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Virtual Sip Millennial marketing

No, this is not Courtney Cochran but another astute Millennial who has one hand on the wine glass and another on her computer.

America (Country Appellation)

The Millennial Dance: How Wineries Connect with a New Generation

by Courtney Cochran
June 23, 2009

Although Boomers are still the bread and butter of the wine buying market, Millennials are the next big thing, and they’re coming on strong. And unlike Mel Gibson’s character in What Women Want, you don’t need to hear their thoughts to divine this basic truth.

DropCap AS a 30-year-old sommelier and owner of HIP TASTES Events®, I field this question constantly. I’ve spoken on panels about it and written extensively on the topic. And while I can hardly speak definitively on the needs and desires of an entire generation simply because I’m one of their ilk, I can throw into the ring what I feel are some halfway decent ideas about what they want from wine, based on personal experiences, winemaker input and some top notch research. (For those of you who are still cloudy about who the “Millennials”are: they are Americans who’ve turned 21 after the turn of the new Millennium)

virtual-sip-137x273.jpg Collaboration Call it participatory marketing, call it crowdsourcing – call it what you like, but the era of consumer participation is here, and it applies to wine marketing, too. As Millennial marketing expert and Notre Dame prof Carol Phillips points out, “From a young age, Millennials were taught group cooperation over individual competition,” a fact that makes them readily accept – even demand –participatory marketing.

Don’t get what I’m talking about? Then check out the back label of a bottle of über-Twitterer Jeff Stai’s Twisted Oak Ruben’s Blend white wine – it was written by a customer whose entry rose to the top of Stai’s third year-running “Write on Ruben’s Backside!” campaign.

Or skim Inc. Magazine’s spot-on, October 2008 feature on Millennial entrepreneurs, Cool, Determined & Under 30, in which Donna Fenn astutely asserts “Say what you will about Facebook and MySpace, those who frequent them accept communal action - including communal idea generation - trend watching logo.jpgas the norm. Millennials are, in general, far more open and collaborative than their older counterparts."

Indeed, in the era of open source and Wikipedia, wine marketers who don’t include customers in the conversation stand to suffer as Millennials emerge in coming years as the driving force in wine purchases. Still not convinced? Then check out this prescient piece from Trendwatching.com on Foreverism – it may just compel you to get your beta convo going stat (perhaps by way of Twasting notes).

DIY Spirit Speaking of entrepreneurs, Millennials are far more likely than Gen Xers or Boomers to place importance on focus on wine 180.jpgfinding their jobs interesting, and are less motivated by titles and earnings than previous generations, too. As a result, they’re hard wired for entrepreneurship themselves, and they gravitate towards brands that speak to this spirit of doing it yourself – determining your own fate, if you will. To wit, thirty-year-old Dave Potter founded Municipal Winemakers while working full-time as assistant winemaker for Fess Parker (where he is still employed). Having cut his teeth at such notable wine estates as Australia’s Henschke Cellars and France’s promising Château de Montfaucon in the Rhône, Potter yearned to put his mark on his own brand – ultimately bootstrapping the “Muni” venture with little more than a small investment and his own spare time.

And though the story of a talented young winemaker setting out on his own is hardly new, the way Potter’s done it is decidedly nouveau: He’s built his brand almost entirely online, taking advantage of the leveraging effects of social media. “What’s so powerful about Facebook,” he submits, “is when you can reach not only friends but also friends of friends and get to the second degree or third degree, since everyone’s got 200 or 300 friends.”

Call it the friends of friends factor if you will; no matter what, its effects stand to be astoundingly long-term (see Foreverism above). And – fortunately for Potter – personal recommendations figure prominently in purchasing decisions among Millennials, who equate social media’s personal profiles and ease of interaction with transparency and authenticity. Surely knowing this, Potter – whose customer base skews decidedly Millennial – chose an apt tagline for his business: “Honest Wines.”

Core Values focus on PC.jpgMillennials may not buy a wine just because it’s green, but they may very well buy it because a friend recommends it, they like its label design AND it’s green. This is the generation of choice after all: Millennials have grown up with access to a veritable smorgasbord of products, services and entertainment, and they’re savvy (not to mention demanding) shoppers as a result. Given this abundance of choice, it should come as no surprise that they seek out products whose values reflect their own. For a fantastic example of a marketing campaign that speaks directly to this values-oriented purchasing, check out AT&T’s TOMS Shoes commercial at YouTube.

What’s the message for wine and those who make it? Millennials are more likely to buy wines from brands that represent more than just what’s in the bottle: They’re likely to buy from brands whose values reflect their own. In no particular Humanitas-375.jpgorder, these values include minimizing environmental impact, demonstrating a global perspective, utilizing local or responsibly sourced materials wherever possible, giving back to philanthropic causes, and striving for stellar quality and integrity when it comes to the product itself. For an example of a wine company hitting a number of these buttons, check out

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Reader Comments... [4]

Mark Norman , Owner
Direct To Consumer Sales, Connecticut
Courtney, very well written and I hear the frustration that you and several other millennials (writers) feel. Don't take offense, its not just you (or the other writers representing the millennials or your group as a whole), because there are many of us that feel frustrated trying to reach the wineries. They are going through a tough time and they don't understand...just keep trying because at least a few are starting to get it. For all of them this is very foreign. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Have a great one!

Courtney Cochran
Mark - Thanks for your remarks. I think adapting to change is tough for all sorts of organizations, not just wineries. And I think that adapting to generational changes is particularly tough! Alas, it's a difficulty that's bound to repeat itself; don't they always say a key to success in business is mastering change dynamics? Cheers, CC

Judd Wallenbrock , Proprietor
Humanitas Winery, Napa, CA
Wow! Thanks so much for recognizing what Humanitas is all about. If we can offer great wine that also resonates with consumers...of whatever age or inclination...I'm thrilled. Drinking well & doing good -- I think it is a simple idea & hope your readers agree. Again -- thanks!!

Martin Barrett
Courtney, Great article. The end was very encouraging as you described the millennial generation's improved sense of taste in wine, improved over my generation which conformed to major writers love of over extracted, over ripe and over oaked wines. Maybe this will be the generation that truly brings wine and food together.

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