You Buy What You Try!

by Ron Rosenberg

When you're walking through a food court at a mall or airport, you'll frequently find an employee standing in front of one of the shops - tray in hand - offering samples of what's being sold there.

Over the years, I've sampled Auntie Annie's pretzels, southern pralines, and more versions of "bourbon chicken" than I can even recall.

It's always easier to buy something when you've had the opportunity to try it out first. That's why you test-drive cars, sample foods at a farmer's market, and attend wine tastings. In fact, as a rule, with respect to wine, we generally don't buy anything we haven't tasted first.

So we had a nice surprise on a recent trip to France when we saw the concept of a wine tasting taken to a whole new level, and there are some important lessons to be learned from this experience as well.

Which Winery Should We Visit?

When you're in the French countryside, there are lots of great things to see and do - from the incredible bakeries and cheese shops to ancient chateaus (châteaux if we're speaking proper French) and wineries. We had just spent a morning at the spectacular Château de Cheverny, and were walking back to our car when we happened to spot the Wine House Cheverny.

This is a retail shop operated by the Cheverny AOC (AOC stands for appellation d'origine contrôlée and designates a specific wine region, similar to an AVA in the United States, or a DOC in Italy), and has a unique system that allows you to sample several wines from each of the region's 32 wineries.

New-World Technology Meets Old-World Wine Making...

Although wine has been produced in that area for hundreds of years, we got to enjoy it using some decidedly 21st-century technology.

When you enter the store, a host greets you (in what seemed like any language the visitors were speaking), gives you a quick overview of the region and types of wines they produce there, and then invites you to try some for yourself.

You can sample three of the wines for free, or add more to your tasting for a very nominal fee.

The high-tech part comes in when you get your tasting glass, with a small metal disc attached to it. This disc is an RFID device that knows how many wines you're allowed to sample, and communicates with each of the large tasting dispensers featured in the image at the top of the article.

Along the glass, you're given a "wine passport" where you can write down notes about each of the wines you taste so you'll know which ones you might like to purchase.

So essentially you're walking around the shop - glass in hand - stopping when the mood strikes you to hold the glass in front of a spout, watch it fill partway with wine, and then have a taste.

You Do Buy What You Try!

We hadn't planned on bringing any wine back home with us this time - this was primarily a business trip and we had a lot of work-related materials with us...and not a lot of room for wine.

Still, the white wines we tasted were very good - and unlike any French whites we had sampled before, so we reviewed our completed wine passport, and selected six bottles to bring back and share with our friends.

Some Interesting Observations...

Since real life seems to be the ultimate classroom, there were a few lessons we took away from this experience.

First, and I really can't repeat this enough, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to feel comfortable and safe in their buying activities, and the best way is to let people experience firsthand the benefits of what you're selling. You can do this with samples, trial memberships, or clear and easy-to-implement guarantees.

Second, make sure you're speaking the same language as your market. In this case, I'm referring to the actual language being spoken, as in English for us, and German for the visitors from Munich. But this goes much farther than idiom and dialect - you have to use the same jargon, buzzwords, and context as the people you're marketing to so they feel the connection at a "gut level."

And finally, there's the very important lesson of "leverage." It would have been impossible for us to have visited all 32 wineries in the region in a single day, and even if we managed to hit five or six of them, it would have been overwhelming, and our taste buds would have lost their ability to distinguish one wine from another. Because we got to sample a few wines from each place, though, we were able to experience more wineries than we might have otherwise. And if we found one that we particularly liked, we could make the trek and visit the owner there in person.

So as you can see, a simple stop in a wine shop provided us with a lot more than some good wine - it gave us some valuable marketing lessons as well, and I think we can all toast to that!

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