The next time you go to the grocery store, take a look at the wine selection. Red or white, sweet or dry, young or old, cask-aged or not: The choices can be overwhelming. Add brand names to the mix, and you could buy a different bottle every day of the year.
Choice is great for consumers, but such a crowded marketplace can close the door on new entrants. Unless they want to race to the bottom on price, startups in saturated markets need something special in order to stand out. In particularly packed spaces like wine, make that two or three special somethings.
Wine brand ONEHOPE came up with multiple answers to its market’s overpopulation problem. First, it decided to support not just one cause, but any cause that its customers care about. Second, it began selling wine online when few other brands were positioned to take advantage of changing e-commerce laws. Third, and perhaps most daring of all, it chose a direct sales model, encouraging its “Cause Entrepreneurs” to engage people in their local community to host wine-tasting parties to raise money for the charitable organization of their choice.
Wine may be a small part of the total economy, but the strategies used by its most creative players can pay big dividends for any business. Consider these four ways wine companies get noticed:
1. A fresh business model
In 2015, direct sales represented just 5 percent of ONEHOPE’s revenue; today, direct sales make up 70 percent — an impressive figure for an industry dominated by traditional distribution such as retailers, restaurants, and hotels. So why did ONEHOPE add to its wholesale model? Because it’s what its audience wanted.
“A few people we knew came to us and said they wanted to help share our story and raise money for causes in their community that were important to them,” ONEHOPE CEO Jake Kloberdanz said. “They started out as affiliates, and the program took off. The industry really hadn’t ever listened to this audience, nor their desire to get involved in a community, like this.”
Like ONEHOPE, Adobe discovered earlier than most of its peers that the delivery model can make a difference. After selling its Creative Suite software for decades, Adobe made the choice in 2013 to switch to Creative Cloud, a software-as-a-service version of the collection. Users flocked to the new platform, turning Adobe into a SaaS giant that posted a 531 percent increase in net revenues across its past three fiscal years.
2. Top-shelf ingredients
Winemakers are wising up to the fact that wine doesn’t have to be just about the grapes. They’re capturing customers’ attention with ingredients ranging from pumpkin to garlic to avocado to meteorite. And because winemakers aren’t required to disclose their ingredients, they can play up customer favorites while keeping the secret sauce to themselves.
Better ingredients can differentiate wine, but what if you’re a business services or software company? Your codebase and user interface may be intangible, but they’re the lifeblood of your platform. By spending a little more on people and processes, you’ll boost the quality of the work that goes into your product.
It’s no coincidence, for example, that HubSpot, named the top provider of marketing automation software by VentureBeat, was also recently ranked by Boston Business Journal as Massachusetts’ best place to work. By investing in its people, HubSpot indirectly invests in its product.
3. A lip-smacking story
Father and founder Scott Monette didn’t start 100 Percent Wine because he wanted to become a master winemaker; he did it because he was inspired by his son, Matthew, to help people with disabilities find meaningful work. More effectively than high-quality wine ever could, Scott’s story caught the eye of publications ranging from Fast Company to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Consumers want to know why you do what you do. You might be an outdoor brand with a penchant for protecting the planet, a crochet kit company teaching professional skills to women living in third-world countries, a cosmetics brand hell-bent on bee conservation, or a tech platform that provides free online education to people of all ages. If you can tell a good story — and back it up with an authentic commitment — you’ll find the market more than willing to give you a chance.
4. First-class customer experiences
The wine industry seems to have learned the secret of experiential marketing: What you give, you’ll get back again and again. In a recent interview with Beverage Trade Network, Steve Raye, president of alcoholic beverage marketing firm Bevology, claimed that recent in-store wine tasting events his company hosted increased stores’ average sales sixteenfold. At tastings, consumers can sample wines before they buy, get food-pairing advice, and meet other wine aficionados.
By 2020, customer experience is expected to become the key brand differentiator, not just in wine, but across the economy. And believe it or not, the airline industry is leading the way. WestJet presented Christmas travelers with gifts, Taiwanese airline EVA Air painted a Boeing 737 in the style of Hello Kitty, and Russia’s S7 Airlines designed an “imagination machine” to guess destinations customers were thinking of. Most notably, Southwest Airlines even surprised passengers with an in-flight Imagine Dragons concert. Creative, memorable events never fail to get customers’ attention.
Wine may seem like an easy product to sell, and that might be true in a more open market. But wine brands can’t afford to wait for consumers to spot their bottle on the shelves beside hundreds of others. To find friends, they have to tell stories, host tastings, offer fresh flavors, and even experiment with new business models.
Not every sector is so cutthroat. If you’re in business long enough, however, you’ll eventually face a struggle to stay relevant. When that happens, head to the nearest liquor store. You might need the inspiration.