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Annals of Marketing
Studies Show Wine Consumers Fall Into Unique Segments
Friday, 20th August, 2010  - David Farmer

Did she return as Savvy Girl?

I enjoy customer surveys that are produced by marketing and research groups that aim to provide insights into the wine buying public. To make the results appealing they divide consumers into groups and apply catchy names such as millenials, traditionalists, or my favourite, from a 2001 survey, chardonnay girl, who shortly after passed away perhaps to become savvy girl. Marketing consultants ply this trade with all manner of consumable and do so because large companies are looking for purchasing insights which can be used to give them a marketing edge.

I have had doubts for a long time whether they offer any useful information and see the complexities of what influences shopping habits as beyond being revealed by questionnaires and consumer appraisals, or focus groups. Still the services of these groups are in demand and I have watched on a number of occasions in marketing meeting how a table of people with no thoughts at all always end up suggesting that a consumer survey will provide the answers.

Surveys will always give a result as the random thoughts of consumers are sifted into simple groups. Here is an example I found in my archive from Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research, Inc., for the client Constellation Wines U.S. and I think dates to early 2007.

"Constellation Wines U.S. has released results of Project Genome, one of the largest consumer research projects conducted to date by the wine industry. The online study of more than 3,500 premium wine consumers found that that consumers fall into six unique segments, each with its own set of attributes, motivations, preferences and shopping behaviors.

Constellation, the largest global wine company by volume, said the study will have ramifications for wine sales by retailers and restaurants in areas ranging from packaging, advertising and customer education, to grocery displays and restaurant wine lists. The study, conducted by Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research, Inc., shows that premium wine consumers surveyed fell into the following segments:

Enthusiasts are "passionate about the entire wine experience from researching what they buy to sharing their discoveries with friends and family."

Image Seekers, said the company, "feel sophisticated on one hand and adventurous and trendy on the other hand—they are just as likely to choose wine with sophisticated labels as wine with fun, image-driven labels."

Savvy Shoppers "seek great wines at a great value; they enjoy drinking and shopping for wine and believe that good wines need not cost a lot of money."

Traditionalists "want to feel that their wine is made by a well-known winery that's been around for a long time,"

Satisfied Sippers look for a "sensible choice they can feel comfortable serving to friends and family."

Overwhelmed Consumers, the largest group at 23 percent, find shopping for wine complex and worry about making a mistake. Good shelf descriptions, and retail and wait staff recommendations play a key role in their purchase decisions.

Participants were asked more than 100 questions about their recent wine-buying habits, lifestyle, hobbies and more. Questions were wide-ranging, on everything from gardening and entertaining to TV habits and travel.

The results of the study may point to new opportunities. For example, understanding that nearly one in four premium wine consumers is "overwhelmed" can inspire creative new approaches to everything from "how-to" in-store displays to novice-friendly restaurant wine lists."

This survey does not seem to have helped Constellation at all as they in serious trouble selling wine in many countries. Locally our large companies will have asked for similar surveys and I would love to see what has guided Fosters in Australia as they have watched sales implode. A Fosters market briefing dated to 2007 explaining how they would revive Rosemount is too embarrassing to mention.

These surveys are missing parts of the consumer puzzle; but what parts are not being revealed?

Perhaps we could start with the part that says most great retailing is driven by price. Or what about the view that the retailer controls the customers and thus controls what they buy. What about Aldi with 10,000 stores who sell everything on a low margin? Or Tesco who do not care whether you are savvy, an enthusiast, or a sipper and whose shops just sell more and more wine every year.

Perhaps the answer is these surveys are completely useless and the marketing department would do a lot better spending the research money on extended lunches. I have though given the problem some thought and decided customers can indeed be split into groups; groups based on what is purchased.

I start with the cask drinker who still makes up 40% of total wine sales. These are the no-frills drinkers; they cross all sections of society, and sensibly wish their daily tipple at the best price and see bottle buyers, probably rightly as wine snobs. Before we move on we still lament the passing of the flagon buyer who never purchased casks because they were inferior, loving as they did the feel of glass. They were also early adopters of screw caps. We miss these customers very much. And they were adventurous with new products as long as they were in flagons.

Next the cleanskin buyer; previously a novelty confined to Victoria this buyer is now found in all states and has shifted out of previous categories such as flagons while others have moved down from overpriced branded wines. Hardnosed, practical, sensible shoppers who believe they are good at spotting a bargain. They take pleasure in showing others they have cut through the nonsense as they settle into a no name bottle. Prone to exaggerated views about the great quality they have discovered; believing indeed that the ‘cleanskin’ is an unsaleable wine that normally retails at $45.00. In this way they resemble the news shop ‘scratchie’ buyer as they punt each day. Some were previously part of the home bottling set, a sub category alas that has died. How they must miss picking up large plastic containers of wine at the train depot.

The fortified flagon buyer is literally dying out but they have an affectionate place in our hearts as they are very brand loyal. A McWilliams cream drinker remained so till they died. These drinkers are now identified by using walking sticks.

The savvy drinker from the Constellation survey does indeed exist but in another context entirely. Largely female, not particularly brand conscious but does believe paying more, to a lot more equates to safe shopping and as you have guessed drinks only sauvignon blanc and prefers the taste of New Zealand. Our savvy drinker is slowly being weaned off expensive savvys as they reconnect with their natural instincts of smart shopping by paying less. May at a friend’s house drink a rose and also has a fondness for cheap sparkling wine though will drink expensive sparklers if offered. This is the chardonnay girl previously mentioned who has got a few years older.

Now we move to the sweet wine drinker who cannot understand why others prefer wines that taste like lemons. They still feel lonely after being abandoned by large companies who took away Liebfrauwine, Cold Duck, Swinger, and a vast number of pearls, pops, spumantes and other delectables. Brown Bros road into town and by saving the day built an empire. The boys from Milawa were not snobs, though they cloak a simple formula by referring to wines grading through a nursery school and the like. We love this group because wine shows have no judging class devoted to their preference and I hope they are a bit huffy that an honest sweet white has been relabelled moscato at double the price.

The bubbly young things are not related to the last group and action for them after many RTDs is quantities of cheap bubbles which does indeed turn them into the girls of the type that promote Yellow and Pink. Later they will be annoying hubby to start a cellaring programme.

As for all the rest which includes a variety of categories such as heavy reds, cost be dammed, food and wine bores, well all of these are male, opinionated, tedious, but are amusing early in the evening before they are overwhelmed by memories of bottles best forgotten. In all the surveys I have ever read this group has never been interviewed or acknowledged until now.

I see I have forgotten another category, the mixed dozen drinker, which is where many an older group reside who while loving wine will remain confused until they die. This category includes the Overwhelmed and also houses the Entertainer, the Adventurer, the Easily Pleased, and the Enthusiast who all realised that wine was no big deal and is best just enjoyed.

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