Managing your wine brand message in a wired world

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” … Mitchell Kapor

One of the strategic issues currently under discussion in wine marketing meetings is how to address the fact that winery CMOs and brand managers face significant points of friction in our wired world. A wired world where a winery’s brand message is often modified by users across the universe of sites including mobile apps, marketing agents, ecommerce portals, bricks & mortar retailers with an ecommerce presence, blogs, forums and social networks. The same passion that you put into the production of your wines is mirrored in the story inherent in your wine brand. However, user-generated content often retells this story in a way that obfuscates your unique, value added proposition that differentiates your wine products in a crowded and increasingly difficult market. This all too common outcome is not unlike the results achieved in the traditional dinner party game of ‘Telephone’, where a short story is whispered into the ear of the person next to you, and repeated through a chain of individuals until the final person in the chain is asked to then tell the story, often to the laughs of all involved. The facts have been so modified, having passed through the filter of each person, that the final story bears no resemblance to the original tale. But the act of having your winery’s product information modified in this manner is no laughing matter and tends to diminish brand identity, and will effectively, over time, erode brand image and value. But just how can a winery effectively standardize their brand message and brand image across this vast, fragmented information cloud without imposing an onerous work load and cumbersome time management restraints on staff?

The unintended consequences of Moore’s Law

The simple idea, in the late 1960’s, of migrating from germanium, or the by then the more common germanium/silicon mix as the primary material for solid state electronics, to silicon as the base material for integrated circuit design was the genesis of a movement that had significant unintended outcomes. By 1965 Gordon E. Moore at the time head of research at Fairchild Semiconductor and later co-founder in 1968 of Intel, predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. This was likely based not only on his own observations but on earlier predictions including the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart the co-inventor of the computer mouse. Moore’s paper was the foundation document used by the semiconductor industry as the targeting platform for future planning, research and business development. Caltech professor, Carver Mead coined the term ‘Moore’s Law‘ in the early 1970’s. Moore’s Law has driven innovation in ways never foreseen by these early Silicon Valley bootstrappers, from the exponential development of processing speed and memory capacity to new miniaturization technologies, impacting the development and the worldwide use of digital tools by both businesses and consumers. This rapid development of technology made possible by the research of the post WW II generation of scientist has led to the development of tools and products that reach and impact our lives daily, and not only in obvious ways. Integrated circuits are in our cars, our toasters our washing machines and refrigerators. Integrated circuits enable the technology that heat our home or allow municipalities to efficiently deliver utilities to end users. So many ways, that we now accept these developments without much fanfare or notice. They just are.

Old school goes new school

When I was in college in Morgantown, the campus was wired to an IBM 360 computer. As a student who wanted to make use of the computers, I had to take courses in the then evolving computer coding languages of BASIC, Fortran and COBOL. The WVU Computer Center’s IBM 360 was in a building a block square and 6 stories high. I now can hold that computing capacity in my hand, no longer waiting 24 hours for a 10 lb report printed on a daisy wheel printer. I’m now able to receive instant feedback to any inquiry or search. I can go down the wine aisle at JV’s in Napa and using an iPhone wine app take a picture of the UPC or the label, and get immediate information on that specific wine, 1-2-3, just like that. Smaller, faster, better seems to be the mantra driven by robust competition between large and emerging technology companies. We’ve been climbing this graph of technological development that has colored and shaped the current wine marketing landscape. One of the developments that has come on the scene is the introduction of user generated content into the brand conversation. Starting out with FTPs then BBSs which evolved into forums, then migrating to usenet, and then through a variety of ISP pipes such as Netscape, AOL, MSN and Yahoo. A movement that gained traction with the development of broadband availability and use, was topic specific blogging using services such as Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr. In 2006 Twitter introduced microblogging to the world, basically taking old school instant messaging meant to be used within a small group of friends or utilized as a business communications tool in lieu of e-mail and making it available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Facebook emerged as a college based IM service that allowed friends to communicate on a closed circuit basis. That was your dad’s Facebook. Facebook is now a marketing powerhouse platform for individuals and brands.

Modern wine communication modalities

As an example of how brand communications have evolved, on January 28, 2010, I took part in an online multi-media wine tasting experience featuring Walter Bressia who is a winemaker of note in Mendoza, Argentina. The tasting was a live, real-time online event with feeds on Twitter, USTREAM, and GoToMeeting. Invitations were initiated through the Vines of Mendoza Facebook Fan Page. The event included a number of wine and wine business bloggers who actively participated in the tasting of three of Walter Bressia’s wines. Conversations occurred between the tasters and the winemaker, and between each other. It was fun, informative, and a best practices use of technology. But, this wasn’t my first online interaction with winemakers. On Earth Day 2009, I was engaged in a beta test with Lisa Mattson and Wilson Daniels with Nigel Greening of Felton Road who was in his home office in Wanaka, NZ and Bernard Lacroute of WillaKenzie who was in his winery office in Yamhill, OR. So an online connection and conversation on sustainable faming practices occurred between St. Helena, Sonoma, Wanaka, NZ and Yamhill, OR, and a personal connection was forged between the winemakers and a wine business writer halfway around the world from each other.

