One of the best segments of “Good to Great” is the Stockdale Paradox, named for Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale, the highest ranking officer held at the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner camp during the Vietnam War. He attributed surviving to living this paraphrased mantra: Face the most brutal facts of your current reality, and retain faith that you will prevail in the endgame. In my dozen years in the wine industry, I can say that this lesson is the one to live by.

With the understanding that we will prevail in the endgame, marketers in our industry need to come to terms with some brutal facts. Let’s start with the most brutal of facts:  our biggest competition isn’t the other winemaker down the vineyard, but rather, indifference. We live in an industry with low brand loyalty, low brand awareness, high fragmentation and relative scarcity. It all adds up to consumers easily ignoring or replacing us (as the wine menu does regularly). The data is clear that consumers don’t need us, and will not have a problem replacing us. This is a painful brand reality.  What makes this worse is another brutal fact: that there are relatively few people who know you, care about you and actively seek you out. While our category continues to grow, our brand loyalty within a vast majority of consumer thinking is not growing at all.

Shopper marketing data tells us that the only aisle in grocery with more random decisions than wine is the canned vegetables aisle. Imagine the romance and passion of wine being met with the indifference of canned vegetables. And it’s not because quality isn’t an issue for these consumers, it’s because quality – at a certain price point, within certain varietals, from certain geographies – is predictable. Quality is brand neutral, along with great soils, winemakers and heritage. More than 1,000 wines got 90+ points last year, so quality is not hard to find.  And most importantly, quality is not a unique brand attribute you can own. Quality is table stakes. While other “luxury, lifestyle, leisure” categories with great quality garner a 50%+ brand loyalty rating, our loyalty rating is less than 5%. This, inevitably, leads to the third brutal fact: that “price, varietal, and pretty labels” still drive 70%+ of the decisions in the wine aisle. Since price and varietal are category driven, you’re down to winning the pretty label (just like canned vegetables).

So, given these brutal facts, why do we spend so much money in the wine industry on “pull” marketing? The “pull” concept is that people are looking for you (or your service), and all you need to do is pull them towards you through banner ads, Ad-words, SEM, social listening or other pull methodologies. Industries with a handful of frontrunners – auto, fashion, insurance, travel – and tens of millions of potential customers, all sand down the edges of consumer engagement through effective pull marketing. Unfortunately, we’re the antithesis of this model. We have several thousand wine brands fighting over the same meta-data to increase relevancy with a relatively small group of adorers, while tens of millions of consumers continue to validate their indifference by pairing brand value/knowledge with the canned vegetable aisle.  Okay, that’s pretty brutal, but you get it.

We believe that “push” marketing is the game changer for the wine industry, because it acknowledges all three of these brutal facts and methodically grows consumer loyalty in ways that will allow you to prevail in the endgame.  It’s the Stockdale paradox for wine producers. First, it seeks to build engagement with a focused set of end consumers based on shared interests, lifestyles, needs, geographical opportunity and your distribution plan, transitioning carpet bombing (saturation marketing that we cannot afford and do not need – sorry, Mad Men) into strategic drone strikes launched into communities where we have distribution, where we have trusted trade partners, and where our brand story intersects with consumer interests, lifestyles and needs. “Push” marketing allows us to find and engage these people, and only these people, by sifting and filtering until we optimize the audience and eliminate indifference.  Why buy 1,000,000 impressions when only 1% cares, if you could have purchased 100,000 impressions with 10% who care?

This type of relationship modeling requires a massive shift in thinking. As a brand, you need to shift thinking to, “Why you love our brand is infinitely more important than why we made it.” When I speak with wine professionals, they sincerely believe their message about themselves, their vineyards, soils, winemakers, fermentation, blending, aging, bottling, etc., make them unique and memorable. When I speak to consumers, they see absolutely no difference from winery to winery when it comes to functional brand attributes, and they really don’t care.  Again, from their perspective, quality is brand neutral within price tiers and AVAs, and over 1,000 90+ scores confirm their beliefs. In fact, they see “the brand of Napa” and “the brand of Sonoma” much more than they see unique winery brands. Relationship modeling changes that because the user builds loyalty with the brand as a person, not as only a product. The brand as a person, coupled with its people, start to feel real.  It is holistic relationship modeling, and dives into common interests, needs, motivations, lifestyles and individual consumer wine occasions. It is wine fitting into their world, rather than them fitting into the wine world.

So how does “push” work? First and foremost, it requires world-class storytelling. You cannot be a “push” publisher unless you have something to say; something original, educational, personal, humorous and/or otherwise valuable storytelling, 365 days a year. Then, you need to develop a multi-channel (Omni-channel, for those of you into hip new lingo) strategy for consumer engagement. This includes digital and social channel activation, micro-targeting within social channels, email, outbound and inbound call center, strategic affiliate and partner programs based on consumer channels (not wine channels), organic SEO and tightly align this outreach to your in-market programs and launch calendar (trade, partner, PR, advertiser and influencer). You also need to understand that Facebook is the largest and deepest focus group on the planet, providing almost any target consumers, grown up analytics and an incredibly powerful storytelling testing ground. Finally, you need to develop a deep desire to know everyone who is consuming your wines, and to thank them personally. Robert Mondavi used to say that the only way to sell wine is to pour wine. Well, the only way to keep selling wine is to keep consumers engaged and activated – or they will simply move on. As we say in every pitch, “There are a million people who love your wine, who have never heard of it.” “Push” engagement will change that. It is your chance to transition your brand from indifference to indispensable.