Building Brand Equity Through Social Networking

Jonathan Winters“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” …Jonathan Winters

Does the static, the noise, the 60 hertz hum of the social web seem meaningless and nonsensical to you? At least that’s what I’m hearing on the street from a significant number of winery principals and brand marketers. This not an unschooled group, but in these times oShopping for Winef economic malaise, this group of neo-luddites seems to be wedded to traditional, conservative brand marketing plans, even as the wine market continues to flatten, in fact contracting for the competitive frame of wines with bottles priced above $10. We can all observe with a degree of chagrin the increase in wine club resignations, the slowing of sales of cult Napa Valley Cabernets , the downward shift of pricing segments , and margins that being are squeezed, if not in fact evaporating. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate one’s options. Stand idly by and let your neighbors seize the moment, or join the conversation and add to your brand awareness, value and equity.

While to some degree, it is understandable that the popularization of social networking is viewed in some quarters with a jaundiced eye; however, if used as Biz Stonea method to initiate a conversation with and to engage your customers and clients, then social networking is and will be an effective tool to add to your marketing kit. Seeing where you are is nice, but seeing where you’re going is key to your business success. Utilizing all the new media tools now available will help you to be transparent and real, and to facilitate the interaction with your customers in a human way, and to demonstrably build brand loyalty.

Case Study: The Retailer

Wine Library TVBring on the Thunder! The game changed on 2/21/2006 as the very first episode of Wine Library TV premiered as a video wine blog from a then moderately successful liquor store in Springfield, New Jersey. The originator and star of the show was Gary Vaynerchuk. The setting was reminiscent of so many public access TV shows from the early days of cable, but Garyvee had an ‘it’ factor. He didn’t fit the mold of the self-important, elitist wine critic. Instead of a suit in a halo of hubris pontificating about a wine known only to the cognescenti, Garyvee was one oGaryVeef us. He made wine accessible. He wasn’t talking to us, he was conversing with us. Oh, he knows his wine, but he wants to share this knowledge, as demonstrated by his commitment to a production schedule for WLTV segments that most of us would find onerous.

From this modest beginning, Gary has engaged just about every social network and web 2.0, wine 2.0 community to build his brand. WLTV was the first video wine blog podcast on the then new iTunes. He has a presence on facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and has crossed over to traditional media with one best seller 101 Wines, with a new book deal just inked.GaryVee on Late Night with conan O'Brien Gary has appeared on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Ellen Degeneres Show. Gary has established credibility for both his store and personal brands, by honestly displaying his passion, and by being real. I was on Twitter one night involved in a lively conversation with New Zealand wine writer/sommelier Jules van Cruysen on just which retailer in the States was Gary Vaynerchuk Presentsthe biggest supporter of New Zealand wines when Gary Vanyerchuk entered into the discussion and sent a couple of links to support Jules’ argument. It was past midnight in New Jersey, and I’m just 1 of 301,831 of his Twitter followers. This is not only hustle, but passion personified; and, this is being at the very top of your game. I’m sure that the money is nice, but Gary is genuinely motivated by the conversation, and in the conversation has found success.

Case Study: The Vintner

Jeff StaiJeff Stai is an imposing figure online, and in person. Standing head and shoulders above the Crushpad tasting crowd, he was easy to spot, even back in the corner. From an organoleptic point-of-view he was pouring the best and most distinctive wines at the tasting, It was apparent from the start that based on the Twisted Oak buzz on Twitter, that this was a wine that I needed to taste, and Jeff was someone that I had to meet. The first meeting happened at the February 19th Jeff Stai at the bottlenotes TastingbottlenotesAround the World in 80 Sips’ tasting at Crushpad SF. Twisted Oak Winery was founded by Cal Poly Ponoma grad, and experienced computer industry electrical engineer, Jeff Stai and his wife Mary in 2001. I became aware of Jeff Stai, proprietor, and chief marketing guru at Twisted Oak Winery located in Calaveras County, California just above Angels Camp on Highway 4, shortly after signing onto Twitter in late December, 2008.

