Creative Packaging and Story

During a recent trip to Oregon's Hood River with friends, we decided to do some wine tasting. Phelps Creek is located on a public golf course and it happened to be snowing, so it was not only beautiful but we had the tasting room to ourselves.

I was particularly struck by two wines made under its Mt. Defiance brand, Hellfire and Brimstone. These white ($15) and red ($16.50) blends, respectively, are "inspired" by baseball player turned prohibitionist preacher, Billy Sunday. Reverend Sunday moved from the Chicago area to Hood River, which coincidentally is a move shared by Phelps Creek owner, Bob Morus.

I find Hellfire and Brimstone compelling for two reasons -- they over deliver on the PPQ, the relationship between packaging, price and quality, and tell a great story. They may not appeal to all audiences (in fact, some of my fellow southern friends and family members might be downright offended), but surely serve as a great example of strong branding!


The Length of a PR Pitch - What it Really Takes to Get Press

I've been thinking a lot lately about the length of a PR pitch. Some happen pretty quickly -- for example, Harvey Steiman posted to his blog on WineSpectator.com about Tony Rynders' involvement with Swiftwater Cellars within a week of my first call to him. In most cases, however, it takes a lot more time. The NJ Monthly story on Think Tank Wine Company ran this week seven months after the initial pitch, and this is more the norm. (I've had them take over a year!) Of course, the two situations and pitches were very different -- first featured a very known winemaker and a winery groundbreaking; the second a new micro boutique winery.

What is similar about the two results above is that they both started with a strategic focus including research, a plan and communication tactics. When wine industry owners and operators consider public relations, they most often think about the brands that have generated the most media "buzz". I frequently receive inquiries from my wine marketing students and potential clients asking me how they can best go about generating buzz. Some postulate that it's only possible if you "pay the big ad bucks" or have "Parkerized wines". Others liken it to some sort of magic that a brand either does or doesn't possess or avoid it all together thinking it's just too overwhelming or happens by chance.

The truth is that great PR is none of the above. It can't be boiled down to one action and it certainly doesn't work if you don't have the most important ingredient: wines (or any other product for that matter) that over deliver on the PPQ. Sure, sometimes a winery gets noticed or gets lucky, but more often those which excel in PR over time have a strategy.

Let's consider a standard definition of public relations: “The practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its key publics.” This definition is much broader than buzz, which is essentially talk or an amount of communication surrounding a brand. (It's worth noting that media relations is a sub-set of PR.)

PR is about telling a consistent and compelling story and long-term relationship building. It is an ongoing management function involving research, planning, communication and evaluation. PR necessitates communication with all key winery stakeholders -- employees, consumers (and potential consumers), trade customers, media, shareholders and owners.

The research phase involves gaining a sense of winery perception by interviewing and surveying the aforementioned key stakeholders. This is also a good time to gain an understanding of the winery's competitive set and conduct a SWOT analysis to identify internal strengths and weaknesses and external industry and marketplace opportunities and threats. Is the brand valued? If so, for what? How high is awareness? What is the overall winery image? Is the story compelling and consistent? If there are problems is it due to lack of awareness? True issues? Poorly handled mistakes? Are they problems in communication, pricing/promotional strategy or in winemaking?

The planning phase is about bringing the winery's compelling story to the publics. In addition to the media, there are other ways to do so via advertising, events, hospitality, social media, e-newsletters, market visits, etc. A proper plan starts with the goals and then identifies specific tactics (and persons responsible for implementing them) for achieving those goals. It also provides for success metrics which will be discussed later in the post.

The third phase, communication and implementation, is providing talking points and messaging for all who are involved in telling the winery's story. Wineries with distribution need to remember that distributor sales reps are also story tellers. Those with tasting rooms must not forget that those behind the bar are critical communicators at the consumer level. (I was just two weekends ago at a winery where the two tasting room employees spent most of their time chatting with friends and regulars at the other end of the bar and ignoring my husband and me. The lack of hospitality irked me so much that I had my students discuss tasting room experiences and do's and don'ts. Next post in hospitality!)

This is also where the relationship building process enters the program. Thinking about conversations with media and other stakeholders as steps to a longer-term relationship that will deliver value over time is recommended.

The final phase, the one most wineries are "too busy" to complete, is evaluation. Without an understanding of what components of the plan provided the most return on investment, a winery is not operating efficiently as it will not know the difference between successful and less worthy tactics and costs associated. Implementing kaizen -- a management technique focusing on continuous conscious improvement which stems from Japanese philosophy, is a best practice for PR and general business operations.

Only with a strategic and long-term relationship building focus can a winery truly excel at PR and generating that magical "buzz".


Salem Statesman Journal Article

With a winemaking culture dating back to pre-Roman civilizations, Italy is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. The country’s huge variety of grape varieties (there are over 800 documented), delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture influenced a number of American wine industry pioneers like Mondavi, the Gallos and Oregon’s own Ponzi family. Today, more and more Willamette Valley wineries are producing Italian-style wines which salute the old world and offer distinct newer tastes in the heart of Pinot Noir country... Read full article



A Look at the True Meaning and Value of Marketing

In the wine industry, we tend refer to “sales” and “marketing” in the same vein, often using the terms interchangeably. We create “sales and marketing plans”, appoint Directors of “Sales and Marketing” and generally know that we need both functions to operate successfully. However, there exists a good deal of confusion regarding the purpose and specific activities accorded to each activity. While the two should work in tandem, it is important to understand that sales and marketing are not one and the same. Marketing is a distinct value creating function.

Two years ago I created a workshop entitled “Driving Sales with Marketing Driven Strategies” that I’ve since had the pleasure of presenting to a few wine industry organizations. During the introduction, I point out that the title of the presentation was chosen mindfully -- it presupposes that sales and marketing are two distinct functions. I then show two simple images: a leather shoe and a crowded room. The leather shoe represents sales, which closes the deal, literally moving inventory out of the winery and through the channels of distribution and creating revenue. The crowded room symbolizes marketing -- a function that creates value by driving demand for wines and makes it easier to move those boxes.

Let us examine a different example, a tasting room: sales closes the deal -- it is a “here and now” activity; but first, marketing attracts the customers to the winery and requires a longer term outlook. Without marketing, the role of a sales person is rendered much more difficult. There are more outbound than inbound calls, a steeper slope and a heavier bag. And without sales, the marketing role is much less effective since wines rarely sell themselves. The challenge is that many wineries do not have the budget to hire two full-time people, one overseeing sales, another heading up marketing. So it is even more important that the roles of each function are well understood and that appropriate time is allocated to both.

One of the primary responsibilities of a marketing manager is to identify the winery’s compelling story. This story, commonly referred to as a “brand”, should identify the winery’s four “D”s – what is desirable, distinctive, deliverable and durable. These characteristics define uniqueness, which is critical for achieving a defendable and strong positioning in a very crowded marketplace. The next responsibility should be to create or polish the winery’s vision, mission, key talking points (and proof for each) and identify the segments it’s targeting in the sales channel. Part of doing so well involves a competitive analysis of wineries that occupy the chosen position and defining particular internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats (the SWOT analysis).

At this point a nascent winery will start thinking about assets including all visual and written communication including packaging, website, press kit, e-blasts, brochures, etc. For an existing winery, this is the time to review those assets to make sure that they do the following: 1) tell the story consistently and in a compelling manner; and 2) appeal to the identified target segment(s).
The next step in a marketing driven sales strategy is to create a plan to tell the winery’s compelling story. The traditional four P’s of the marketing mix provide the beginning of a framework -- product, price, place and promotion. The first two traditional P’s must be defined as part of the winery offering. The third, Place, is the one most related to sales. It should answer the questions of what channels and markets, as well as specific breakdown between wholesale, direct-to-consumer and direct-to-trade in each. “Place” is essentially where a winery will tell its story. The fourth P, Promotion, is often the “fun” part. It defines the combination of tactics including events, ads, online activity, media relations, trade relations, programming, promotional materials, etc.

There are some newer P’s including People, Process and Physical evidence that work very well in the wine industry, which necessarily has a hospitality and customer service focus. A good winery marketing plan will include specific strategies for engaging and training the right people, creating systems and processes for customer service, etc. and producing a location, whether online or virtual, that includes physical elements that speaking to the winery’s particular story.

The next part of a marketing driven sales strategy involves People, those charged with telling that story. Key story tellers in the organization including owner, winemaker, sales and hospitality staff etc., so all speakers should be well versed. It also defines the particular audiences -- consumers, trade, media, employees, and the modified version of the winery story each should receive.

The final and ongoing stage of marketing driven sales strategy is to aim for continuous improvement. The Processes created by marketing should determine exactly who is doing what, define how compliments and complaints are handled, and provide for a set of key winery metrics. Internal performance reviews and annual surveys of key audiences are methods used to assess good standing and provide feedback for improving operations.

Marketing can only succeed in its true creating role when it is performed at the strategic level. Confusing marketing with sales diminishes a winery’s optimum operations and misses opportunity for both short-term deal making and long-term value creation.


Oregon State Fair Judging Results

This summer I had the pleasure of judging the very well organized Oregon State Fair wine competition. Elaine Lisle, Desa Swaim and their crew did a tremendous job and I truly enjoyed getting to better know my fellow judges. Last week I received the results and my judge's notes in the mail. Below is a list of my favorite wines including the medal won (if available):

Phelps Creek Chardonnay
2007 - Nice toasty notes with lemon cream and a little baking spice. Integrated with a long finish. Gold Medal.

Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc
2007 - Pretty fruit salad, melon and floral aromas with a touch of white pepper. Nicely balanced with acid and finishes clean -- very refreshing. Silver Medal.

Orchard Heights Gewürtztraminer
2008 - Beautiful aromas of slate, rain, sweet basil and honeysuckle. A little pétillance on the palate with floral and pear flavors. Nice acid balance with a clean finish. Silver Medal.

Chateau Lorane Viognier
2006 - I'd never heard of this winery before but I also liked its Tempranillo (see below). Lavender, floral and spicy aromas lead to a very pretty, ripe and round mouth-feel. Finishes lush and clean. Silver Medal.

Firesteed Dry Rose
2008 - watermelon, cranberry and herbal notes. Nice bright acidity leads to mouth-watering refreshment -- needs a good sunset. Bronze Medal.

Coelho Pinot Noir
2006 - Aromas of raspberry, sour cherry and pretty baking spices. Balanced with excellent structure. Gold Medal and Best of Red.

Stangeland Winery Pinot Noir
2006 - Cranberry, raspberry and nutmeg aromas with hints of dark chocolate. Bright, mouth-filling fruit with a solid finish. Bronze Medal.

Chateau Lorane Tempranillo
2004 - A huge nose filled with deep black cherry, raspberry and milk chocolate. Plus notes of fresh leather and curing tobacco. Ripe and round in the mouth with good tannic structure. One of my top three.

Devitt Merlot
2004 - Another new winery for me. Nose filled with plum, sage, fresh leather, cigar box -- it's a touch of old world mixed with ripe fruit. Nice attack and lingering finish. Silver Medal.

Zerba Cellars Red Blend
2006- Green peppercorn, pine cone and leather aromas matched by ripe blueberry, blackberry and raspberry. A hint of mint on the palate with nice balance between fruit and acid; great length. Gold Medal.

Devitt Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 - Nose of cigar box, cedar, black fruit and new leather saddle. Big, juicy black fruit with a silky mouth feel. Great lingering finish.


Seminars for Willamette Valley Wineries Association in September

Driving Sales with Marketing-Driven Strategies– Tips on What You Can Start Implementing Today to Increase Demand for Your Wines

Members of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association are invited to attend my interactive, action-oriented two-hour seminar to help stimulate demand for your wines. We're hosting two sessions per day on Wednesday, September 23 and Thursday, September 24 in Dayton and Salem, respectively. Click here for registration information.

We will asses your winery’s particular situation and learn actionable ways to improve your positioning and sales. During the workshop we'll focus on how to do the following:

* Create a consistent and compelling image and story
* Make your web and social media sites work harder for you
* Build stronger wholesaler, customer and consumer communication and manage information flow more effectively
* Avoid top 5 marketing mistakes


Shoe Leather, Really Good Wine and a Smile

With all of the technology, social networking and events out there, sales and marketing can be overwhelming for any winery. While all of these and more -- business plan with strategies and tactics, the right people, great location, beautiful and functional website, consistent and compelling communication are necessary, it does make sense to make sure you're doing the most basic of things.

When it boils down to it, there are 3 basic "musts" for anyone marketing wine:

1. Shoe leather - buyers do not appear just because you've announced a launch, built a website or even gotten some good reviews. Selling wine still takes a hearty does of "shoe leather," or "pounding the pavement". Those most successful work the market.

2. Really good wine - good quality is obvious, but the wine must be really good, not just in terms of its quality, but when considering the interrelationship between quality, packaging and price. A $20 wine must taste and look like at least a $30 bottle, not the opposite -- a $30 bottle that tastes and looks $20, or worse. If you don't have really good wine, it's going to be more difficult. Period.

3. A smile - manners are still important! Never forget to be polite, say please and thank you, act the way your wine would want you to and smile.


WITS Thoughts - Two Favorite Speakers

I recently attended the 5th Wine Industry Technology Symposium in Napa. There was much discussion about social media, which was also the case at the February Oregon Wine Symposium. Social media can be a useful form of communication to engage customers, inform them of special events and winery news, and monitor what's being said about your brand. In short, it's a communication tactic and can be an important part of an overall marketing strategy.

But as Robert Celsi, Vice President of Corporate Services for Trinchero Family Estates, reminded us during his panel on the three-tier system, there is still a great need for "shoe leather". Social media is a form of communication and engagement, not a direct method for selling wine, especially within the current system. Any winery owner or operator who thinks Twittering and Facebooking alone is the magic bullet will be sorely disappointed. When formulating a social media approach, it is critical to determine the winery's goals and devise a strategy that makes sense for the brand given target audience and positioning.

