Groove hosted a panel at the Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) with a former CEO of a winery group, an SVP of Sales for another winery group, a SWS/Glazer Regional Manager and the former wine buyer for Cost Plus World Market. The question was a simple one (or so we thought): if you believe that the two fundamentals of building a brand are 1) a unique reason the brand exists and 2) an audience that cares about that reason, how do wine brands build a compelling consumer story (assuming they cannot pay for national advertising programs)? In other words, how do the two fundamentals get to market? The question created an uncomfortable pause.

The former CEO finally said, “We make great wine and then share accolades, sell sheets, and other collateral with influencers, PR and 3-tier partners to build consumer awareness.” The SVP of sales agreed – adding, “We also produce beautiful labels, popular varietals, incentive programs and smart pricing.” They both turned to the SWS/Glazer Regional Manager. He said it was not his job to build brands but rather to “find great brands, great shelf space.” The retail buyer added, “My time is spent building my own brand, not any one wine brand.”  Again, there was an uncomfortable pause.

Well then, who ensures the servers, bartenders, managers, retail staffs and consumers know the ‘unique reason the brand exists’? The producer team talked about semi-annual presentations, blitzes and collateral. However, the SWS Manager retorted, “For most of my people on the street, what we get from the suppliers all sounds the same. They claim a unique reason they exist, but they sound the same.” The retail buyer agreed, and therein lies the rub.  This created a third and final uncomfortable pause.

Which gets us back to the paradox: if the 3-tier sales channel is responsible for 80%+ of the business, why is it okay that almost nobody within that value chain knows the unique reason a brand exists and a reason why end customers will care? With this kind of disconnect, it’s no wonder that 7 out of 10 wine purchases in the grocery are random, based on price, pretty label and varietal. Wine producers have a desperate need to leverage trade communications to get their message to market, but they refuse to invest in getting that message to market. Wholesalers are desperate for a unique and memorable story about the wines they sell, but go to market with sell sheets that all sound the same. At the same time, most wait staff, bartenders, and off-premise staff would not be able to articulate a unique reason a brand exists – and with thousands of options, they don’t have the time or energy to sift through it all to figure out that reason. So, should anyone be confused why the consumer is confused, intimidated and/or frustrated?

Some producers are starting to get it and are turning their attention to creating a unique reason the brand exists. Some are even starting to pursue consumers who they think will care. But most wine producers are living the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It’s a paradox.