Twisted Oak Warning SignThe conversation among my wine industry friends centered on the wacky premise of “Take your Rubber Chicken to Work Week”. Intrigued and motivated to do a little research I added Jeff as one of my tweeps, which he quickly accepted and reciprocated. I clicked onto the Twisted Oak web site, and then onto his El Blaggo Torcido and got the rest of the story. I ran into Jeff again at the Wine 2.0 Expo 2009 tasting at Crushpad, in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. It was as if Jeff had camped out for this April 2nd event. Same corner, and still easy to recognize, and still pouring some of the most distinctive selection of wines at the tasting. Appropriate to the tenure of Wine 2.0 , Cece Salmon-Lee posted a to-the-point short video interview of Jeff and his social networking Jeff Stai in the Tasting Rppmphilosophy . Of course Jeff, who is one of the hardest working marketeers in the wine business, was busy either at the winery or on the road pouring his mediterranean varietals for old and new fans His whereabouts, his promotions, his appearances all promoted and discussed by Twisted Oak fans and friends on the social web.

In order to engage his customers in conversation, Jeff started his blog in May 2006. He has established an account on Twitter, a fan page on facebook, and iReuben's Blends an active participant in wine forums. He conducts with his social networking friends his annual TYCTWW in early February, and then posts photos on the winery blog. Next is an annual contest consisting of customer, friends and fans submitting backside copy for the ‘Ruben’s Blend. Fans in the know, know Reuben quite well. In fact Reben is the guest of honor at The Rubber Chicken Roast at the winery in Vallecito. Jeff has been having a lot of conversations with a lot of people. The Winery, while in a gorgeous place, it’s definitely not on Hwy 29 in Napa.  Jeff, in response to my question on how an electrical engineer landed at a winery in  Calaveras County,  answered “mostly, I fell face first into it…”


I was recently in St Helena for a client meeting. On the way south, I stopped at an iconic Hwy 29 winery to say hello to some old friends. It was 3 PM on Welcome to Napa Valleya Friday afternoon, usually a busy time for Napa Valley wineries, even in the off-season, but only 10 cars were in the parking lot, and the tasting room was empty. This winery has little or no social web presence. Perhaps a case of resting on their laurels, but they just aren’t engaging in the conversation with their guests, customers, clients or fans. Which is too bad, because they’re producing really nice wines across all price points. The folks at the winery were bemoaning the economy, the bleed from their wine club, and the resulting diminished revenues. Perhaps by focusing on the goal of customer retention and build in part through social media interaction,  positive results will be the likely outcome. If only my friends got it.

Target PaintingGaryvee and Jeff get it. The current economy is at best stagnant, and the effects on  wine businesses are now well documented. Yes, you’re going to have to work harder than ever to succeed today. You’re going to have to shake  a lot of hands, and talk with a lot of people, either digitally or in-person. If you don’t get it now, I hope you get it soon. Isn’t this the perfect time to connect with  your targeted customers, and to start engaging others in conversations about your brands?

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

Do Wine Review Scores Matter in a Wine 2.0 World?

Sancho Panza Statue in Madrid‘…only to let me smell one and I can tell positively its country, its kind, its flavor and soundness, the changes it will undergo and everything that appertains to a wine.”

… Sancho Panza, in the novel Don Quixote by Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

A Short History

Ever since the Scot, David Hume, an economic philosopher, authored ‘On the Standard of Taste and Other Essays’ in 1757, these two figures, Mr. Hume and Señor Panza, have been credited with being the fathers of modern wine criticism. How much, but perhaps how little has changed. Is past indeed prologue?

