Seven key sampling factors for the spirits and wine industry

Over the last couple of years, the team at Shared Spirits asked the following questions. They ended up with seven ways to grow sampling success.

Seven ways to grow sampling success didn’t happen overnight. Tremendous technology was built. It was ahead of its time according to the Shared Spirits team. They had to ask a lot of questions to uncover the real problems facing the spirits, wine, and beer industry.

To a Sales Director of a National Beer Brand: How did your last sampling program work?

“Poorly. I spent $140,000 on merch and product for 7 young ladies that didn’t know anything about my brand, my retail or distributor relationships or my customers. I got zero data. It’s a curse.”

We asked a craft brand consultant: What is one of your biggest challenges?

“We just don’t have the volumes, budgets, personnel and time to massage the relationships of our distributors. If we had budgets, personnel and time to really work with them, it would help.”

A craft spirits brand owner was asked:  What are you currently doing to legally assist bar staff in helping your brand grow?

“I provide key people in key places a Visa Gift card. I obviously have to trust these people. I asked them to buy certain folks a cocktail featuring our brand. When the card runs out, give me a call.”

The President of a global wine company with multiple brands was asked: What are you doing to maintain and grow key on-premise accounts? (Pre-Covid Shutdowns)

“I’d have to say I’m lucky. I have a marketing team, a tremendous amount of logistical support, and I know the players in my state. To answer your question, we stay ever-present in the distributor’s awareness and I visit my key accounts on a regular basis. If there was an easy way to implement sampling program in accounts I’d like to grow, that would be fabulous.”

We posed this question to a state director of a global company with multiple spirits brands: What was the effectiveness of the $17 million dollar campaign conducted by your agency when they employed 43 Ambassadors across 27 cities to buy 7 random people your brand at key accounts 6 nights a week?

“I didn’t get any real data on anything other than case counts. It was impossible to tell whether increases in sales were a result of the market in general, other forms of spending, or any other factors. Also, there was not a single metric on whether or not any of the people who tasted our brand ever bought it again.”

These are the problems presented by traditional sampling campaigns and alcohol marketing gridlock. This is why seven ways to grow sampling success is so timely.

Take a look at this AS-IS Strategy canvas for the spirits and wine industry. This is the present state of play.

The current state of play for spirits and wine sampling

The image shows three different ways competitors. Traditional agencies, advanced firms, and Shared Spirits.

The factors considered?

Price, post sampling marketing, pre-event targeting and invitations, depletion goal integration, event management, technology, brand ambassador metrics.

There are significant gaps between what Shared Spirits offers in the way of sampling and activation and what we see in traditional methods of sampling.

Tastings and samplings were formally experienced in the following ways.

You show up at your favorite local retailer and there is a distributor rep, brand rep, or agency hired rep behind a table prepared to share a taste or sample of something with you.

In some cases, they may have a coupon or offer available in locations where that is legal. In the state of Tennessee where this is written, you may receive an offer for a mail-in offer for a rebate of some kind.

Generally, there is NOTHING coming your way for randomly experiencing the sample. There is no information asked from you about your preferences or whether or not you’re a loyal brand person or someone looking for something different to try.

The strategy canvas serves two purposes:

It propels users to action by reorienting their focus from competitors to alternatives and from customers to non-customers.

The traditional firm’s focus on sampling and tasting has always been making sure someone is behind the table or near the bar pouring from a bottle. This individual has little knowledge about the brand.

Almost always, they are employed by an agency and view the evening or event as a paycheck and nothing more.

No one takes written notes taken on the attendees or customers who sampled the product.

The basic measurements will be how many bottles are used and perhaps how many were sold that evening.

In an on-premise tasting or street team or night club promotion, there is even less data.

The advanced firm’s focus should be on doing more of what is possible to hold their people to a higher level. This will take form in some of the following ways.

Talent videos:

Clients access; can set interview questions/review any time. This allows brands to associate chosen ambassadors to the chosen buyer persona, assuming the brand knows what the buyer persona of their brand has been described to be.

Talent reviews:

Client ratings/reviews show post-event feedback. This allows the brand to measure some level of effectiveness of the event ambassador.

Advanced training:

App-based video training and in-depth testing of the ambassador staff. This allows the brand to know that the ambassador has an opportunity to represent the brand in the best possible light given the fact that there was product training.

Talent geo-location:

Geo-tracking showing the exact location of talent at check-in. Reduces no-show rates, improves client/talent/EPS communication. This allows the brand to gauge the reliability of the entire agency, marketing firm, etc.

