I have found that because China’s wine market is relatively new and not bound to the traditional Western ways, what happens here brings a fresh perspective to other markets. China being the leader in the world of e-commerce also makes it worthwhile keeping an eye on what they do with wine distribution. But with 40% of wines sold in China, being imported, what is it that influences the purchasing decisions of the Chinese wine consumer?
The wine drinking habits of China has changed. Wine has become part of the everyday lifestyle of many. They have better knowledge, are willing to spend more and last year the wine market value rose by 2.1%. 46% of Chinese wine consumers bought their wine from online stores in 2018 and while we know that algorithms and the availability of online information can influence purchasing decisions, social media recommendations are very important – in China perhaps more than in other countries – but it is something that is relevant globally.
Basing your decision on a recommendation is of course nothing new. The platform today may be different but there is nothing old fashioned about word of mouth. It is much less about what brands have to say about themselves and more about what consumers share about their experience or opinion of the brand.
This is not only true in the online space. Except perhaps for luxury brands, traditional paid advertising is becoming less popular – due to the costs, the difficulty to measure success and because readers would rather not be influenced by your opinion of yourself. Advertising in wine has its own challenges when it comes to social responsibility. Editorial is the coveted option and today influencers are used for what I consider to be ‘paid editorial’. Both the value and integrity of influencers are often debated, but influencers sharing their pictures and experiences on social media seems to be the advertisement of modern times.
We have all seen the effect uninformed opinions can have when aired on an online platform. Social media enables you to broadcast your opinion – whether it is a considered thought or a foolish view. And you can do it with immediate global reach. What a scary thought and what an opportunity!
If you use it well, social media can be a wonderful tool. Through the use of pictures, video and audio you can share more than your brand and offering. Using social media effectively also communicate your brand’s emotion, its sentiment. To have effective online communication is essential, but it is about more than putting it out there, it is about engagement and community management.
All of this seems so far removed from the product. The effort that goes into vineyard selection, winemaking methods and all the marketing exercises of packaging and promotion and price. To get the wine on the shelf, you can get away with traditional methods. But it is no surprise to anyone in the wine industry that competition is rife – from other wine brands and from other drink brands. A changing demographic, global economic pressure, quick-changing consumer trends – all have an impact on the way we have to sell our wines. It is about much more than having your wine listed on the most esteemed wine list, in the cellar of exclusive wine boutiques or on the order sheet of leading retailers. Consumers demand choice and brands have to work very hard in moving wines through the tills.
Purchasing decisions are very much based on recommendations and opinions of friends or influencers. It is already happening everywhere, but if China is anything to go by, it will increasingly be the challenge of the brand to manage its community to increase its following, to continuously ensure engagement, positive sentiment, energy and creativity.
Marketing departments have their work cut out for them – it is no longer about putting out a few curated messages and images on social media. It is about involving yourself in a community, engaging with those who associate with you and your product. To do this effectively, research, reporting, interpretation and creative ways of engaging are of the essence.
If all of this sounds daunting, remember that the starting point is always a quality product and an exceptional offering. If those two are in place, word of mouth will follow whether it is in real life or online.