张晓文 Sarah Zhang is one of the most well-known lifestyle show producers and a thought leader in video and social media marketing in China, with over 10 years and 18 lifestyle shows as a producer/ director, a host of 12 lifestyle shows and experience of working with top international & Chinese celebrities.
Sarah has 800,000 fans online in China, about 1 million Weibo reads per month, over 1 million video views per episode and 500 million views online of all her shows up to date. She was kind enough to spare some time for a Q&A with Inside the Cask.
Inside the Cask: Hi Sarah, you are a top lifestyle show producer/director/host in China, and have produced the No.1 wine educational show in China – “Connoisseur 葡萄酒鉴赏 家”. How did it all start? Why did you choose to focus on wine?
About 8 years ago, we found that many Chinese people were interested in learning about wine, but there were not many places for them to learn and also there is a lot of stress around it. Wine knowledge was seen as a must-have for a sophisticated person.
I always enjoyed drinking wine, but didn’t know much about it, so I wanted to do a show where people could learn about wine in a relaxed and entertaining way where not knowing about wine was OK; so our viewers could watch my experience of learning about wine and learn for themselves also.
I was more than happy to ask the silly questions and give my Chinese perspective on the wines I tasted as a non-wine expert’s experience in wine.
Our Connoisseur show is made to look like two friends chatting about wine, even though I only meet all of the guests for the first time beforehand. We created a very relaxed atmosphere which in turn makes the guests relaxed, comfortable and also this make our viewers enjoy watching all the more.
Inside the Cask: As the China Ambassador for the Tejo Wine region of Portugal, how do you find the response from the Chinese to it? And more generally to the wine category in China?
Two years ago, I was asked to go to Portugal to meet the winemakers and produced a few episodes of our “About Wine” short video series and then came back and did some guided tastings around China. It was a lot of fun visiting the Tejo wine region and seeing all the different vineyards and meeting the wine makers.
There was a lot of interest in my wine presentations among my fans and many came to my guided tastings. Some even flew in or took trains from other cities to come to the tastings. My tastings were more personal and less formal than most and my fans enjoyed them as they have grown used to my style.
Inside the Cask: How does “The Big Fat Wine Challenge 味蕾大挑战” work? What has been the response from your viewers?
“The Big Fat Wine Challenge” is a game show about wine tasting: regular consumers (2 contestants on the show) try three wines and then have to tell me which wine has the flavour I told them to detect. It’s an entertaining and also educational show, audiences learn the aromas and flavours of wine and also we learn how every contestant on the show became interested in drinking wine.
We see that most wine brands today are only interested in hard informational content about their wines. We feel this is a mistake as only a very small percentage of people in China have deep interest in wine knowledge.
Most upscale people these days have moved past the need to understand wine for status and wine is becoming more of a lifestyle choice; only a small segment of drinkers (as well as wine industry people) really care about the hard-core knowledge about wine.
Our show The Big Fat Wine Challenge show is targeting people who have a little interest in wine but not much knowledge. It is designed to get wine drinkers to think about tasting through a wine, that one of the fun aspects of wine is seeing how many hidden flavors you can find in a wine. While it’s not important, it’s fun, so the show has a tongue-in-cheek feel, the contest isn’t very intense, and the winners always wind up sharing the wines they win with the losers.
One of my favorite parts of the show is when I ask the contestants how they got into wine. The stories are always entertaining and sometimes even profound. Each person’s journey to wine is unique and their relationship to it is also unique. China has not traditionally had a wine culture, so each wine drinker comes to wine in a different way than in the west where wine is usually introduced by family.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your background? What else are you passionate about?
I love and enjoy many things in life. My goal is to have a fulfilling adventure of life. I love food, wine, fashion, travel, film, TV, art, music, conversation, nature, etc. It’s all here to enhance our lives.
We can engage with these things to add spice to our day to day existence.
Our newest content is a show about what it takes to find fulfilment and happiness in life.
Like my first wine show, the audience can join me as I speak with people who have done a lot of thinking on these topics. Our first episode is out now, it’s about finding general fulfillment in life because while all of these things I mentioned above can add spice, they won’t make you happy and fulfilled if you’re not. So to live the best life, we need more than food and wine.
Inside the Cask: For brands interested in bringing their products into China, what would be your advice? What are the key mistakes being made by foreign companies?
Almost all of the wine brands’ message focus on the wine brand itself, yet the key to reach Chinese consumers is to focus on the Chinese consumer.
What does your wine bring to your consumers? Why should they drink your wine? Wine is becoming a lifestyle choice, people don’t want to have to learn about the technical aspect of a product to enjoy it. Wine brands should focus more on positioning their products as ways to enhance our life, make it more fun and enjoyable .
Focus less on the awards and status and more on the experience of the consumer with wine, where it is from, the culture and attitude of the wine region. Is it a fashionable drink? A warm conversation starter? Does it link your drinkers to a distant land or history? Is it fun? Is it profound? Does it lead to romance and love, passion and art?
Most wine drinkers in China today are white collar women, they do not care that much about tannin or wine making methods any more than they care how the buttons are made on their new dress.
So focus less on your wine’s story and more on how your wine will enhance your consumers’ life or experience.
Inside the Cask: Although your main focus is on wines, you also have worked with spirit brands previously. We have the impression from abroad that people in China know and appreciate Cognac, but how do they find Scotch whisky? What is their perception of products from Scotland?
Whisky is still little understood in China, and Cognac is mostly used as a status drink. It is great for gifting because it is French, which is seen as the top luxury country. Baijiu (Chinese liquor) is still dominant among the male population.
Whisky will need to position itself in China to achieve its full potential. The industry needs to define who drinks whisky, when and why.
The brands do not really want to do this because it takes time, money and effort.
Inside the Cask: What surprised you most about working with companies in the drinks industry?
It surprised me how little they understand about the gulf between where they are in the perception of their products in China and where they have to go. Most spirits in China are still drank by expats.
China has no cocktail culture and the brands do not want to do the heavy lifting required to educate the population. Their marketing funds tend to go to venues (hotels, restaurants, bars), but without raising general awareness, they will not achieve their fullest potential.
At some point the spirit brands must address the grassroots demand in China. Who drinks cocktails, when and why?
As an example, the entire RTD category fell apart in China losing hundreds of millions of dollars for the brands. When they finally did a survey, the results were that Chinese consumers did not know when to drink them and where to drink, so they didn’t.
Do not make your target consumer figure out how your product fits into their life, instead show them in an entertaining way that builds awareness, desire and trust.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job?
I enjoy the opportunities that I have to work with different products, different people and also the fact that my job is to make everything we do fun, entertaining and enjoyable for people to watch. The whole process is very creative, I enjoy it very much.
For Reference – Video of Connoisseur Wine Show by Sarah Zhang:
For Reference – Video of The Big Fat Wine Challenge by Sarah Zhang: