Viral Marketing Strategies for Wine Businesses

In times of slowing growth, increased competition, product pricing segment shifts, and market channel consolidation, how and where marketing resources are allocated becomes critically important. Important in terms of both human and capital expenditures. This is not a time to curtail marketing, but it is a time to focus on the cost and efficacy of delivery of your branding message. As we approach the second decade of the new millenium, new strategies are now part of the fabric of the brand message landscape. A primary tool in today’s branding kit, is Viral Marketing, a contemporary utilization of word-of-mouth brand awareness strategies.

The definition of contemporary Viral Marketing is any brand message that propagates itself the way that viruses do: as exemplified by: v-marketing, organic marketing, word of mouth marketing or the utilization of social networking sites. Viral marketing is digital-age word-of-mouth. It is accurate in replication, fast, cheap,allows for detailed tracking, and opinion leader identification. It utilizes a variety of methods, and encourages feedback. Viral marketing makes every customer a salesperson for you. It is more powerful than most other marketing techniques, as it implies endorsement from a friend or colleague. In all of the known examples of viral phenomena, there is a product or service with real, underlying value. However, businesses must provide a compelling reason for customers to help spread the word.

In today’s economy consumers are increasingly immune to traditional marketing; so instead of marketing at populations, the need exists to create an environment where consumers market to one another. In the U.S.A., 64% of respondents report that they will try something recommended by a friend. In these days when staying in touch means e-mail or texting, the average U.S. consumer will tell a good experience online to an average of 12 others: a favorite movie to 8.6 contacts: 6.1 people about a favorite restaurant: and 5.3 friends about a favorite wine. A good virus will look for prolific hosts, such as business people, or sales people; and, tie to their frequent social interactions, such as e-mails, micro-blogging on Twitter or Facebook, wine blogs ,and other more traditional business communications.

Some of the basic tools necessary in any contemporary viral marketers tool book are as listed:

  • web site
  • Social Networking interface
  • Wine Blog
  • Business Card
  • Trade Dress (your packaging)
  • Targeted Consumer Events – i.e College Alum group tastings; Corporate Association Events (GOOGLE, Apple, Microsoft, etc); Food & Wine pairings, or specific hard ticket events that appeal to a specific targeted consumer demographic.
  • Brand Awareness Activities; Key Account Newsletter insertions: Inclusion in national and regional press as wine of the week; National winepress critical reviews; Blogosphere: Wine Radio podcasts; Twitter Taste Live; e-Robert Parker board; Pinot Report; International Wine Review, Burghound, etc:
  • Key Account wine list and feature placements
  • The positive exchange of key communication points provided by you the brand owner to wine blogs, press, trade and consumers:

For those brands with targeted key market lighthouse distribution, perhaps the best blend of traditional and viral marketing is really old school best practices, inherent in the modern wine business ethos is SAMPLING.

Sampling offers a firsthand experience with the product by those who are meant to use it. It puts the product in the hands of key-opinion makers, and tends to create buzz. When worked effectively, sampling can be one of the most efficient and cost effective form of advertising. In the highly fragmented and product saturated wine business, it is a more cost effective way to spread specific, targeted brand awareness than television or print advertising. In the end, as Jonathan Ressler of Big Fat Promotions said, “Marketers don’t choose customers, customers choose them.”

So, some simple rules for sampling as a viral marketing tool:

  1. Identify and target key-opinion maker accounts (find 10 accounts that influence 100 accounts each)
  2. Qualify by type, sample and place (secure WBTG, Wine Lists, and In-House website and/or Blog endorsements)
  3. Spread the word about who offers your brand, focusing on key accounts: utilizing your branded web site, brand blog, print press awareness, wine industry blogs and social network interaction

To inspect the metrics of return for your efforts and insure results for your e-strategy, some simple e-tools exist, such as google Analytics, and e-firms such as cruvee and vintank, who can provide metrics and psychographic analysis; and, assist in your implementation of best practices, and help to gauge your e-traffic, and the levels of bounce or stickyness.

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