In the late 1970’s, just out of college and working for Disney in Florida, I was transferred from the Food & Beverage Department, where I had been the new restaurant project manager at Lake Buena Vista, to take over Lake Buena Vista Wines. The primary marketing outreach for the store  was a wine club, Win  & Jack, early days in St Helena. CAsupported by a monthly print newsletter. One of my first events was billed as the ‘Napa Valley Boys’, featuring Win Wilson of Cuvaison, and Jack Daniels of Chapellet. Win and Jack quickly became my mentors, andVintners Club on my first trip to wine country and San Francisco, Win took me to a Vintner’s Club tasting in a room above Draper & Esquin Wine Merchants. The room was packed with well dressed San Francisco business professionals intent on tasting and writing notes on the 12 glasses of wine in front of them. The wines had all been decanted into carafes and covered by lettered brown paper bags; and, the wine glasses were on a sheet atop matching letters. The tasting protocol was explained, and silence during the tasting was expected. The then common Cal Davis 20 point system was used to evaluate each wine. At the conclusion, each wine was discussed before being reveled. Before this day, I had just noted whether I liked the wine, or not; but, from this Robert Lawrence Balzerday forward the question, at least for awhile, was where did the wine stand on a 20 point scale, and what were the descriptors. I started to read the newsletters of Robert Lawrence Balzer, and Robert Finigan, along with a San Diego based wine newspaper started by Bob Morrisey, The Wine Spectator. Also, on the reading list was the Connoisseurs Guide and the San Diego Grapevine. However, the magazines, while informing my choices, all of my purchase decisions were based on my tasting and evaluating the wine, and on my dynamic route to market business model.

During my stay at Disney, I started grad school, majoring in marketing, and decided to use my  Disney wine industry contacts to line up internships in Burgundy and across Germany. At Labore Roi in Nuits St Georges, my realLabore Roi, Nuits St George, FR tasting education began. Labore Roi, was and is a negotiant, and as such received samples from courtiers, often numbering in the 100’s per day. The winemaker took me under his wing, and I tasted 1000’s of samples of the best and the worst that Burgundy had to offer. It was here in Nuits that I developed my tasting frame of reference for quality. This was only reinforced in Germany, where I worked in the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and the Franken, and once again tasted 50 to 100 wines per day.

Returning to Florida, I went to work for a small wine distributor with the task of putting together a portfolio of some of the then start-up wine companies: Kistler, Far Niente,  Spring Mountain, Ch Montelena, Silver Oak, World Shippers (the genisis of Robert Katcher Selections), etc. I don’t  remember scores ever beingRobert Parker part of the decision. Sampling and tasting drove the process. I had returned to the States just as Robert Parker’s ‘The Wine Advocate’ started to gain circulation and influence based on initiating with his friend Victor Morgenroth a 100 point rating scale. In 1980, Marvin Shanken’s Wine Spectator started reviewing wines utilizing a tasting panel. The ascension of Robert Parker, and the growing influence of The Wine Spectator marked a significant change from the Balzer-Finigan era. The change was completed with Parker’s reviews on the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, and the shift in the Wine Spectator’s review process to reflect a 100 point scale. The die had been cast. Other publications quickly followed, such as The Wine Enthusiast, The Wine News, Wine & Spirits, and now, even The Connoisseurs Guide, all rate wines on a 100 points system. Soon retailers large and small adopted point ratings for their in-house POS. Restaurants, for a period of time noted Wine Advocate; Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast ratings for wines on their lists. And now here we are. We’re approaching the 30 year mark for the 100 point scale; so, the question is does it still influence wine sales. And, if so, who are the influencers, and what are the implications on winery marketing plans with the evolution of new media in a wine 2.0 world?

The Influence of Wine Ratings

Twisted Oak ReviewReviews and ratings do matter; but, perhaps in a different way than in the last 25-30 years. The impact of reviews has evolved, and there is not a one answer fits all situations solution. Samples submitted for review and the subsequent scoring should be part of the smallest, or the largest wineries integrated marketing plans.

As a start-up, small, medium or large wine company, the allocation of resources – human and capital, the sophistication of your channel strategy, your pricing and competitive frame positioning, your promotional, development andwine ratings marketing budgets, and your work ethic will go a long way towards the building of a successful wine brand, even in this saturated, flat market, with or without reviews. But to ignore submission of samples for review at a time when you should be maximizing your marketing efforts, to rise above the noise, is perhaps folly. Taking a broad view, wine ratings do tend to influence wine sales.

Your wine media samples plan should be in concert with your product production and release plans, and market channel strategy. If you have a DTT or DTC distribution model limiting sales to a few markets, then your samples for sb05reviewwinespecinsiderjpgreview strategy may be different than if you have a three-tier, multi-state model. In the former case you should identify the influencers affecting gatekeepers and consumer behavior. In the latter case, it is important to provide material for POS and sell sheets that provide tools for the individual sales representatives of the distributors selling your brand. Also, note that reviews may be necessary to secure new distribution in club stores such as Sam’s and COSTCO; while distribution in BevMo is driven by in-house ratings, and pricing, selection and distribution play a larger role. If your sales are primarily cellar door at the winery tasting room, a review from one of the major publications (usually at least a 93+) will help sell your wine. If you produce Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, your samples for review plan would likely be different than that of a cult Napa Cabernet producer; i.e. Burghound, IWR, Pinot Report, vs eRobertParker, The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast.

A new generation of smart, professional and independent sommeliers are now Sommelier in Chargedecision makers at many of the most prestigious single unit and multi-unit restaurants in  major urban and resort communities. Their choices create buzz. They are the new trend shapers. While reviews assist in providing information, scores, no matter how grand, tend to carry little weight. This is also true in the independent retail market, where many of current retailers have adopted an effective web interface and/or a significant social media presence to inform their customers. A few well executed examples are J.J. Buckley Fine Wines, Wine Library, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and Avalon Wine. Inaddition, the proliferation of wine specific search engines has empowered consumers and customers to write  reviews  for  sites such as,,,  and Your tech savvy customers should be encouraged in this practice.

While traditional wine centric media still holds sway, there is an erosion in their effect on consumer buying decisions. In my youth it was Balzer and Finigan. Over time they gave way to The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast, et al; and, now consumers, merchants, sommeliers and bloggers are gainingWine Bloggers Conference traction, as traditional media outlets falter. In the identification of persuaders effecting wine purchase decisions, a discernable shift is occurring. Cruvee is tracking 600 dedicated wine bloggers; 2 million wine tweets (Twitter) a day; 50,000 registered wine site forum members; 100 million friend feed entries; and 100 Wine Social network sites (from’s web site social monitoring page). Change can be sudden, or, as this appears in this instance to be, evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Change driven by consumers’ need to be integral to the conversation. Any effective, cogent media sample plan should now include a social media component.

Power to the peopleWhile some segments of the traditional wine media still shape the behavior of the multitudes when it comes to wine purchasing decisions, consumers are now and will continue to be empowered in what is the new brand/consumer conversation paradigm.

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

Maximizing Exposure for Tasting Events through

“Our culture is suffering from an experience deficit. With the availability of online knowledge, we’re claiming expertise based on secondary experience. Now that everyone’s a web-educated know-it-all, we’re secretly longing for authority figures to guide and assure us with indispensable nuggets of wisdom that could only come from actually accumulated life experience.” … Faith Popcorn

Social Media, and Twitter in particular is all the rage for wine companies, in this current business down cycle, looking for a lower cost of entry to starting and building lasting relationships with their customers. While the cost is minimal, the commitment needs to be long term . Social media provides many ways to interact and to engage your targeted  customers; and the more active the interaction the more value that’s created. The key point is to engage with your targeted customers in conversation, and then to listen, listen, listen.


I am continually asked, how do I make twitter work for my wine brand? Well, this may be one answer for limited production wineries, lacking leverage with your distributors. Today on a drive out to Copain Winery to pick-up my allocation of Pinot Noir, I was listening, to news anchor Rick Sanchez on the SIRIUS CNN  feed, as he discussed the race to 1M followers between actor Ashton Kutcher and CNN. Rick is a tweeter. He seems to want to avoid the talking-head syndrome, that dominated television news for so long. He effectively engages, through Twitter, in a conversation with his listeners. And, as he does, his audience grows. It grows because the audience is involved in the conversation. This isn’t a new idea. Talk Radio had this idea in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, that format has morphed into what essayist George Saunders describes in ‘The Braindead Megaphone’. And as this happens, meaningful dialog moves online.

Craig Drollett

If you’re in the wine industry please note that the interactive wine conversation has started, and you don’t  want to miss being heard. An effective forum for wine dialog now exists. Wine Business entrepreneur,   Craig Drollett, Co-Founder,Managing Partner, and Chief Operating Officer for Bin Ends Wine in  Braintree,Massachusetts, started Twitter Taste Live in June of 2008. The idea was to capture and interact  with the very active, and passionate, tech savvy wine community forming on Twitter.

Dorothy J. Gaiter & John BrecherI’ve  experienced Twitter Taste Live in-person twice this year, the first event was co-sponsored by Bin Ends, St. Helena, CA wine marketer Wilson-Daniels, San Francisco based wine-search engine vinquire, and Napa wine merchant Daniel Dawson’s Back Room Wines. The event was part of TTL’s first global outreach celebrating the 10th anniversary of Open That Bottle Night, stated in 2000 by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Belcher. About 50 guest took part in the live event, but winemakers, distributors, bloggers, and wine consumers from all over the wold contributed to the OTBN conversation on the TTL web-site.

Jodan Mackay at the Jug ShopMy second TTL event experience was also sponsored by Wilson-Daniels, Bin Ends, vinquire, and a clicks wine retailer, The Wine Spies. The tasting was hosted by Chuck Hayward and Paige Granback at The Jug Shop in San Francisco. The event was a Pinot Noir tasting conducted by Jordan Mackay, author of ‘Passion for Pinot’. About 40 Jug Shop patrons had a great time tasting with Jordan, but once again the audience was maximized, through invitations to TTL fans and interested Tweeters; so, the experience was shared with Pinot fans the world over through the Twitter Taste Live constant flow of updates.

Hospice du RhoneThis Friday, April 17th Taste Live has partnered with the Hospice du Rhone to conduct tasting of Rhone varietals and wines in 3 world locations, each to be conducted at 7:00 PM local time, and the wine selection unique to each individual event. The first tasting will be in London at the Lasdowne Pub, hosted by Robert McIntosh of Wine Conversation who will be leading the discussion.  In the East, Mr. Drollett has partnered with Joe Roberts of 1WineDude fame to hold the Boston tasting at The Wine Riot, and 500 + wine twitteri are expected to attend.  Large flat screen televisions will be at both locations featuring live feeds of the events, and Friday April 17th will be the official launch of the newly renamed feature rich site, Taste Live.

The California TTL Event will be held at Estate restaurant in Sonoma, CA, hosted by proprietor, SondraEstate, Sonoma, CA Bernstein and wine director, Gary Saperstein. There will be a family style Twilight Wine Dinner at 5:30. Confirmed wineries for the dinner and tasting are; Verge, Unti, Bonny Doon, JC Cellars, Cline, Audelssa, Shane and Miner. The California Taste Live event will start at 7 PM PDT. Although a selection of Rhone varietal wines has been chosen, each attendee has also been asked to bring a bottle from their cellars to share with the other guest, and winery principals, such as Randall Grahm. This is forcasted to be the largest world-wide on-line wine tasting event to date, surpassing even February’s OTBN TTL event. So, hope to see you at this don’t miss tasting, in-person, or online at

If you want to maximize your exposure, and your utilization of Twitter and other social networking platforms, and attract press, bloggers and consumers to your brand, then you owe it to yourself to investigate Taste Live, and the regional partner network of independent wine stores that Mr. Drollett is starting to form . As Jean Arnold said in her ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’ presentation, ‘manage your distributor by managing the market’.

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

What is your concept of ‘Brand’ in a wine 2.0/web 2.0 world?

Coach Lou Holtz, July 2007 “I never learn anything from talking, I only learn things when I ask questions .”
… Coach Lou Holtz

If one ascribes to the idea that the concept of “BRAND’ is a promise made between the originator and the end-user, based on  a perceived, or aspirational set of outcomes, has the concept of ‘BRAND’ evolved? Or, have the methods by which ‘BRAND ‘ is communicated changed? As wine marketers we inhabit a new world, and we need to be acutely aware of the rapidly evolving cultural environment that shapes the wants and needs of our targeted clients and customers. As marketers we can no longer speak at our customers, we need to talk with our customers. We need to tune-in and listen to the ongoing conversation.

