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The sad story of wine communications in Russia

Let me be clear — we, Russians, are not great communicators. At least, we are not great wine communicators. I am not talking about the “blogger” thing. If you as a wine trading company have 1500 SKUs in your portfolio, what else are you left to do than to communicate the hell about it? But, in fact, there’s no such understanding in modern Russian wine importing and distributing companies. Ain’t that a shame?

The reasons behind this (as I see them) are a mix of tough wine market regulations, the historical nature of alcohol related business (trading alcohol has always been a kind of grey area, high-margin, easily manipulated by specific officials to squeeze out a bribe). Wine has a long way to go before it stops being considered just another type of “alcoholic drink”. Because everything that is an alcoholic drink has to be severely regulated, because, from the Russian official’s standpoint, it’s bad for your health.

Of course, there’s a fair share of hypocrisy here: most officials are drinking expensive wines, at the same time explaining the normal folk, how bad it is for their health. That’s because they don’t have to count the money they spend on it. Now think — if a common Moscow salary is around €1,300/month, how much wine will you be able to consume?

Yet, there’s maybe a 5-10% of people out there who actually can be interested in wine and knowing more about it. How come our wine trade treats them so poorly?

Let me explain: when I say “poorly” I mean these things:

1. Lack of attention to wine consumers. It’s everybody’s problem in this market. All these CEOs and marketing directors seem to be born in the XIX century. In many cases companies boil their communications down to publishing rating and event reports, interesting too nobody, of course. It’s done to state: marketing department is doing SOMETHING. “We have no idea why, and what on Earth for, but we are doing it”. Brand-oriented content? With 1-2 rare exceptions (in Moscow and Saint-Pete there are approx. 30-40 wine importers) it’s not happening. And even if it’s happening, it’s hard to read through this drivel.

2. Underestimation of wine complexity.

The wine world is so damn interesting in big part because the wines are so different, so complex and interesting. It’s rarely understood that wine is more than a number of specific technical characteristics that you can happily pour down your consumer. Attention to wines’ details is extremely rare in Russia.

3. Underestimating the power of proper communications in wine marketing.

There’re many people in the wine trade in Russia who have little understanding and use of modern media channels — be that social media, newsletters, live coverage, videos or anything else. These dinosaurs are coming from the past and you can see them when you’re facing them. They are slow, they are dull, they are boring, they wear you out with their lack of enthusiasm and with focus on prices, money and milking the EU funds for OCM. “Of course, we need your marketing budget!” Will this budget ever be spend on anything good? No way.

4. Being unoriginal in communication.

Even if companies try to speak to their clients, they normally fall into boring wine descriptions, uninspiring and obviously fake adoration, unoriginal social media posts and boring events. The goal is, again, to show that they are doing something. If only anyone cared.

5. Unwilling to invest into high-end specialists

It’s maybe a result of a lack of proper education and marketing traditions in this country where the wine importers’ owners often come from the Soviet past where wine was a part of the producers’ market. Today the market is a consumer market, but the owners are still back there, in the Soviet era. There’s probably a couple of examples of bright and forward-thinking communications amongst wine businesses in Russia. One or two, just consider that. When companies are lucky enough to have great specialists, not many of them care to keep them or promote them to higher positions. Many think it’s better to higher a stranger form the FMCG business, than look at their own staff. Well, that’s expected.

Is there hope for the better future of the communications in the Russian wine trade? I believe it’s a generational thing as well. As soon as current business owners pass their business down the younger generations or younger people become the owners, we should expect some changes. Until then — wineries should take their communications in Russia in their own hands.

There’s no app for that, but there’s an article 🙂

Anton Moiseenko
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