Going Pro: Talking Millennial Wine Marketing in Napa

Vinted on February 16, 2011 binned in going pro, wine industry events

On April 6, I’ll be part of a roundtable wine industry panel discussing “strategies for building wine brand loyalty” among what has to be one of the most fickle (and largest) group of wine consumers ever to swipe credit cards in exchange for vinous experiences: the oft-discussed (and more often misunderstood) Millennials.

The panel is part of a larger symposium for wine industry types being held at the gorgeous Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. My panel-mates (now there’s a word that has limited contextual usage!) will include moderator Brad Todd of the Richards Group, and Adam Strum (founder of Wine Enthusiast). Gary V is the keynote (for those who’ve yet to experience a Gary V keynote – it alone is worth the trip).

It’s going to be an interesting discussion, because I’m not sure that capturing the loyalty of Millennials can actually be done (at least, not in the way that wine-related business are used to doing it when it comes to Baby Boomers).  Still, there is hope, provided that you can continuously entertain those buyers with transparency, compelling stories that relate experiences connected with a brand, and above all continuing to up the quality of your products.  And void social-irresponsibility that could result in a brand boycott.

You know, really easy stuff, right?  I recommend investing in some Tylenol, because there will definitely be headaches encountered in marketing departments before the dust settles. For more on how the Millennial set views wine, I recommend checking out Millennier.com (because it’s authored by an actual Millennial and not a late-30s guy with Millennial leanings – like me – just talking about Millennials).

I’m calling attention to this gig because it’s a paying gig (WOOT!), and therefore deserves some mention in the Going Pro vein of articles here

I’m anticipating questions about this, such as “how much are they paying you?” (answer: “I’m transparent, but there are some limits here, people!”) and, primarily of interest to those of you following my Going Pro machinations, “How does one get a gig like that, exactly?”

Here’s my simple, 5-step answer to the latter question:

  1. Start a blog because you have a border-line obsessive passion about wine.
  2. Network like a madman/woman in the on-line communities who share your passion. This includes trying to add value to those communities in any way that you can.
  3. Create the best content that you possibly can, every chance you get, week in and week out for 4+ years.
  4. Spend an inordinate amount of time fostering a community on your blog with its (abundantly intelligent and probably supremely attractive) readers and finding out what THEY want to talk about, and what THEY need, and then give it to them to the best of your ability.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until the industry begins to recognize your contributions as a thought-leader in some of its emerging/changing sub-areas.  Then repeat steps 2-4 again, continuously.

Piece of cake!  It only requires something like 2 billion hours of effort, max. May I have some more caffeine, please?  Yes, intravenously would be fine, thank you.

I’m always humbled and grateful to have opportunities like this upcoming symposium, and I’m joking (mostly) above because the hard work doesn’t always feel like hard work when you’re totally absorbed in something that you love. But opportunities don’t materialize out of thin air just because you are passionate about something – they’re the result the grand snowball-effect of opportunities that present themselves after putting in a sh*tload of hard work behind that passion.

I wish I could say there were shortcuts to this sort of thing, but you already know there aren’t – and you’ve probably guessed that those shortcuts are like cheating at winning a marathon: none of the pain, but all of the guilt, and none of the sense of accomplishment, exhilaration, or fun!






  • @ronga

    I don't think loyalty among millennials is a lost cause. Is it tough, hell yes. They're not going to be our Silver Oak drinkers again and again. They are more experimental, but that's because they are so overwhelmed by the wine world. They don't know where to go. I think that screams opportunity.

    • 1WineDude

      Ah, Ronga – seeing the glass half full! :)

      You're right of course – young people will buy again if the quality is very high, but then with so many wines to try, how to keep their eyes fro wandering too much…

  • Colorado Wine Press

    Congrats and keep up the good work!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, CWP!

  • Jan P

    I think we are also forgetting the number or millenials that are now IN the wine industry as well. It is increasingly becoming a place to see fresh just out of college faces. I know most of my friends are into wine now and care about what they drink because it's what I do and they think it's interesting to learn about and taste with me. But congrats Joe! That's really awesome and makes me think it's time to start blogging about this titillating beverage ;)

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jan – and great point about the Ms in the wine biz, in fact when it comes to many winemaking regions they are the people interacting with customers!

  • wine label printing

    That's a great opportunity. It will always be nice to meet people who has the same interest as yours. Good luck!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, uhm…. mysterious wine label person!

  • Tim Hanni

    I am going to go just to see you, dude! Are you free at all on your trip? Lunch 5th or 4th?

    • 1WineDude

      Yeah, a fan club!!! :-)

      Let's see what we can do – e-mail me and we'll set something up!

  • Tom Johnnson

    The development of brand loyalty has always been a matter not of generation, but of age. The reason television advertisers prize younger viewers isn't that younger viewers have more money; they don't. It's that older viewers are set in their ways and thus difficult to sell with a :30 second spot. Younger viewers who are still exploring the world can be swayed more easily, and thus are more desirable.

    Millennials are going to be different that their parents in many ways — I, personally, am glad I'm going to be dead before all their tattooed skin goes saggy — and one of those is certainly their confidence in wine selection. The mass of Millennials seems to have the attitude that it's just wine and a bad selection won't socially scar anyone. That's not a new attitude, but I think it's more widespread among Millennials than it is among old people like me.

    That's an excellent development, but I don't think it means that Millennials are never going to develop brand loyalty or some other consistency of choice. Unless there's some kind of huge shift in the way people age, they will.

    In the meantime, it's entertaining to watch the marketers panic.