The Wine Directory

A constant comment that I get from winery clients or winery friends is the amount of misinformation concerning their brands that they find in online searches. The old saying of garbage-in – garbage-out has never been truer. Incomplete or misconstrued information plagues the wine industry. And this has been exacerbated with the proliferation of consumer and ecommerce generated input. Real and false information alike is replicated in the blink of an eye. The methods of communication between brand owners and brand users has changed. Consumers now have access to tools that empower their input, and help create and influence brand discourse. The idea of brand while still evolving is essentially based on a set of attributes promised by you the brand owner to the end user. This is a basic concept that may be lost in an age of instant consumer input. But the fact remains that you are the brand owner, and an inherent attribute of ownership is your responsibility to factually shape the conversation concerning base information, also known as data, for you brand and products. This has been addressed by the team at Cruvee with OwnIt, changing the way your wine is viewed online. And now, 9 weeks into the launch and adoption cycle, of OwnIt,  as a member of the Cruvee Board of Advisors I had a chance last week to sit with the Cruvee team to do a dry run through the release of the Wine Directory. In explaining the Wine Directory, Cruvee CEO Evan Cover said “ the directory is intended to show you how your products and your winery are visually represented online. If your information is accurate here it will be accurate across all of our partner sites and applications. This means controlling your brand’s image with millions of customers visiting the biggest social networks, tons of mobile applications, online retailers and more.”

In conclusion

A first step in  regaining control of your brand message is registering your brand and inputing information into the OwnIt database, which is free other than the allocation of time to correctly input your wine brand and brand product data. James Jory, Cruvee VP of Technology sees OwnIt and the Wine Directory as “the chance to eliminate the Balkinization of your wine brand data within the online community.This is a solution with a low barrier to entry that enables you the brand owner to control your winery’s product information facts.” The idea of passively sitting by and letting others define any brand is a notion that is anathema to me, and it should also be unacceptable to you the brand owner. So, step up, sign-in and take control of your wineco’s brand information, and OwnIt!

Note: Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved

Video as an Effective Emotional Branding Medium

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs“A brand that captures your mind gains behavior. A brand that captures your heart gains commitment.” … Scott Talgo, Brand Strategist

The challenges facing today’s wine brand marketer are daunting. In what brand communicator, Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications refers to as a saturated wine market, how do we communicate the passion to excel as evidenced by our vintner partners? How do we consistently maintain and elevate the real value of our brand(s) in today’s marketplaceSafeway wine set, everything is on sale? And, how do we create a community of passionate fans? Well, my observations tell me that the lessons that you memorized in marketing 101, and then actualized early in your careers as wine brand marketers – creating a positive consumer interaction, then consistently and credibly delivering an authentic brand message engendering trust and hopefully loyalty – have not changed. But, the methods incorporated and the mediums utilized in this age of permission marketing certainly have accelerated brand evolution, and reshaped the ability of wine marketers to consistently maintain message and elevate inherent brand value.

Don Draper, Emotional BranderVideo as a tool in brand marketing kits has been around for a long time, since the golden age of television changed how the Mad Men utilized emotional branding. But that was in a time of 3 networks and low resolution TV signals received by antenna, and shown on sets limited by CRT’s and tube technology. Now we live in a world of flat screen multi-media receivers featuring 3-400 channels delivered via cable or satellite, increasingly in an HD format. We all have our iPhones, smartphones, net books,and laptops connected to the ether of the internet via wifi or laptop broadband connect cards. FlipHD cameras have becomLisa filming Keth Hock w/FlipHD at Keefer Vineyarde ubiquitous, and the new iPhone 3G-S is capable of recording video and sound. Consumers are empowered to capture and then replicate images through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Vimeo. As a marketer desiring to incorporate innovative best practices as part of your integrated wine brand marketing tactics, it would behoove you to not only be aware of and master contemporary and evolving video technologies, but to observe others in wine biz marketing incorporating video as an effective emotional branding medium; and then, within the culture of your wine business mirror the most successful applications utilizing consumer driven video applications to deliver and hopefully maximize the dissemination of your core message.

Carl SaganVideo to effectively make a connection with our, as Carl Sagan describes, reptilian brains it must maximize emotional impact through the use of images, sound and narrative. Story matters, even more in a visual medium. Story always matters. We, as consumers, have developed keen message filters, accepting some messages, disregarding others as junk mail, or sending many directly to the trash as cynical exercises in marketing voodoo. The narrative often determines the tenure of the video, and the visuals tend to follow the story. Although, Diane Ackerman advises that “the visual image is a kind of tripwire for the emotions.” And, Scott Bedbury of Nike and Starbucks states, “Great brands taps into emotions. Emotions drive most if not all of our decisions. A branSteve Jobsd reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connecting point that transcends the product.” “A great brand is a story that’s never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that Blake Mykoskie of TOMS Shoesconnects with something very deep. Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience.” Within the context of wine brand marketing, to make this connection with and to make an imprint on our limbic brains, the story needs an inherent legitimacy, and needs to exhibit a ‘realness,’ to create emotional brand capital with the power to translate experience and awareness into action (purchase). Your goal in this saturated wine marketplace is to create a compelling brand identity, by using your whole marketing tool chest, including video, and by creating an emotional connection between your brand promise and your targeted set of consumers…and, then delivering on that promise. Some examples of this are Steve Jobs at Apple, Blake Mycoskie at TOMS Shoes, and now, within our own wine industry, Wilson Daniels Films.

