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.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

50 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Strategies for Wine Businesses

    • (redacted) Redux on the comments to your partner, (redacted). I’ve enjoyed our interaction and am awaiting my next assignment. Stay tuned for new posts on the subject of contemporary issues in wine marketing

    • Mike: This is the first in my series of think pieces on contemporary wine marketing. Hopefully, at the end of the day, a cogent tale will have been communicated through conversations on this blog. Within the next few weeks, I’m adding a video interview component on specific issues. So, please stay tuned for future posts.

  1. Hi John,

    Great post – in my past life I was at a digital agency in NY and I think the biggest challenge of viral is regarding the metrics and the ability to track influencers and overall campaign success. It can be complicated and difficult to track due to it’s organic nature, but it can also be the most powerful motivator for a consumer.

    Consumers today rely on word of mouth and referral more than ever and wine businesses need to harness that via the tools you list.

    Note to wine businesses that attempt a viral campaign: don’t stop your initiatives if the ROI doesn’t immediately look successful, chances are, the impact is wider than you are able to quantify.

    • Kristine: Thank you for the on-point and cogent comments, especially re. stick-to-it-ness. No
      i-marketing program ever works without vision and tenacity. Looking forward to our future interactions. So, stay tuned for future think pieces.

  2. Thanks for the link. This post contains a lot of good information. We find ourselves in an economic climate that demands more innovation and creativity (not to mention parsimony) – thanks for the good ideas.

    • Jaclyn: Thanks for your comment. The goal is not to stop spending money on marketing, but to reallocate resources in a new and perhaps more effective direction. Stay tuned for future think pieces on the topic

  3. Very interesting post and lots of good info! Looking forward to hearing more. Important to consider before starting any viral marketing campaign is the key business objective — is it to move cases? Build/change brand image or customer perception? Secure consumer trial or land gatekeeper buy-in? With so many viral/social media tools at hand, focus on desired outcome helps narrow them down.

    • Mia: Agreed, intent or purpose of any marketing endeavor must have some sort of definitive end point, or goal. I view marketing, whether traditional or viral to be part of an objective to make the business successful; so, where, who, at what price all influence image, distribution, sales and profitability. This is the first of several think pieces, that at the end, will hopefully tell a more complete story of brand marketing. Stay tuned

  4. Interesting breakdown in detail on a place to start. The crazy thing about viral is that there is no formula; you can never be sure what will hit or make it take off. Of the 10 leads you put out there, you’ll be lucky to have 1 stick. In pre-e-marketing terms, for example, how many commercials did we watch before we got “Where’s the Beef?” …and how many of those can you remember over a lifetime?

    You are right, though, in that you can’t even start without an online presence. And agreed…following up with metrics is also extremely difficult in most cases.

    I still think authenticity and a great product is essential at the beginning, middle and end.

    • Lisa: thanks for the comments. You’re right, there is no one set-in-concrete way that viral marketing works; and, that exactly why I started this conversation. And, yes, products or services that are communicated virally must has real, intrinsic underlying value or the marketer is just another snake oil salesperson.

  5. Viral is not relevant. Viral has become viral in the true sense of “virus”, to destroy.

    Work on making a brand that matters, is easily understood and creates loyalty. This will give you results that will last.

    A “viral” hit on your brand or site, can potentially bring down your site, lead to a wild ride, and leave you without an audience once the virus fades.

    Online presences are the #1 things wineries need to work on, and that alone can be a huge hurdle!


    • Ryan: Great to hear from someone that I’ve followed for some time. I’m using viral in the same way that the term word-of-mouth would be used. You in fact through your blog, and presence on Facebook and Twitter are using viral marketing tools, and doing a terrific job at it.

  6. Really hits the nail on the head identifying the problem in the ever-changing wine marketing landscape. Word-of-mouth is the key to traditional advertising as well as viral.

    One positive by-product of viral marketing is it is line with the new “green” economy meaning you can accomplish new marketing plans without printing as much. Something green-friendly wineries should play up.

    • Rick: thanks for the comments, especially about green i-marketing. Have advised my clients to go paperless for newsletters, invoicing, etc.. Most have, and this has always engendered loyalty, which helped with customer retention in this slow period.

  7. Wow, there was a lot in there for me…….As an owner trying to buid a brand- there are things here that are what I consider ‘no-brainers’ -have a website, social networking. Still many small wineries do not have a web presence. And as you mentioned it is green and relatively inexpensive. Marketing is often overlooked by Winemaking Owners, because we make wine. But I have found out the hard way that marketing and persistant marketing does pay off. It doesn’t happen overnight- no quick rewards. But in times like these keeping the message out there that you exist will help to keep you moving.
    I agree that it has to be honest, authentic. Good product helps, but I have seen what I considered to be ‘bad’ make it with strategic marketing.
    Thank you for the heads up and I look forward to more marketing posts-
    The Mustang Winemaker

  8. John,

    Sounds like you’ve been blogging for years! Kristine makes an excellent point regarding metrics and ability to measure ROI from viral marketing efforts. You almost have to measure efficacy anecdotally–but try explaining that to your boss!

    Cheers and best of luck with the blog.

    • Paige: Thanks. been writing for a long time, but mostly for internal consumption; although have penned a lot of advertising over the years. Yep, result metrics is the elephant in the room. Paul, Joel and the staff over at vintank are addressing this, and maybe the answer is in the algorithms

  9. Interesting article, although the word “viral” can be controversial, you made some relevant points in its use and I believe people should expand on this in a way that works for them. It’s like how my Dad always told me, “Work smart! Don’t just work” and that definitely goes for marketing as well.

    On another note, you’ll be happy to know that I have added your blog to our database! You can find it here:


    • Andrea: thanks for your on-point comments. Using all the social media tools now available to us as wine marketers is ‘working smart’. Also, thanks for adding me to your database. Much appreciated!

  10. Social networking sites, blogs, vlogs, etc. offer tremendous opportunities to wineries and retailers. Tell me where you are pouring next, utilize that mailing list, get ideas directly from your consumers and potential consumers, stay connected, be authentic. Where else can you have direct conversations & build relationships like this? This is an exciting topic and it’s still very early in the game. I look forward to your future posts. See you at Wine 2.0!

    • Victoria: Agree. In this day and age marketers can no longer talk at their intended customers, they must talk with their customers; and, all the new social media tools make this proposition viable

  11. Word-of-mouth advertising seems to be the best way to build a loyal consumer base. The term “viral” gives me pause though, because many times ideas, brands, products that go “viral” are short lived (like Croqs). Nice start for a blog, though, and great info on marketing!

    • Amy: Agree. Being just viral isn’t the answer. Viral marketing is part of an integrated marketing approach. Marketers must be aware of and utilize all of the tools in one’s skill set to maximize awareness, distribution, and profitability in an increasingly saturated and maturing marketplace

  12. Viral Marketing is so important, yet many folks seem to forget about it. Your blog does a great job of explaining it as well as giving us the tools and rules for following through — thank you!

    • Hi, Allan: I actually have a library of professionally taken great wine country photos. The longer term vision for the blog is add more multi-media presentation materials as I make progress with my marketing dialog. Hope to in the near term add an a/v HD interview segment on the hot question of the week. Hope you stay tuned. Oh,btw, have lots of friends who make wine and I love drinking it

  13. Pingback: Reflections of a Wine Business Blogger « Think Wine Marketing

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