Old Starbucks storfront As a case study in point re. iconic liquid brands, Starbucks comes to mind. In 1990 I was running a small  Washington winery, located in the tiny village of Wapato, just south of Yakima. We had a Seattle tasting  room on the alley by Pike Place Market, just down the way from the original Starbucks, and, a then new  Sur La Table. Seattle was jumping in 1990. Innovation was in the air. St. Michelle had gained significant  traction, as my competitor and friend, Bob Betz’s tireless efforts and constant travel to spread the news, initiated significant customer to customer buzz on Washington State wines that helped to create a category that benefited us all.

Starbucks talks to its customers I’ve been following Starbucks Coffee as a company ever since. Starbucks did very little marketing in the   traditional ad placement sense, growing on the dual strategy of word-of-mouth, and creating a culture   of community. However, Starbucks Coffee has not been sheltered from the current economic downturn,   or the significant segment bleed to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee, as these competitors through timely, aggressive marketing positioned Starbucks as the $4 coffee drink. The Starbucks Coffee ‘BRAND’ was in danger of coming off the rails, because in its desire for growth Starbucks had stopped listening to their customer.

At the annual 2009 March stockholders meeting CEO Howard Schultz opined that “We’ve allowed other people (sic: competitors) to define us.” Starbucks on a spot market basis is now running television ads to support the ramp and launch of Via instant coffee. However, Starbucks, now attuned to the conversation, is replicating the video on YouTube, and has established a Twitter account, , with 128,000+ followers. Starbucks Coffee has also started a web-page to generate customer ideas, , with more than 60,000 customer responses, and  with 230+ of these customer generated ideas acted upon, it seems that Starbucks is now engaged in the conversation.

How does this study help us as wine marketers? Well, a few days ago I sent out an e-mail asking a basic question, ‘what is your concept of ‘BRAND’. I believe that the idea of ‘BRAND’ has evolved from the days of hallmarking silver or pottery/china.; and, that the relationship of  a brand with it’s customers has morphed from the 1960‘s model memorialized on AMCs ‘Mad Men’. Let’s now listen to what other’s have to say:

Kathy Whaley, Marketing/PR Director, Cecchetti Racke (Wine Company)

“I believe the traditional definitions of a brand still apply as the overall business goals remain the same.  A strong brand like Coke is still Coke.  What has changed is the method of Brand Building. I n1471851295_30257240_3972527jpg1had a conversation the other night with a business associate (Monica Granados with Balzac Communications) about this new dynamic and she really nailed it calling it the American Idol Phenomenon.  In days past the “music industry” decided what artists the American public would get the privilege of hearing.  With the introduction of American Idol the power has shifted.  The consumer voice is getting louder and stronger.”

“The wine business is not far behind. Smart brands are spending less on traditional wine marketing (advertising, brochures, handouts, etc..) and relying less on the scores and ratings of established media.  Instead these brands are engaging their customers directly in growing social media channels.  I am observing that brands that are authentic and present in these channels are quickly gaining ground: Twisted Oak, St. Supery and Peju, just to name a few.”

Brand Guru, Rick Barkas Rick Barkas,

“A few weeks ago I did a case study on Truvia as a brand.  I wanted to explore the launch of a new product   with additional brand messaging channels available. Truvia was rolled out using traditional media        channels like television and magazine, but wisely utilized Twitter and YouTube as a brand extension.”

“What came out of writing that blog post is the importance of a brand to make a promise.  Social Media is about trust, and building trust.  When a brand makes a promise, it gives its audience an idea of what to expect.  Trust is the bridge between traditional channels, and is especially true online.  Since brands need to connect with their audience on a more personalized level in social media, trust becomes more important.”

“Here’s another post about branding.  This one about registering with the Lizard Brain has some useful nuggets in it:” “Especially the part about where a brand registers on the human brain.  It either registers on the front of the eyes or the deep inside the brain.  When a brand registers on the eyes, it doesn’t live very long in the consumer’s thoughts.  When it imprints on the back on the brain, the brand registers in the sub-conscious.”

“As branding pertains to the wine industry, I define/echo the idea of a ‘BRAND’ as establishing trust by creating an expectation.  Consumers will associate their expectation with the visual and audible brand cues.”

