Looks Like Santa is Not So Jolly

Since my last blog post, I heard back from Santa via voicemail.  His tone told me he was not too pleased with my inquiry about pricing.  He stated that the invoice I'd received was correct -- that I'd actually been given a better deal, and he wasn't sure how that had happened.   That I could call back.

Wow.  So a customer calls to inquire about pricing, stating that the prices charged didn't align with those on the website and the promised 20% discount.  She immediately gets an email saying that the difference would be credited. Then a day goes by and there's a voicemail stating that she was in the wrong.  (No thank you for the order, nor inquiry about how the wines were tasting.) The last time I felt like this about Santa was circa 1979 when I had a healthy skepticism about not-so-jolly red men in suits with fake beards.

I really don't understand how I got a better deal than the promised 20% case offer when the $20.00 Chardonnay is marked down to $18.00 on the winery's website and I was charged $19.20 per bottle.  Even using the original higher $20 rate, this is a 4% discount -- not 20%.  (I won't bother going into details of how the other 20% discounts don't add up.)

When I receive an email offer marketing wine, a winery should know that a normal next step in the customer buying process is to check prices online.  The prices listed online are in effect the promise made to the customer.

If I was incorrect, why not politely explain my error and take the opportunity to ask about the wines I've just purchased?  This would change the tone of the brand conversation -- it is quite possible I'd want to buy more or sign up for a wine club.  This is actually an opportunity to create loyalty here by developing the relationship.  Versus assume the customer calling with a question wants to pick a fight.  (More on this in a moment.)

From a customer service lens, the reason behind a service error doesn't matter. A business might choose to briefly explain why the error occurred and what has been done to ensure it won't happen again.  The main focus should be on correcting the problem -- this is both the right thing to do given the brand promise, and provides a good return on investment when done well.  The service recovery paradox shows that when a customer's negative experience is solved successfully, her loyalty increases.

 In Harvard Business Review's  "The Profitable Art of Service Recovery", the trio of authors demonstrate how a Club Med manager turned a group's horrendous travel experience into "the most fun they'd had since college."  He went much, much farther than would be expected, especially since the airline delays were not under the resort's control.  The vacation that should have been ruined before it started became a story of delight that has no doubt been told many, many times over.

It is worth noting that the only difference between these two posts by me and another high frequency wine consumer is that my counterpart would have mentioned the winery's name.  This creates what is known as the ripple effect, where dissatisfied customer shares her negative service experiences much more frequently than the instances where she is satisfied.  Behavioral studies have shown a similar phenomenon called loss aversion theory (or prospect theory). When applied to finance and market performance, investors hate their losses 2.5 times more than they celebrate their gains.

Did I return Santa's call?  No, because it's not worth it to me to argue over the money. Especially when I'm dealing with an interaction that should be delightful.  It is worth it to me to take my wine business elsewhere -- after all, we're all in the hospitality business first; the epicurean industry second.


Here Comes Santa Claus... and He Has Vino!

On December 5, I received one of the most creative wine marketing emails I've seen in a long time.  A Washington winery offered to make my "holidays brighter this year": For a one-case-plus purchase, Santa -- one of the company's co-owners, would personally deliver wine to me in his " Sleigh."  I'd get a 20% case discount for the order.

I immediately jumped on the phone to call the winery and compliment the offer.  Compliments are of course nice, but *sales* are what we're all striving to create through wine marketing, so I asked them to create a special case for me for our annual Huey holiday party.  After all, marketers need to understand customer expectations and desires, so this was important research for me.

Since Trellis Growth Partners offers email marketing as part of our small business communications suite, we are always researching new ideas.  Some tactics that have worked well this year for clients include promotional magnums, winery credits, special gift offers, support of charitable causes and a particularly memorable sealed envelope mailing where the recipient had to present the card at the winery to open a surprise gift. (Details are purposefully not disclosed.) Each of these had a creative theme and required excellent execution from the wineries.

With email marketing, there are some best practices -- consistent and compelling communication, which is aided by having an advance plan of action including themes; using call to action in the subject line; sending the emails from a real person and at a preferred time of day for your customers; etc., etc.  A critical aspect of effective email marketing is delivering on your promise.  Going beyond simple delivery to delighting customers is what we should all strive to do, as it helps turn them from transactional buyers into loyal ambassadors.

The arrival of today's Wall Street Journal brought a related article -- "Made You Click: Dark Art of Store Emails", which describes how retailers use email marketing as a powerful sales tool.  According to the piece, "email is retailers' most important tool for cranking holiday sales" since the online shopping is "the No. 2 holiday shopping destination". The article solidifies the plans we have for our clients in 2013 -- to re-test optimal send times, subject lines, and introduce customer segmenting when possible. It also highlights the importance of using compelling imagery and layout to enhance offer appeal.

Something not mentioned in the article is aligning online marketing communication.  We're big proponents of promoting one's press, so posting your email to your Facebook site and creating a website call to action.  Our small business communications suite does just that plus includes a quarterly media pitch to present our clients' products to key gatekeepers.

The Journal also brought me a sign this morning: Santa showed up a few hours later with the case I'd ordered exactly two weeks ago.  He had been out all day delivering a lot of wine -- the promotion brought a terrific return on his investment of time and creativity.

I must admit I was surprised and relieved, because I hadn't heard anything regarding a delivery date and we're only in the office about half the time due to client engagements.  (The offer would have been much less interesting if I'd come back to an unsecured box of wine sitting in the (too) cold weather on my doorstep.) Just last night as I was driving back from a client meeting through winter weather, I was thinking the offer would be a huge let down if Santa had not gotten my wish list or had experienced a sleigh malfunction. 

In summary, I give the promotion an A+/ 10 out of 10 on creativity. I called as soon as I read the email offer. Boom - it worked!  Customer communication, delivery cheer/ presentation need some improvement. A 5/10 feels a little generous right now. 

Santa did come, but he made me wonder if it was all just a fairy tale since I didn't get a delivery confirmation.  The promised discount was inconsistently applied on the difficult to read invoice given website pricing.  (A call to the winery was promptly returned via email with the promise of a credit using the web pricing.)  And there was no real holiday cheer attached; just a case box with an invoice taped to the top.

To really put a smile on my face, a cheerful "ho ho ho", a little note or even a big red bow would have worked wonders.  It's amazing how much people appreciate the care taken on how a product is presented and what is placed inside the box -- even us jaded wine marketers.  (Think Tiffany & