cambria wineries were the first to partner with me for WTFLA’s new events.
This is what happened:
Yep, you could say it was a success.
With coverage in a dozen hyper-local online outlets (including ThrillistLA and LA Weekly) and around 300 guests served (more than 50 turned away due to capacity) at a WINE TASTING, WTFLA has exploded all over the place. Well, all over the place in LA. We LITERALLY cannot launch events fast enough.
This. Is. Big.
If it sounds like I’m bragging, that’s because I am. And this is why I was nervous about this post.
I never really wrote about my adventures with WTFLA before because it seemed to me to be simple shameless self-promotion. While plenty of blogs are created for this very purpose, that is not what Millennier.com is about. The Millennier blog was created to educate professionals in the wine industry and beyond on how and why to reach out to millennials. I strongly believe this approach is one of the main reasons why in such a short time I’ve been able to organically grow a successful marketing and strategy consultation business in an incredibly specialized field – almost all through readers of this blog.
So… why talk about WTFLA? Good question.
I find that I am constantly using my experiences with WTFLA as examples to clients and other marketing folks in the wine industry and beyond. And though there is no denying the element of self-promotion, I find it kind of ridiculous for me to stick to hypotheticals and examples in other industries when I’m putting everything I talk about into practice with WTFLA.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve reached a point where I’m in danger of repeating myself and boring the hell out of anyone reading. It’s one thing to communicate how valuable the millennial generation is to the wine industry, but it’s another issue entirely to just keep repeating it like some French recording on LOST. This doesn’t mean that the content on Millennier will change dramatically. I WILL continue to provide examples of companies that succeed (or fail) in outreach, I WILL continue to point out important new data, I WILL continue to challenge folks to come up with new ideas. But I will ALSO be documenting my own first-hand attempts – I’ll be telling the awesome, the awful, and the ugly stories of my experience in practicing what I preach. I’m documenting my experience with WTFLA on Millennier in the hopes that you, dear reader, will learn from my successes and my failures and maybe something will even inspire you to start a revolution of your own.
My father is a veteran (I am proud to say) and he has often noted that both in combat and in life, the person leading the charge always seems to be “in the rear with the gear.” That is not the case with Millennier. I am on the front lines and I hope that you will join me as I document the WTFLA adventures.
I discuss the concept of millennial “brand ambassadors” and “brand evangelists” with businesses all the time. All. The. Time. It’s an important conversation to have – brand ambassadors/evangelists (in this conversation) are regular consumers that “preach” the good word of a particular brand to their friends and family through everyday life. Millennial brand ambassadors are particularly important because so much of our daily lives are spend on sites like facebook where our thoughts can reach thousands of people instantly. Especially for businesses looking to reach out to millennials, getting us talking about your product in a positive way in front of a thousand of our closest friends is key.
Here is my most frequently asked question: “Which brands are doing it right?” Or within the wine industry, “Which wineries are doing it right?”
It’s not that it’s a bad question. It’s incredibly relevant. And those of you who have asked me this lately, don’t think that I’m hating on you, because I’m not. You’ve just inspired me to figure out a better way to answer your question. But first…
The one thing you need to know about millennial brand ambassadors is: YOUR BRAND IS OUR SOCIAL ACCESSORY.
I don’t talk about your product on facebook because you deserve it, or because you worked really hard, or because you have a mortgage to pay or because you want a promotion. I talk about your product because it communicates something about me to people I want to impress/entertain/etc.
The brands that are “doing it right” are the best social accessories. The brands that say something about their millennial consumers. EXAMPLE: Tom’s Shoes – altruistic, socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and incredibly hip shoe company. When I talk about Tom’s Shoes (on facebook, on twitter, etc.) it says all of that ABOUT ME.
This is a very simple concept, but one that (at least) 90% of businesses reaching out to millennials today do not grasp. If you can keep this in mind while formulating your brilliant plan, it might just work. This is why we as millennials talk about businesses. If you want us to talk about your business, it better say something about us. It’s just how it works.
What does your brand say about your consumers? Think long and hard – and don’t just repeat what you say to your boss in meetings. What does it REALLY say? Because in order to have brand ambassadors, you must have a BRAND.
A little over a month ago, AdAge published an article* on 10 marketing ideas that changed the world – at least in their opinion. From the 1984 Apple commercial to a certain iconic hosiery packaging, it’s fascinating to see these 10 ideas juxtaposed. For you marketing types, it’s incredibly inspiring. And for the rest of us, there’s an important common theme to notice among all of the companies mentioned. Each idea highlighted in the article resulted in catapulting its company to industry leader status, at times when these companies were only just fighting for their market share.
