I’d like to challenge the idea that major retailers should be more engaged in shaping the future of Australian wine brands.
Why? Because in most cases, retailers are not brand builders…unless, of course it is their own brand, which now just happens to be the fastest growing segment within those sceptred aisles…’Finest'; ‘First Choice'; ‘Premium’ – take your almost generic, own-label pick.
A recent conversation with Dan Jago, the astute and eminently likeable Director of Beer, Wines & Spirits for Tesco, left me in no doubt: “We are facilitators of distribution, not creators of opportunity, and we are certainly not here to build your brand for you…” I would consider that a fairly definitive response, and one that openly invites the brand owner to play better poker in the bidding and acceptance game of category planning.
But like unfortunate children who seem to forget the pain of an inquisitive hand in the fire, the usual suspects still queue up and expect a different result to the chastening ‘you’re-in/you’ve-missed-your-hurdle-rate/you’re-out’. Retailers do not do this to be obstructive – supplier retention is, after all, a key contributor to profitability – but rather because they are in the business of giving their consumers what they want.
Accordingly, a strong indication of consumer preference is reflected in the volume and rate of sale of any given line or sku, and hence its standing as the ultimate litmus test of what’s in and what’s out. Consider shelf-space occupancy as a kind of performance-related, buy-to-let scheme and you begin to get the idea…
The trouble with this model, apart from its dauntingly Darwinian process of selection, is that it assumes that consumers actually know what they want, merely than what they like or can have. When a brand matures, or when a category stalls, immediate intervention is needed or else the inevitable consumer drift will happen. And while this ‘drift’ may be a fair reflection of current popularity, it should not necessarily be taken as a true indicator of future potential or absolute lifespan.
The missing piece in today’s retail engagement is consumer connection and ongoing ‘trial and discovery’ – a very different game from the usual ‘trial and error’ of in-store dispensing. In the search for a meaningful exchange between brand owner and consumer, the point of sale was traditionally viewed as a successful conclusion. It now should be regarded as an opening line, and the vital opportunity to turn a purchase decision into a brand conversation.
Retailers don’t build brands, brand owners and consumers do. Where is your consumer conversation currently happening, and can your brand speak for itself?