Real People v Wine People – Wine v Football: a wine pro speaks

Anyone who has followed my writing over the years will be familiar with my repeated mantra that people who have been bitten by the wine bug dramatically overestimate others’ interest in wine. I go on repeating the mantra because I truly believe that this widespread delusion is a huge handicap for the wine industry: if you mistakenly believe that someone fancies you, you don’t make much effort to seduce them.

I don’t often get much support for my view, so I really appreciated the following contribution from Adrian Atkinson, one of  the most experienced and thoughtful members of the UK wine trade. Atkinson has over 20 years’  experience as Senior Wine Buyer at Oddbins and Senior wine buyer/Trading Manager at Sainsbury’s and Wine Development Director of Allied Domecq and most recently Pernod Ricard. He has recently been on sabbatical while, as his Linkedin profile says, ‘actively seeking new challenges’. He lives in a small village on the outskirts of London. Perhaps, if his home were close to Los Angeles, Lyon or Melbourne his experience might be different, but the UK is one of the biggest wine markets in the world, with a reputation for the vinous sophistication of its populace. I doubt that it is really all that unrepresentative of the rest of the wine drinking planet.

During my sabbatical I have once again been deeply immersed in people. People who don’t care about wine in the sense that I can’t recall a single one at the rugby, cricket or football club asking me (and possible the same for a wine journalist within the same village) for advice, direction or information about wine. But we do have lots of conversations about football, rugby, the environment, schools, holidays, cars, meat/butchers, countryside issues etc etc. They all drink wine in vast quantities vs Mr and Mrs Average, and are very comfortable with their vinous lot. And I find it very difficult to bring myself to try to straighten their ways. For I like strong PG tips tea, medium sliced bread and baked beans; who am I to preach,

Needless to say, my experience, living in London, surrounded by relatively well heeled, middle-class lawyers and accountants, reflects Atkinson’s. People in my neck of the woods talk about wine in the same way they talk about cheese. It briefly becomes the subject of attention if there happens to be an interesting and/or unfamiliar example on the table.

8 comments

  1. Richard Warland · ·

    You certainly have support from me Bob and it it is a misconception that is not just restricted to wine.

    As a wine professional who has worked across many other industries in my capacity as a CRM/Loyalty Markeing consultant I have witnessed it regularly – particularly in younger marketers.

    We all live our own lives and occasionally we may need a product or service. Normally, unless we are passionate about that product or service, it is just a small part of our life and what we want is a quick and efficient interchange so we can get on with what is important to us. It makes me shake my head in disbelief when I hear (say) an insurance company or toilet paper marketer talk about “building a relationship” with customers!

    To your point, wine marketers need to remember that passionate oenophiles only fill the tiny triangle at the peak of the massive triangle which is the total wine market. There are horses for courses!

  2. Hmmmm Richard, we’re on the same page, obviously, but I actually do believe that a toilet paper manufacturer and an insurance company can build some kind of relationship with customers. If the former can convince me that they really are more ‘green’ or that some of their profits good to help fight dysentery in Africa and the latter has real sympathetic people rather than call centres on the other side of the world… well I’d call that a shallow relationship, but one that’s of value to the brand.

  3. Richard Warland · ·

    Agreed Bob, but what I meant was to ask how many of us have TIME to “have a relationship” with the supplier of every product and service we consume?

    Let’s take a simple wine analogy – a lengthy, information rich back label, versus an attractive front label that says “I am a wine you can be proud to share with friends”.

  4. I take your point, but it depends what you call a relationship. I think Russian billionaires and rappers have a relationship – of a kind – with Cristal. In the sense that they recognise it, seek it out, and pay extra for it. Ok, it’s not a deep, meaningful relationship, but it’s one that satisfies both parties.

  5. Richard Warland · ·

    Good point Bob and in fact I would not include the marketers at Louis Roederer among those who are wasting their time in promoting a “relationship” with a brand like Cristal. In their case I’d call it “brand image” promotion.

    I was just reading a comment made by my friend Damien Wilson on one of your other (related topic) blogs – “Before we even started, we were shocked by how little time consumers spent deciding on their wine purchases. It wasn’t until we observed their behaviour in store that we began to realise how little time is available to influence sales”.

    It seems we think alike… as usual!

  6. Damien and I struggle to disagree – which I guess is how I’ve ended up teaching his students. My point is that there are a LOT of those kinds of ‘brand image’ relationships. Penfolds, d’Arenberg, Cullen all have it. And the Penfolds recorking clinic is a brilliant relationship-strengthener. Reaching for a particular bottle of wine, through recognition and confidence is not really unlike adding a name to a Christmas card or party invitation list…

  7. Richard Warland · ·

    Ditto my relationship with Damien. Sonoma has chosen well!

    To some degree we have strayed off topic here but getting back to your original point – if you questioned the average man in the street in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne (not Adelaide or Perth) they will know that Penfolds make wine but I would expect that few would know the name d’Arenberg and even fewer Cullen. …and as for Cristal!

  8. Ah, but surely it’s a fool’s errand to try to be known by everyone. Ski-manufacturers need to be known by skiers. Rossignol is a terrific brand; ditto speedos. Cristal doesn’t need to have any relationship with Yellow Tail drinkers, but it doesn’t mind .05% of them having vaguely heard of the brand – and maybe being ready to buy a bottle when they win the lottery

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