September 30, 2020
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Based on his extensive experience building and maintaining the longevity of Australian wine brands in the U.S. marketplace, Gordon Little, Founder, and CEO of Little Peacock Imports, shares some best practices for other wine brands. “Anyone can sell a wine once,” says Little, “but the real challenge is getting the re-order.” With that in mind, Little lays out a multi-part strategy that other brands can adopt as a blueprint for success in the U.S. marketplace. Simply appointing an importer or distributor is not a brand-building strategy, he says. Instead, there are four key components of that overall strategy.
First and most importantly, you need to have alignment across every link of your supply chain. Everyone has to be in alignment with what your wines offer to the marketplace, why they are unique, and what appeal they will have for buyers. It all starts, suggests Little, with creating a clear, specific pitch. You need to show that your brand is unique. It is no longer enough to say something, “We’re a small, family winery.” Instead, think about your target audience and what they want out of your brand. One key here, says Little, is being able to show the “emotional appeal” of your wine.
In a best-case scenario, your pitch will be tweaked and adapted based on three key factors: geography, channel, and trends. As Little is quick to remind wine brand owners, the U.S. market is 50 states and 50 markets, so you have to be very aware of the unique geography of the region where you are trying to gain market share. You also have to keep in mind the characteristics of different sales channels, and what they might be looking for specifically. For example, if you choose to make wine clubs a big part of your overall sales pitch, how have you adapted your pitch for this specific channel? And don’t forget about trends in the marketplace. If your wine is an organic wine, then it’s a perfect opportunity to pitch it as part of the overall customer shift to natural, organic and biodynamic wines.
Check out Gordan's session at the ABID conference this year.
When putting together your sales pitch, says Little, remember to be authentic. “Authenticity sells,” he says, comparing it to the process of editing a resume for a specific employer. You can edit a few pieces here and there to appeal to the employer, but you can’t change who you are or pretend to be someone else.
For example, consider the case of two Australian winemakers, both of which make consistently good wines. The first Australian winemaker has always told a brand story about regional varietals such as Shiraz, and would never try to market this Shiraz as a “red blend,” even with all the demand in the marketplace right now for red blends. That simply would not be authentic. Contrast that approach to that of a second Australian winemaker, who is consistently rolling out new wine varieties (such as a new pét-nat wine), simply as a way to cash in on new trends. The wines might still be good wines, but you’ve lost when it comes to authenticity.
Engagement with every aspect of the marketplace is key, says Little. “Engage everybody,” he advises. By this, he does not mean that you should try to be all things to all people. Rather, you should focus on pushing out a steady stream of relevant, timely content that appeals to end customers. In fact, you should always be looking for a new way to entice the end customer. He cites the famous quote of wine marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk: “Jab, jab, jab, right hook.” By this, he means that you should be consistently engaging people with great content (the jab), and every now and then, slip in a right hook (the sales pitch). In contrast, it’s not effective to use every conversation or point of contact as an excuse to make a sales pitch.
One key in this strategy, of course, is social media. “You need to be able to harness social media,” advises Little. With each new post or update, you can let people know what’s new or happening with your brand. As long as you’re authentic and telling a consistent brand story, this approach will be very effective.
The fourth and final leg of the strategy is not glamorous, but it is vital: a long-term commitment to the U.S. marketplace. This also implies a long-term commitment to hard work. “Un-sexy still sells,” says Little. You need to do all the little things – such as handing out rep incentives or creating depletion allowances – to make the whole strategy work.
You also need to be very strategic about hitting the right price points, says Little. For example, in the U.S. market, $19.99 is a great selling price for wine, not a price at $26.99. However, Little advises that you understand the limits of your pricing power: “A $25 wine is a $25 wine.” Just because you’re an Australian wine brand and the total cost to you of selling in the U.S. marketplace is much higher than selling in the Australian domestic marketplace doesn’t give you the ability to price that $25 wine as a $39.99 wine. There simply won’t be market demand for that wine – consumers are too sophisticated, and there are simply too many other options elsewhere. “Don’t be above the market,” advises Little.
Finally, advises Little, it’s important to understand all the subtle nuances of the U.S. market, especially when it comes to pricing. Putting it all together, the combination of a consistent brand story, authenticity, engagement, and long-term commitment is a winning mix. It can help a new brand break into the U.S. wine market and help that same brand maintain longevity in the U.S. market.