French Sour Grapes

Knowing what your competition is doing is just plain smart. Others have accused me of being paranoid about my competitors, but I have a healthy respect for the other guy, and I know enough about this weird world of marketing to know that I am not the only one thinking or strategizing in a certain way. They say that there is nothing new under the sun, and perhaps that’s true. I do know that if I am planning it, someone else is out there doing so too. I just don’t know where s/he is doing it.

‘Which brings me to a whine story. Nearly thirty-two years ago, the French wine industry was blind-sided by some upstart California wines that beat them to the punch (pun intended). It has become famous as the Judgment of Paris, the legendary tasting in which a pair of unheralded California wines bested some of France's most celebrated reds and whites. France losing to the United States at wine? Unthinkable.”

In a century filled with indignities for France, the Judgment of Paris was another cruel blow. For the most part, though, the French refused to take the result seriously, dismissing it as either an aberration or, worse, the product of Anglo-American chicanery (the tasting was organized by a Brit, Steven Spurrier, who was accused of serving French wines that were either too young or from inferior vintages)”.

No matter how you bottle it, the French were caught with their labels down and have spent the last 30 years either ignoring reality or making excuses. The sad fact is that today, three decades later, not much has changed. It just got worse for the French. Slate’s wine expert says that today “a large segment of the French wine industry is mired in crisis—a crisis that might have been mitigated had the French not ignored the message of the first Judgment of Paris. France is currently sitting on an ocean of unsold wine, a glut that has led to a collapse in prices at the cheaper end of the spectrum. Across France, hundreds of winemakers, and possibly thousands, are on the verge of bankruptcy; it has been suggested by some trade organizations that in the Languedoc, the hardest-hit region, 30 to 50 percent of wineries may ultimately be forced out of business.”

How does an entire country or industry get caught this way? It might be explained by one of their own, who was interviewed several years ago. One winemaker put it well: "In France, there is a belief that you don't need to market your wine, that France's reputation is enough. And that way we are being left behind."

Isn’t that a bit like the movie Field of Dreams? “Build it and they will come.” ‘Yeah, sure. ‘Only in the movies. ‘Just because you have a wonderful product does not mean that others don’t, won’t in the near future, or can’t. Having a great product is never enough. You have to tell and prove to prospective customers that your wonderful product or service is worth their time and money to acquire it.

It’s like expecting someone to find your web site on the Internet, without a search engine and high page rankings. How does the prospect even know that you exist? And how long will he remember if you don’t continually find ways to tell him so?

The French wine industry has likely missed the international boat because of a combination of hubris and not understanding the basics of good marketing. If you build it, tell the world, and give them an opportunity to taste it for themselves. Build a positive relationship with them over time. Then tell them again, and again… and again.

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  • Yes, Stuart, if Wal-Mart is allowed to continue, they will almost single-handedly help wipe out much of the industrial production jobs in America.

    But that is becasue the average Joe and Jill keep on buying that crap from Asia because of low price.

    Anyone can compete on price, until they are put out of business due to no bottomline. This is particularly true of the restaurant business, where operators feel they have to keep reducing their prices or give more away in order to compete.

    Just like the small retailers of North America, who have to learn that they cannot compete with Wal-Mart on price; these same restaurateurs must learn that price is not the way to go.

    It is the ability to differentiate oneself -- preemptively -- that works best; and customer service is one of the ways the little guy can do it.
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