Electronics and Wine, an Unlikely Pairing: The Merrill Research Story

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

Welcome. We’re launching a new blog here at Merrill to spread our story to more people, in a different format, and in greater detail. We anticipate this will also be a good way to share more research-related information about our two abiding passions—technology and wine and spirits.

We’ve weathered the ups and downs in both industries and have learned that the same problems we study at Merrill in one market are often similar to those in another. These similarities allow us to move quickly, effectively and with little learning curve. We’ve applied these learnings to countless projects across the travel, banking, healthcare, and other industries as well.

Technology and wine might seem an incongruous pair at first glance, we’ll admit, and If you didn’t know us better, it would be easy to think of us as an anomaly. For example, one of our key areas of expertise—high technology, has only existed since the mid-twentieth century and tends to have product life cycles ranging from 6 to 18 months. In the wine business—our other expertise—it’s just the opposite. Mankind has been making wine for roughly 4,000 years, and some leading brands are over one hundred years old and ticking, and cyclicality is also part of the wine industry; explains Merrill Research Founder Pat Merrill, “Varietals go up and down in popularity, but really don’t go away.”

These two industries have more in common than you might think, starting with the concentration of each as an industry in Northern California. From our headquarters in San Mateo, we’re literally well-positioned to share the deep expertise we’ve developed over the last three-plus decades in both domains, so to speak—Napa Valley to Silicon Valley.

We’ve learned as market researchers that the technology and the alcohol industry also share some big similarities as do the techniques we use to help solve their problems. Consider the similarities between the wine and semiconductor industries:

– There’s complex science behind both. Winemaking is really all a matter of chemistry, while electronics manufacturers are marvels of physics, computer science and chemistry too.

– Both have highly specialized manufacturing processes. With its clean rooms and highly specialized tooling, semiconductor manufacturing is one of the most sophisticated industrial processes there is. In winemaking, vintners obsess over barrels, aging, the vagaries of grape cultivation; also, much fretting is done about closures, bottle shape, color, crown, and label design. Winemakers may not don chipmaker “bunny suits,” but their environment certainly needs to be clean.

– Both can generate incredible profits or losses. A modern semiconductor plant costs enormous capital daily to operate. When business is good, the chip market is a money-making goldmine. However, when plants are idle, it can lead to a financial bloodbath.

Similarly, with a good vintage and positive demographics, the wine industry can flourish. But with changes in the environment (e.g., drought, pests, fungi, wildfires) or demographics, it’s often said the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large one.

Both industries show incredible innovation and change: The semiconductor technology is poking Moore’s Law in the eyes, enabling products with astonishing power and smarts. The wine industry continues to evolve, albeit more slowly, from corks to enclosures, from bottles to boxes.

Why should this matter to you? In 1986 we formed Merrill Research to support new product development and communications initiatives for many of the great products introduced over the years, from components to software and PCs, from laser printers to smart phones, from digital television technology to medical electronic products, to travel and banking services, and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

Looking ahead, the coming years are likely to be filled with even more varied change. And if current events are any indication, the velocity and volatility of that change will be even greater with even more products and services becoming more integral and intertwined.

So, why write a blog at all? Not only have we been exposed to a lot, we’ve done a lot. From package evaluation to advertising tracking, development and evaluation, to new product development and ethnography. We think we have some useful things to share. Paul Wiefels, Managing Director of The Chasm Group, and one of our ecosystem partners, once told a client the following about his company’s experience, echoing the well-known Farmers Insurance ads: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

We’d say the same here at Merrill Research.

We can help you stay ahead of the curve.

Come check us out.

Merrill Research – Experience You Can Count On!

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