The 7 P’s of selling wines and spirits
What literature can teach us about being persuasive
There exists a certain thread of literary analysis that strives to summarize storytelling. From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, a number of critics, academics, and philosophers have recognized that the narratives we share are built around similar basic structures. Despite their details, stories usually fit into broad archetypes: the epic quest, the rags to riches tale, the yarn about overcoming a monster, and so on.
The same is true for selling alcohol. The particulars might differ, but the motivation for why a customer buys something usually boils down to a few fundamental reasons.1
Here they are laid bare for discussion and debate:
Price, or how much it costs
Palate, or how it tastes
Packaging, or how it looks and feels
Plot, or its story
Principles, or what it represents
Ploy/Promotion, or what the buyer gets in return
Pity/Popularity, or how the customer feels about you, the salesperson
These are The 7 P’s of Selling Wines and Spirits.2 Just as the models of literature effectively describe the types of narratives humans find compelling, these 7 P’s offer succinct descriptions of buyer motives.
The first three—price, palate, and packaging—are fairly self-evident and serve as the usual justification for why a buyer will or won’t pick up a product. The remaining four require a little further explanation as they often serve as subtext for decision-making.
The plot is the story behind the bottle. It should include usual who, what, where, when, why and how. Who was the distiller? What’s the grape variety? Where is the appellation? When was it disgorged? Why were the grapes harvested earlier than usual? How was whiskey distilled? However, such fact-driven reductionism robs a wine or spirit of its romance. The elements of a horror story aren’t what make it scary; it’s how those details are woven together that fuel its terror.3 This is why stories are more powerful than statistics.
The principles of a wine or spirit are related to its plot. These are the values of the product. They can be political beliefs, aspiration ideals, ethical tenets, and so much more. They are both implicitly and explicitly communicated through the other P’s. A high price can act as an aspirational signal to the conspicuous customer. A plot about a family-owned, biodynamic winery is a trigger for those who lean anti-corporate and green. Anyone who sells wines or spirits must be able to read between the lines and understand what principles reside with any given bottle in their portfolio.
Ploy/Promotion is everything, outside of the product itself, that the customer gets in return for the purchase. This is could be better pricing on quantity. This could be future access to allocated products. This could be a window display or some swag or menu printings. This is quid pro quo and it happens all the time. Sometimes it’s on the up and up and blessed are those who can leverage such advantages appropriately and tactfully. If you are fortunate in this respect, congratulations. If you are not quite as lucky, you’ll need rely a little more on the other P’s.
Pity/Popularity is all about the relationship the salesperson has with the customer. Do they like working with you? Are they constantly putting you off? In a world where most products have a competitive equal with regard to price and palate, this can be the deciding factor. Remember, when someone told you life wasn’t like high school? That it wasn’t going to be some type of popularity contest? Well, pray that person didn’t go into sales. People prefer to buy from those they like.
Good stories are captivating because they touch on common narrative frameworks that resonate. Selling wines and spirits effectively is comparably reliant on a few universal elements. These parts are not isolated; the 7 P’s work best when they’re conjoined like an unruly Venn diagram. Like cyclists in a peloton who save energy by drafting, the 7 P’s have the potential to work in tandem to become ever more powerful. The more P’s you have in your favor, the greater your probability of persuading.
Note that a customer is not the same as a consumer. A customer is anyone who buys along the way from production to consumption and this includes importers, distributors, restaurants, bars, retailers, and ultimately, consumers. Analogous to the relationship between squares and rectangles, all consumers are customers, but not all customers are consumers.
These are not to be confused with 4 P’s of Marketing, which are price, product, place, and promotion. These 4 P’s are a workable model if you’re sitting in a classroom working on your MBA or pitching an idea on Madison Avenue. However, they don’t contour to the features of the wine and spirit industry and they ignore the context of the buyer/seller relationship.