The prevailing wave of wine is brands created to fit certain markets and niches. These wines aren’t necessarily different from one-another in the bottle, it’s all a matter of manufactured perception through labeling and target marketing. These wines are almost wholly the stock-and-trade (they are merely commodities, after all) for the growing number of large wines conglomerates that have taken over our head-space (and retail floor space) thereby all but eliminating the impact of the largely unmarketed products of integrity. (These themes are touched on in some of my prior posts here and here and here —sense a pattern?)

Certainly, smaller, independent wineries; distributors/importers with vested interest and genuine love for their products; and retailers with passion to engage consumers on the front-lines are doing their parts. The problem lies with the efficacy of the marketing of flashy, lifestyle-focused branding (with, at best, pedestrian product in the bottle) on a highly susceptible public. This new wave of highly-focused target marketing is successful because the target audiences have not become so inundated with it yet that they have built up a subconscious immunity.

With so much white noise—and that is what almost all traditional (read: passive) media marketing has become—it can be nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. The new target models subsist on feeding into the venues with which their targets interact with most. By creating mini-games centered on the product, full-webpage encapsulator and cursor-activated ads, manufacturing a “community” (make no mistake, you’re not a voice, you are simply a paying resident) via social media apps, etc. what once was solely passive becomes active—active engagement requires consciously giving oneself over to the ideas and ideals presented. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!

Dystopian? You bet!The antidotes are fatigue and broader consciousness. Fatigue just kind of happens in many people, but not all. Eventually, the effects of any marketing (particularly ones that require action on the part of the target not just to buy, but to simply function as marketing) become subconsciously burdensome. Sometimes (though, oftentimes, not), once that has happened the target becomes more broadly conscious of what has been perpetrated upon them. Others have an innate sensitivity to this from the start and realize when the marketing master control system is gaming them and manage to stay one step ahead.

The latter group needs no help from people like me on the front-lines, though it is always wise to encourage them to “spread the gospel”. For the former, however, it is possible to make in-roads. The keys are being cognizant enough of your customers (listen) to determine where they are open to counter-suggestion and to, little-by-little, chip away the marketing-generated barriers to experience. The wonderful thing about those so easily swayed by target marketing is that they are clearly open to suggestion if you can just squeeze in on a one-on-one level. It starts with a simple “if you like this, I think you’ll really enjoy this” proposition and an agreement of future conversation about that new experience. Whether that experience was a hit or a miss is largely irrelevant as you have now made at least an exit ramp onto an in-road to direct human interaction over force-fed virtual interaction.

This is the first step to trust. Trust doesn’t exist in the new marketing model—it trades only in fear. Fear of the new, fear of not fitting in, fear of self-challenge, fear of dissatisfaction, et al.. Trust exists only through tangible experience and is far harder to shake than fear. Fear is something to submit to or overcome—trust is something to be gained or lost. The negative results of both are fed by passivity. While it sounds a bit lofty, I believe, that if a consumer is passive, it is incumbent on me as not just a salesperson but as an ethical, socially responsible human being to be proactive and foster trust as one tiny step to help ensure that we are not left with a race of mindless automatons.

This active engagement has permutations across all levels of wine sales (from winery to distributor to retailer/restauranteur). Just making/recognizing/carrying a good product and hoping for the best is insufficient. We are all responsible for helping our customers (often, our friends) to have genuine experiences that they enjoy and will share with others. The receptivity is there waiting to be engaged. Do it!

So, I challenge you—wine salesperson, winemaker/winery representative, consumer—to be less passive and save humanity. 😉