Flavor and the Decision Tree for Wine Purchases
Broadly speaking, the first thing a consumer of wine determines upon choosing a wine is why they are buying it—or, for what occasion.
1. On the occasion of my friend’s 50th birthday
2. On the occasion of my dinner of grilled scallops tonight
3. On the occasion of my Uncle’s dinner party this Saturday
4. On the occasion of the kids getting to sleep tonight
The point, of course, is that the consumer will always have some occasion in mind when they reach for a bottle of wine to purchase. Nothing can precede the occasion in the consumers mind. The act of deciding what wine will be purchased must come with a reason and that reason is always an occasion.
Once the consumer determines why they are buying wine, they next go to what flavor of wine they want. “Flavor” merely means the “type” of wine. What flavors might appeal to a consumer?
1. A sweet flavored wine
2. A Pinot Noir flavored wine
3. An Anderson Valley flavored Wine
4. An organic flavored wine
The point is that the type of wine to be purchased only comes after determining why a wine is being purchased. At this point, the consumer is assessing their taste in wine and it is really crucial to accept that this “taste” might be a flavor, a place, an ideology or something else. Equally important is that this determination of “flavor” always comes before Price
If price were not a factor in our decision, then stores would not post the price on the shelves and would feel only obligated to tell the shopper what they are paying after checkout. The thing to understand about price is that no matter for what occasion the wine is being purchased and no matter what the flavor of wine is being chosen, there will always be a wide range of prices. Whether organic, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon or dessert wine, you can find one priced cheaply or expensively or in between. Because the price of wine is so flexible and elastic, the consumer need not give any thought to it until they determine the occasion and flavor.
(The idea of price by the way seems to be a concept a lot of marketers dwell on a great deal, but it has always seemed a very simple concept to me: One prices their wine has high as possible to allow them to sell out in time for release of the next vintage.)
If this decision tree for wine purchases is correct, and I think it is, then it has implications for wine brand builders and wine marketers. What’s really important to appreciate is that only in very specific circumstances will the occasion for which a wine is being bought determine the flavor of wine being purchased. A wedding is highly likely to lead to a sparkling flavor, for example. Likewise, a piece of Dover sole is likely to lead to the purchase of a white wine flavor. If the marketer is interested in targeting these kind so very specific Occasion/Flavor purchases, then it’s a matter of determining which combinations of Occasions/Flavors are most motivating.
However, the vast majority of flavors will accommodate the vast majority of occasions. Just as the uncle’s dinner party can accommodate red, dry, organic or Russian River Valley wine, the Kids-are-in-bed celebratory wine can as easily be white, sweet, or Texan in origin. Furthermore, it’s key to remember that any occasion and any flavor preference can be accommodated by a wide band of prices.
The key, then, for wine marketers and wine brand builders, is to understand the idea of “flavor” and consumer motivation. This is where the wine marketer, brand builder, wine publicist and winery owner needs to live…inside the world and idea of “flavor”. Flavor choice is where purchase deviation really happens. It’s at this point in the wine buying decision tree where consumers start to hone in on one wine or another and break away from each other.
Mass wine marketers understand this intuitively. It’s why you see really big brands often promoting and marketing very specific varietals. Think Santa Margherita and Pinot Grigio or Sutter Home and White Zinfandel. Large brands like these and others must pin their marketing hopes and dreams on very large and popular flavor categories for a couple of reasons. First, because their production is so large, they need to appeal to a large band of consumers. More importantly, due to their need for a large source grapes, these large brands will be making wine representing very broad categories. So, a large brand might also attempt to appeal to those who want a “French” or “California” flavor. Or perhaps a segment of the wine marketplace that wants something beyond a varietal flavor, such as a simple “Rose” or a “summer sipper” flavor.
It’s at the small winery end of the production continuum where the issue of marketing and flavor gets interesting, or at least more varied. The smaller the production and the less wine a producer has to sell, and the greater the variety of flavor types a marketer can pin their brand on. The really small winery can latch their brand on to an “Anderson Valley” flavor or a “JimmyJo’s Estate Vineyard” flavor or a “100% new oak” flavor or a “biodynamic” flavor. Or a “natural wine” flavor.
When looking to attract buyers, occasion and price should be secondary to flavor. This is how you hone in on customers.