    • 1WineDude

      Tom – it is, indeed, very entertaining! :)

      I think that there's a slight spanner in the works, though, when it comes to Millennial brand loyalty – this younger set (and I side with them on this, despite no longer really being younger set myself) values experiences and diversity, neither of which are all that compatible with building slavish devotion. That's a challenge for marketers and I think is actually a primary driver behind the agita-causing differences in behavior that are seen between Millennials and Boomers, who are the two groups that still matter most when it comes to wine sales.

      I can understand the agita – for almost a generation one set of rules has been at play for selling wine, with the occassional hiccup of financial crises shaking things up. And then a new generation with disposable income shows up and the rules are totally different.

      Of course, that understanding won't prevent me from making fun of the hardship being encountered on the marketing side, because I'm not actually that nice of a person I guess. ;-)

  • William Widmaier

    Marketing wine:

    1. Pick an attractive market position you want your brand/winery to hold.

    2. Make sure what you are picking is something your target audience wants – market research, surveys, instinct, vision and courage all go into choosing this position.

    3. Pick a positioning that has some depth and duration. Something you can be passionate about and that can instill passion in others. Don’t try to be everything to everybody – go for something unique, yet a position that can endure. You want your brand to be more than a seasonal fad.

    2. Make sure your wine actually delivers, to an above average degree, this position (quality of product IS important).

    3. Understand that the romantic notions you can instill in your audience go a very long way to creating long-term loyal customers. Brand loyalty is far more than the wine itself or the label, it includes the emotions, memories, and associations that the wine caries.

    4. Art and design, from label to case to tasting room to advertising to emails to uniforms must all contribute to the perception and romantic notions you are attempting to instill. Don’t skimp on this. IMPORTANT: Don’t be commonplace or mainstream.

    5. Work to add to this positioning through flanking actions in PR, advertising, and association/affinity with other non-competitive brands that share a similar market position to the one you are going after and that can contribute to the romantic notions you are working to instill.

    6. Find ways to establish a direct relationship with your audience – then deliver unexpected surprises and delights to them. Make sure they know that you appreciate them. Your surprise and delights should forward the position you are trying to establish. Again design and emotional impact are the buttons to leverage.

    7. Don’t try to reach everybody. Go for building a small but very loyal following of evangelizers. 1000 hard-core enthusiasts can change everything.

    A fantastic study in brilliant marketing in this category is the rapid rise of St. Germain. Granted, it is not a wine but a liqueur, but they did it right. From bottle design to “the story” behind the liquor, to the website, to establishing direct relationships with their audience, building a loyal following. Talk about a brand with “romantic notions” behind it.

    I could riff on this for hours, but need to get back to work.

    P.S. Joe, thanks for the wonderful, and quite humorous review of my novel you posted last week. Made my day.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, William!I think your numbering scheme got a bit mixed up there but the 2nd #2 (“Make sure your wine actually delivers, to an above average degree, this position (quality of product IS important)”) isn't just important – it's paramount, I think.Cheers!

      • William Widmaier

        Ooops – you're right numbers did get screwed up. And yes quality is paramount. Premium quality makes the marketing job easier. There's nothing like having the wine actually deliver on the promise, or even better exceed all expectations. That's how you make a legend!


  • Leah Hennessy

    Thanks for the love, Joe!

    Just remember for the roundtable – wineries & wine companies can absolutely attain millennial brand loyalty. They can attain passionate, vocal, and fanatical brand loyalty among millennials. BUT THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO IT SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY EXIST. They have to work for it. And it's extra hard because they don't know where to start.

    If they want millennial brand loyalty, they have to reach out to us on our terms. That's how it works. Why would I buy your wine if you don't give me a good reason to?

    I'm amazed when wine marketing folks bitch about millennials' sense of entitlement, and then turn around and expect us to love them without doing a thing to reach out to us. I know we as a generation like to butcher the use of the word "ironic," but I feel that its use is appropriate in this situation.

    Actually, maybe you could just play this for the folks in attendance

    and let them know it's from Leah.

    Kick some ass. Make us proud.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Leah – I’ll do my best! :)

  • El Jefe

    hi Joe – El Jefe late to the party again. I was looking at the speaker list for the April event, and while it is of course difficult to derive age from titles, I'm not really seeing any Millennial voices on the panel (other than your "near-M" self). That's too bad I think.

    The best panel I saw at the Unified last month (in my somewhat biased opinion) was organized and presented by Leah and two other Millennial-age wine business professionals (yes, they ARE old enough now to have real jobs ;). What I got from that presentation was:

    1. Millennials are not fundamentally any different than anybody else; and,

    2. Millennials are not really any different than I was when I was in my 20's; however,

    3. They are not afraid of wine – a good wine (actually, a good anything) can still provide social standing but a bad wine isn't the end of the world; and,

    4. They are loud. They carry these little amplifiers around in their pockets and purses, ready to shout their opinions to the world at a moments notice. This is really the only fundamental difference.

    (and on that note I'm clicking submit because the power just glitched – hope to see you at the event! I just have to decide to make the 3 hour each way journey ;)

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Jefe – looking forward to seeing you there!On thing contributing to your list in terms of #s 3 &4 – Ms are very confident in their opinions.  And they should be.  Because they can get information at a rate that is exponentially faster than available to any preceding generation.  Think about it this way: buy a bottle of Bord'x because critic gave it 96 points; sniff it and find you don't like the smell of band-aids; decide that maybe it's not just you, there might be something wrong with this wine and the critic's taste as it aligns to yours; grab iPhone, search internet for that wine and band-aid smell; read peer reviews on the wine and talk of brett; search for brett and learn some key facts about it as a spoilage flaw, etc.  That can all be done in probably about 15 mins. or less, from a smartphone at your dining room table!

  • Bill Smart

    Joe – I'll see you there. Beer afterwards? Beer will be good after all this mumbo jumbo is over.

    • 1WineDude

      Bill – let's do it!

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