WHAT'S THAT LITTLE CARD REALLY SAYING ABOUT YOUR BRAND?
Do you like to buy wine but know very little about it?
If so, there's a good chance you appreciate the shelf talker.
That's the little card attached to the shelf by the wine.
It usually gives the wine a rating number and offers some descriptive words--often modifiers blurted out by a writer at a wine magazine.
Buy wine with a good shelf talker, and you can easily pretend you know what the hell you're talking about. You can take those generic words and own them.
"I'm so glad you like this wine! That aroma of ripe black fruits blended with mocha and spices really makes you swoon, doesn't it? And combined with the vibrant flavors of blackberry and currants, it dances on your palate. Since it presents a smooth body and a sweet and persistent finish, it goes really nicely with this Swanson Salisbury Steak you're serving. I'm sure it will pair equally well with any of those hard cheeses you buy in a shaker bottle, or any pastas, especially the store-brand cans you buy off the shelf next to the Chef Boyardee."
SELL ME A WINE, MR. SHELF TALKER!
We're here because of a recent article from The Wall Street Journal by Lettie Teague, one of the paper's wine columnists.
I don't typically seek out the WSJ's wine columns. I'm too busy. I let them come to me.
When the email arrives, if the headline is intriguing, I'll bite.
And as a marketing guy, it's tough to avoid the temptation to combine business with pleasure--making the headline, "Decoding Shelf Talkers: A Wine Buyer's Guide" a definite win.
Slow Burn Marketing does, after all, work with the first-ever winery in Park City, Utah.
(Sidebar: be aware of the resurgence of urban wineries. Like microbreweries, they were very big before prohibition and are coming back around to haunt us.)
Lettie Teague's insight into the value of the shelf talker was entertaining, at least. And she pulled some perspectives on shelf talkers from the people who sell wine.
LO AND BEHOLD, THERE WAS SOME ARROGANCE AFOOT!
In talking to wine merchants about the value of shelf talkers, Ms. Teague spoke with the president of a highly respected New York City wine shop.
He "disdains their use altogether. 'We have a well-trained staff. There's no reason for shelf-talkers.'"
Once again, a business owner decides that the one way he likes things is the one way all his customers will like it.
Granted, his business does have its fans.
A search of Yelp (not a scientific sampling, of course) reveals a slew of 4- and 5-star reviews.
BUT IF YOU LOOK AT THE FEW LOUSY REVIEWS, THEY ARE TELLING
"I suppose it could be me, but every time I've been in this place it's a horror show. They rarely have what I'm looking for and the staff is way overbearing... Condescending, intrusive, and snobbish are other words that come to mind. "
One, less-challenging review (three stars instead of just one) says, "Been here twice and both times felt uncomfortable."
Again, this is a highly respected shop. It is run by highly-engaged salespeople. (See also: wine geeks.) People who are geeks at what they sell often do two things:
1) they help give a business its brand reputation;
2) they make some people feel uncomfortable.
What they often don't do is take into account how others think and feel.
When I walk into a wine shop, I'm usually on my way somewhere. I don't have a lot of time. And I don't always want to get into an involved conversation with a merchant.
SOMETIMES, I JUST WANT TO GET IN, GET OUT, AND GET MOVING
And shelf talkers help make that possible.
We don't all process information the same way.
I'm a writer and a reader. I'm an introvert. My decision-making process doesn't necessarily mesh with the desires of a company president who disdains shelf talkers.
And being disdainful of a tool that certain customers like and want to use is shortsighted and problematic.
Callback to an earlier screed: the local branch of a national bank that refuses to put a calendar on the wall. Reason: they want interaction between the teller and the customer.
Inconveniencing the customer because you think it's good for business is bad for business.
MR. DISDAIN-FOR-SHELF-TALKERS IS HALFWAY THERE
One cannot fill out a deposit slip at the bank without a date.
But one can still buy wine without a shelf talker.
However, Mr. Disdain is making it more challenging for a segment of the population.
He's forcing everyone to think and feel the way he likes to think and feel--regardless of whether it's what the customer likes.
(Yes, "think and feel." Remember, the decision-making process is intrinsically an emotional process.)
And you know what?
That way of doing business might be just fine.
THAT CAN BE PART OF HIS BRAND
It's a small business. It's in an excellent location. It already has lots of fans.
Maybe he doesn't care about losing a certain percentage of potentially loyal customers.
Maybe he doesn't care that he's forcing customers to a) wait for an available staff member or b) leave.
Maybe he makes enough money and that's OK.
He doesn't care about the percentage that he's losing simply because he disdains a sales card with information about the product.
He doesn't care about guys like me who, with the right shelf talker, could eventually become evangelists for his brand.
Because yes, there is more than one way to create a shelf talker.
GOODBYE, CANNED COPY--HELLO, PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS!
One of the shelf-talker examples offered by Ms. Teague is a store where they're written by the staff members.
Instead of the generic patter about a wine's ripe black fruits blended with mocha and spices which will pair well with a can of sardines & egg from Little Friskies, staff members provide their own evaluations.
The in-house shelf talker features the name and a picture of the staff member who wrote it. For example, one card read, "The best $10 Cab I've ever had! Super!"
It seems that sales of the wine went up immediately. They "went from selling one case a month to three cases a week."
That's a 12-fold increase in sales of a $10 bottle of wine.
So, on that one product, they were originally grossing only $120 a month.
After the shelf talker, they were grossing over $1400 a month.
BLIND GUESS: THAT REPRESENTS ABOUT $600 A MONTH NET PROFIT
One little card on the shelf with an enthusiastic review by a staffer sells hundreds of dollars' worth of wine.
Maybe the disdainful president in Manhattan doesn't want that additional cash flow.
He doesn't want to sell more $10 bottles of wine. He wants to sell more $40 bottles of wine.
Put a damn staff-recommendation shelf talker on the $40 bottle of wine you want to sell.
Somebody comes in, pressed for time, rushing to a dinner party, knows he wants to buy a decent pinot noir (not one of those dreadful, $10 pinots that have become a scourge ever since the movie Sideways cast that particular varietal as a metaphor for hot sex), and he races to the pinot noir section.
There's a wall of pinots in his price range.
But one has the words of a "well-trained" staffer who is otherwise preoccupied with another customer.
THAT SHELF-CARD ENDORSEMENT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR MR. HOT-SEX-IN-A-BOTTLE BUYER
He snaps it up, races to the register, and is out the door.
And Mr. Disdainful-Of-Shelf-Talkers President has 40 bucks in his pocket he might otherwise have lost.
What if that happened three times a day with an average sale of $30?
That's over $32,000 a year that was previously being left on the sidewalk out in front of the store.
Not everyone has the time or the inclination to stand around and talk about wine.
Granted, standing around and talking about wine is probably how you double or even triple a sale and build a repeat customer.
But until that customer in a rush has the luxury of that time, why not meet him where he is?
Because once you do that, you make his life easier and better.
Which might lead to that longer, more profitable conversation.
Isn't that better than a review that says, "Condescending, intrusive, and snobbish"? (Because that's always so much fun for everyone.)
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.