One of my favorite presentations was given by Dan Michael, Marketing Director for Consumer Direct Sales at E & J Gallo, as part of a panel on "Consumer Direct Metrics, Benchmarking & Best Practices". Michael pointed out that keys to success for a winery looking to manage its consumer relationships can be found in a great marriage. And that long-term engagement and loyalty are what we should strive for, not merely a visit, purchase, sign up or club registration. Below is a summary of his thoughts from the winery consumer's perspective:

1. Acknowledge commitment
2. Keep your brand promises
3. Know what I like
4. Surprise me
5. Celebrate anniversary
6. Listen and communicate
7. “Don’t forget who party is for”

In the first step, you're thanking your new consumer for establishing this relationship of trust, which is important because commitment leads to loyalty. Examples of doing this include hand-written cards, thank you emails, personal phone calls, etc. The second step involves holding up the winery's end of the bargain, or better yet, over-delivering on service expectations. (We want to be married to the person we chose for the wedding day, not someone who has gone down hill in time.)

Number three involves customization, where as step four is about customer delight. To customize -- i.e., substitute when you're sending Sauv Blanc because Mr. X doesn't like the variety, you have to be able to track preferences, which usually requires an investment in software. To delight, you must be willing to personalize, "go the extra mile" and deliver the unexpected.

Step five again acknowledges commitment and thanks the customer for remaining true -- by this time loyalty can either be established or waning. Number six relates back to customization, personalization and delighting, and also involves taking care of any problems immediately. The final step means that you continue to look outward toward meeting and exceeding your customers' needs, not simply getting what you want (a sale).

Michael's "Don't forget who the party is for" also well relates to a thought I kept having during the WITS presentations: our valued consumers have lives outside of wines (even if we don't), and we can't forget that. We all know it has to be delicious, but we must remender that it needs to be fun. Consumers are coming to us to help commemorate, celebrate, relax and live welll When your winery experience detracts from that, you're at your most vulnerable.


Mix Magazine Pinot Gris Panel

I was recently invited to taste Pinot Gris on Katherine Cole's Mix panel. The Cloudline and Ponzi were my personal favorites. Visit here to read her full article.


Wine Crush Radio Interview

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Laura Lawson of WineCrush radio. We discussed my June 2009 article for Wines & Vines regarding common mistakes new wineries make. Click here to listen her show. This episode also features Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank.


Washington State Fair

Judging at this year's Washington State Fair was a true pleasure. In addition to it being a very well organized event with a dedicated team of volunteers and experienced judges, it afforded me an opportunity I wasn't expecting: I fell in love with Washington Cabernet Sauvignon!

Cabernet Sauvignon has never been my favorite -- I've always first loved "other" varietals like Tempranillo, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese. (I of course have really enjoyed some fantastic Bordeaux and a very well made California Cab, but I often find them over powering and just well, not my style.)

In general, each of the Cab flights in this competition showed strong wines with a great balance of ripeness, complexity and finish. None too ridiculously huge and tannic, and there wasn't the flood of watered down nondescript variety one sometimes sees in competitions. Really impressive, consistent and exciting -- perhaps Washington really is "the perfect climate for wine".

My panel also judged Viognier, Pinot Gris, proprietary and dessert whites, as well as red blends. Below are some of my favorites -- keep in mind that during competitions there isn't time to write lengthy tasting notes:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Jones of Washington 2006 - deep nose of blackberry jam, bell pepper, cedar and notes of baking bread and graphite

Dusted Valley Vintners Reserve 2006 - raspberry, fig, cocoa notes with a nice long finish balanced by pine and cedar characters

Maryhill Reserve 2006 - black and sour cherry with graphite, espresso and a super long finish

Wineglass Cellars Elerding Vineyard 2004 - sweet black fruit with pencil shavings, cigar box and an elegant, smooth finish

William Church Winery Connor Lee Vineyard 2008 - orange peel, red apple and citrus with a little spritz at the finish

Tagaris Alice Vineyard 2006 - raspberry, pepper corn and cinnamon sticks with a very long finish... really nice!

Proprietary White
Kestrel Vintners "Pure Platinum 5" NV - pretty muscat-like nose with mango, apple and a balanced, pretty finish (this is a blend of Viognier and Gewürtztraminer)


Wines & Vines Article

The below article appears in the June 2009 issue of Wines & Vines:
5 Mistakes New Wineries Make


So What Exactly is a Brand? Discussing a Broad and Often Misunderstood Concept

In a recent post, Top Five New Winery Mistakes, I cited lack of branding as a common omission in the business planning process. Brands are often confused with labels, logos and vineyards in the wine industry. I’ve even heard someone refer to his business card as a brand.

If it isn't a name or a label, what is a brand? A typical marketing definition is as follows: a collection of images and/or ideas representing an economic producer. To me, a brand is a set of experiences with a winery -- experiences with the wines, people, and place. (So it’s a label, a logo and much, much more.) These experiences in turn create impressions, ideas, values, and even personality. Dennis Hahn, President of ID Branding, and a speaker at the 2009 Oregon Wine Symposium likens a brand to a much broader concept of “a culture”, which is spot on.

A good brand starts with the introduction, continues through the experience and should create a lasting and positive impression. Let’s leave the wine industry for a few moments to examine two brand experiences:

Virgin America - this newer airline company, a subsidiary of Virgin, offers streamlined pricing, new planes with in-seat entertainment, and the ability to order refreshments from the convenience of your seat at anytime during the flight. This is certainly a competitive position and a unique experience when compared with the usual airlines with multiple add-on charges, the hated drink cart, and cramped spaces.

Starbucks Coffee - A visit to Starbucks is characterized by a personal or at least a warm greeting, a clean and polished atmosphere, a wide array of choices and the ability to customize drinks, to name a few. Other establishments offering coffee of lesser quality in a less upscale and comfortable environment are challenged by the lines at Starbucks every morning. (Know that McDonald's recently started competing on coffee and espresso -- in direct response to the market opportunity it sees!)

A brand should lay the foundation for all of your winery communication -- i.e., your marketing and sales strategies, and even your operating plan. It should also consistently communicate a distinct identity and a proposition for the target consumer. Identity is composed of a defined look and clear messaging. The look portion includes logo, label, printed material, website design. The messaging is comprised of name, label copy, printed material and website copy, etc. Both brand look and messaging serve together to communicate a foundational brand platform. This brand platform should highlight the brand’s unique selling propositions that in turn create value for the targeted set of consumers.

Since a brand is about experience, it’s much broader than look and messaging and includes all contact with customers. Your signage, greeting in the tasting room, website performance, behavior of your representatives at wine events, and communication with customers are all elements of your winery’s brand experience.

A strong brand is consistent, efficient and effective. This creates value for the customer, and by extension creates sales opportunities for you, the brand owner. Building a strong brand boils down to building a relationship of trust. A consumer’s excellent experience with your brand and the trust that develops is what creates delighted and repeat customers.


Promoting My Home Turf

This month I judged two very different, yet very well executed wine competitions: National Women's and San Diego International.
I truly enjoy the experience of judging as it provides great opportunities to exercise the palate, learn about new wines, network, and remove myself from the glare of my computer. Judging always reminds me of the power of blind tasting: when labels, brand perceptions, and prices aren't revealed, the quality of the wine is the only factor.

