“The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.” … James Yorke
I’ll be more than happy to grant you a plenary indulgence if your first response to reading the daily news headlines is to head to your winery’s case goods storage facility to start drinking this years unsold suprplus. USA Today Money section headline reads ‘Anxiety surges as stocks relapse.’. The Wall Street Journal reads ‘Markets Fall on Growth Fears,’… ‘Drop Amid Worries Over Global Contraction.’ James C. Cooper in his Business Week column advises us that that ‘Consumers Won’t Drive A Recovery.’ Given the dynamics of today’s financial markets the world of commerce as we have known it appears, at a minimum, chaotic. The situation is completely out of our control, or so it seems. As our core wine consumers concentrate on increasing their rate of savings and focus on paying down debt, we face the daily reality of our wine business balance sheets. Upon the completion of the monthly review of our financial dashboards the question most often asked is, ‘which way out of the abyss?’ Well, I’m guessing that Plan A isn’t working as well as it once was, so let’s start talking about Plan B.
No Plan B is not sticking your head in the sand, or drinking all of your unsold product by the holidays. Plan B is increasing your promotional spend in very specific ways to create improved brand awareness and to increase the velocity and lift of brand take-away. Promos can take many forms that can be shaped to your winery’s specific business and channel models. It is important to note the obvious. In the domestic USA there are 50 states, with each state determining alcoholic beverage custom, law and practice within its borders. Before embarking on any of the following suggestions make sure that you interface with your compliance specialist and with your beverage industry attorney concerning any proposed promotional activity. Promotions in the beverage business can be experiential, interactive, viral or mobile, while focusing on your tasting room, retail distribution or restaurant activity. The idea is to create a reason or a set of compelling reasons that with create a positive interaction between your brand and your targeted customer. Good promotions not only engender sales, but are also structured to provide trackable metrics. All good promotions are established with specific goals and objectives in mind. And all effective promotions are keyed to a calendar with a beginning and end date.
An awareness of the calendar is also important in maximizing promotional opportunities around key selling dates — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, St Valentine’s Day, Easter/Passover, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Promotions can focus on seasonal releases such as Beaujolais Nouveau on November 15th, the May release of Rose, the late spring release of your aromatic whites, or the fall release of your Syrah. Promotions can be keyed around major sporting events through sponsorships or seasonal promotions such as the MLB All Star Game or the annual NCAA/NFL season kick-off.
While general marketing trends follow our traditional Julian Calendar please note that the promotions calendar for all 50 states should not the same. While consumers are drinking lots of wine in the Hamptons right now, the same can’t be said for most of Florida or Arizona where consumption peaks during the winter months. You may want to create a national promotions calendar, but you would be wise to regionalize your calendar based on seasonal differences and on your unique product mix.
Winery A, a <10,000 case single brand burgundian varietal facility, had experienced reduced week day traffic in the tasting room, and week-end spend was flat compared to last year. A significant amount of bleed was being experienced from the mailing list. The marketing plan had always been to focus broad market three-tier distribution specifically on-premise, and to not focus on retail, avoiding discounting and direct competition with, what was until this year, a vibrant DTC program. Well, restaurant sales were contracting and retail, while receptive, only placed just in time orders. Winery A’s distributors were also minimizing orders and stretching out the payment cycle on purchases, crimping cash flow in a tight, tight credit market. Ouch! What to do?
In order to create focus and to drive traffic in the tasting room the understanding that most traffic was now local was key to creating the following promotional activities. A technology person was hired and tasked with new web-site development and new media strategies. Online coupons were developed offering twofer tastings. The tasting bar glassware was upgraded to Stolzle lead free crystal. Instead of the standard sequential individual glass tasting, flights of 3 wines were created, i.e., 3 Chardonnays, 3 Pinot Noirs, or 3 SVD wines. Retail wine pricing was revisited and prices were rationalized to current economic realities. With the clarification that California wineries could now offer for on-site consumption full bottle or wine-by-the-glass sales, the outdoor areas were refurbished and replanted, picnic tables were added and activities such as live music, BBQ’s and association events were added to the Calendar. An outreach to mailing list clients was initiated first by email, and then by phone. A members only room was created and made available for for active mailing list customers. Several mailing list first only small production single vineyard wines were produced and marketed to the members. Principals and winemakers were now present and active at all primary members events.
To launch the new image, prior to the start of season, a regional party was thrown for hospitality staffs at other wineries, restaurants and hotels. A one day employee discount offer was put into place, and the In-Out Burger Wagon was brought in to serve the large crowd. The new media manager had a station for Facebook Fan Page sign-ups, tied into a ‘guess-that-varietal’ contest, with the winner(s) broadcast on the Fan Page the next day. Great good will was created, leading to a significant uptick in referrals from the attending hospitality folks. Next the new media manager organized individual tastings with traditional media from local and regional newspapers, radio, television and the major wine magazines for a winemaker tour and tasting of the new releases. This resulted in several stories and reviews. Next came the tweetup. All visiting and local active Twitter contacts were invited to the winery for a tasting and BBQ. Library, and yet to be released wines were poured alongside current or soon to be released wines. A good time was had by all, and considerable buzz was created, not just on the event day, but the relationships developed kept the conversations flowing. The new media manager also identified key influential bloggers in targeted markets, and distributed samples for a subsequent online winemaker led tweetup.
For the broad market a new channel strategy was put into place. A regionalized marketing/promotion calendar was developed. The sample budget was increased, and a program for new accounts and/or new markets was put into place. The release of Winery A’s best Pinot Noir was treated as a notable event. Tastings were organized and the prize Pinot was placed in a brown paper bag as was a well known and highly rated and much more expensive Burgundian Pinot Noir from the same vintage. The targeted on-premises account gatekeepers were tasted on both wines in a random order, and then asked to choose. A win win situation that resulted in new placements in conjunction with new on-premise post-off or 3 case tier restaurant pricing replacing the former no discount practice. This tasting was replicated with the in-market distributor partner’s key account sales teams. In the evening, accounts with an active wine bar crowd were sampled by the market manager interfacing with wine friendly patrons, and a wine amuse bouche was offered to receptive dinners. Retail pricing was revisited and post off or volumetric discounts were offered. In markets where groceries sales were allowed, distribution was extended with appropriate pricing creating sales and display activity even at Winery A’s higher price points. Winemaker and principal travel was coordinated to do either in-store tastings or bottle signings on key Friday and Saturday sales periods. And in the evening they were scheduled to conduct local tweetups, interacting with key wine bloggers and Twitter contacts.
In dealing with their distributor partners, Winery A allocated human resources, and promotional dollars to drive sales. In order to accelerate the payment cycle, they used a traditional CPG invoicing strategy. While seeming to lengthen the payment cycle, by writing the terms to reflect a discount of 5%/10 days, 2%/30, & net 60, accounts receivable returned to a normalized payment schedule.
Winery A had a viable Plan B to attack not retreat from the market in times of consumer retraction. They created new promotions, programs and strategies reflecting new technologies, and allocated spend to position their winery for not only the current economic times, but for sustainable success. The implementation of Plan B which incorporated old school promotional practices aligned with new technologies applied with old fashioned elbow grease have positioned Winery A for maximization of results. So, is your head still in the sand? Are you sitting on your barrels, mired in reams of financial reports, or are you working on Plan B?
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