As nonsensical as it sounds, it seems like that’s the state of wine companies today: everyone’s just competing. There’s no definitive leader. Sure there are the big guys. Sure there are the big brands. But do you see the wine equivalent to the iPhone anywhere? WHY NOT? The brass ring is just hanging there, people.
I highly recommend taking the 5 minutes to read the article. More than one of these campaigns has shaped a generation. While you read, take notice of the one thing (two things?) each of these companies had in common when they made these marketing choices: Balls.
I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s absolutely true. Some of these companies had everything to lose and they STILL made risky choices. AND THEY WORKED. It’s important to note that these Fearless Leaders were fearless BEFORE they were leaders.
There WILL be more underdog upsets in the coming years. There WILL be companies that chang their consumers’ worlds as well as their own industry landscape.
The real question is will wine be a part of it this time? A girl can only hope.
*UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that AdAge has archived this story in the last few days and it is now available only to AdAge subscribers. This is very disappointing. I am in no way supporting or recommending that readers should subscribe to their services through the original link used in this post. The updated link that I have provided will take you to a blog that has reposted the article in its entirety. Apologies for the inconvenience.
As a busy millennial, I want to take a moment to address some stereotypes of my generation within the wine industry and beyond. Just fyi, I’m too busy multi-tasking, finding amazing internet videos, trolling hipster hate blogs, and designing my next tattoo to spend a whole lot of time on it. As a matter of fact, in the time it took to read that last sentence, I will have sent out 42 text messages without vowels to my closest friends. So let’s get to it.
MILLENNIALS WON’T BUY EXPENSIVE WINES
This is true, but not because we don’t have the money. The reason is because we’re too busy burning through our trust funds buying apple products, every bottle of wine that has ever been released with an animal on the label, and 2 Buck Chuck.
MILLENNIALS DON’T USE TWITTER
Kind of true. We do use it to follow twitter-integrated taco trucks and other novelty businesses as well as fake news sources. But we enjoy talking amongst ourselves IRL about how we “seriously don’t get twitter.”
MILLENNIALS LIVE ON THEIR MOBILE DEVICES
Hang on, lemme finish sending this text.
MILLENNIALS CAN TELL WHEN YOUR MARKETING CAMPAIGN IS NOT AUTHENTIC ENOUGH
Totally true. We can also smell your fear and tell you what you had for breakfast.
YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T APPRECIATE WINE, THEY JUST CARE ABOUT GETTING DRUNK
That’s a bingo – completely true. Our number one priority is getting wasted. Which is why we are the fastest growing demographic in wine consumption the US has ever seen. This is because in order to get blitzed on wine we need to buy like WAY more of it than a mature, refined wine enthusiast would – hence, we buy a lot.
There are countless more stereotypes to address, but I really have to get back to facebook. Before I do, though, I have to thank Hardy Wallace for his fab post on wine bloggers on Dirty South Wine that inspired this one.
Dear Wine Industry,
It shouldn’t be this hard to get people excited to buy wine. You’re not marketing a blanket with arms, here. IT’S WINE! One of the most celebrated “products” the world has ever seen. C’mon – wine is fun and delicous and exciting and sexy. Loosen up. Have some fun. See what happens.
And it’s true. At last. The millennial generation is arguably the hottest topic in the US wine industry this year. IMHO, millennials will be to wine in 2010 what social media was to wine in 2009 – a game changer. And just like social media, companies within the wine industry can either adapt and thrive, or stick their heads in the sand and be left behind.
Quite frankly, NO ONE should be left behind. So for those interested in educating themselves, their co-workers, or (yikes) even their bosses, I’ve compiled a short list of resources that is designed to catch ANYONE up on the current state of the wine/millennial connection. Look at it as a bibliography for future conversations in 2010.
- First, some background on what millennials are and why we matter: http://millennier.com/2009/03/13/meet-a-millennial/ Please note: this was my first post and is almost a year old, but contains helpful definitions and reference links itself (very helpful).
- Now, get familiar with John Gillespie of the Wine Market Council. In my mind, this man singlehandedly lead the charge to bring the importance of the millennial generation to the fore in the wine industry. You will see him quoted in just about every study of value dealing with this age group in wine. Get used to it. Like this article by Wine and Spirits daily writing about his recent presentation at the US Wine Consumer Trends in Dallas. Here you can see the numbers behind the hype.
- Take a look at this millennial/wine fact cornucopia compiled by millennial marketing guru Carol Phillips. This post breaks down the research into highly digestible facts and soundbites – it will be invaluable in conversation.
