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2. Customer Wine Research, Insights into Premium Wine Consumers

Wine research tells us that Great Wine Product is a start, but not enough.

Great wines need to appeal to different customer groups in other non sensory ways, including some not well known. These customer groups are usually defined by demographics (age, gender, income, city etc) and psychological insights. But here’s the secret…

Top international marketers look at the particular occasion people drink wine as this seems to drive consumer purchase decision more than any other factor.

Before we talk about that though, let’s briefly review how research fits into the wine marketing process.

A brand is a set of images and experiences in a person’s mind.

A product is the wine itself. The product you have direct control over but the brand you only have influence over (as it’s in the customer’s mind).

It’s an important distinction because wine growers make a series of very rational decisions in producing their wine and perhaps feel that customers are similarly rational. However customers are emotional beings who make split second decisions based on a hazy impression and opinion.

What the brand management process is doing is attempting to change how customers view your brand in their minds. Rather than only relying on one part of a customer’s decision making process – the rational taste/smell of the wine – it also appeals to the other parts of their decision-making – the emotional and sociological.

One well known way of looking at people is through a tool called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This suggests that a person must satisfy the most important and basic physiological needs before moving onto the higher levels of need. As each level is satisfied the next level is likely to become the focus of attention.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslows Hierarchy
The experts, the market research psychologists, will give you a much more detailed and better explanation of human needs. For our purposes this is a useful way of giving a background to the psychology of customer decision making. In other web pages we will look at how brands interrelate with customers on rational, social and emotive levels.

A brand needs to appeal to a particular customer in a way that’s important to them

This is the realm of “niche” or “target” marketing. In short you have different groups of people (segmentation is the jargon) with a similar psychological make up.

These different groups of people want different things from wine. On top of this people want different things from wine depending on the situation they’re in.

Some want that moment of savouring a great wine by themselves at home, others want to make an impression at an important dinner party, some want to show that they don’t follow the conventions of the world in a trendy café, others just want to have unpretentious fun with close friends at a BBQ.

Rather than get lost in the detail of human psychology, market researchers simplify analysis by grouping similar wine drinkers and occasions (known as segments). This way sophisticated but terribly complex analysis of human beings becomes a simple and usable model to make marketing decisions about niches.

Segmentation is a huge area of marketing, alcohol beverage companies have spent millions on researching it and academics have done numerous studies on it. Indeed I’ve previously written about two particular studies I admire from Johnson & Bruwer and Constellation Wines.

Having commissioned, analyzed and utilized this sort of research I’ve come up with my own version of what I believe to be a practical, usable and pragmatic market model outlined below. Note it’s not based on a particular empirical study nor does it even aggregate other research data to come up with “meta analysis” of a number of studies in an academically correct manner. It’s just an amalgamation of my experience and thoughts, and it helps me better illustrate the brand management process than the other studies.

Wine Market Model

wine drinking occassions

A market model makes describing customers and brands simpler. It allows senior managers to talk strategically about customers and brands in ways that everyone can understand. It’s at the centre of brand management.

Each “slice” of this model represents a particular wine drinker in a particular occasion. The ones of the most interest to premium wine brands are Creative Individualist, Inspiring Businessmen, and Knowledgeable Professors.

The rest of the segments are either too poor or unwilling to pay for great wine. They are Partying Students, Soccer Fans, Easy Going Friends, Struggling Families and Responsible Oldies.

Remember Maslow? Marketers have extended and altered the use of a triangle to summarize a description of customer groups / occasions. It looks like this:

Consumer Description

Customer Triangle
In a simple to understand way it describes the demographic, rational, sociological and emotive make up of a particular segment.

So let’s look at one as an example. Although I use Pinot Noir as the example premium wine, the key point is that your wine is premium, not mainstream. If it’s mainstream then only some of this website is applicable to your situation. There are some very good websites and blogs that provide very good information on mainstream wine marketing.

Point made 🙂 lets describe the three segments.

Inspiring Businessman Segment Triangle

Imagine a businessman (I’m afraid we marketers make notorious stereotypes) in a Hugo Boss suit, cufflinks, perfectly knotted tie and groomed to perfection. He is sitting at a sophisticated restaurant in Manhattan, New York. He may be a merchant banker drinking with his peers. He’s ambitious, he’s smart and well… he’s very egotistical. He wants to look successful, feel confident and whether he is or not is irrelevant to us. Our job is to give him what he wants to make him feel or look this way. If we do, he’ll buy more of our wine and pay higher prices for it. Remember he’s on US$250,000 pa – money is not the issue with this man, if your wine is too cheap it will not reflect well on him.

