wine tourism - Getting emotional

A growing body of academic research is showing that wine tourism is more than just a nice-to-have for the category

What is “emotional luxury”?  It sounds like another one of those tortured phrases so beloved of marketing consultants. However there is a growing body of evidence that the wider appeal of the wine category – from relaxing with a glass, to gazing out over the vines while visiting a winery – is highly bound up in the successful delivery of this concept.

Emotional luxury is best experienced when memorable products and/or events trigger feelings that go beyond the utilitarian (“my thirst is quenched”, “I am happy to be warm and dry”). Instead these are more profound feelings that nurture the soul, elevating us through a fresh new rush of ‘whole-ness’. Your Coach handbag might be a useful receptacle for car keys and notebooks, but carrying its logo conveys brand values of wealth and social status.  Glancing at your Cartier watch may tell you the time, but the sight of the iconic timepiece reminds its owner that they are in possession of something that has prestige, elegance and class.

Wine also fits into this combination of utility and soul-enhancement – though not always as successfully (or with sufficient marketing budgets) as handbags and watches. For a product that is often created with love, thoughtfulness and talent, harnessing nature in a uniquely creative way, wine often falls over when trying to convey emotional luxury to its customer base. True, there are plenty of wine consumers out there who are simply after a pleasant alcohol delivery mechanism, and don’t give a fig about the terroir or the winemaker. On the other hand, there are plenty of other consumers, as revealed by Wine Intelligence’s ongoing multinational Portraits consumer segmentation project, who do care about the product, want to know more, and are therefore open to the idea of wine as an emotionally luxurious product.

So how do you move wine from basic utility to emotional luxury? Education is one answer. As Tim Jackson MW pointed out in the last Network News, there is an empirical relationship between taking a wine class and spending more per bottle on average (his data showed that it really kicks in after about 8 hours of tuition). Another answer, and the subject of lively discussion at the recent Academy of Wine Business Research conference at Sonoma State University this past July, was wine tourism.

Wine tourism, or enotourism, has long been thought of anecdotally as the wine industry’s silver bullet. Take a product that gives you a pleasant experience, and then add a layer of emotional luxury such as the act of tasting that wine in the middle of the vineyard where it was grown, and something powerful seems to happen – most immediately, we find ourselves buying stuff in the cellar door shop, and not worrying too much about how much it costs.

Academic studies on wine tourism are now exploring this idea further. In the context of wine and wine-related travel, wine tourism as experiential consumption (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012) has the greatest potential for lifelong engagement with that product (Bruwer & Alant, 2009).  It satisfies its consumers’ craving for emotional luxury by tapping into the unmistakeable uniqueness of a region.  It involves its visitor, in their entirety, in real time, making an impression that is both eventful because it is discrete and sudden, and impactful because it creates a lasting, emotionally positive memory.  Researchers, and most recently, marketers, have come to know this strategy as Territorial Branding (Charters and Ditter, 2017), and is among the very best means by which the ever-growing and deepening interests of ambitious wine drinkers can connect with, and be nourished by the richness of a producer and region’s benefits.

What the academics also seem to be finding is that a consumer’s relationship with the category as a whole also changes through the act of wine tourism, creating an emotionally-charged motivation to buy a product that delivers an experience that is realized when consumed (Tynan, et al, 2014).  The consumption experience is real and all-encompassing, championed by active, social, pleasure-seeking wine drinkers.  Notions of luxury include that of exclusivity, status and quality (Atwal, Williams, 2009) while the gratification, pleasure and prestige attained by consuming said ‘luxury products’ elevate it to that of an emotional level (Shukla, 2011).

Enotourism captivates the consumer by hand-delivering emotional luxury through on-property ‘experience marketing’ that is at once personal and everlasting.  A winery or region’s hospitality and consumption experience are deeply impressionistic, and create a deeply-rooted consumer’s motivation to buy and evangelize in ways that far outpace virtually any other marketing method known in the wine trade.

Enotourism also affords the winery and/or wine region the opportunity to tell their story in all its glory to a captive audience.  This can only exist within the aforementioned concept of regional or ‘territorial’ branding, and creates the environment in which the region can elevate its own reputation AND stand itself in relief to its competition at the same time.  As such, reputation is a brand’s strongest indicator of quality, and is best delivered through enotourism and its all-encompassing state of emotional luxury.

What’s particularly fascinating about the wine tourism “factor” in emotional luxury is its galvanizing effect on the generation of consumers known as Millennials. Thanks in large part to unprecedented access to information afforded by the smartphone revolution, consumers aged in their 20s through their late 30s are rapidly developing and continuously testing tastes in fashion, style, health, food, wine, art, culture to a degree unparalleled in history.  As far as wine is concerned, recent research strongly links their enjoyment of the taste of wine, its ability to pair with food, and its social benefits as their primary motivators to buying and consuming wine (Olsen et al., 2007).  Additionally, their interest in technology and social networking has resulted in the largest e-commerce and mobile app-using segment in today’s market (Thach, 2009).  In the midst of this adventurous mindset, Millennials reward integrity and quickly access and leverage their knowledge of brands, especially high-quality products that reinforce fairness (e.g., of pricing) and practices (e.g., environmental) (Moriarty, 2004).  Most important, especially in relation to enotourism, is Millennials’ interest in trying new wines from different countries, which indicates a link to the premium they place on innovation (Gillespie, 2010).  This, in turn, creates a wide-open opportunity to maximize territorial branding in the form or wine-related travel and experience.

It bears repeating that Millennials are extraordinary in that they are tech-savvy, social influencers.  Mobile devices and ecommerce platforms enable instant access to information, and connection with brands.  However, that connection for Millennials is a relationship, in which they seek to be heard.  With the advent of user-generated content (e.g., photos, reviews, reposts), brand-building is accomplished in that it galvanizes like-minded consumers who share the same language.  Evidence has shown that it is that ‘reciprocal marketing’ that affords the greatest pathway to brand engagement (Remy et al, 2015).

Wineries and regional trade associations that best engage in the multi-directional reality of social media, coupled with the inevitable emotional luxuries experience by the eno-tourist, stand to gain – so long as they can deliver on emotional luxury.

Author: Stephen C Fahy