How to revisit your wine marketing plans in times of disruption
By Dr Armando Maria Corsi
The beginning of every year is always characterised by the desire to predict future marketing trends. This aspiration gets even stronger in years such as those we are experiencing right now, as we feel that the world is changing rapidly and we should try to find ways to keep our businesses alive. Just as this impulse is strong, however, so too should be the desire to ask ourselves what these hypothetical changes entail for our marketing plans. Are we sure that what’s happening around the world has really impacted the marketing goals we should pursue as a company, or are the suggestions we’re hearing about simply different means to reach the same old goals?
How many things have changed in the past two years? I cannot believe it was only July 2019 when we convened for the 17th Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference, which turned out to be the last major event held for the Australian wine sector. If I stop and think about the topics we discussed during the forum, the objectives we set for our industry, and the ways in which we could socialise, it seems as though a geological era has gone by. The Australian wine industry boat, which was sailing fast in the ocean of events, was hit by three colossal storms without much warning: the bushfires at the end of 2019/early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic since early 2020, and the tariffs imposed by the Chinese government on Australian wine in containers of two litres or less in November 2020. These storms have caused a lot of damage to the keel and sails of our ship, but the good news is that the boat is still afloat, and it’s continuing its voyage. As it happens, however, when one is overwhelmed by a wave (or more than one, as is our case), after ending up underwater, Archimedes’ law (AKA the strength and determination of the women and men of the Australian wine industry) makes you re-float. And when that happens, one starts looking around to understand whether the ship is still pointing in the same direction, and whether one still has all the means to go where one was set to go.
With all that has happened in the last 20-odd months, many of us are wondering whether the goals we should be achieving as a company have changed. Others are wondering whether the means that can get us there have changed. I would like to add a third question to the mix: are we able to distinguish the goals from the means? In order to answer these questions, we need to pay a visit to the area of strategic planning, as it provides us with some useful definitions which can guide us along this journey. The four definitions are:
• Goal: The big picture dream a company aspires to achieve.
• Objective: A specific, tangible, and measurable action we can take to move closer to the goal.
• Strategy: The plan of action to achieve a goal.
• Tactic: The tricks and tools we can develop to get closer to the objective.
An important point we must remember is that for every goal, there could be multiple objectives and even more strategies and tactics we could employ. To summarise, we could visually picture the scenario as in Figure 1, but obviously the specific number of objectives, strategies and tactics associated with each goal can vary.
In recent months, it seems to me that many marketing experts have suggested that companies adopt specific strategies, such as, for example, improving the brand storytelling, strengthening the company’s online presence, or focusing on local wines and customers, etc. I agree with many of these suggestions, but I disagree with the experts on the fundamental point that these strategies have often been communicated as new goals to pursue, when they are, in fact, strategies (i.e., a plan of actions to help us achieve a goal). Whilst the difference may appear simply semantic, only good for academic discussions around a pot of earl grey tea, mistaking strategies for goals can put companies in a fragile position. The idea of making changes in order to adapt to new contexts is inherent in the nature of what strategies are meant to do. Goals, on the other hand, have a broader horizon. Mistaking strategies with goals looks very much like deciding whether it’s better to have a stainless steel or timber steering wheel for your vessel, instead of understanding when you need to turn it before hitting the rocks. Let’s, therefore, ask ourselves if the goals we should aim for as a company have changed in these few months, or are likely to change in the future. If you, like me, believe in the ideas suggested by Byron Sharp in his seminal book How Brands Grow (2010), then you should be familiar with the notion that for a brand to grow (i.e., goal) we need to increase the number of regular customers who buy us infrequently, or not at all (i.e., objective). In order to achieve the goal, we could implement several strategies, such as ensuring that the brand is easy to buy, create and use distinctive brand assets, get noticed, etc, and withing that we could adopt several tactics.
Has the key goal of brand growth and its relative objective changed in the last few months? There have surely been a few changes. For example, if your business is about organising winery tours for international tourists in Australia, clearly the situation is dire. However, from all the data and reports I have been able to consult and/or analyse myself, I haven’t found any evidence supporting the need for change. Let’s, therefore, take a look at some of the strategies we have heard more about in the recent months, and see if they should be looked at as new goals, or, more simply, a new means of achieving the same goal.
• Improve your storytelling: How many times have we heard the story about a family-owned, passion-driven wine business? Probably one too many. Marketing experts are, therefore, suggesting we should move away from this type of storytelling, and instead, focus on what is unique in the story we can tell our potential customers. Why do we need to do this though? We need to do this because a key strategy to achieve brand growth is to make sure our brand stands out from the crowd. In a wall (or website) full of Barossa Shiraz, or Clare Valley Riesling, what is that something unique that your brand can offer customers?
• Strengthen your online presence: Online shopping, whether from wine retailers or directly from wineries, increased significantly in 2020. Companies, therefore, need to set up a strong online presence if they want to avoid falling behind. Again, why do we need to do this though? If customers cannot visit shops or restaurants anymore because they are unable to leave their homes, we need to put in place a different strategy to get them buying wine. Strengthening our online presence is, therefore, not a new goal we should aspire to, but a strategy through which we can execute the objective of winning new customers or nudging our very infrequent buyers to buy us more often.
• 2021 is the year of buying and travelling local: I am sure that many of us wish we could visit new, exotic locations, or try wines made of grapes we’ve never heard of before. Instead, the logistic difficulties of importing foreign wines and the impossibility of travelling overseas has given us the chance to discover our wonderful backyard. Does this mean that our goals have changed? For one last time: I don’t think so. We are still in the business of acquiring new customers, and nudging very infrequent ones. In the last few months we necessarily had to focus on local wines and local customers, but, as soon as our borders properly reopen, we should add to this customer base all those international customers we missed in the interim.
I hope the examples below provide enough evidence to prove my point.
As I drive to a conclusion, am I suggesting we should stand still and never change? Absolutely not. In fact, one the moments that shaped me the most was when I discovered two key concepts: the golden circles (Sinek, 2009) and having a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). The first concept refers to the fact that when thinking about starting a new activity, or proposing something to someone we should always ask ourselves three questions: why are we doing it? How are we doing it? And what are we doing? The second concept refers to the way we approach the events that occur in our lives. A growth mindset embraces challenges, sees failure as an opportunity to grow, learns from criticism, and finds inspiration in the success of others, ultimately leading to a higher level of achievement. Figure 2 summarises graphically these two concepts.
If we, therefore, go back to one of the strategies suggested above, that is, the opportunity to develop a stronger online presence, we should ask ourselves the following questions:
• Why do we want to build a strong online presence?
• How should/could we do it?
• What tools do we need to put in place to develop a strong online presence?
• Are we ready to embrace the challenges that a strong online presence may bring?
• Can we persist on our path, even in the face of obstacles?
• Can we see the effort we put into developing an online presence as a path to making things better every day?
• Are we ready to learn from criticism?
• Can we be inspired by our competitors’ successes in developing their online presence?
If we are able to provide a satisfying answer to these questions, then, by all means, let’s go ahead with that strategy, but let’s not forget the ultimate goal we should pursue.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.
Sharp, B. (2010). How brands grow. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Watch Dr. Armando Maria Corsi’s 2021 PACKWINE Forum presentation on the topic here: