The Big Fish Little Pond Theory of Wine Marketing

Bflp The theories of marketing I like best are the ones I understand. I don't much like those theories whose substance allude me.

The one theory of marketing that I've always understood and that I've seen work consistently well when applied well in the wine business is the theory of the Big Fish In The Little Pond. I think the reason the BFLP theory of wine marketing works so well is because its so elegantly simple. It works like this:

Find a small product category (Alicante Bouschet, for example), where fewer competitors are willing to play, Produce a great example of the product (Ballentine Vineyards' Chenin Blanc, for example) and institute a very targeted placement strategy that makes your example of the product the obvious go-to wine among those looking for something unique and different.

While the advantage of the BFLP strategy is that the player has less competition than those in larger working in larger product categories, the disadvantage is that there are far fewer buyers for the product. The key, then, to this marketing strategy is being highly successful at identifying buyers for your high quality, though obscure, product.

What's very interesting to this PR Guy is the identification of small product categories. There are actually few pure wine categories that are now uncrowded. Alicante Bouschet is a good example. So is Chenin Blanc. But you'd be hard pressed to find other purely varietal categories that are relatively small ponds.

That's why the small wine pond these days happens to be not only varietal, but geographical too. Among the interesting small wine ponds that exist you have:

-Napa Valley Sangiovese
-Russian River Valley Petite Sirah
-Monterey Riesling
-Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer
-California Port-Style Wines

Other types of small wine ponds exist, but the further away one gets from the commonly understood varietal product paradigm and the semi-understood geographic/varietal paradigm, the smaller the pond becomes. From a perception standpoint, you often end up with a puddle instead of a pond.

Being the big footprint in a small puddle isn't necessarily a bad thing either. However to successfully maneuver this approach to product marketing you find yourself at the mercy of the cognoscenti that understand the puddle and are willing to educate others about the contours and contents of the puddle.

Among the wine puddles that can accommodate a major producer footprint are:

-Old Vine Zinfandel
-Small production, single vineyard varietals
-Mountain-grown wines.
-Non-French "Nouveau" wines

As a publicist, I want winery clients that are big fish in a small pond or big footprints in a puddle. I look for these kinds of clients because publicists tell stories and it turns out that the BFLPs always have more interesting stories to tell.

8 Responses

  1. Markus Stolz - September 7, 2009

    in the world of wines, you even have little ponds formed by countries. Greece, Hungary, Serbia and others are examples for this. Wine marketing is indeed the key. Who would have thought that Austria would be one of the first countries that would successfully grow their pond to a very impressive size? Their are many lessons to be learned from their stategies employed. I love your comment from the publicist point of view, as it is well worth exploring.
    Thanks for a great post, Markus.

  2. Francesco - September 7, 2009

    You make some great points here, but what happens when that big fish sucks up all the oxygen in that small pond?

  3. Jack, Chief Inspector, Wine Blog Police - September 7, 2009

    Unsubscribing to you, Mr. Bold Man.

  4. Derrick Schneider - September 7, 2009

    “(Alicante Bouschet, for example), where fewer competitors are willing to play, Produce a great example of the product (Ballentine Vineyards’ Chenin Blanc, for example)”
    My first thought on reading this was, “Ballentine Vineyards’ Chenin Blanc is a great example of Alicante Bouschet?” 🙂

  5. Dylan - September 7, 2009

    I think you’ll find stories in both puddles and oceans. It’s just you get to be more focused: the smaller pond, the more local the story, as it were. But Big Brands still have stories, just ask Ford or Nike.

  6. Ann Miller - September 7, 2009

    Tom, is there a way that big fish in small ponds can grow with the help of the Long Tail?
    With direct to consumer marketing does the wine business have enough in common with the likes of Amazon and Netflix to take advantage of (in the words of Chris Anderson) “the shallow end of the bitstream”?

  7. Dr. Horowitz - September 7, 2009

    You should check out Rob Walker’s book Buying In. In Chapter 1 he talks about the pretty good problem. All products are pretty good these days, so when you compete in terms of a physical product you ultimately end up competing on price, and nobody wants to sell inexpensive wine unless they are selling boatloads of it.
    For example, my friend Dominic Foppoli sells unoaked Chardonnay, but you can buy cheap unoaked Chardonnay at the grocery store. The idea of buying an unaoked Chardonnay from Dominic’s specialness is what makes the product special.
    When it comes to mass production I guess it’s good to be a BFSP, but when you’re trying to romanticize a wine I don’t think the BFSP idea really matters.
    Nice goldfish pic.

  8. Ms. Drinkwell - September 11, 2009

    It’s me! I am the “buyer for your high quality, though obscure, product.” I agree with your first “small ponds” list. There are some great categories there that would be all the stronger for a few more high quality entrants. As for the “wine puddles” list, I respectfully disagree with Old Vine Zin. I think there are quite enough players in this category, and I’m always bothered by the “Old Vine” label as it lacks any consistent legal definition and is far too often misused on the label, IMO. Small production, single vineyard varietals I’m on the fence about. Probably not the best game to get into at the moment, given the economy as these wines tend to be very pricey, and I personally am not typically swayed by this approach. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, though, I know.
    Mountain grown wines gets a big yes from me. These time and again tend to be favorites of mine. There’s some real character there that makes these wines distinctive from their non-mountain brethren.
    Would love for you to clarify the Non-French Nouveau category for me? Are these wines made in the style of Beaujolais, or am I misreading.
    Good thoughts, as always.

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