Wines must better connect emotionally and personally to consumers, hears Harpers' debate

Making an emotional connection with consumers, and creating personalised, shareable and useful content is vital to selling wine, heard Harpers debate at London Wine Fair.

A host of experts from major wine retailers including Tesco, Laithwaite’s and Naked Wines agreed with branding and advertising experts that the best way to engage with consumers and drive wine sales is to harness consumer power.

Harpers' debate focused on how consumers are driving wine firms' strategies.

Harpers’ debate focused on how consumers are driving wine firms’ strategies.

L to R: Manifest Communications Neil Hallmark; Tesco’s Stuart Anderton; Naked Wines’ Ray O’Connor; Laithwaite’s Robin Langton and Mark Fiddes of Idea Motel.

Ray O’Connor, Naked Wines’ wine director,  said “the emotional factor” goes a long way to triggering customer engagement and ultimately, purchases. He said that while Naked Wines “don’t dress things up as tear-jerkers” when Katie Jones, the English winemaker in the Languedoc, lost all her wine after vandals broke into her winery, she received resounding support from Naked’s angels on Twitter and financially, raising £200,000 in five hours. He added that people have more of an emotional tie to an individual – usually the winemaker – than a brand.

Laithwaite’s Robin Langton said “even deeper personalisation” that shows “specific and individual” attention to consumers, is the future.  

Stuart Anderton of Tesco Wine by the Case, said its relationship with customers online was now about “enabling, but not controlling”. Its Tesco Wine Community, founded three years ago allows people to talk to each other, as well experts both in and outside Tesco about wines. “It’s a very valuable form of conversation and advocacy and it helps us acquire new customers too.”

“It’s about minimal moderation – we take odd profanities but that’s about it. It’s about celebrating the good but dealing quickly with the bad. Customer reviews are key to driving conversion. They trust each other more than big brands. Over two years we have gathered 14,000 reviews over 1,500 products.

“It’s all about listening and embracing the conversation and leveraging content to build more advocacy.”

Mark Fiddes said brands should “think like publishers to build better relationships with their customers”. “Publishers now create a community around their titles, and invite in journalists, bloggers and readers. They’re a very important, authoritative platform, and it’s fair, because of the editorial leadership.”

Content must be shareable and useful, said Fiddes, irrespective of what size of a company you are. “The more discursive [your content is], the more people will want to look at it”. He gave examples of Bombay Sapphire forming a link with short films, Smirnoff and photo sharing app and Absolut’s “useful” Drinkspiration app that list 500 cocktail recipes.

While Tesco’s Anderton said price is still a major motivation for purchase for most customers, a wine’s “story can sway one product over another”. Tesco also uses the people in its team to “put a face to the business”. “We’re very careful that it’s not Tesco talking to consumers, but Lucy Clements or Laura Jewell.”

Neil Hallmark of Manifest Communications, which does PR for controversial brewer Brew Dog, admitted that while social media and engaging with consumers is vital to gain a better understanding on consumers, ultimately performance is still measured on the impact on the bottom line. He cautioned that brands that engage in open dialogue with their consumers online must engage and change as a result of feedback.


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