The South African Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group invited me to their marketing seminar. Passionate about the complex intricacies of wine, marketing and distribution, I am always excited to share thoughts and ideas within our industry.
Although our wines and brands and budgets may differ, in essence, we all want to:
- Have a quality product that we can be proud of.
- Have proper distribution.
- Make money from it.
You do not need to have a qualification in Marketing to know this. It is the essence of what we do and anyone who had anything to do with marketing in his / her life, will know that we call this the 4P’s of Marketing – Product Placement Promotion Price.
But marketing, like most other disciplines, is a dynamic field. And although some fundamental principles and theories might stay true, there often is a shift in how things are perceived and communicated. For instance, the role of product vs experience… But let’s start with what is a given – Product.
The product: South African Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wines in South Africa. It has 31.5% market share for white wines sold in 750 ml bottles and 14.4 % of the total wine market (750 ml bottles). (Source: SAWIS)
It is quite easy to understand why.
Many of the wines are made in a fruity and refreshing style which is ideal in a warm climate where we enjoy alfresco dining, seafood…And because Sauvignon Blanc sells, almost each and every winery has a Sauvignon Blanc on the list – regardless of what is traditionally regarded as an ultimate Sauvignon Blanc growing area or not. And for me, Sauvignon Blanc in this way is a perfect example of a subject that lies very close to my heart. South Africa’s diversity. And it is the diversity of SA’s terroir that leads to the style differences within South African Sauvignon Blanc.
While it is possible to have South African wines that reminds one of the famous New Zeeland Sauvignon Blancs – wine with the pronounced flavours and aromas of asparagus, canned peas, cut grass, gooseberries and green pepper, some South African Sauvignon Blancs offers minerality and have a character similar to the wines from France – the Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire (especially Sancerre). South African Sauvignon Blanc can offer the fruit of the new world and the elegance of the old world.
With a warm climate, most Sauvignon Blancs in South Africa are quite fruity and I think that is what makes South African Sauvignon Blanc sexy, its tropical fruit flavours.
Style vs Brand.
So how important is the specific style – whether it is tropical or mineral – for a specific brand? In my opinion, very important!
Winemakers are tempted to bottle their best tank of Sauvignon Blanc of a specific vintage even though it might be quite different from the previous year. That is a mistake. Decide what your style of wine is and stick with it. Of course there are vintage influences and some vintages might be less intense than others, but the style of wine should be the same.
I think this is where the art of winemaking and a sense for the commercial enterprise meet. Of course wine has to echo its terroir and vintage, but for the average consumer understanding micro-climates and vintage influences are secondary to knowing what they can expect when purchasing a specific brand.
According to an article by Monika Elling: “The word “marketing” was born in the early 1900’s in the U.S., and regardless of language, people around the world use it in its English form. America, as the birthplace of the discipline, is the land where consumers demand and expect brands to build direct connections to drive loyalty. This is not optional, and a consumer centric marketing philosophy is essential for brand traction, growth and longevity.” (Read more)
Marketing for me begins with creating a product for which there is a known target buyer. If you make 50 cases of wine a year and understand your customer base will demand those 50 cases at the price and quality you have set, you will sell your product. In too many instances, the producer announces he makes very high quality wines, sets a price and someone should buy it and in fact, build the market for it. Those days are gone. Quality is relative.
In order to sell successfully, whether it is 500 bottles or 500 000 cases, you need to know your target audience and their preferences – Do your market research!.
As I mentioned earlier, in the dynamic world of marketing one have to continuously adapt your strategy and approach to stay relevant.
To give you an example.
- Product vs Experience
In the wine industry, it used to be all about the product. The quality of the wine in the bottle was the be-all and end-all of your success. Therefore the opinions of wine critics and the results of wine competitions were very important.
But the media landscape has changed.
Today, with Social Media, anyone drinking your wine or visiting your estate is a potential journalist with the power to broadcast their opinion (whether it is an expert one or not) to the world, in an instant.
And even though we as producers want to focus on what is in the bottle – and I also believe that quality is non-negotiable, that it should be a given – in today’s world, it has to be about more than the product.
We need to be open-minded about these things and constantly re-evaluate our world.
- And that brings me to another traditional marketing acronym: USP – unique selling point.
We all know that the USP is important – that we need to offer something different to be recognised and remembered. What are you famous for? What is your style? To create a point of difference cannot be an artificial process though. The USP has to come from a true place, from where it is identified and then developed.
- And I think the USP can be as personal as exactly that: Personality.
– whether it is the personality of the owner, the winemaker, the brand itself. And it does not have to be revolutionary or rock and roll – although it certainly can be! It just have to be real and true.
Distribution is king.
Having the best wine in the bottle and the most unique story to tell do not mean a thing if people can’t get your wine! It might not be the sexy part of our industry – but distribution is king!
There are three main platforms:
Each of these has its unique challenges. Furthermore, the only constant is that they all change constantly…
The on-trade can be a challenge to the smaller producer. Listing fees are expensive and if you do not come with a product parcel offering a one-stop-shop to the establishment, it often is not worthwhile.
The off-trade also offers its challenges. In today’s demanding economic times, supermarkets amalgamate and create own labels and it becomes increasingly difficult to have your products on the shelf – and to do that at a profit.
Then of course distribution can be national or international. Dealing with the international market place is of course a challenge on its own – understanding the customer and the systems of the various countries, finding trust-worthy associates and partners and of course having the necessary budget to support your brand internationally and to stay involved within the distribution channel. In short, if you want to build your brand, be a part of it!
While we can’t dismiss the two traditional platforms, there is much opportunity within the third: Online
And even though this is quite a young platform, it is very dynamic. Amazon brings together books and wine, Yuppiechef combines all things culinary with wine. It is almost like an online wine club idea but much more complex. And so is the distribution channels – getting the wine to the online buyer in a way that is cost effective and quick! There are many challenges to this model, but there is also much opportunity!!
In summary: Making a success of marketing your wine entails:
- A quality product
- A trusted style
- Embracing the new media landscape – Creating an experience and a story around your product – a USP
- Have your distribution in place – and be involved!
These might not be unique to Sauvignon Blanc – they are valid for all South African wines – but perhaps South African Sauvignon Blanc can lead the way in Best Practice!