- For the hardcore marketing folks out there, here’s another Carol Phillips piece on the dangers of market segmentation and gen-y.
- Latest research – this is a digest of the 2009 Wine Market Council Consumer Tracking Study Report where millennials play a huge part.
Obviously, if you’re looking for more detailed information on millennials and wine, you’re sitting right in the middle of a blog entirely dedicated to the GenY/wine connection. Check out the Millennier archives, if you feel like learning more.
About a BILLION years ago (well, more like 6 months), Gary Moore, author of Vinotrip: A Maryland Wine Blog, put into type-written the words what EVERYONE looking to reach out to Millennials should hear. Everyone in the wine industry, anyway.
In a short and sweet post about the increasingly big deal being made about wine companies reaching the millennial consumer, he finished with the following invaluable question:
“You sell alcohol. How hard can it be to sell alcohol to college graduates in their mid-twenties?”
LISTEN TO THE MAN. He certainly has a point.
His words have been echoing through my busy little head ever since he wrote them. At first, I lol’d. A lot. Then I started thinking more and more about this. Why on EARTH does the wine industry need me to say all this stuff? It really should be simple. I shouldn’t have to constantly reverse engineer the needs, wants, desires, dislikes, etc. of myself, my friends, and others in my generation in order to re-format these things into easily digestible somewhat sporadic how-tos for the world to read (though I do enjoy it quite a bit). So, really. Why?
In the time I’ve had to clarify my thoughts on the matter, I’ve come up with an answer to Gary’s question: it’s HARD. And here’s why: Survival. (Tough love is incoming, people. Fair warning.) To clarify, it’s difficult because of the the attitude and image that the wine industry in the United States has carefully cultivated in order to emerge, survive, and thrive over the last 40 years. The inability for the wine industry to change the marketing tactics that it has been using for the last almost-half -century accounts for the failure to appeal to millennial consumers.
In the mid 1970’s, when US wine became an international contender on the wine scene, both wine producers and wine drinkers embraced their (well-deserved) status with evangelical enthusiasm. And as evangelicals do, they sought to prove that Americans could be just as knowledgeable, critical, and refined in taste as their European counterparts. And though I was not around for this incredible time, I believe this image and attitude is exactly what the US wine industry needed to survive.
This is the foundation upon which current wine culture in America is based. Throughout the decades, the industry has not lost the evangelical zeal to display its knowledge and refinement. Marketing campaigns embrace it, wine publications tout it, and wine drinkers from this era flaunt it.
It was effective to market wine in this way to generations 40 years ago – even 20 years ago – but it’s NOT WORKING NOW. For the next generation of wine drinkers, this attitude tends to turn us off. Some people are annoyed by it, some people are intimidated, some people don’t identify with it, the list goes on.
RANDOM STORY THAT THIS REMINDS ME OF: The story of my friend’s grandmother. This woman lived through the great depression as a child with a large family and went through unthinkable hardships: poverty, starvation, the death of young siblings. Though she didn’t speak of this much with my friend, this time weighed heavily on her throughout her long life. When she passed away, my friend and her father went to clean out her home to sell it. When they went into the basement, they found over 20 boxes of canned goods – some recent to some almost 50 years old. Because of her formative years in need, this woman had been buying and hoarding thousands of cans her entire life because she felt that she would someday need them; in reality, however, she had been spending her family’s hard earned money on a misappropriated sense of safety.
I find this very similar to what is happening with the wine industry today. Today’s attitude was created in a time of need – it helped the wine industry emerge, survive, and thrive for years. However, that’s not what it takes to survive today and certainly not tomorrow. Attempting to create new “brand ambassadors” using the same old tactics is proving to be a failure.
EXAMPLE: How many new brand ambassadors from the target millennial demographic did your company’s last full-page, full-color ad in Fill In The Blank Glossy Wine Publication get you?
Too far? Ok, my apologies. Snarkiness aside, clinging to the safety of what has worked in the past is exactly what will torpedo efforts now and in the future. By no means am I encouraging companies big or small to do away with what has gained them their current following. There is value to that approach, but only to one’s current customer base. In other words, to maintenance – not to growth. This is why I’m not suggesting companies completely amputate this approach.
I do, however, highly recommend that if any company wants a NEW consumer group, that you create a NEW marketing plan for them – separate from your existing plan. This means a new attitude and image for this group. Put in the effort to find the aligned interests of the demographic and of your brand and work from there. If you personally don’t know what I’m talking about, find someone that does. This kind of work won’t be easy at first, but it WILL be worth it.
