Wine & Spirits: The U.S. Marketing Challenge

The word "marketing" was born in the early 1900's in the U.S., and regardless of language, people around the world use it in its English form. America, as the birthplace of the discipline, is the land where consumers demand and expect brands to build direct connections to drive loyalty. This is not optional, and a consumer-centric marketing philosophy is essential for brand traction, growth, and longevity.

It is not about what you produce, as much as it is about the wants and perceived needs of the target audience. Yes indeed, it is all about the consumer.  The Wine and Spirits sector often has a tendency to forget that this is key to unlocking a market's potential. (Do wineries in a far flung country understand what U.S. consumers really want in their wines? In my experience, the answer is rarely "yes", but that's another, upcoming blog.)

To attempt to launch in a market without a clear marketing strategy and investment, the expansion effort will quickly turn into a non-event. If you are expecting a U.S. importer to execute for you on this front, that too will likely fail, or fall woefully short. The days of an importer paying for goods that have no traction nor history are mostly gone, nor are importers prepared to take on the significant task of building your brand. 

It is wonderful to invest in a state of the art production facility, tasting rooms, and a showcase environment. The product is always key, and the foundation of it all. However, if a business model does not leave ample room for investment on the marketing side for brand expansion (wineries??), that will become a long-term problem for a constrained business. As with any consumer product, wine brands can't continue to avoid the systematic go-to-market approach and investment of CPG brands. 

Today's competitive environment demands that W&S brands manage their own destiny, and create or bring on a U.S. expert extension to their teams that will guide them to market success. 

Lastly, a brand is not going to the "U.S. Market". From a three-tier system regulatory and demographic standpoint, the U.S. is considered 50 countries, with GDP's equivalent to nations around the world. With the complexity of the sheer size and scale of the country, only long-term oriented, systematic brands will prevail here. Those that believe they can fund a market launch from projected sales of Year I revenue, will not make it. Tactics that worked 20 years ago are long gone, as the last decade has shown a continued explosion of brands, constricted channels of distribution. 

In the U.S. market (as in any target market), local industry expertise is essential, and shortcuts simply don't exist. It is time for W&S brands to remember that marketing is indeed an American discipline and that it is critical to U.S. market success. 

About the Author: FMG's CEO Monika Elling started her career in New York's advertising and publishing sector, which led to nearly a decade of international trade and investment promotion activity. She entered the wine and spirits industry in 2000 and has spent the last 15 years on the supply, import and wholesale sides of the business, lastly as PR Director of the Lauber Imports Division of Southern Wines and Spirits. She is also a leader at the forefront of the utilization of Social and Digital Media to drive brand value for her clients in the Wine & Spirits sector.