Getting to grips with international wine marketing

Thursday, 1. February 2018 - 11:00

Marcus Wieschhoff is director of the International Wine Marketing Programme at Fachhochschule, Burgenland, Austria. He has held the position since 2014, after a career as a category manager at METRO Cash & Carry. The Programme is offered as part of a Masters qualification. He speaks to Meininger's about working with social media, and about international markets.

How has the student body changed in the time you’ve been involved with the Fachhochschule?
It has changed dramatically. When I was studying here [as an undergraduate], it was mainly brothers and sisters of winemakers. It was a time when wineries were getting bigger, growing from four or five to ten or fifteen hectares, and they saw they had to do something about their marketing. Now, I don’t have so many students that have their own winery, or a husband or girlfriend with a winery. Now I have people directly from the industry, coming from a more professional background than before.

I am in the middle of a reaccreditation of my course, and we are going to strengthen the emphasis on digital marketing. We see there is a huge demand for that. Now, with new laws on data protection and privacy, our students want to know how to go about a newsletter properly, and which social media is successful for the target group, so that’s one of the bigger changes that we will make.

Although there’s a lot of talk about digital marketing, isn’t social media just a new set of channels? Have the fundamentals of marketing actually changed?
You’re right, it’s more of a technical change. The marketing mix for customer segmentation, or how you decide who to approach, basically stays the same. It’s the target groups that change – the behaviour, drinking habits, social background, income and so on.  

We teach marketing and start from scratch, on how you approach a customer and how you decide how you’re going to sell something to someone. How you approach customers hasn’t changed – it’s the means that has changed. It’s marketing as you have it in textbooks.

When considering digital marketing, what kind of goals should people be setting? Is it about attracting followers, or converting them to buyers?
It’s conversions. You need contacts to be able to generate conversions, but without conversions you are investing in something that will not pay off. If you take an example like Barefoot Winery, what they do is about more than just likes. They involve their customers in something, whether it’s small social projects, or prizes and so on. They get their customers involved beyond Facebook and Snapchat. If you look at Barefoot, they show amazing growth in the market.

What’s most important for digital marketing – smart thinking, or big budgets?
It’s the smart thinking. There are examples of wineries that just post bottles on Facebook. You never see a face. You don’t have to go about it like that. There is a winery here in our area [Silvia Heinrich] that has thousands of likes, but which generates turnover because people are informed about what they’re doing. She creates a connection with her and her products. It’s really smart thinking. That’s the big chance that social media offers – with a relatively small investment you can generate turnover, if you go about it smartly.

If you’re a small winery with limited resources, what should your marketing priorities be?
For some, the traditional approach of going to wine fairs and traditional wine fairs can be enough and they don’t have to focus so much on Facebook and social media. They might be better off to invest their time in something else. However, even the classic approach can lead to a demand for higher involvement in social media. I know a winery that is successful with their classical approach and their customers ask them why they’re not on Facebook. Customers are asking for additional information, because they like to be kept informed. The more local your market, the less important it is. The more international you go, the higher the demand and the more social media pays off. 

What’s a typical mistake that you see in international marketing?
Ignoring the local specialties, such as cultural differences and consumer insight. People have a product that is successful in one market and they think the product will be successful in other markets. Some are successful, but mainly because they have someone active and aggressive in the local market who is distributing it. If they go on their own they’re often disappointed.

Can you use your local marketing when you go international?
If it works in one market, it won’t necessarily work in another. There are always differences. You have to have someone with experience go over your press release to be sure this is something you can say. In the US, for example, people are more sensitive about things we find perfectly normal in Austria. Some wineries here have a rather aggressive approach using pin-up girls and that’s something you would never do in certain markets. You have to crosscheck everything with the local market. I’m German and I live in Austria, and sometimes I use vocabulary that Austrians would never use. As a German, I’m sometimes accused of being too blunt.

How do you think the whole area of international marketing has evolved in the past decade?
What I see is that people are much more aware that competition is growing. Before it was “I have a good product and I will find a customer”, but here in Austria, all the retailers have really stepped up their assortment. A lot of wineries have also invested and they have better and better products. 

Ten years ago the economists were predicting a growth in consumption, but it’s been blocked at 250m hl for some years. People have to be much more creative about their product, their marketing approaches and their philosophy than ten years ago. 

But there is also much more room to experiment than there was. The millennials are more willing to experiment, which is why orange or minimal intervention wines are getting so popular. Now, even low involvement customers are willing to try these wines, whereas before they would refrain. You have to create demand by offering alternatives.
Interview by Felicity Carter