Australia: Get Real!


Of all the reversions to type that appear during a generic rebranding exercise, the retreat back to ‘great value at every price point’, ‘excitement’ and, above all, ‘over-delivering’, is as soul-destroying as it is frustrating.

For a start, there is the inanity of it all. ‘Exciting’ – surely a Pinot Grigio is not ‘exciting’ just because your brand or region hasn’t made one before? ‘Exciting’ is not simply a substitute for ‘new’ or ‘latest’, and at the very least it should be able to generate a keen sense of anticipated delight or unexpected surprise.

‘Great value at every price point’ is just a non-truth, plain and simple. No one country can – or should – ever claim to do all things equally well, and better than everyone else. Inputs, production costs, harvest results and foreign currency rarely swim in synchronicity, and any range may frequently look convincingly good from one end, only for the other end to promptly drift from view and/or credibility.

The ‘we-can-be-all-things-to-all-people’ shtick really just translates as being sufficiently anonymous – and yet appropriately ubiquitous –  to attract most of the people, most of the time.  I suppose there is no commercial shame in that, but it is hardly a rallying cry for an increasingly forlorn supply chain (growers, winemakers, brand owners, regions) looking for leadership, hope and a half-chance at a sustainable future.

And now for the real insult: we apparently aspire to ‘overdeliver’. Really? What I think when I hear this claim is that we timidly and consistently fail to attract the real price that our brand and offer truly merits. It is as if we think that we are going to conquer Asia because our regional Cabernet is more than half half as good as Classed Growth, but only one fifth of the price…

The point of great value is not only that it performs at a price comparative to the competition or perceived brand leader, but that it resolutely surprises and delights beyond expectation. Once that standard becomes the expectation, the brand invariably has to ‘go again’, but it should never undershoot the market in the first place in order to compensate for an apparent lack of ambition or self-belief.

Australia makes great wine. It should command a fair price that its winemakers and growers would be proud and prepared to pay. That is also how to inspire and best influence the consumer, whether she is being invited to consider ‘new’ Australia as a producer of unique and interesting regional styles, or whether she is discovering Australia for the first time.

So, tips for wineheroes looking for a reality check/cheque:

  • ‘Value’ is not determined by the producer, but by the market and by the consumer. Talk about ‘quality’, ‘interest’, and ‘story’, but leave ‘value’ out of it. It’s not your place.
  • By all means have the courage to put your wine in an international context, but this is a comparative and not a competitive exercise. Let the audience join up the dots and determine what is the better buy.
  • Claiming to ‘over-deliver’ is just a tacit admission of failing to position your brand properly in the first place. Don’t do it.

Above all , remember that Australia is the real deal, not a consolation prize.

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About Paul Henry

Paul Henry: founder and principal strategist at winehero consulting ltd; 2010 WCA International Wine Communicator of the Year; 2007 Len Evans Tutorial Brokenwood Scholar.
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6 Responses to Australia: Get Real!

  1. Some very salient points in there for most to learn. I sincerely hope that New Zealand doesn’t end up trying to be ‘All things to all people’ as you so rightly say about Australia wine industry mindset.

  2. Angela Slade says:

    Good points Paul. In the US we’ve allowed the Australian proposition to be completely dumbed-down to cheery & simplistic one-liners and a shameful reliance on scores. Our work is cut out for us…we need to rebuild and promote our wines with confidence, sophistication and honest perspective re our offering. No more short-cuts.

  3. Mark Evans says:

    Paul, would expect nothing less poignant from you and nice to see your interest in the industry hasn’t waned one bit since leaving Wine Australia. Industry certainly needs a different “2025” vision/industry leading document, perhaps a 2050 one that outlines a vision for being one if the greatest wine producing countries in the world in terms of quality NOT in terms if mass production//volume growth. That marketing document would be well served with the tact you’ve unveiled here. I’m confident Australia will get the recognition it deserves, but it will take a different way of thinking, confidence and a new way of executing “marketing” plans by its leaders. I think the world is ready to see the “real” Australia.

    • Ric says:

      “I think the world is ready to see the “real” Australia” … so do I. I thionk the real problem is that Australia isn’t ready to be “real” in the way that Paul, I (and obviously you) would like it to be.
      I DO think that the change required is possible, even probable – but I’m also convinced that much of the management of Australia’s wine factories isn’t ready for the pain and disruption. All that does is slow down the inevitable …

  4. Ric says:

    “Thionk”??? Now there’s a neologism …

  5. Dom Walker says:

    Your comments about leaving “value” judgments to the consumer are pertinent, particularly here in Japan.
    Far too often Australia’s wines are promoted as a generic whole, that they all have good “cost-performance”. Unfortunately, “cost-performance” is usually perceived by the consumer to mean “cheap”.
    Anyone with the most basic understanding of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” knows that in mentioning price, one is working at the most base level, where product price is the dominant factor in decision making. This tactic often alienates consumers with more aspirational needs. However, it is these aspirational consumers that are going to buy premium+ level wines. Is it by chance that Australia is finding it hard to sell these wines in Japan?
    Additionally, the term “cost-performance” is comparative in its definition.
    No product becomes successful by constantly (indirectly) advertising their competitors.

    If Australian wine is to successfully engage the market in Japan and Asia, it will need to focus upon developing consumer understanding of “quality”. Only when a consumer can assess quality, can they accurately assess value.
    We can’t just tell consumers that Australia makes great wine, we need to give them the tools to make that assessment themselves.
    How do we communicate quality to the consumer? Next month, we’re opening a wine shop in regional Japan to study this point. I look forwards to sharing our findings with those in the wine industry who share our passion for quality and excellence .

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