Why “Millennial Marketing” is Misplaced

The wine industry’s infatuation with “Millennial Marketing” needs a reboot.

For years, we’ve heard a variety of experts claim that the Millennial generation is, or is not, the savior of the wine industry—depending on who’s doing the talking.

But segmenting an audience based on age is a Marketing 101 mistake. A broad age range of consumers do not all act the same. Yet this is how the important topic is framed.

A demographic group of 77 million consumers is certainly a juicy target. But a 24 year old single person does not have the same lifestyle as a 35 year old married consumer. Yet, the wine industry tends to clump these two together. (To their credit, spirits companies tend to have a more nuanced view here.)

At the risk of sounding too basic, wineries must look beyond age brackets and segment based on behaviors, attitudes or interests, and then strategically connect this idea to their own business model.

Here’s a case in point. We manage US marketing for the Vinho Verde category of wines. A key to our strategy is to attract consumers interested in discovering new wine because Vinho Verde is not well known. While certainly not a unique approach, our campaign targets consumers that exhibit a penchant for trying new consumer products—i.e., discovery behavior. This fits our model of increasing awareness, trial, adoption and advocacy. We believe we’ve got a good shot at appealing to them based on Vinho Verde’s approachable taste profile and value proposition.

Our consumer target likes wine, but doesn’t worship it. They don’t know much about Vinho Verde (yet). They get their recommendations from peers more so than rating publications. They are mainly in their late 20s to mid-40s, want to discover new products, and are open to experimentation in a variety of CPG categories. We want to introduce them to something under the radar, delicious and affordable!

Who me? Millennial? Photo credit: James Coletta

Are many of our targets in the Millennial age bracket? Yes, of course. Are they all? No.

How do we reach them? For starters, digital marketing and social media are key because our segment gathers much of their lifestyle information through these channels. We use media partnerships with food, travel and lifestyle influencers to introduce them to a fun, innovative wine from northern Portugal.

Events also provide opportunities to connect, especially because Vinho Verde has a potentially high conversion of trail-to-purchase based on its approachable style and affordability. Last summer we put on a sold-out tasting for 550 consumers in Brooklyn, promoting the event as a fun, educational evening of wine and food discovery, and an unusual opportunity to meet 21 Vinho Verde winemakers (see picture).

Is our strategy working? Well, yes. Starting in in 2016, the US became the #1 export market for Vinho Verde by value, with more growth on the horizon in 2017.

You don’t need a large marketing budget to do effective segmentation. Does your brand seem to appeal to consumers interested in art, or maybe travel? That may suggest using media partnerships with art or travel influencers, and/or digital advertising, to interest prospective consumers with similar interests. Starmont (not a client) appeals to tennis fans through its tournament sponsorships. There are other examples, but not too many.

Once you find your niche, you can use inexpensive tactics – such as “like audiences” through Facebook—to target prospects most likely to be your next fans. Go beyond age; find a segment that might drive more awareness and sales, and then test, test, test.