Wilson Daniels FilmThrough luck and circumstance I had the opportunity this past week to follow Bret Lyman, of B-Napa Studio, and Lisa Mattson, of Wilson Daniels Films , shooting the Schramsberg Documentry , and to post tweets in real time documenting the Documentary. Having had the chance to interact with Lisa Mattson,Lisa Mattson w/ToxBox at Wine 2.0Wilson Daniels Director of Communications, at two Taste Live events, an Earth Day teleconferencing session with Bernard Lacroute of WillaKenzie in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Nigel Nigel Greening of Felton RoadGreening of Felton Road in New Zealand’s Central Otago, and observing Ms Mattson’s TokBox live online discussions with Australian winery Owner Grant Burge at this Spring Wine 2.0 event at Crushpad, SF, I knew that Lisa gets it. This is someone that industry should be watching and mirroring. Whip smart, professional, accomplished and with a work ethic that is unmatched, I knew that this would be a good shoot. The bonus was local B-Napa Studio Principal and Director of Photography Bret Lyman, who first came into focus with the wine marketing community with his award winning film “CRUSH” for Don Sebastiani & Sons. Although a local Napa Valley kid, Bret migrated to New York City to work in the production of commercials, where he earned his chops in production and editing.

The Schramsberg Documentary crew at Standish Vineyards, Anderson ValleyMaybe it’s the big city experience or the Malcom Gladwell 10,000 hours to competence theory, but working with these two, Lisa as Producer, and Bret as cinematographer, editor and visual story teller provided another take on the creative process. I’ve often said, I don’t know all the answers, just most of thSchramsberg Documentry Grip Holding Tree Branch for Bret Layman shote questions. On a ride back from the shoot in the Anderson Valley, I asked about Bret’s background helping with framing the shoot. His response was on-point that although he’s a commercial editor/producer by training, his foundation is as an ‘emotional brander.’ And although there was a scene schedule outlining the shoot, Bret, reinforcing my experience with the creative process, said the scenes revel themselves as he shoots.Watching these two pros function as a unit at each location was another lesson in getting the job done correctly. And yes the resulting thought-provoking visuals were revealed as part of the process. This wasn’t a video being shot, but a real film shot by consummate professionals, capturing the visceral images and rich details at each location.

Lisa Mattson Slatting the shot for Bret Lyman at Juster, Anderson ValleyMy emotional connection with Schramsberg goes back to my days at Disney when I was promoted out of food & beverage and assigned responsibility for Village Wine & Spirits. I knew that I had to differentiate the shop to be successful. One of my plans was a wall of Methode Champenoise wines. Schramsberg was my first domestic sparkler and my best seller. It didn’t hurt that President Nixon took Schramsberg to China on his visit tKeith Hock & Lisa Mattson in Juster Vineyard Filming Schramsberg Documentaryo establish detente. Since my Disney days, I’ve visited Schramsberg on several occasions, but over these two days I had unfettered access to the backstory of people and place. Riding from Sonoma up to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley with Keith Hock, I was able to ask any question that I wanted, and was surprised to learn that he sourced 92 separate vineyards in multiple appellations in the Napa/Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Marin Coast, and Mendocino/Anderson Valley AVAs for Schramsberg. And these are not just any vineyards. In Anderson Valley we stopped at Juster, and Standish, and had a meeting with Paul Ardzrooni, Schramsberg’s Anderson Valley Vineyard Manager, in the Savoy Vineyard. After lunch at Underwood, where Keith reveled that he was a professional bike racer who lived for a period in France Keith Hock, Schramsberg Winemaker checking the Pinot in Keefer Vineyards, Green Valleyriding in races such as the famed PariBret Lyman & Lisa Mattson shooting Schramsberg documentary in Keefer Vineyards Roubaix, we headed to the Green Valley and the Keefer Vineyard. Watching Keith walk around through the vineyard, looking at the fruit, I noticed that his eyes lit up like the Sebastiani Theater marquis at dusk. He was at home and in his element. Then off to the wilds of the Sonoma Coast and the Saltonstall Vineyard, where the grapes shared space with the wind, the fog some sheep and a white border collie that keep between the film crew and his flock. The light faded before we had a chance to continue to the Hyde/Carneros location. BTW: these aren’t any vineyards, but vineyards that supply fruit to some of the most revered Chardonnay and Pinot Noir still wine producers in Northern California. Great wine takes great fruit, and with these sources Schramsberg’s quality is assured.

Riddler, Ramon Viera scene set-upDay two of the shoot was at the winery. I’ve been around wineries for the last 25 years, and there are certain cues that I observe that tell me the real story. First are the grounds, then the cellar, then bottlinBret Lyman filming shoot positioning at Jack's Block of the J Davies Estateg and most importantly the people. I came away impressed. And as I’ve said before I’m somewhat jaded. I was impressed from the start, first with Scooby of Rios Vineyard Management, to Marketing Manger Matt Levy, to Ramon Viera, the world’s fastest riddler. What I liked best when I asked Ramon about Hugh Davies, he replied that ‘Hugh is one of us.’ There’s a cultural context to what Ramon said. Hugh is respected as the boss, but this respect is reinforced by his not setting himself apart from his team. Great Hugh Davies at Schramsbergcompanies, and great wineries are the work of a team. This is a lesson that we must learn as marketers. The best wines come from an emotional connection by the team. If we can visually convey this, then our customers will bHand Labeling J Schrame part of that connection. I can’t wait to see the finished Schramsberg Documentary film from Bret and Lisa. I know it’s going to be good. When I left, Bret and Lisa were still filming, so, Bret posted the last scene shot that day on my Facebook wall, a long view of a Schramsberg cave tunnel. He said he dreamed of the shot the night before, This almost obsessive attention to detail, the philosophical mindset of this filmmaker, the creative intuition and passion displayed in B-Napa’s earlier work for Wilson Daniels Films, and the ability to draw out that essential visual narrative in consort with Lisa is so important to the ’emotional branding’ inherent in this 2 year long documentary process.

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

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Is The Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything. It’s just the beginning.”
… Marshall McLuhan

The opening talk by Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications at the recent kickoff meeting at the St. Helena based CIA’s Rudd Center of the reenergized Academy of Wine Communications was filled with promise.Academy of Wine Communications Promise tempered by concern. Concern that the world of winery public relations was changing, and it was changing fast. How we all communicate our messages and to whom is in a state of flux. Our own local major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to wine coverage. While the articles and reviews are still top flight, the once dedicated wine section no longer makes economic sense in a world where news, reviews and information availability is ubiquitous anywhere where there is an internet connection. Having been around for awhile, I’ve discovered that change is good for the soul. It’s adapt or perish. Old dogs can and must learn new tricks.

aka Bistro, St HelenaToday at lunch in St. Helena, I couldn’t help but notice the number of smart phones, netbooks and laptops that were visible and in use. The discussion of the decay of manners in American society is a topic for another’s blog, but the use of technology is here and it’s how we now talk with each other. Technology enables how we get and filter our daily information. My invitation to lunch was in the form of a text message sent from a client’s Blackberry to my iPhone, and my response was in kind. We both knew several people in the crowded room, so after the check was paid, we took the opportunity to network. Networking in the old school sense by shaking hands and swapping stories. My host became involved in a longer conversation, so I thought I would do some market research. Alaptop keyboard couple from South Africa was teleconferencing with their winery staff on their MacBook Air laptop. The honeymooners from Florida were posting pictures of their lunch on Facebook for their friends and family back home. The young women from the New York distributor, on an educational trip to the Napa Valley, were documenting lunch and the local wine choices on their company blog. The local vineyard owners were texting details of their luncheon deal back to their CFO. The room was abuzz, and the restaurant was mentioned to countless contacts around the States and around the world.

Reading the NewspaperIt is an incontrovertible fact that we are in an age of permission marketing. Consumers choose what message or marketing centric handshake to accept. We have to ask and answer the question as to what now works, and how do we track the metrics of Public Relations success in this new, new world. How can we still control the substance and intent of our brand messages? Do the number of mentions and the old circulations numbers still function as the measure of success? And, if now, what about tomorrow? The rise of social media and the conversations of wine bloggers, wine forums and the active wine community on Facebook and Twitter are in fact being tracked by Cruvee. Batchbook, a small company contact manager CRM has developed a social media interface that allows registered users to read what their clients are saying on social media networks about their brand(s). Salesforce.com, the cloud CRM application has added a module offering clients the abilitytwittering to listen and interface with their customers on Twitter. So, it is now possible to initiate communications initiatives within specific targeted communities and then track and document the specific resultant metrics via Cruvee, or the appropriate hosted CRM. I happen to think this is more accurate and more effective than a review or a story in a classic metropolitan newspaper, where the accepted metrics were, in my opinion, perhaps more nebulous, by tracking insertions and assuming circulation numbers equaled reads. Of course the numbers won’t look as good, but we are now actually narrowcasting to an identified set of wine consumers rather than broadcasting. If we do this in a limited set of markets, then an ROI can be established by tracking the effect on wine sales within the defined geographies over a 30 day followup period.

Rutherford GrillTraditional CPG best marketing practice must carry the day without regard to the communications medium utilized. In a conversation at the Rutherford Grill,after the AWC meeting and reception, with two giants in winery PR, Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald it was agreed that times have changed, but that the basics have remained the same. The story to have value and to create interest must be unique,Jim Caudill replicable, visceral and verifiable. There must be an objective beyond just awareness. It has to be about managing your winery and your brand(s) reputation. Specific objectives for your communications program must be established and objective points of achievement must be tracked. Action without accountability is likely devoid of merit. Key communication points must be defined and repeated as part of your winery message throughout all tiers, all channels and all outlets. Listen to the pros, incorporate their ideas, and you’ll be effective in achieving your planned programs.

