Marketers are obsessed with targeting “Millennials.”
Roughly speaking, the Millennial Generation began in 1980 and ended in 2000. Targeting these consumers makes sense — there are around 75 million Millennials, and they have money.
I’m a Millennial. I was born 1982, and I’m quite fond of Google, Facebook, and Twitter – and excited about mobile apps and every new tech toy.
But I’m really not that special. The underlying basics of sales and marketing have not changed. And there’s no reason to think that today’s teens and twenty-somethings are so unique that wineries – or any businesses, for that matter – need to fundamentally change their approach.
So if someone tells you they’re an “expert” on what Millennials want, run the other way. This applies equally to Generation X and Baby Boomers. Americans are too diverse for any generation to be generalized.
At this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference, I attended the “Millennials and Wine” panel discussion. The panelists were Pia Finkell, a wine PR specialist at CRT/tanaka; Hunter Smith, who runs marketing at his family’s winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards; and Leah Hennessy, owner of Millennier, a digital marketing firm. The discussion was moderated by Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude.
The discussion was fun and informative, and the panelists were smart. But on so many points, they were wrong. And they were wrong for one simple reason — they were making broad generalizations about what the Millennial Generation wants, and arguing that wineries should adapt to these false generalizations.
Early on in the discussion, for example, the audience was informed that Millennials don’t care about tasting notes. Many in the audience agreed.
They were all guilty of projecting — assuming that because they felt a certain way, every person of a similar age must agree. Some Millennials don’t care about tasting notes. Others do. And in the marketplace, it doesn’t make sense to paint Millennials with such a broad brush.
Consider my own experience at Terroirist. When I launched the blog, I had no desire to offer back-of-Wine-Spectator tasting notes. And I told several people that our blog would never have them.
Yet now we do. The reason? Our readers demanded it. Readers wanted to know what we were drinking and what we recommended – and they were looking for formal notes. And other Terroirists – all Millenials — were thrilled to have an outlet for sharing their personal tasting notes.
Gary Vaynerchuk is awfully popular with Millennials, and while he might use interesting descriptors (instead of smelling wine, he gives it a “sniffy sniff,” and he’s been known to find cereal and candy bar aromas in his wine), at the end of the day, he’s still putting together formal tasting notes. And they’re fun as hell.
Several of the panelists also argued that the only number Millennials care about is the price. This, too, just isn’t true.
Some consumers, including Millennials, are motivated solely by price. But many Millennials, like other wine consumers, have money. And many don’t hesitate to drop serious coin on wine. In fact, today’s twenty-somethings have more discretionary income than any previous generation.
In the United States, first-time mothers are older than ever before. It’s only logical that this has resulted in more discretionary income for today’s young professionals.
Virtually every consumer thinks about a wine’s quality-to-price ratio. But it’s silly for any winery – or any business – to pretend that Millennials are primarily driven by price. Particularly for an industry like wine (more than, say, socks), value matters.
In a recent blog post about Millennial wine consumers, Joe Roberts highlighted Kayla Koroush, a twenty-something who “was age-profiled when visiting a winery tasting room in California. I.e., no one wanted to talk to her, take her seriously, or treat her as an educated consumer (and, therefore, a potential customer).”
Joe is absolutely right that wineries need to appreciate the fact that their customer base is changing. Boomers won’t forever be their customers. But what matters is Kayla experienced crappy service. Treating any customer – in wine and elsewhere – in such a fashion is just inexcusable.
It’s reminiscent of the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts is snubbed at a Beverly Hills boutique. When she returns the next day – decked out and with lots of money, thanks to Richard Gere – the staff is mortified. And they’ve learned (one hopes) a lesson in customer service 101: Treat every customer as if he or she is incredibly important.
During the panel discussion, a winery in British Columbia – Black Cloud Wine — tweeted at participants to let us know it has “a special area for #millennials in the wine shop with magazines, bean bag chairs and toys.”
While toys and beanbag chairs might appeal to some Millennials, I’d be horribly offended if I walked in a wine shop and was directed to the kid’s section. I last enjoyed beanbag chairs when I was 12, and haven’t played with any toys since I was nine.
Last year, the New York Times published a piece about marketing wine to Millenals. The piece highlighted a company called hobnobwines.com, and its effort to target Millenals by being “totally life-style-focused.” In the piece, the company’s CEO, Tom Steffanci, promised that his site would never have “pictures of oak barrels and 589 biographies of winemakers whose names you can’t pronounce.”
Both tactics seem like good ideas. But that’s because they’re good business advice for everyone in the wine industry, regardless of your target demographic.
Yes, Millennials use technology. But so what? Technology is always marching onwards. And businesses — and those who market — will forever have to adapt.
Does this mean that wine companies must learn how to adapt to the changing technology their customers are using? Absolutely. But the Millennials’ use of cutting-edge technology doesn’t make us special. It just means the world is changing, as it always has.
The underlying principles of sales and marketing don’t change.
If you make a good product, price it well, and tell people about it, it will sell. Customer service matters. Relationships matter. A good story is icing on the cake. And trust is paramount. Our grandparents recommended new products to their friends in person and by writing letters. Our parents recommended new products in person and by picking up the phone. Millennials recommended new products in person, over email, over facebook, over twitter, and all sorts of other ways.
So for business owners, the principal challenges remain unchanged.
Have there been some pretty big cultural shifts?
Sure. Going “green” might help with sales to Millennials. But that has more to do with our wealth as a nation — today’s teens and twenty-somethings are growing up in a country where every basic human need (water, food, shelter, sanitation, representative government, etc.) is met, so we can afford to care about environmental stewardship.
Yes, broadly speaking, attitudes are slowly shifting on social issues like gay marriage (for it!), booze (this was illegal in the 1920s?!?), drugs (smoke ‘em if you got ‘em), and others.
But there’s still lots of disagreement on these and other hugely important issues. Millennials can’t agree on whether Barack Obama should be re-elected. So why would anyone think that twenty-something wine consumers can agree on beanbag chairs or the value of tasting notes?!?
Millennials, like every generation before them, can’t be painted with one broad brush.
At every age group, different consumers have different needs and different desires and different motivations. That’s why, at some point, every generation has been described as the “me” generation. And that’s why the very concept of an “expert” on Millennials is a contradiction in terms.
Wineries need to adapt to changing times. So if you’re in the industry and wondering how to adapt, hire to a technology expert to make sure your website and sales operation is in line with the current times. Make sure your PR team – whether it’s internal or outsourced – understands the changing face of the media, and understands the importance of bloggers, twitter, and other platforms. Give serious thought to what mobile apps are going to succeed. Make sure you’re nimble — and make sure everyone is working together.
But when it comes to your actual product – your wine, your tasting room, the experience you provide to your guests — don’t go making broad assumptions about the desires of twenty-somethings.