A Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas for Broken Spirits and Wine Sampling Programs

One might ask, why characterize the sampling and activation parts of the spirits and wine industries as broken? I’ll break it down.

Over the last couple of years, the Shared Spirits team asked and witnessed the following issues over and over. They asked a few questions. It’s the Blue Ocean way.

To a Sales Director of a National Beer Brand: How did your sampling program work? 

“Poorly. I spent $140,000 on merch and product for 7 young ladies that didn’t know anything about my brand, my retail or distributor relationships or my customers. I got zero data. It’s a curse.”

To a Craft Brand Consultant: What is one of your biggest challenges? 

“We just don’t have the volumes, budgets, personnel and time to massage the relationships of our distributors. If we had budgets, personnel and time to really work with them, it would help.”

To an Owner/Founder of a Craft Spirit Brand: What are you currently doing to legally assist bar staff in helping your brand grow? 

“I provide key people in key places a Visa Gift card. I obviously have to trust these people. I asked them to buy certain folks, it’s their choice, a cocktail featuring our brand. When the card runs out, give me a call.” 

To a State Director of a Global Wine Company with Multiple Brands: What are you doing to maintain and grow key on-premise accounts? 

“I’d have to say I’m lucky. I have a marketing team, a tremendous amount of logistical support, and I know the players in my state. To answer your question, I stay ever-present in the distributor’s awareness and I visit my key accounts on a regular basis. If I had an easy to implement sampling program in accounts I’d like to grow that would be fabulous.” 

To a State Director of a Global Company with Multiple Spirits Brands: What was the effectiveness of the $17 million dollar campaign conducted by your agency when they employed 43 Ambassadors across 27 cities to buy 7 random people your brand at key accounts 6 nights a week? 

“I didn’t get any real data on anything other than case counts. It was impossible to tell whether increases in sales were a result of the market in general, other forms of spending, or any other factors. Also, there was not a single metric on whether or not any of the people who tasted our brand ever bought it again.”

So we see some of the problems inherent in today’s sampling and tasting programs.

Tastings/Samplings generally are experienced in the following ways.

You show up at your favorite local retailer and there is a distributor rep, brand rep, or agency hired rep behind a table prepared to share a taste or sample of something with you. In some cases, they may have a coupon or offer available in locations where that is legal. In the state of Tennessee where this is written, at best, you’ll receive a coupon for a mail-in offer for a rebate of some kind. Generally, there is NOTHING coming your way for randomly experiencing the sample. There is no information asked from you about your preferences or whether or not you’re a loyal brand person or someone looking for something different to try.

In the following Blue Ocean Strategy As-Is strategy canvas, I’ve chosen key factors of competition as a way to define the way brands compete with each other as it pertains to sampling and tasting events. I’ve categorized Shared Spirits as one competitor, a traditional agency or distributor as another and the third as what one may consider as an advanced sampling firm or agency.

The purpose of a Blue Ocean As-Is Strategy Canvas is described as follows. The strategy canvas serves two purposes: … It propels users to action by reorienting their focus from competitors to alternatives and from customers to noncustomers of the industry and allows you to visualize how a blue ocean strategic move breaks away from the existing red ocean reality. https://www.blueoceanstrategy.com › tools › strategy-canvas

BOS Sampling As-Is Strategy Canvas

The traditional firm’s focus on sampling and tasting will be primarily to make sure someone is behind the table or near the bar pouring from a bottle. This individual will have little knowledge about the brand generally. They will be employed by an agency and view the evening or event as a paycheck and nothing more. There will be no or few written notes taken on the attendees or customers who sampled the product. The basic measurements will be how many bottles were used and perhaps how many were sold that evening. In an on-premise tasting or street team or night club promotion, there will be even less data.

in-store tasting

The advanced firm’s focus will be on doing more of what is possible to hold their people to a higher level. This will take form in some of the following ways.

Talent videos: Clients access; can set interview questions/review any time. This allows brands to associate chosen ambassadors to the chosen buyer persona, assuming the brand knows what the buyer persona of their brand has been described to be.

Talent reviews: Client ratings/reviews show post-event feedback. This allows the brand to measure some level of effectiveness of the event ambassador.

Advanced training: App-based video training and in-depth testing of the ambassador staff. This allows the brand to know that the ambassador has an opportunity to represent the brand in the best possible light given the fact that there was product training.

Talent geo-location: Geo-tracking showing the exact location of talent at check-in. Reduces no-show rates, improves client/talent/EPS communication. This allows the brand to gauge the reliability of the entire agency, marketing firm, etc.

