The Wine Market in China – Interview

Mar 07, 2011 No Comments by

The Wine Market in China

Thomas Jullien (again) , founder and director of Pilot Fish, expert on the wine market in China gives us his general view over the market:

ZW: As a consultant at Pilot Fish, on which specific cases have you already helped and advised your clients?

Thomas Julien:My main mission is to draft the Bordeaux Wine Council marketing strategy for Asian markets on a yearly basis. I also coordinate marketing plans in the region and represent the Council in functions held in Asia. Aside from this mission I can also advise on wines & spirits brand creations and developments, pan Asia marketing strategies and business development in general on the China market.

ZW: Everybody says that China is a “Brand Market”, what is the basis of a Brand strategy?

T J: It seems obvious but you first have to have very clear what makes your brand truly unique. This is true in general, not only for China. Whether in the wine business or not, your brand identity and your positioning have to be written out so you can :

1) explain it in a consistent manner to all stakeholders (importers, distributors, consumers, journalists etc…) and

2) roll out a subsequent strategy (price, distribution, promotion).

I see often wineries mentioning their terroir as the main factor differentiating them from the others. It is ok but far from being enough. Think of a brand as a person. You would not rely on just physical features to describe somebody; you will also mention personal history, achievements, tastes. You will look for the little thing that makes this person special, same for the wine brand. People love being told stories, Chinese are no exception.

Once the brand personality has been established and stated, the strategy can be set in motion.

ZW: What would you recommend to small wine brands or small wine producers with a limited budget who were willing to work on their brand?

T J: The key for a winery with a limited marketing budget is to find the right partner(s) in China. It is the most critical phase of development and, therefore, should be taken very seriously. It is not too complicated these days to find an importer that will buy your wine. The real issue is to be able to find the partner willing to build on the long run, and the only way to measure it is to spend time with them, to get to understand their business objective.

Then I recommend visiting the market and your partners frequently. Establishing a strong personal relationship with your business partners and possibly with some key distributors and consumers will definitely help.

But before thinking about building a brand and initiating any commercial activity in China, you have to protect your brand. It should be registered to the SAIC, the Chinese administration overseeing industry, commerce, consumers and brand protection. We have seen cases where a brand had been registered by a third party before the winery did. The winery launching its brand to the China market is then considered a counterfeiter…

ZW: According to you which wine brand in China could be a taken as a model?

T J:Castel has obviously managed to establish a strong brand name in China. But we should not be mistaken when seeing the position Castel has gained along the years : it has taken time, patience, sometimes failures and miscues to get there. The main learning to take from Castel’s success is that you have to carve your own path on the China market. Do not think that success will happen overnight just because your wine is good or sold at a very competitive price point. There’s a gold rush type of frenzy on the market these days that is fooling a lot of people. Building a successful brand in China takes time and efforts. And there’s no one-for-all recipe, you have to come up with your own strategy.

ZW: How would you describe the wine market in China in 5 words?

T J: Huge, vibrant, complex but exciting.

Lucas Botebol for Zhongguo Wine: Wine in China

News, Wine Marketing in China

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