Inconsistency just doesn’t work in winery PR. In my time in the ether of social media, I have witnessed some egregious breaches Twisted Oak Signof sound public relations communication principles. Making the effort and then bailing seems to be worse than not making the effort at all. To be effective in your social media or traditional media engagement efforts it is important to be interesting, consistent, honest, transparent, and personable. The feedback from those in the know is that the format for conversation has changed, the rules of interface have changed, but the idea of

Jug Shop Pinot Days Promotionbest practices remain.There are many wineries and wine shops that do this job well: Twisted Oak, Hahn, St. Supery, The Jug Shop, Domaine547, Winery Collective, Walla Walla Wine Woman, and of course Bin Ends Wine, founders of Taste Live, to name a few. Hahn and St Supery have established the role of social media management as a key winery functional area. With the advent of the the Really Goode Job promotion, the industry has had the opportunity to identify a number of very talented individuals on Murphy-Goode’s bank. It is my fervent hope that many or most of these individuals, finalist or the overqualified, are offered wine industry PR positions.

In spite of the spate of current conversations and all of our observations of old media hand wringing, traditional print media is not yet dead. Perhaps they’re under the weather with a serious case of where are we now introspection. Each week in my iMac mailbox I receive an update from Wine Opinions listing wine reviews and stories that have been printed in major urban USA newspapers. Wine Opinions has also recently identified key wine bloggers and listed key stories covered in this emerging universe. Anyone in the wine business  who has worked with or talked to a wine distributor sales person in current times understands the functional role of reviews. Good to great reviews raise the awareness of your winery or brand with the first line of gatekeepers, and function as virtual key masters unlocking access to the market. So, don’t throw away or demean this still important point of market information.

Imagine How Others Would Do ItI’ve had the opportunity recently to interface with some real wine industry public relations pros and integrated communication wine marketers: Lisa Adams Walter of Adams Walter Communications; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Victoria Bunch, former HP PR executive, and Tia Butts of Benson Marketing Group. The individuals in this group along with the aforementioned Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald will help you identify and craft your brand message and act as pilots to assist in navigating your winery through the now churned waters of wine business communications. Remember that Marshall McLuhan advised us that “it’s not the medium it’s the message.”

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

It’s Time for Plan B

images-4“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 ‘Anxietimages-3y 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.

head in sandNo 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 Sonoma Market Wine Displaybeverage 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.

Thanksgiving w/WineAn 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 sameimages. 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.

Case Study

The Crisis:

Winery A, a <10,000 case single brand burgundian varietal facility, had experienced reduced week day traffic in the tasting room, IMG_0452and 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?

Plan B:

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 freeBurgGrand 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 BBQeconomic 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, IMG_0543restaurants 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 Facebook Fan Sign-Upfrom 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 Brown Bag Wine Tastingbest 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 imageswere 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.

Conclusion:

Woodcut BWinery 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?

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

It’s Time for Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is  limited to all we noimages-1w know and understand, while imagination  embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and  understand.” … Albert Einstein

images-1-1 All the recent economic and financial story headlines and news feeds that we all receive, read and attempt to digest have led to an industry wide case of psychological indigestion. There is often significant cognitive dissonance in what we want to achieve with in-place business models and the levels of brand  performance  necessary for survival in these recessionary times. We can either retreat to our cellars, heads-in-hand, or rethink our models and create new ways to improve brand success. Sitting down with key staff and analyzing sales and distribution numbers used to be a monthly routine, but this process has now become a weekly, if not a daily exercise. We collectively obsess in the analysis of our flash reports and wonder when and if in the near term there will be a turnaround. Well, soon perhaps, but it’s been my life and wine business experience that difficult times call for imaginative solutions – imaginative solutions that will position your winery to survive in the short term and to thrive in this transformative economy.

The Situation

images-2The closure of the fulfillment/compliance firm New Vine Logistics this past weekend was met with a audible gasp heard throughout wine country. Today we can hear the scramble as a significant number of wineries try to recover their wine, meet individual state and federal compliance requirements, and communicate in the midst of chaos with their customers, clients and fans. In the spate of news articles, analytic pieces and blogs on the subject it became apparent that many of the wineries, the ones that relied solely on a DTimages-4C channel model for sales may need to rethink their distribution. A good case study was discussed a few months ago when I hosted a tour of  three west Sonoma County Pinot Noir producers for a group from HBS. At each stop the same question was asked by the group about the breakdown in the winery’s distribution model. All of these still successful wineries had the same answer: 50% DTC, 50% three tier sales focusing primarily on-premise, but with growth in independent retail and mid-chain sustainable grocery. All three wineries understood that a diversity within their models allowed significant flexibility to refocus priorities as market dynamics changed, and market dynamics have changed, and will change again.

Although a few cult wineries are holding even on club sales, most winerieimages-5s have suffered increased resignations, or clubs shipments placed on hiatus resulting in diminished DTC sales performance. The national wine wholesale channel is no longer open to distributing unproven brands or brands that belatedly realize, with the recent pressure on DTC sales, the need for other tactics to sell and distribute wine. The time to create you own revenue enhancement opportunities is now.

The Lesson Plan

dreamstime_6009024.jpg Although it’s tough out there, it’s been tough before. Something we tend to forget this after periods of  meteoric growth.The US wine business is a product saturated, dynamic and evolving industry  meandering  through peaks and valleys on its way to maturity. But a little imagination on how to market, distribute and  sell you wine brand(s) will help in overcoming even significant obstacles on the path uphill. There are so  many distribution options available to wineries in DTT, DTC, or three tier models just use focus and creativity  in building your base channel strategy.