Meaghan Fu, HBS '08 Meaghan Fu, HBS ’08 Scott Becker, HBS '08

Scott Becker, HBS ’08 , Vice President, Global Wine Partners

“The definition of a brand has not changed.  A brand says as much about the consumer   as it does about the product. The consumer looks to a brand for cultural or social affinity.  Back in the 1950s, people drank Coca-  Cola or smoked Marlboro cigarettes because consumers resonated with the image each brand represented.  That same concept holds true today. While the definition of a brand has not changed, the consumer and the marketplace have changed in three important ways:”

  1. “ Consumer values have changed as evidenced by the increasing importance of social responsibility and individuality.  From “going green” to seeing “Red” (at the Gap), brands are finding new ways to define themselves with customers.”
  2. “Technology has enabled micro-segmentation, or niche marketing. There’s room for Coke, but also Jones Soda, SoBe, Honest Tea and lots of other specialty beverages.”
  3. “Trends can change faster than ever. Crocs or Ugg boots could be hot one season and not the next.  By the time MySpace got big, people had moved on to Facebook.”


Successful wine brands today, not only represent a promise based on aspirational, social, or cultural affinities with their customers, but actively engage in meaningful dialogs with their customers. A strategy of creating this dialog is rapidly moving through a variety of digital media methods. Most contemporary wine marketers have tended to have followed this, or a similar path, as we engaged in the search for more effective communication tools

Fax > E-Mail > AOL > Yahoo IM > MySpace > Facebook > Twitter > Blogs > Wine 2.0 Search

While I would not suggest completely abandoning the ‘old-media’ models, such as Newspapers, Radio talk shows, or, the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, The Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits, etc., I will suggest that, if your brand strategy is to find a more efficient point of entry, or, is a volumetrically smaller brand, or perhaps a start-up wine brand with limited broad market distribution, and, a DTT or DTC channel model, then it is my suggestion that you communicate your brand primarily through new media models.

The basic questions that need to be answered in establishing and communicating the concept of your wine brand in today’s marketplace are:

  • is your brand authentic
  • does your brand have intrinsic value
  • does your brand have a social media presence?
  • are you talking with, and listening to your targeted audience?
  • do you have a relationship with key wine bloggers, and influencers?
  • have you encouraged your customers in the posting of reviews of your brand sku’s on key Wine 2.0 search engines?

Look for the upcoming vintank social media white paper to assist you in identifying these key resources. Also, note that cruvee offers services in defining new media resources. Inertia Beverage now offers Direct to Trade services. Wine Business Monthly has a list of followed wine bloggers . Best wishes for a successful brand, and keep listening to your customers.

So, in the context of this think piece, just what does the concept of “BRAND’ in a wine 2.0/web 2.0 world mean to you? Let your fellow readers know your thoughts and ideas.

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

Strategies for Motivating Broad Market Wine Distributor Sales Management

“It is a crowded confusing market, and, in confusion there is profit” … Thomas Watson, a former CEO of IBM whose motto was THINK

The basic idea in any marketing endeavor is to think: think intellegently, think differently, think constantly. As someone who may be charged with the dual task of being a brand visionary and a brand missionary, it will quickly became apparent , not withstanding individual state statutes, that a multi-tier distribution system is inherent to the wine broad market sales channel. Even if your primary market model is to achieve a majority of your sales through cellar door direct sales, by establishing a clicks, or, a bricks & clicks market model; i.e., wine club, private client direct mail allocations, and/or, Winery hospitality/tasting room operations – it is best to spread your risks and opportunities through the establishment of a niche,targeted broad market sales model. This requires securing, appointing, working with and selling through this multi-tiered distribution channel. The question that arises, after this sometimes difficult and time consuming process, is “How do I get my Distributor to perform?”

In order to obtain sustainable distribution in today’s rapidly consolidating, but product rich marketplace, an understanding of the concept of motivation must play a significant role in the management of any wine brand/distributor relationship.