Advanced Reporting and Metrics: Staffing performance, Talent performance, event recaps, aggregated campaign reports. Better than nothing, the reports share only what is measured. In the case of what is spent on events, tastings, and samplings, it is the opinion of most that there is not enough measured in traditional and advanced sampling reports and debriefs.

Instant in-app communication: Push notifications for simultaneous info feed to all staff through app re: training, real-time event changes and more. This sounds sexy and it’s an improvement as is most communication. Most agencies could accomplish these tasks with a Slack channel.

Shared Spirits Marketing is a company leveraging technology and its connections to deliver sampling, tasting, and activation programs in a different way.

Shared Spirits technology provides for the establishment of event-driven and experiential samplings and tastings. Shared Spirits leveraged an integration with its mobile app and campaign management technology with Eventbrite. The combination of the technologies provides the ability to promote in-store, on-premise and special event samplings with the power of the Eventbrite platform. Additionally, each ambassador’s mobile handset is configured with deployable drink credits when supported by the brand that allows automated drink sharing with checked-in attendees of the tasting or event.

Kudos to the efforts of some trying to improve the agency model and the world of sampling and tasting.

Are you beginning to recognize that the sampling and tasting models used today are broken? Sampling and tasting programs are all about the brand or the agency and have little if anything to do with the customer.

In the image below, the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas shows the key factors of competition when it comes to generating tasting and sampling successes.

key factors of competition in sampling liquor

In no particular order.

Key factor number one is the price. After years of research, only anecdotal evidence may be found relative to how much it costs to get liquor into someone’s lips. The math should be easy. Take the cost of the evening’s sampling event and divide it by the number of people that we accurately measured and verified to have tasted the brand.

Key factor number two is post-sampling event marketing. This is to say, how well did you reinforce, communicate with, poll or market to the attendees who sampled your brand?

Key factor number three is pre-event targeting and invitations. Did the brand or agency utilize technology that leads to communication in some way with every vodka buyer who patronized the establishment prior to the vodka tasting? Did the brand market the sampling to those who have frequented the retailer a number of times? Did the brand utilize their buyer persona data and target the frequent visitors to their best on-premise accounts with an invitation to come to the tasting as a special VIP attendee?

Key factor number four. Are depletion goals integrated into the tasting/sampling marketing plan? How would one do this? There are technologies available integrated with Shared Spirits and other marketing tools that allow brands to know who purchased their brand in previous months and competitor’s brands in months past. With this intel one may target specific customers, specifically, noncustomers of the brand and invite them to the events. In addition, with the correctly implemented targeting of noncustomers prior to on-premise events, the restaurant or bar could be prepped to have ordered the correct bottle count prior to the event. If one knows that attendees of an event are going to be in receipt of a cocktail featuring the brand redeemable at an on-premise account, then it follows that the establishment would be willing to purchase additional bottles as an incentive to be featured in the promotion.

Key factor number five involves event management. Most agencies have developed great people to manage event logistics and deliver decent experiences. The problems remain significant in the lack of sophistication around who receives the invitations and who is marketed to after the event. If an agency doesn’t have tools at the ready to deliver pre-event and post-event marketing, the event is wasted money.

Key factor number six is lumped in as technology. Sampling and activation technologies are nonexistent outside of tremendously costly pass along offers made via point of sale integrations that most brands try to get restaurants to pay for. As a spirits brand, margins exist sufficient to authorize the agency you’re working with to target the right consumer and share an experience with he or she as long as it’s measured and delivers the strategic results. If the technologies used don’t allow that to happen, you’ve got the wrong agency.

Key factor number seven is brand ambassador metrics. Teams that spend time throwing out t-shirts, hats, scarves or other POS items are hard to measure. Successful depletion numbers can’t be attached to how many shots are poured by someone behind a counter. Again, what you equip the ambassador to do compliantly may be more robust than you think if you’re leveraging the right agency and the right technologies.

I’m sharing the strategy canvas again below. It shows a low to high-value measurement on the vertical axis and the key factors of competition on the horizontal axis.

Blue Ocean As Is Strategy Canvas

When comparing the three alternatives, it is clear that sampling and activation programs are ripe for disruption and certain technologies are poised for use in doing so.

If you’d like to experience a complimentary Blue Ocean Strategy As-Is Strategy Canvas for your industry or brand, consider a complimentary Blue Ocean Strategy As-Is Strategy Canvas by clicking here.  Enter a few details and we’ll chat. While certain industries are ripe for disruption, others are not. However, I would contend almost all may benefit by looking to their noncustomers for growth.


Reach out to Sherman Mohr. He’s a Certified Blue Ocean Strategist prepared to discuss your industry and brand.