If your brand has limited distribution, then you have a lot of distribution voids. Start locally. No matter what you call your wine images-6country, you want to achieve distribution in local key reference accounts. Tourist come from all over the world to visit, to taste and to eat. If your wine is on a local must visit restaurant wine list or as a wine by the glass feature it creates not only trial but awareness. If you’re a Napa Valley winery, target the wine list at Cole’s, Tra Vigne or Bouchon. I was at Cafe La Haye in Sonoma last year when a distributor friendimages-3 from Texas ordered a bottle of Radio-Coteau. He’s now Eric Sussman’s Texas wholesaler. Years ago, Schmitt-Sohne, an unknown German wine brand without US distribution, established a tasting room at Disney’s Epcot and within 1 year had distributors in 50 states growing today to be one of the most successful of German wine brands in the States.

In order to build sustainable broad market distribution start building a key lighthouse and/or multi-unit on-premise account base. Begin in your immediate local market, then as production grows expand regionally. If you’re lucky enough to produce wine in a state that allows DTT distribution, or you’re working with a firm such as Inertia Beverage, key on what is now called national accounts.

images-7 Although SW&S’s Mel Dick always advises building your brands on premise  today I believe in a more diverse      distribution strategy. The ascension of the local mid-chain grocery provides quality distribution alternatives for fine    wine  sales. If you’re in St. Louis, you want your wine in Dierbergs, or  in Cleveland at Heinen’s, or at Nugget    Markets in Sacramento. And on a regional or national level distribution and features at Whole Foods will result in    significant sales. If you have a new brand that has garnered 90+ reviews from The Wine SpectatorThe Wine Enthusiast or The Wine Advocate and your goal is regional distribution in club stores such as Costco – then it’s achievable.

If you have unsold wine, understand that the burgeoning private label business is boomingimages-31. Rather than spending resources to launch a second label, consider the development of a private label wine for a regional beverage chain, a  mid-chain Grocer or with an emerging sommelier. The aforementioned Heinen’s in Cleveland offers Vin Hunter, a label developed by Wine Director Ed Thompkins.

Consider distribution in control states. For example, if you’re a small winery and decide to sell wine in Pennsylvania you will be in the PLCB speciality store system opening up the special order market to a state closed to most out of state winery DTC efforts, while providing the ability to access the important on-premise markets in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

ian-jpg1In order to drive more guests to your winery plan more effective promotions. Ch Ste. Michelle and Robert Mondavi do this through summer concerts. But this tactic is not just for the iconic destination properties. C.Donatiello has a great summer concert series – most of which are free. Newbies get to discover great wines, associate the wines with a memorable time like Gomez’s Ian Ball’s birthday concert and become members of a growing fan base.

Offer freemiums, such as online complimentary or twofer tasting coupons. Offer free ground shipping oimages1r additional discounts based on quantity purchases. Host a  group of local or visiting wine, food or travel bloggers such as the recent Hahn  vine planting forum, the St. Supery annual bloggers forum, or the Twisted Oak pre-WBC bloggers party.  Establish and maintain your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Don’t treat winery social media accounts as hard sales tools, but occasionally offer specials such as the first chance to get limited production wines. Initially limit this to your contacts, but count on this offer going viral.

images-21Focus on improving your customer service. Recognize the importance of your guests. Greet every visitor with a smile. Over deliver on their brief experience. Call your customers and thank them for their phone and internet orders. Let them know about any events, tastings or winemaker dinners in their home market. Solicit ideas and suggestions and then listen. Reward your most loyal customers at least once per year with an in-house members of the tribe event.

Imagine

images-5This list is not meant to be comprehensive. The above ideas are just suggestions meant to engage you the winery chief marketing officer and to encourage your brand building creativity. You have responsibility for your winery’s success. There is no one out there to hold you’re hand. Bury any inclination towards hubris and arrogance, and listen to what the market has to say. Pay attention to other wineries, big and small that are successful, and study just what it is that they do to create sales. Have the right staff with the right skills in place. Invest in resources, even as margins are squeezed. Spend time in your best markets and keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your pants up and your head down. And be prepared to work harder and smarter than ever to achieve the tasks at hand, but do it with a smile on your face, and the attitude that failure is not an option.

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

Back to Basics

Picaboo Street“When someone tells me there is only one way to do things, it always lights a fire under my butt. My instant reaction is, I’m gonna prove you wrong.” … Picabo Street

Yes, it’s tough out there, maybe tougher than anytime since the immediate post 9/11/2001 period for wine sales. The wine brand market place is saturated, with little or no room for additional undifferentiated brands. The rate of distributor consolidations has increased squeezing out the small winery brand. On-premises national accountNielsens are becoming an even more significant part of current broad market wine sales. There is an increasingly rapid consolidation of the grocery sector, constricting the funnel from winery to shelf placement. And, now the Nielsen Company, in their May 13, 2009 US Wine Consumer Report informs us that even though wine in general is ‘recession-resilient’ the US wine consumer has an economic hangover resulting in restrained spending.