Advanced Reporting and Metrics:

Staffing performance, Talent performance, event recaps, aggregated campaign reports. Better than nothing, the reports share only what is measured.

In the case of what is spent on events, tastings, and samplings, it is the opinion of most that there is not enough measured in traditional and advanced sampling reports and debriefs.

Instant in-app communication:

Push notifications for simultaneous info feed to all staff through app re: training, real-time event changes and more. This sounds sexy and it’s an improvement as is most communication. Most agencies could accomplish these tasks with a Slack channel.

Shared Spirits Marketing is a company leveraging technology and its connections to deliver sampling, tasting, and activation programs in a different way.

Shared Spirits technology provides for the establishment of event-driven and experiential samplings and tastings.

Integrate your ticketing tools.

Shared Spirits leveraged an integration with its mobile app and campaign management technology with Eventbrite.

The combination of the technologies provides the ability to promote in-store, on-premise and special event samplings with the power of the Eventbrite platform.

Additionally, each ambassador’s mobile handset is configured with deployable drink credits when supported by a spend by the brand that allows for the technology to automate drink sharing with checked-in attendees of the tasting or event.

Kudos to the efforts of some trying to improve the agency model and the world of sampling and tasting.

Are you beginning to recognize that the sampling and tasting models used today are broken?

In the image below, the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas shows the key factors of competition when it comes to generating tasting and sampling successes.

The current state of play for spirits and wine sampling

In no particular order. Seven ways to grow sampling success.

Key sampling factor number one is the price. After years of research, there is little evidence to be found relative proving how much it costs to get liquor into someone’s lips.

The math should be easy.

Take the cost of the evening’s sampling event and divide it by the number of people that we accurately measured and verified to have tasted the brand.

Key sampling factor number two is post-sampling event marketing.

How well did you reinforce, communicate with, poll or market to the attendees who sampled your brand?

Key sampling factor number three is pre-event targeting and invitations.

Does your brand or agency utilize technology that leads to communication in some way with every vodka buyer who patronized a retailer prior to the vodka tasting?

Has your brand marketed the sampling to those who have frequented the retailer a number of times?

Did the brand utilize their buyer persona data? Did they target the frequent visitors to their best retail accounts with an invitation?

Moving along with seven ways to grow sampling success

Key sampling factor number four. Are depletion goals integrated into the tasting/sampling marketing plan?

There are technologies available integrated with Shared Spirits and other marketing tools that allow brands to know who purchased their brand in previous months and competitor’s brands in months past.

With this intel one may target specific customers, specifically, non-customers of the brand and invite them to the events.

Check out this video from Victory Spirits Development.

Key sampling factor number five involves event management. Most agencies have developed great people to manage event logistics and deliver decent experiences.

The problems remain significant.

Virtual event professionals will rise up.

If an agency doesn’t have tools at the ready to deliver virtual event marketing, the event will be a waste of time and money.

Key sampling factor number six is lumped in as technology.

Sampling and activation technologies rarely exist outside of point of sale integrations that most brands try to get restaurants to pay for.

As a spirits brand,  authorize the agency you’re working with to target the right consumer.

So, if the technologies used don’t allow that to happen, you’ve got the wrong agency.

Key sampling factor number seven is brand ambassador metrics.

Teams that spend time throwing out t-shirts, hats, scarves or other POS items are hard to measure.

Successful depletion numbers can’t be attached to how many shots are poured by a hired gun.

Again, what you equip the ambassador to do compliantly may be more robust than you think if you’re leveraging the right agency and the right technologies.

I’m sharing the strategy canvas again below. It shows a low to high-value measurement on the vertical axis and the key factors of competition on the horizontal axis. You will notice Shared Spirits delivers on seven ways to grow sampling success.

To Be Strategy Canvas for the Spirits Industry

It is clear that sampling and activation programs are ripe for disruption.

Ripe for Disruption

So how will things change in the future? Brands will learn to build virtually, digitally, and at retail. Without change, there will be less than seven ways to grow sampling success.

For more intel on how spirits brands will modify marketing in the new environment, read this piece on what brands may eliminate, reduce, raise, and create. 

It will be some time before brands just waste money in bar promos again.

If you would like to learn more about how Blue Ocean Strategy may help your brand, feel free to schedule a complementary chat about any issue facing your business.

We’ll schedule a full hour at no cost. Click here.

Sherman G. MohrSherman Mohr is an Insead Blue Ocean Strategy Institute Certified Blue Ocean Strategist residing in Nashville, TN.