Inspiring Businessman Illustrative Photo

Knowledgeable Professor Segment Triangle

Imagine a 55-year-old hardened lawyer. He doesn’t really care what people think of his clothes or his car, though he does appreciate authentic, high quality, crafted products. He’s quite introverted (or doesn’t like small talk) though he still likes sharing a good bottle of wine with friends at a fine dining establishment in central London. It’s important to him that he comes across as being knowledgeable and discerning but not flashy or egotistical. He won’t admit it but he wants to impress others with his sophistication, yet he still wants to feel relaxed and confident.

Illustrative picture of Knowledgeable Professor Segment

By understanding what drives him we can change what we do to help him with his needs and wants. Of all the customer groups this sort of person is marketed to the most by premium wine companies by default. This is because most companies emphasize the product which is what he absolutely wants to know all about.

Creative Individualist Consumer Triangle

Imagine an artist, an architect or a designer. He or she dresses a little different, is adventurous and individualistic. They always seems to be a year ahead of everyone else. They may go through a couple of bottles of wine at a very trendy café in San Francisco on a Thursday afternoon. Then go to a play, poetry reading, art show, or music event that evening. Very environmentally conscious and keen to be different from everyone else.

Creative Individualist Segment Triangle

A fashionable wine from a faraway region that allows them to stand apart, will get this group reaching for your bottle (and their wallet).

Hopefully the descriptions of these different types of wine drinkers illustrates why brand marketers focus on just one. Let’s take the bottle and label to illustrate why it’s important to focus on one niche rather than many.

Which bottle/label combination suits which group the best?

1. Simple label and bottle, detailed tasting note on the back.
2. Flashy gold label, heavy solid premium bottle.
3. Superbly designed label with a different bottle shape.

Three segment triangles

Pretty obvious?

1. Simple label and bottle, detailed tasting note on the back
– Knowledgeable Professor
2. Flashy gold label, heavy solid premium bottle
– Inspiring Businessperson
3. Superbly designed label with a different bottle shape
– Creative Individualist

But it also applies to your price point, cellar door, website, advertising, retailers, trade strategy, events and your whole marketing mix.

Different customers will want different things from your wine brand. If you try to market to them all you’re going to have to make such compromises to their differing opinions you’ll come across as confused or bland – a decision in effect by “consumer committee”.

How Consumers think about your and your competitors’ brands >>>

<<< From Customer Research to Wine Marketing Success

Photos courtesy of: corbis (I think). Illustrations are my own.


  1. Bruce,
    something is not clear to me about the market segments you use. You present a model of 8 segments, with the interesting ones for premium wine being creative individualists, inspiring businessmen and knowledgeable professors. Now, are these just examples of segments, or is this it? Is the world of wine drinkers divided in 8 sectors or are there more?

    • These segments are based on combining a number of different research studies I have seen and combining them into my own ‘meta analysis’. To explain a little further…

      The standard way for market research to happen is to do a large number of in-depth individual or focus group interviews to understand the motivations of consumers. Then the researcher and marketing experts create a series of hypotheses about what are the different segments. They then survey the market to get enough statistically significant respondents. Then this data is analysed and synthesized to get a workable number of similar segments using statistical software. The segments most importantly explain why a person buys brands as well as who, what, where, when, how much. 

      To answer your question about 8 sectors. The key is ‘workable’. Too many segments and you don’t have enough people to target, too few and the segments are not sufficiently different to position your brand. The workable number is generally four to 16. 

      A good professional study by Constellation Wines has been released to the public and is called Project Genome. I tend to use this now: http://www.mylocalwinestore.com/wine-marketing/different-wine-consumers-4/

      Or read Chapter 2 of my new book on How to Sell Wine Online.

  2. This makes a lot of sense and offers a reasonable framework from which to get started. I agree with both Jeroen and Bruce – they bring up great aspects to consider!

    To Jeroen’s point, I’m sure there are overlaps between segments as well as other possible permutations on the main 8 segments presented. There may be emerging segments we’re not quite aware of yet (brand positioning opportunity if you find it and your product suits!).

    And to Bruce’s point, it makes sense to start with a segment that is large enough to give you a customer base. I admit I’m new to this but it strikes me that once you begin understand your own product essence and your target customers more, you can continue to refine into subcategories if they are viable for your bottom line.

    I look forward to learning more from Bruce and this community!

    • BruceMcGechan says:

      Yep, pretty much right Susan. Though I would start with a premium segment that the brand owners feels most comfortable with (in the case of a premium wine brands)


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  2. […] 2. Customer Wine Research, Insights into Premium Wine Consumers Each “slice” of this model represents a particular wine drinker in a particular occasion. The ones of the most interest to premium wine brands are Creative Individualist, Inspiring Businessmen, and Knowledgeable Professors. […]

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