US Wine Market GrowthThe domestic wine market, while featuring new points of price sensitivity and significant channel shifts, is still growing, albeit at a slower but perhaps more rational rate. Is the market growing for your brand? If not, maybe you should revisit some of the basics of marketing best practices. It will also help to have an understanding that the actions that you take today and tomorrow, will help to position your winery to ride upward with the recovery.

project-genomeDevelop a deep understanding of the various to market models available to you as a wine marketer:  the Three Tier System, DTT, and/or DTC. Gain a thorough knowledge of the role of ‘Marketing Agents,’ third party marketers of your wine such as The Wine Spies, Woot Wine, winecliQ, and soon Amazon, Sears and Borders Books, plus a panoply of independent wine clubs.

Hire and retain talent. Find people who share your vision, and have the ability and desire to articulate this to the market. Identify individuals who view innovation as a key strategy. It seems to be an important concept in this phase of the business cycle to have experienced leaders who have previously weathered the inevitable exigencies of  business ups and downs.

Run a flat organization. Create an environment of opportunity. Stress collaboration over hierarchy, and value and reward individuals based on their contributions. And, remember the golden rule of management, to praise in public, and to discipline in private.

Steve JobsRecognize that in recession it’s time as Steve Jobs of Apple once said to, ‘Think Different’. Apple was born in the energy crisis of the late 70’s. The early 1980‘s were a time of great innovation. Glen Ellen and ‘fighting varietals’, Kendall-Jackson’s category leading Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, and Corbett Canyon 1 Ltr varietals from Santa BarbarBadit Tetra Pack Winesa County all debuted in a climate of 22% interest rates and base mortgage rates of 17%. The early 90‘s brought about $2 Buck Chuck, Tetra Packs, Screw Caps, and Cult Cabernets. There has been a continual evolution of the wine market from deserts, to light sweet whites, to the era of jug wine, through the shift to varietals. The current cover of Beverage Industry Magazine features a story about packaging innovation, proclaiming a new ‘French Revolution, Boisset Family Estates pushes the boundaries of wine perception.’

permission marketingPay attention to cultural and market dynamics. In this age of permission marketing, use all of the great social media tools to engage your friends, fans, customers and clients. Get online and in tune with social networking through Twitter and Facebook. Make sure that all of your print trade information is accessible through your web site, such as labels, product information sheets, sell sheets, press releases,file:///Users/johnncorcoran/Desktop/images.jpegacclaim, etc. Put your press kits on USB flash drives. USB drives are green, they can be recycled, the end user decides what’s important to print saving a tree or two, and the reduction in print cost can be significant.

wine tastingsGet on the road and shake hands. No one can tell your story with more authenticity than you can. Do a lunch with market movers each day. If you’re in the market for 2 days, make the first lunch with 10 accounts who don’t buy your wines, the second day can be the thank you lunch for your best in-marketDavid Cole accounts. Get on the phone and talk to your customers. I saw this on Twitter 2 days ago from David Cole of James David Cellars “Surprised a few customers today when I called to thank them for their online orders. Love talking with customers!”

Jay Conrad LevinsonBecome as Jay Conrad Levinson counsels a ‘Guerrilla Marketer.’ Drive your DTC business by innovative marketing. Taste and interact with college alum groups. Do luncheon tastings for faculty groups, i.e., the Stanford faculty tasting. Set-up tasting lunches in large brokerage offices. Do tech company events. The following email announcement is a great example of a must do wine tech event hosted by Smoke Wallin, founder of Wine 2.0:

Subject: Announcement from Wine 2.0 – the second, exclusive, Wine 2.0 Reserve @ Google Event

500-600 Google professionals will attend. Very Casual/Relaxed, Outdoor on theJ. Smoke Wallin patio of the Cafe on Campus
. When: June 19th, 2009, 
Times: 4:00 – 6:30. 
Cost: $325 per winery to pour. 

Winery must be signed up on Winetwo.net to register. Wineries must register who will pour for them in advance.

 Limited to first 25 wineries. RSVP to join us or with inquiries to clay@winetwo.com

Invest in research tools, and get to know your market. For wines in broad market distribution, whether in a three tier model or a DTT model, wine market intelligence is key to decisions regarding your channel strategy, pricing tactics, and distribution model. Marketing intelligence isn’t just for the mid and large sized wineries. It may be as important to the 5,000 to 25,000 case producer, where these decisions are key to surviving and thriving in today’s congestion. All classes of CPGs utilize market intelligence, and there are specific products and companies that provide information to the wine industry.

IRI provides transactional web based data reports for wineries in chain beverage, or in US Food and Drug retail markets, utilizing empowering technology to focus on market performance and brand building

TradePulse provides comprehensive sales, distribution and inventory management services, critical information for managing your sales model.

Nielsen Retail Scan Data provides a robust reporting engine on current transactional data from the retail chain marketplace. Provides information on what are you selling and where are you selling. This is important as a tool for checking your strongest and your weakest markets.

WINEDATA Pricing Report is a source of competitive supplier pricing. This is important in helping to determine your brand and/or varietal competitive frame, and for tracking pricing tactics and promotional activity within this frame.

