Taking commercial education to the next level

The following piece appeared on Harpers.co.uk last week and is complementary to my last post

A recurring theme at the recent Wine Vision Conference was that the Wine Industry needed to improve its marketing. We are too production oriented: we don’t really understand the consumer. If we have heard it once we have heard it a thousand times and I’d be surprised if anyone in the room in fact disagreed with the message.

The issue audiences usually have with such presentations is that they encapsulate the problem but offer no practical suggestions as to what to do about it.

For once, however, I’m pleased to say at least one speaker addressed this issue. Stephen Woodford, the Chairman of Lexus, emphasised the point that effective marketing was now within the reach of companies with smaller budgets to a greater extent than in the past because of the increased importance and cut through of on line media. He used the example of You Tube through which it is possible to reach large audiences for minimal cost if the campaign is both relevant to the target audience and creative.

This point is not new of course but the emphasis was timely. Wine is a highly complex and confused category yet for the first time we now have media available to us which allow us to tailor messages to  particular target consumers which really resonate. And if we get it right those consumers will spread the word for us…in effect for free.

So one  argument used by those who say that margins in our industry are so tight that we can’t afford consumer marketing campaigns, particularly campaigns that build longer term value as opposed to those that represent a call to immediate action, largely goes out the window.

We are still left however with a major hurdle to overcome. In a complex market with thousands of competing brands one can only achieve cut through with a campaign or brand proposition which  that is truly differentiated from the competition. Developing such propositions requires a skill set which traditionally, as a generalisation, has been sadly lacking across  the UK importer base. We have, with some notable exceptions, a culture which is overwhelmingly sales driven.

It is not enough to say that one can just employ outside agencies. Of course they can be part of the solution in key elements of the mix ( PR\Packaging\Social Media ) but there needs to be at least one in house person who understands the options and can speak the language.

In my experience we are very short of such people: we have plenty of excellent sales people and many pretty good corporate or marketing strategists but few what I would call top notch tactical marketers. These are people who can coordinate the development of effective marketing initiatives AND then implement them. Too many of our marketing people appear to be, by circumstances or design, simply sales support executives.

In fact its possible the problem is getting worse. In the 90’s the wine trade in the UK was attracting a lot of outside interest as an investment opportunity and this attracted people too. Now it is far less attractive. If I’m right this implies we are on a slippery slope. It also implies that if we are in a position where adding to the headcount is not realistic then we need to nurture and train home grown talent. There is no other option and I can’t believe the intellectual capacity isn’t there : its largely a question, therefore, of the will to tap in to it.

It’s also though a question of developing initiatives to help companies realise this potential. Commercial education in the UK is in a much better place these days.The WSET \IMW give it far more emphasis than in the past, but what we need, in addition to initiatives like the WSET’s annual BACK seminar, is a properly structured framework of  workshops : courses where people can learn practical and immediately applicable lessons from the pool of talent that already exists in our industry.

As someone said to me recently ‘ If I hear one more person telling me that we should be using social media in the wine  business I shall scream. I get it.  I want to understand the options and be shown examples of what really works ‘. Let’s move on from telling people what the problems are and help them develop  practical solutions.