You’ll know it’s working when it’s no longer difficult to sell your alcoholic beverage to a twenty five year-old college graduate.
Tapping into the Millennial consumer market is a priority in ALL industries, not just in wine. Wine should have it easier, since it is well documented that Millennials are already drinking wine in record numbers, and we are already having a positive financial impact on the industry as a whole. So why is it SO HARD for the wine industry to reach out to us?
Let’s take a quick look at how wine and Millennials seem to view each other. From my own work with small businesses and huge companies alike, the Millennial consumer group tends to be viewed as some kind of mythical creature that has magical powers to bestow on whomever finds and befriends it, but is almost impossible to reach. Sound familiar?
Yep, Unicorns. In most of my preliminary conversations with companies that want to tap into this consumer group, you could pretty much switch out the word “Millennial” for “Unicorn” just about every time it’s mentioned. As in “Unicorns have come of age in an era unlike any other,” “Unicorns are very savvy, they can sense when people are trying to pander to them, and they do not like it,” “Unicorns have the ability to communicate with thousands of people in just an instant” or “If we could just reach the Unicorns, we would make millions” and my personal favorite “Why do Unicorns drink wine?”
Now, this is not to say that all of the above statements are not true (at least as they pertain to Gen-Y), but what I take away from these conversations is that businesses still don’t understand us. At all. Let’s take a step back – we are your neighbors, your kids, your co-workers, your interns, your baristas – not some mythical forest creature. Yes, we stand to be the wealthiest generation in the world, and yes we grew up being marketed to and now the bar has been raised – but think about it: Why do Millennials drink wine? Because it’s delicious, interesting and fun. Why do you wine? I’m sure we’ll come up with some things in common, here.
If that’s how the wine industry views Millennials, then how do we view wine? This is an easy one, folks:
In this case it’s just that simple – the wine world tends to be a private club to most of us. And rather than hiking it to the top of the stairs with the rest of the plebeians, then going through the initiation rituals and membership fees, we’d much rather just sneak in with our friends after dark when the security guard is gone and enjoy the club OUR way. It’s a thrill, it’s fun, and we don’t have to be someone we’re not. Eventually, of course, this sneaking around loses it’s thrill, and rather than join the existing club, eventually we will build our own.
So what do these charming analogies teach us? On some level, each party feels that the other is beyond reach. The irony, of course, is that despite this, Millennials want to drink wine (and are) and wine companies want to reach this powerful consumer group (and are trying).
Unfortunately, there is such a wide gap to bridge in this relationship before the wine industry will start benefiting from Gen-Y. It’s tough to hear, but it’s true: the responsibility for changing both of these viewpoints lies with the wine industry.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “Will Millennials spend the money on a $50 bottle of wine?” Ok, sometimes the price changes, but I’d have to say I answer this at least 2-3 times a week. The answer is YES, WE WILL. But in order to spend more money than we normally do on wine (or ANYTHING) there must be a reason for doing so.
This spring, I compiled the data from a survey I conducted online – some of the results from that survey I included in my May 5th post, Where Millennials Are Buying Wine. I asked over 100 Millennials (mainly residing in Southern California) questions about their wine buying habits. None of the answers were a big surprise to me, but to many people who are not members of the Millennial Generation, the answers are a real wake-up call.
First we need to know what Millennials normally spend on wine. From the research based on the informal online survey a baseline was established in terms of the average amount on money respondents spend on a bottle of wine.
Almost 60% of respondents spend between $11-$20 on average on a bottle of wine, so we have our baseline. According to survey results, giving wine as a gift is one of the main reasons the survey respondents buy wine in the first place (these results to be posted soon). I know from experience and observation that we tend to spend more money on a bottle of wine when we give it as a gift – and so the question was posed: Just how much are we willing to spend on a bottle of wine – in any circumstance – including as a gift?
Most of us are actually happy to pay $50 and above for a bottle of wine as a gift. Two thirds of us are willing to go above our typical price range for a gift. So what does this mean in terms of increasing sales among Millennials?
GIVE US A REASON
Seriously. If you are in the position of selling wine to a Millennial, and you get the feeling that it may be more than this young person is comfortable spending on themselves – suggest it as a gift. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Hostess Gift, Birthday Present, Wedding Gift – help them find a reason to spend more money on your wine. I’ve mentioned this before in the April 3rd post, along with a few suggestions on how to engage young people and build a relationship with them – feel free to take a look and do some brushing up.
Now that the numbers are in, let’s see what we can make happen.
Have you tried this approach with success? Without success? Are you planning to now? If you have a related experience you’d like to share with other readers, please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section. We can all learn from what you are doing.