Although the conclusion implied in the title of today’s post probably seems obvious to many (i.e., a company/brand has to eventually court younger customers because older customers will not be able to buy their products forever), it’s worth providing some background (and a pertinent example), because otherwise this post would be really, really short (and god knows I’m not a fan of that – pithy, yes, but succinct, no).
Aaaaaand… I’ve got Millennial wine interaction on my mind, given the topic of this weekend’s panel discussion at the upcoming 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference…
Below is an embed of a podcast created and originally posted by the guys over at (the excellent) Wine Biz Radio, which in part covers the Nomacorc-sponsored “Marketing to the Next Generation of Wine Consumers” conference held at the CIA in Napa (here’s some of my vid from the same event – and yes, this is probably the last time I’m gonna talk about it, okay?). Listening to the WBR episode reminded me that some (probably most) wine producers and/or their PR folks still aren’t talking to Millennials in a serious way, and if they are, they likely aren’t doing it in the way that Millennials themselves would prefer.
I’m not a Millennial, so don’t take my word for it – listen to the podcast: at about the 56-minute mark, WBR host Randy and I talk to Kayla Koroush, a twenty-something Millennial who more-or-less told the entire audience during my panel at the event that she was age-profiled when visiting a winery tasting room in California. I.e., no one wanted to talk to her, take her seriously, or treat her as an educated consumer (and, therefore, a likely potential customer).
The trouble with that approach, aside from it being economically stupid prima facie, is that this particular young woman was actually a very educated consumer – she works at a winery. And she was willing to stand up and talk about her experience at an industry event attended by a few hundred people, who in turn went on to tweet, facebook-post and write about it…
Now, if we’d been naming names, that kind of publicity would have been pretty negative for the winery that she visited, don’t you think? E.g., “Damn, didn’t know Winery X thought everyone under 30 was a wine moron…” (in case you’re wondering, that status update fits comfortably into twitter’s 140 character limit, with room to spare).
On top of that, it’s potentially negative publicity directly within a passionate community of wine peeps (and all of their on-line friends – basically, potential customers).
Does anyone out there still think that the wine industry is somehow so special that it’s immune to the knock-on impacts of social media communication within such a tightly-knit, passionate community? That it is impervious to how younger generations use platforms like social media to talk about brands, effectively taking the control of a brand’s message away from the company that owns it?
‘Cause if you do, I’ve got a bridge (or two) to sell you.
I feel like I’m dancing on the edge of the waters of preachiness here, then actually slipping and doing a full-on belly-flop right into the chilly brine of preachiness. But I’m really stumped as to why the the attitude in the wine biz that what worked in the past will continue to work forever is still so prevalent. The “it’s just a fad” argument is totally bogus. You can bet on the tools (twitter, facebook, etc.) changing and losing/gaining relevance, but you can’t bet on the conversations themselves losing relevance, and you certainly can’t bet on wine not being impacted by those conversations - especially when little things things like, say, national governments aren’t immune to their effects. That‘s not a bet that I’d be taking anytime soon, anyway.
Of course, not all wine producers are missing this, but plenty still are. For those who view younger people as somehow irrelevant when it comes to their core consumer base: Wake up! You cannot ignore this younger generation forever. Boomers and Gen Xers will some day have to stop buying your wine because they have a terminal condition that will eventually kill them all (it’s called being human), and unfortunately mortality adversely impacts customer loyalty. From the viewpoint of the younger wine-drinking generation, you’re getting lazy, because what makes wine cool when marketing to Boomers doesn’t make it cool when marketing it to them.
I’m not trying to sound flippant (it comes naturally), and I don’t mean to downplay the effort involved in engaging different customer bases, especially for the people who are incredibly busy trying to make the best wine that they can. BUT… ignoring an entire generation is probably not the answer.
Ok, you’re right – it’s definitely not the answer. Because those crazy kids drink a lot of product when it comes to vino.
I have nothing against Boomers, and count many of them as dear friends, mentors, and confidants. And I’m reasonably confident that most of the Boomers that I know would tell you that what I am about to write (warning: gross oversimplification to follow) isn’t too far off the mark:
Those making and selling wine might not have to worry too much about my generation (Gen X), because our numbers are small and likely the engagement tactics used for Boomers and Millennials will work for us relative to our respective ages. But you sure-as-sh*t need to be worried about Millennials, because their numbers are massive in comparison. As for being worried about having to worry about Boomers and Millennials at the same time: last time I checked, it was, in fact, possible to simultaneously engage different customers of different ages in different ways. Sure it’s a bit of a pain in the ass and all, but it beats the alternative, which is the pain in the ass of eventually not having any more customers, doesn’t it?
There’s at least one wine-related company that gets it, is actively trying to make wine seem cool to a younger generation, and is seeing return on their efforts: Constellation (that’s a development that probably doesn’t put a warm and fuzzy into the hearts of most family-owned wineries).
I’d love to end this on a positive note, and hear stories of wineries / producers / brands that are getting this right – so please, fire away if you’ve got ‘em!