Motivation is a nebulous social science. If one believes that measuring the metrics of ROI for social networking is difficult, then defining motivation is even a more oblique exercise. Some basic definitions exist, such as the Oxford American Dictionary’s defining motive “as that which induces a person to act in a certain way”. However, St. Augustine advises us “there are hidden depths in every man which we can never probe”. Research coming out of the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation revels that ‘the characteristic of motivated behavior is that it is goal directed…and is characterized by its organized, highly directed nature.” And, that “any goal directed activity is controlled by a conscious intention to achieve these aims by means of a specifically chosen course of action.” This may sound like a set of physic-like rules, but, we know that individuals don’t follow the laws of physics; however, a determinate of our success is the ability to motivate others, and to achieve desired end results.

Marketing/sales management’s function is the production of performance. Organizations don’t have plans, and they don’t do things. People have plans and do things. Progress isn’t made  by companies, but by people. The manager is a means to an end, and not the end itself. Management’s only product is performance. It’s not Phil Jackson out on the Staples Center floor winning games. It’s Kobe Bryant and his teammates.

The first step towards a successful wine brand/distributor interface is identifying the achievers within your distributorship(s); and, then concentrating your efforts. Achievers get things done. They have initiative, and they generate results. These are individuals who aren’t content with moderate success. By shaping performance expectations for this group, and by tying this go-getter group into the idea that success is important, your goals can be reached in the best way, in the shortest time, and at the lowest cost.

Identify the decision makers. This is where loyalty is built; and, this is the group that has the highest degree of achievement motivation. In managing your distributor relationship, be clear, consistent, competent and committed. It is necessary to the development of a long-term business relationship to create a buy-in mentality with key managers, and staff. The basic construct for doing so is to imbue the following attributes:

  • Security – the feeling that one is liked and understood
  • Recognition – appreciation/importance of contribution to effort
  • Sense of Belonging – as a team member achieving the mutually determined goals
  • Dignity – treat with respect in all interactions
  • Achievement – provide an achievable challenge
  • Opportunity – the probability of attaining goals
  • Purpose – feeling that one’s contribution is worthwhile

Prioritize! What’s Next? What’s most important? Create a priority list. As winery managers, direct and control the action, rather than trying to be the most productive participant. Don’t try to out perform a given distributor. Write a plan. Poor performers are usually poor planners, and, action takes the place of thinking, busyness takes the place of effectiveness, and hard work substitutes for achievement. In the plan, provide for reasonable, reachable goals; and, divide long-range goals into single performance phases – quarters or half-years. Provide a specific framework for expectations. Set a standard of performance, based on mutually agreed upon achievement requirements. And, most importantly, involve the distributor manager who is going to influence and deliver results that contribute to the success of the plan.

In writing the plan, involve the key distributor manager(s). Both the winery sales manager and distributor sales management team must define specific goals. Both must be convinced that they can deliver what’s wanted. Your performance measurements must be established in the plan; and, provide the ability to inspect the expectations. The plan must provide an opportunity for innovation. The plan must be responsive to change and modification; and, the plan must function as the foundation for effective performance.

The Plan

  • What should be done?
  • How much should be done?
  • When should it be done?
  • Who should do it?
  • Where should it be done?
  • Why should it be done?

Optimize Opportunities

  • Know where you want to go
  • Set targets
  • Pursue planned programs

Define Goals

  • Focus thinking of yourself and the distributor manager
  • Identify mutual needs
  • State purpose of proposed plan

Set Performance Parameters

  • Define the degree of autonomy
  • Develop feedback modalities to recognize achievement
  • Discuss the degree of involvement by each acting party

Be sure to effectively communicate the plan! An ineffectual presentation of the plan will tend to diminish goal achievement . Be responsive – give true reactions; stimulate response; be brief, be simple, be direct, be clear and human; and, above all else, be enthusiastic. An interesting reaction will take place. Individuals tend to mimic the behavior of others in social/business interactions. This phenomena is called mirroring. By enthusiasm, we generate enthusiasm.


If we accept to the idea that to motivate is to direct the activity of other towards specific goals, then we can identify the basic goals of our mission.

  • Have a plan
  • Define achievement goals and rewards
  • Involve your distributor manager
  • Develop a loyal team
  • Effectively communicate the plan
  • Be competent, be self-motivated, and be enthusiastic

Common sense and good sales-management techniques, will in the end, help the winery marketing/sales manager motivate distributor management in achieving the common-purpose goal of building a strong, sustainable brand.

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