I'm planning to write up my favorites from a wider range of regions in the April Strategic Guidance from the Ground Up e-newsletter, but for now, I'm promoting my home turf. Below is a list of wines from the Pacific Northwest that were particularly impressive -- the tasting notes are rather short as the object is not to write a review but judge quality:

Pacific Rim Riesling - Columbia Valley, WA
* lovely red and green apple with some floral notes and a cool lime zing

Stone Wolfe Vineyards Pinot Gris - Oregon
* nice blend of pretty floral, lavender and herbal flavors

Agate Ridge Viognier - Rogue Valley, OR
* beautiful mix of orange peel, white flowers, orange blossom honey and white pepper

Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot - Horse Heaven Hills, WA
* plum, chocolate covered cherries; very juicy mouth-feel with balance, structure; great finish

Roza Ridge Merlot - Rattlesnake Hills, WA
*cinnamon, blackberry, sweet plums; pretty mouth-feel and a nice, lengthy finish

Maryhill Syrah - Columbia Valley, WA
*fantastic combo of dark cacao, moss, earth, black fruit and a little pepper; long finish

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards Syrah - Umpqua, OR
* quite different from the Maryhill with smoke, bacon (yes!), black fruit and some white pepper

Tagaris Winery Rhone blend - Wahluke Slope, WA
* earth, red fruit, and a bright pepper note make it sing

Dumas Station Cabernet Sauvignon - Walla Walla, WA
* bright black fruit with nutmeg, cherry; great structure and finish

Hogue Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Columbia Valley, WA
* pencil shavings, black fruit, cherry and espresso -- nice combo!


Seeking Distribution: Tips for New or Growing Wineries on How to Approach the Wholesale System

Implementing an effective distribution strategy can be an excellent way of building a wine brand. Wholesalers provide sales know-how, relationships with accounts and their buyers, expertise in the three-tier system and logistics, and a network of “men on the street” who serve as winery ambassadors. Distributors are a set of business partners -- an extension of the winery, so selection for proper mutual fit is critical.

Before considering adding distribution to your sales strategy or even approaching a wholesaler, it is important to understand this dynamic segment of the industry. An industry colleague, Craig Eastman of Northwest Core Collection based in Portland, Oregon, likens the changes in distribution to an hourglass, with suppliers pouring into a narrower middle tier and trying to reach a wider base. From a supplier to wholesaler point of view, it can be thought of like a “funnel” that’s been turned 180 degrees:

Twenty years ago, the funnel was upside-down, with the narrow part at the top representing winery suppliers. It was easier for winery suppliers to gain distribution given less competition and wider availability of smaller wholesalers from which to choose.

Today, there has been a dramatic shift: the funnel has many more wineries trying to pour into a much narrower marketplace given growth in the number of producers and widespread consolidation of wholesalers. The dynamic and complex nature of shipping and compliance regulation adds further fuel to the fire.

While the above may seem daunting or even discouraging, being aware of the current business situation will help you make better decisions regarding your sales strategy. It may even be tempting or advisable to shun distribution all together in favor of a fully direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales strategy, but this decision depends on a winery’s goals and production. (Know that DTC has its challenges, too: customer acquisition and retention, less sales strategy diversification, potential growth limitations, compliance, etc.)

In short, there is no perfect answer -- each winery is advised to consider the pros and cons of engaging wholesalers within the framework of its broader business strategy. Asking the right initial questions and knowing best practices for seeking distribution is very important. Below is a step-by-step approach:

1. Decide if distribution makes sense. First tackle the supply side of the equation. What is my current production? Am I planning to grow it and if so, at what rate? Will doing so be profitable? Then look at the demand side. Am I selling everything that I make through DTC channels? Is this working and meeting my needs? If I’m growing production, are my DTC sales growing at a similar rate? (Or for a rare few, do I have the advantage of a multi-year waiting list and no plans to grow.) Are there accounts who have requested my wines? Do I have press that supports my quality and unique story?

At one extreme, a winery selling everything it produces with more demand than supply and limited growth plans may decide not to pursue distribution. On the other end of the spectrum, a brand with plans to grow and a goal of national presence with on- and off-premise accounts will need it. There are many business situations in between and the right answer will depend on each winery’s unique factors, inputs (resources) and desired outputs (goals).

2. Have a plan. Assuming distribution is a fit for you, the next step is to approach it in a business-like manner. Decide how many markets you’ll explore in the coming year or two. The number will depend on the amount of time you have to research and network and your production. (Hint: a 500 case winery should not aim to place 10 cases in each state -- doing so would create quite a hassle given the time needed to manage wholesalers and spread volume way too thin.)

Choose a number of target markets that make sense to you. These may be the traditional high volume states like California, New York, Florida and Texas. Or perhaps second-tier states where there may be less competition such as Arizona, Colorado, Virginia or Washington. Maybe you have personal reasons to travel to certain markets given family or other interests -- consider these, too. The main point is to be realistic about states that may be a fit and understand that your presence in each of these markets will be necessary to drive sales.

3. Do your homework. Once you’ve determined your target markets, you’ll need to do some research. Find out if you’re pursuing a franchise market -- these states have laws making it more difficult to unwind distribution agreements and entering should not be taken lightly. Gain an understanding of pricing and sales trends by reading the state’s beverage journal (http://www.bevnetwork.com/bevnetwork.asp). Ask your industry colleagues or buyers in accounts you frequent in the market with whom they do business and why. Try to find out about the wholesaler’s financial policies (i.e., does the business pay its bills), reputation, storage conditions, etc.

When you’ve found a potential match, study the distributor’s portfolio -- this is typically available on the company’s website. Does it look like a collection of wines with which you’d like yours to be associated? Does a wine or category you offer fill a need or create a new category that may be of interest to the wholesaler? Will your brand be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish within a sea of competition? What territory or territories are being covered? Is the business restaurant or retail focused? Do sales reps hand-sell fine wines or move volumes of beer and spirits suppliers’ products?

4. Craft your pitch. Determine what uniquely defines your wines. Pull together your materials, press reviews, account list and any other third party endorsement of your winery’s performance. Solicit any potential new accounts who would buy should your wine become available in the market. When preparing to approach wholesalers, demonstrating traction and demand is very important. Unknown brands with little recognition and support are not competitive and represent a lot more work for the distributor.

5. Approach your target effectively. Try to get a colleague who is already doing business with the wholesaler to recommend you, or at least seek an introduction so yours is a warm call. Do not send a box of samples with a note “Dear Owner” and a pile of information. Instead, call or email the owner or manager and politely introduce yourself, state your (specific) reasons for why you think a business partnership would be mutually beneficial and outline what you’re prepared to offer such as training, market visits, samples, ideas for sales, etc.

When you do get an appointment, be sure to have F.O.B. pricing and goals for case sales, account break down (percentage of on- or off-premise), market visits, your availability for training and education, and a list of questions in mind. If you are turned down, do take the time to ask why the decision was made and ask for a follow up appointment or referral if possible.


Top 5 Mistakes Made by New Wineries

1. Neglecting the business planning processes: Too often, new wineries launch without a roadmap -- a mission, vision, set of defined goals and aligned strategies and tactics. Owners and operators spend countless hours tending to vineyards or seeking grape contracts and debating desired styles, aging vessels, and packaging, and yet surprisingly little (or no) time is dedicated to concretely defining the direction of the business.

I’ve heard many excuses for not engaging in business planning: “it’s in my head”; “I need to focus on selling”; or my favorite, “I don’t want to lock into anything while I’m starting”. Rather than serving as a delay mechanism or absolute path, a business plan is a dynamic document that should be revised as the venture grows, and serve as a benchmark for progress evaluation. Operating without one is like arriving in a new city, hoping on the freeway, and hoping to make it to your destination. You’d probably eventually get there, but wouldn’t it have been easier and a lot more fun with an efficient GPS or even a map?

2. Lack of branding: The wishful or erroneous thinking that a wine will sell itself because it’s “good” or “made with passion”. Consumers have thousands of wine brands from which to choose, and they are notoriously disloyal when it comes to their choices. It’s convenient to think that your wine is above the identity creation process; there can be some benefit from being the new “hot” bottle, but over the long haul, the vast majority of successful wines are also compelling brands.

A strong brand consistently communicates its distinct identity and value proposition for the consumer. Identity is composed of a defined look and clear messaging; it includes logo, label, printed material and website design, and anything written -- name, label copy, printed material and website copy, etc. Both look and messaging serve together to communicate a foundational platform – the brand’s unique selling propositions that in turn create value for the targeted set of consumers.

3. Confusing a label with a brand: For many, the label is the fun part. It’s the visual extension of the winery owner’s dream, and can serve as a cue for memory among a sea of choices. Most people start a wine business with a label already in mind. And many start designing it well before they’ve conceived of an identity. This mistake tends to lead to a variety of less than ideal outcomes: messaging is unclear or inconsistent; positioning is not considered; and the target audience is not effectively reached. Furthermore, creating a label before a brand often makes it more difficult (and possibly expensive) to work with other service providers such as website creators, copy writers, and marketing and sales personnel.

4. Launching before it’s time: As the expression goes, “you get only one chance to make a first impression”. Whether it’s sending press announcement before wine is available in the market, emailing potential customers well before the website is launched (or has been checked for bugs), or releasing a bottling before it’s showing at its peak, all of these actions serve to diminish a wine launch. In general, media won’t write about a wine that’s not available, consumers won’t pay to reserve an unknown wine months before it’s released, and new wines released while suffering from bottle shock won’t be well received. The lack of action post pre-mature launch is discouraging and worse, there is no true opportunity to do it correctly.

Financial pressure often drives the decision to launch pre-maturely, and this is why having a business plan with strategies for staying afloat during best and worst case scenarios is a necessity.

5. Having a “build it and they will come” mentality: This thinking is a symptom of lack of true marketing-driven strategies. Consumers do not automatically appear just because a new winery creates a website or opens a tasting room. Similarly, just because you send a mass email asking for a sale doesn’t mean they’ll actually enter their credit card information. Growing sales is about cascading your winery’s unique message (see number 2 above) and creating meaningful customer relationships. It takes time, which is a particularly tough pill to swallow in the wine industry given the initial and early investment.

The good news for wine business owners who want to build their businesses strategically is that there is a wealth of information available. Successful Wine Marketing by Moulton and Lapsley, and Wine Marketing & Sales, by Wagner, Olsen and Thatch, are two great books with which to begin. Online tools for business and marketing plans are available on a variety of websites including the Small Business Administration, Harvard Working Knowledge, and Start Up Nation And industry publications like Wine Business Monthly and Wines & Vines cover trends and practices. Lastly, there are numerous talented industry experts available to meet your marketing and management service needs.


10 Steps to Creating a Winning Website

Building an effective website is a challenging and time-consuming task no matter what the budget. In addition to fiscal pressures, there are also time constraints and sometimes a lack of familiarity with the process or technology involved. Wineries often rush to “get something out there” without first developing a strategy.

As a brand manager who has worked on website projects ranging from the simple to the simply daunting, I’ve developed a series of best practices for small winery website creation. The following are my ten steps to creating a better web presence:

1. Begin at… the beginning. Do you have a strong brand identity, including look, message and story? If not, it’s worth your time and budget to complete or reassess this area as the problem will not solve itself online. If so, you’ll need to have a clear vision of your brand to best portray it online. Also, make sure to have your visual asset files (labels, logo, bottleshots, etc.) on hand and in the proper format.

2. Assess your goals, strengths and weaknesses. What do you want your website to do for you? Will it be a place to learn about the brand and help potential accounts find distributors? A portal for direct purchase? A destination? All of the above? How much time are you willing to spend maintaining it? Are you comfortable overseeing it, or will you seek professional expertise? If it’s the latter, what areas will you outsource? (Begin to research experts if you’ll be outsourcing.) And start working on a budget.

Design is the primary expense for most wineries as hosting is relatively inexpensive given the number of providers and technological advances. A word of caution here: be wary of website design “favors”. More often than not I’ve seen these seemingly good gestures produce sites that look nothing like the winery brand and do little to assert the wine’s quality. In the branding world, you get what you pay for.

3. Develop your site’s information architecture. First, outline the site’s shell. The shell designates and organizes pages and type of content. Think about the purpose of each page and how it will relate to the others. Determine which pages are most important and which might be sub- or linked pages. Next, determine how users will navigate your site. Will a menu appear on the sidebar, or across the top or bottom? Determine whether you will have a landing page or if the URL will go straight to the main homepage. Common menu items include “About”, “Our Wines”, “Vineyards”, “Store/Purchase”, “Wine Club”, “News/Events” and “Contact/Visit”.

Finally, think about which areas of the shell will be stagnate versus dynamic when the page changes. For example, you may want your logo to always appear at the top but have a different picture on each page. Will each page have a link to another (a best practice for search engines)? How will purchasing instructions be made evident on each page?

4. Brainstorm on copy outline. This is not the time to wordsmith and edit; instead, create a bullet point list of the ideas you’d like conveyed on each page of the site. Think about how you’ll tell your story in a succinct and compelling manner and what visuals you’ll use to support your message.

5. If needed, meet with marketing and/or web design professionals to establish project parameters and timeline. If you approach these service providers with an architecture and copy outline, you’ll likely get a better deal on consulting services. While the outputs may change or become more refined as the project unfolds, the initial work you contribute will ensure a better return on your investment. Come prepared with a brief detailing scope of work (what you’re looking to outsource), assess capabilities and seek estimates.

If you’re taking the project on by yourself, this is a great time to begin researching web hosts and domain registration. There are numerous good choices out there and the best fit for your site will depend on a number of factors such as plans for e-commerce, number of pages and amount of file storage needed. I’ve been very impressed with http://www.godaddy.com/, a low-cost, high-service, efficient purveyor of a range of web services. GoDaddy offers one stop shopping for domain registration, web hosting, email and more. And the customer service is nothing short of fantastic.

6. Cover the admin. Be sure to register your domain if you haven’t already. Set up your email and web hosting accounts (if needed), and any auxiliary services such as online file back up or shopping carts for direct sale. Publish a simple “coming soon” or “releasing in 200X” page as a placeholder with your logo and contact information. If you’re planning to or thinking about linking a blog to your site, make sure your desired URL is available and set up the account.

7. Select the look and begin copy writing. If you’re working with a firm, you’ll have multiple rounds of edits for the layout. And if you’re doing it yourself, you’ll likely be working with a web host that offers templates. Once you’ve figured out the look, it’s time to begin deploying copy to the site. Be sure to follow the “less is more” rule, avoiding a lot of competing visuals, scrolling and wordy diatribes. Make how to purchase wine, sign up for your e-newsletter (see my “Effective E-Marketing paper”) and contact the winery very obvious and easy to do.

