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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
 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”
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 “firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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.