Christian MillerFull Glass Research is an independent firm providing primary wine industry marketing research operated by Christian Miller. This firm helps you choose the right methodology for your budget, by separating the nice to know issues from the important to know issues. A key component to understanding market dynamics necessary to making those important decisions.

MKF Research, founded by Vic Motto, is now headed by Christian Hill, and is a division of Frank Rimerman, Co LLP. MKF Research has done primary market studies on varietal and category pricing, ranking markets by varietal, and tracking pricing segment shift patterns. This is an aid in determining your market distribution model.

Joe MontanaHopefully your goal in the wine business is to build market value. This is your passion. You do this because you must. Really, because it’s nose to the grindstone time. Basically you need to work harder and smarter than your competitors. It is not the time to cut back on core business resource allocations, either human or capital. Use these resources to identify and fill distribution voids. And, remember to pay attention to the basics.

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

Networking Matters More Than Ever

Oscar Wilde“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.” … Oscar Wilde

In a modern computer centric world our Rolodexes have for the most part been replaced by CRMs. We’re wired and connected through our desktops, laptops,Rolodex netbooks and smart phones. We tend to ping each other rather than talk to each other, through connections on Linkedin, Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter. How we identify and track our networks has changed, however it is still clear that the power inherent in networking has never been more important than in today’s product saturated wine market.

This week I received an e-mail from a dedicated reader in my blog network who made the following observation on contemporary interpersonal communications: “With all the focus Screaming Eagle Labelon social networking, I’m worried that the signal gets lost in the noise…So much noise that the point of social networking – building relationships – can get lost. Especially if you’re trying to sell high-end wine, you need deep relationships with consumers, not ones created in 140 characters or less. Facebook will never replace face-to-face meetings, lunches, interview, etc. It can augment, but not replace.”

Dear Reader:

The specific idea behind my blog was an attempt to raise the level of discourse concerning the field of contemporary wine biz marketing issues, and the concomitant desire to create a dialog with my readers. Part of this contemporary marketing landscape is the need for the effective application of e-marketing skills as applied to our complex, saturated corner of the CPG category. Of course there are often no real solutions in a single microblog post people talkingexpressed in a 140 characters. But perhaps there are answers and solutions in the resulting conversation. Effective wine marketing is a series of integrated actions leading to planned outcomes, trackable through specific metrics. Social media is a brand awareness tool that works only in concert with effective implementation of channel strategies, field brand execution, promotions, pricing, etc. Murphy-Goode’s current promo would be inauthentic, and ineffective if they didn’t have their brand house and e-house in order, and a fully developed network of guests, customers, clients and fans. Murphy-Goode is effectively reaching out to existing and new customers, creating additional brand touchpoints.

In an attempt to clarify the role of Social Media on improved brand performance, please note an observation from Pahlmeyer Chardonnaymy experience and noted marketing research in that wine consumers have a limited # of brands, or varietals in their preference set(s). Any mentions from good print reviews, to a product placement in a Demi Moore movie, or a write up by Alder Yarrow in the Vinography wine blog will tend to place one’s brand on the tip of the consumer’s tongue, and tend to predispose and shape  consumer  purchase activity, the goal of any cogent marketer. Also, winery sales management need compelling reasons to communicatNoisee to their distributor partners, gatekeepers and consumers. If a certain number of mentions, perceived as noise, predisposes a positive response from the audience, all to the good. The conversational noise of the Social Net can be be filtered into viable wine marketing buzz with the use of the Social Media aggregation and syndication tools from Cruvee.com. So, yes the Social Media digital handshake augments, supports, and sometimes drives commerce as a new part of old school wine industry networking best practices.

My blog is 1 of approximately 4 million existing weblogs that are written in total and 1 of about 250+ wine marketing blogs. My readership is targeted to a specific niche market, the emerging tech sector of wine marketing, i.e., CellarTracker, VinTank, Cruvee, AbleGrape, etc., also including the winery brand management, marketing research, consumer insights, anacademic analysisd strategic planning arenas. To limit my discussions to just deep academic analysis and thought, would perhaps limit readership, and in turn limit an understanding of the Social Media e-tools now available. But, please don’t confuse brevity with lack of thought or insight. Although reports like the foundation VinTank Social Media White Paper, are perhaps more important in moving the awareness needle forward, the bloggersphere performs a key wine business communication function . I’ll concede that many blogs are personal journals, quickly written, or restatements of news feeds, and that some may disappear without reader remorse. But perhaps blogs are like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlets, Red Meat issues meant to stir the pot, with some postings leading to a positive, meaningful discourse that moves the conversation forward.

Wine NetworkingAlthough I’ve focused my blog on wine business Social Media issues, hopefully I’ve done so with the POV of pragmatic integration. My goal has been to move at least one person to be a better wine marketer.  I don’t have all the answers, just a part in the real world approach to contemporary wine marketing that works. Marketing that works because it includes talking to and more importantly listening to our customers. Yes networking matters more than ever because we’ve now included the end user as a focus of that network. And, while our handshakes are now often digital, they hopefully convey the modern wine marketer’s intent to form meaningful, nurturing adjunct relationships in the new wine marketplace.

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