8. Gather a group of trusted editors. Once you’ve created design and content, select a trusted group of advisers and email them a link to the site for comment and suggestion. (A bottle of wine as a “thank you” offered to those who get back to you within the week works wonders here.) Self test to make sure that all links work, and that your graphics are displaying properly. Read the copy on each page aloud to make sure it sounds like your brand speaking. Spell check every page. Twice.

9. Officially launch your site. Announce the launch of your winery’s site to every key audience – press (media with whom you have a good relationship), trade, wine club members, colleagues, employees, service providers and vendors. Consider offering a purchase discount or free shipping in the announcement to those who act within the first month of the launch. Do your back end due diligence. Make sure to optimize the site by writing keywords and tags for each page and submitting it to the major search engines, or have your contracted firm do so.

10. Incorporate continuous update and improvement into your website management process. There may be more bugs or edits in the first few months. Be sure to correct them and thank anyone who offers you suggestions. Be sure to keep the site relevant as you release new or run out of old wines. Update it at least monthly with press reviews, price changes, special offers, events, etc. Keeping your site updated and relevant is a crucial part of effectively managing your winery’s online presence. While doing so is easier and decidedly less time consuming than the creation process, this final step is easily overlooked. An out of date site is a less compelling and therefore less visited site, decreasing your chances of repeat sales.

PR Blunders: 10 Mistakes to Avoid

The press can be really difficult at times -- intimidating, curse and even worse, silent, especially when you’re a novice at public relations. Ten years ago, my first phone call to a wine writer (let’s call him, “Rob”) went something like this:

Dixie: “Good morning, Rob. I’m calling from XYZ to tell you about our new wine...” (Interrupted mid-sentence.)

Rob: “Do I know you?!! Obviously not! If I did, you’d know not to call when I’m on deadline.” (Hangs up.)

As the new public relations associate for the company, I was shaken and frustrated. How was I going to generate press for my wine brand with writers hanging up on me and ignoring my emails? From a novice’s perspective, writer Rob was rude and I was just doing my job.

Now, as a seasoned PR pro who has since conducted hundreds of press meetings and exchanged thousands of phone calls and emails with journalists, I cringe when thinking of the two major public relations blunders I made within ten seconds during that call!

The good news is that communicating with the wine press, once you have command of the “do’s” and “don’ts”, is actually quite straight forward and even pleasurable, especially when your wine ends up in print! The key to doing so effectively, like in any relationship business, is to know your audience.

It takes years to build media relationships and get to the point where you’re fielding as many press calls as you’re making. In the meantime, avoiding the below mistakes will help you get started and save you time and money:

1. Calling at the wrong times or just because. In general, bad times include “writing days”, the day of or before a deadline, weekends, and late at night or early in the morning. The latter two are easier to avoid. Many writers are freelancers and your calls go to their home offices; hence the need to call during business hours. As for knowing deadline or writing days, without a personal relationship, this is more difficult, but at a minimum you can avoid calling the day before a newspaper columnist’s weekly article appears.

Having a reason for calling is as important as your timing. A good pitch has a strong angle. These are not good angles: 1) “Hi, I’m Mary and I’m passionate about Chardonnay!” Or, 2) “This is Mike ringing to tell you about our 2007 Merlot”. If you’re going to pick up the phone, you’d best be returning a phone call or at minimum have a pitch that might be of interest to the writer.

For example, you are from Pittsburgh and your wine just because available in Pennsylvania, so you reach out to Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Or, your wine proceeds benefit a special cause and you notice that Better Homes & Gardens prefers to recommend bottlings that support charitable organizations. These are just two examples, but they demonstrate that the caller has done her research and has a potential angle. Without the research and the angle, it’s best to send an email.

2. Calling to “follow up” on samples sent, or worse -- receipt of a press release. If you sent it and he hasn’t written about it, calling to follow up will almost certainly ensure that he won’t. Trust me, the writer will call you if interested -- it’s even truer with the press than with dating!

3. Addressing materials to “Dear Wine Writer”. If you don’t have a contact name, you can be sure that the publication’s receptionist will later be sharing your wine with her boyfriend. The general address on the label makes the intended recipient skeptical.

4. Including a tree’s worth of paper in a sample mailing, yet forgetting to clearly state the price. Wine writers do not have time to learn your winery’s entire history, your children and pets names, nor how you met your spouse, etc. They do want information on the price, the vineyard, the vintage, the (concise) differentiating angle or unique selling proposition that could be of interest to their readers.

5. Sending samples packed with Styrofoam. Don’t do it! Recyclables are much better for someone who receives thousands of bottles per year and likely has a separate room in the house or storage facility dedicated to receiving shipments. (Where would you store all of those Styrofoam pieces?) Furthermore, it’s seen as environmentally irresponsible.

6. Sending samples of wines that are sold out, unavailable in their market or on allocation only. There may be some wiggle room regarding allocated wines, but in general, if their readers can’t get it, they’re not going to write about it.

7. Superfluous, wordy press releases. A press release indicates that there is something new or compelling. It is concise, leads with the story angle and contains clearly stated contact information. Three pages detailing another vintage, a label tweak, or a new employee or website isn’t news.

8. Promoting your scores to the wine press. Emailing the San Francisco Chronicle to tell them that you received 93 points in the Wine Spectator doesn’t score you any points. Ditto telling the press how your wine tastes – the critique and description is the writer’s job.

9. Complaining to a writer or publication about a score with which you disagree. This is a very delicate subject; I’ve only done this for a client on two occasions and I assure you that my tone was deferential. It’s better to focus your energy on sending your wine to the appropriate writers and publications at the right time. Most publications have certain guidelines for submitting samples; some of these are on the Crushpad Commerce Wiki.

10. Letting an article on your wine brand go unnoticed. Thank you notes are a nearly extinct relationship building technique, which is precisely why you should jump at the opportunity to write one when you do get press! A simple, hand-written note is always appreciated. (Just don’t use it as an opportunity to pitch – a real thank you asks nothing of the recipient!)

Lastly, remember that most wine writers receive hundreds, if not thousands of samples per year and press releases and mailings too high to count. Even if your release or wine is a stellar work of art, the press cycle may be several months or more, especially if you’re dealing with a magazine.

The PPQ: A Critical Yet Often Overlooked Ratio

We all know that a winery wanting to compete in today’s crowded marketplace should produce tasty wine. (And of course, do so “with passion”, make it “in the vineyard” and hopefully offer something that the critics will admire.) We also understand that packaging is an important element because many people form opinions and buy wine based on the label design. Finally, we comprehend why pricing, while tricky, should, at least in theory, reflect the quality of the wine in the bottle.

While no sane vintner would purposely make a poor quality wine with an ugly label and attempt to sell it at an astronomical price point, there are a surprising number of wines on the market that do not over-deliver on these three aspects. What a lot of brand owners fail to do, or fail to do well, is critically examine the inter-relationships between the wine’s packaging, price and quality. These interrelationships may be expressed with a simple ratio, the packaging: price: quality ratio, or the PPQ.

The PPQ is the “sweet spot” of wine positioning --the ideal intersection where all elements over-deliver on value and create delighted customers. Why is achieving a strong PPQ so important? Because creating and maintaining a strong PPQ will enhance your profitability. Satisfied customers may buy again. Delighted customers will buy again. And they will tell their friends about the great value they found!

To illustrate a PPQ example, let’s examine two hypothetical consumers shopping for a dinner party, “Mary”, the CFO, and “Jerry”, the dog walker. Mary selects a $50 of Pinot Noir with an elegant label. Jerry finds a $10 bottle of Zinfandel on deal with a fun, colorful design. Neither had tasted the wine before purchasing it, but both are influenced by packaging and price during the shopping trip. Essentially, they have the same goal: both want to bring home something that looks and tastes good given the money they have to spend.

Mary is disappointed when she opens a $50 bottle that looks like it costs $60 and tastes like $30. Next time she’ll choose a different bottle. Jerry, on the other hand, is delighted because his wine looks and drinks like a $20 bottle, but only lightened his wallet by $10! He’ll reveal this “deal” to everyone at the dinner party.

Notice that the PPQ is important at any price point, and that it doesn’t recommend an actual type of label design. Wine producers have varied inputs, strategies, outputs and goals. And different segments of wine drinkers have differing needs and desires. It’s a dynamic market, but the PPQ’s answer is the same: to be successful, your wine must over deliver on all three elements to effectively delight customers. To use the earlier example, five years later, when Jerry is the CEO of a national chain of dog walking businesses and he has $100 to spend, he’ll still want the same “deal”.

So how does a smaller wine producer effectively compete on the PPQ? First, she is aware of the importance of the inter-relationship between the three elements. Second, he evaluates his packaging and pricing decisions in the context of the actual quality in bottle. Third, he actively fights the little discussed but rampant disease plaguing the industry (house palate, or the tendency to drink only “house” wine after becoming a vintner) and visits wine shops and restaurants, tasting frequently. And finally, she seeks a qualified opinion from an industry expert trained in ideal positioning and market strategy.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

“Fail to Plan… Plan to Fail” is a succinct, direct, and tried and true business adage. I’d add that it’s slightly obnoxious, especially when referred to as the “FPF syndrome”.

Business planning is one of those things we all know we should do, like taking our vitamins and eating plentiful amounts of spinach. And like our efforts to rise from a comfortable slumber at five in the morning to pound the pavement for heart health, it often takes a back seat to life’s other more pressing matters -- like hitting the snooze button.

There are also numerous seemingly good excuses for not planning, including “lack of time,” “it’s difficult”, “need to sell/do versus think/plan”, and my favorite, “too small to have to worry about it”. Just as “the dog ate my homework” didn’t work in grammar school, “I don’t have time to plan” doesn’t work in today’s competitive wine market.

There are thousands of wine brands from which to choose, each with its “unique” offering of “top quality”, “amazing fruit” and a “passionate owner/winemaker”. So it takes a set of brand differentiators to set you apart from the competition. And while a high Parker or Spectator score may attract attention, “getting a high score” is not a sustainable business model. What happens when your wine gets a dreaded 89?!! And more importantly, how does your 90+ point wine stand out from all of the others in a sea of brands?

All too often, small wineries start with a great name or look in mind, fall in love with the industry, and figure that the rest will “happen”. While that may work for a few lucky souls, for the majority of us, success requires work. The good news is that business planning is not as complicated as you may think. Sure, it requires time and energy, but you’re doing this because you love wine, right? Selling it and doing so profitably is even more fun than loving it!

There are three crucial questions and set of related sub-questions that every small winery should ask regarding its wine brand:

1. Where am I now? Do I have a unique brand story that is meaningful to me? Does it connect with all of my communication – verbal, written and visual? Do I know what differentiates me from the competition? Who is my target customer base?

2. Where do I want to be? Number of cases? Number of markets? Key accounts? Certain distributors or websites? What will my growth look like? Will it be in terms of numbers of cases or enhanced profitability?

3. How will I get there? What percentage will be sold over the web versus by hand versus through wholesalers? What types of customers will I target? How will I reach them? What types of media will best drive my customers to buy? How will I get and keep media attention? Who is going to do what?

After answering the above questions, small wineries are in a much enhanced position from which to move forward on all aspects of communication and business planning. These answers in essence lead to your brand’s mission (or what it provides) and vision (or what it strives to be). After those two steps are tackled, the strategy part begins.

Let’s start with what strategy is not: “get a good score” (passive); “sell out of my wine in two months” (a goal); “make money” (a rather vague and obvious goal, although perhaps less so for the number of folks losing money in the wine business).

According to David Collis and Michael Rukstad, co-authors of “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” in the April 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, a strategy is comprised of three primary elements: 1) objective; 2) scope; and 3) advantage.

Objective states your business goal. For example, XYZ wine brand will make $20,000 of revenue in its first year by selling 25 cases of premier Pinot Noir. Scope defines your brand’s market. XYZ’s scope is to sell wine to 50 friends and family in Oregon, and 30 wine club members via the website. Advantage – my favorite and perhaps the most critical element of strategy, states why XYZ is better/ unique/ more qualified to enter its customers’ palates than ABC, 123 and Do-Re-Mi.

In pulling together a sound business plan, your winery is better positioned to succeed. It also gains focus, which can be very helpful in dealing with the myriad of people who assist in your winery’s path to success. These include, but are not limited to graphic designers, web developers, marketing gurus, and yes, even compliance folk and attorneys (fewer hours means less bank drain)! This efficiency translates into cost savings, which means more money, better margins and the ability to reinvest in your success.

Your Label: What it Should and Shouldn't Do for You

The tendency to create a label early on or first in the branding process is understandable. From the producer’s perspective, a wine label is the visual extension of the winery’s “raison d’être”, and is therefore a crucial part of the wine marketing and brand communication process. From a consumer’s perspective, labels are often the first cue in the purchasing decision and one of the most memorable aspects of the winery after consumption. And from our friends at the TTB, regulating them is an opportunity to “ensure that products are labeled, marketed and advertised in accordance with the law”.[1]

In discussing marketing strategy with current and prospective clients, I’m often confronted with label questions and involved in discussions surrounding creation or redesign. Based on my experience, it seems that the label is the first item to be addressed when launching or repositioning and the first aspect of communication to be blamed when sales are not performing as expected. In short, we in the industry place a tremendous value on our labels!

Below, I’ve assembled a short list of what your label “should” and “shouldn’t” attempt to do for your wine:
Provide visual cue to consumer at point of purchase
Support target sales market
Serve as extension of brand’s meaning and value
Be part of integrated communications platform by offering opportunity to communicate with font, shape, color, info provided and logo
Be compliant with our friends at TTB

Ideally serve as sole reason for purchase (for super premium wines and above)
Constitute sole theorized reason for increased or lagging sales
Substitute for brand plan or business strategy
Substitute for communications platform including trade, media and brand marketing
Take up the majority of you time in dealing with TTB

Valuing a critical aspect of a winery’s look and feel is not a mistake. However, basing your marketing and/or sales plan around your label does not constitute sound business practice. I view label (re)design as a secondary tier in the brand’s decision making process.

So why is the label a secondary aspect of marketing? Before addressing the “look”, a winery should deal with two vital elements: 1) create a brand plan including message, value proposition, and identity; and 2) develop a marketing plan defining how your brand will communicate with its target audience and stakeholders and shape the experience with your wine. In understanding your message and for whom it is intended, you’ll ensure a stronger visual and ultimately a label that will convey more meaning for those selling and enjoying your wine.

[1] http://www.ttb.gov/about/index.shtml: “Our mission is to collect alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition excise taxes; to ensure that these products are labeled, advertised, and marketed in accordance with the law; and to administer the laws and regulations in a manner that protects the consumer and the revenue, and promotes voluntary compliance”

Driving Direct Sales with Effective E-Marketing

Creating an email marketing campaign for your winery is easier and more cost effective than ever before. Popular sites such as Constant Contact, IContact, and Interspire offer customizable templates, list management and reporting metrics. Best of all, they provide the ability to drive traffic to your site and increase sales -- all at very competitive prices.

There are some distinct advantages to e- marketing versus print marketing: 1) lower cost; 2) quicker production; and 3) the ability to easily track your efforts. A brochure or mailer will necessarily incur design and printing costs. It will also require waiting for completion of each step of production. And after it’s mailed, there is no way to know if it was opened or simply tossed aside. While email marketing does not guarantee that your customers will read or buy, it allows a winery manager to track some key metrics: opens, forwards, bounces, etc. and capture valuable updates to customer information.

Even with the entry of low-cost providers, continual technological advancements, and obvious advantages to e-marketing, many small wineries are still missing sales opportunities. Some make costly mistakes by investing in unneeded software. Others suffer from opportunity cost because they planned a campaign but never committed the time to implement it. And then there are a few which shun e-marketing all-together with excuses like “no time”, “no budget”, “afraid to spam”, or “hate writing”.

A small winery need not invest in software to start creating e-marketing campaigns. There can be benefits to doing so-- especially when sales and production reach a point where it’s the most cost efficient strategy linking to your order processing, but it is not a requirement. Joining one of the aforementioned e-marketing sites or another provider for a small monthly or annual fee is all that’s necessary.

The time required is vastly decreased after you send the first email -– good news for busy owners. Initially, an e-campaign requires you to select a provider, import your contacts, choose a template and create a compelling message. This usually takes a couple of hours. Subsequent emails only require that you edit the copy and add any new pictures or logos you’d like to use. The format and template can remain the same, and your contact information, including any newly captured subscriptions from forwards or your website, is already there.

As for the e-fears and excuses, I offer you the following advice: “no time” – put it on your calendar like you would a doctor’s appointment and stick to it; “no budget” – Constant Contact offers a $15/month plan for up to 500 contacts and a 10% discount for annual pre-payment; “afraid to spam” – e-marketing providers require you to verify your contacts and ensure that new subscribers adhere to a double opt-in policy (i.e., they sign up, then receive an email confirming the transaction and leading them to a confirmation link; and “hate writing”- view it as a necessary evil for selling wine or hire someone who doesn’t share your sentiment!

Once a winery owner has committed to e-marketing, there are still important remaining questions. How often is appropriate – i.e., how do I strike a balance between being a well-received email and getting blocked as annoying “spam”? What are the most important messages to convey? How do I reach my ultimate goal of increasing sales? Does this replace print marketing?

Here are some quick tips to making your next email campaign shine:

1. Make sure signing up is easy to do! In a 2007 study of over 1200 wineries, ZinMarketing, a California-based consultancy, revealed that only about 50% of wineries made sign up possible on their websites! So trade, press, or potential consumers who have taken the time to seek more information are either asked to take another step (call or email) or are lost because their information isn’t captured.

2. Make it personal: Address it to a specific person (not “Dear wine club member” but “Greetings, Dixie”). And send it from a specific person (Dixie@trelliswineconsulting.com versus “info@trelliswineconsulting.com).

3. Use a compelling title: “Dixie’s News” is a lot less interesting than “Eight Ways to Increase your Account Sales”, “New Winery, XYZ, Receives Top Acclaim!” or “Special Discount For Loyal XYZ Customers”.

4. Offer a call to action: Perhaps it’s a discount for a limited time, a chance to win a bottle or case (where legal), free shipping, or the first X number of buyers receive an invitation to a future event.

5. Report news of interest, but don’t go overboard on copy: This is not your website’s “About Us” section –- the main purpose of an email marketing campaign is to sell wine. E-marketing does provide a great opportunity to report on any new press, interesting developments, or compelling offers.

6. Make sure your brand shines through: Your communication should look and feel like that of your brand. Make sure your logo is high-resolution and is prominently displayed. Be sure to include your unique selling propositions and convey your wine brand’s personality using consistent tone, style and color.

7. Make e-marketing a habit: Instead of waiting until it’s time to publish to add new contact information collected in between emails, update your list weekly, or each time you receive a new address after networking events, wine tastings, conferences, etc. Just be sure to ask permission. Similarly, if you receive press or have an idea for content, record it immediately. That way, you’re not scrambling for copy at the last minute. (I keep these notes on my Outlook “newsletter” task bar.) Effective e-marketing doesn’t just happen on the day you send an email –- it’s a constant process.

8. Focus on driving traffic to the point of sale: The primary and most visible link should be to your online store. Don’t make it difficult to buy wine by sending potential customers to your winery’s main page and asking them to find it! You want the valuable click-throughs going to the right page.

Commit the time and energy and use the eight tips above, and you’ll be well on your way to increasing your online sales with effective e-marketing.

Timing Is Everything

The wine industry is undergoing monumental expansion, with new brands coming to market daily. Technological advancements, corporate innovation departments, custom crush facilities and virtual wineries like Crushpad are fueling this growth by decreasing time to market and entry barriers. It is an exciting time for the industry and consumers alike, and for brand owners, it necessarily means increased competition for sales and publicity.

Getting the timing right for a brand launch is a key competitive force. Most wine marketing professionals begin brand planning before the fruit source is even identified! They do so because the vineyard is related to many of the costs of bottling and selling the wine, and therefore the brand’s financial performance. For example, a prime fruit source often implicates a particular type of bottle, label, sales pitch, etc.

For a nascent small or micro winery, timing is even more important given limited resources and a void of brand awareness. The ideal time to create a brand strategy is just after you decide to make wine; or better yet, in conjunction with the decision-making process. In short, it’s well before any of the winery’s look elements have been constructed!

It’s tempting to do just the opposite -- many new winemakers have a label or website concept in mind, and rush to create them without considering how they will fit into the overall business’ brand plan. Doing so puts a winery at a disadvantage because a brand’s “look” elements (name, label, website, etc.) need to support the additional crucial parts of the plan; not define it.

A solid brand business plan includes, but is not limited to the following: a unique and compelling story which is brought to life by the external communication elements (label, website, printed materials, etc.); a production plan (cases and intended growth); a sales plan (percentage breakdown between direct to trade, direct to consumer, and three-tier distribution); and a target sales and promotional audience (to whom you’re planning to sell and market the wine). It can be helpful to think of all the brand plan parts as a web of interconnected elements that strengthen and support each other. They are the very building blocks along the path to your success. So spend time cultivating them, and do so at the right time, at the early stages of your business.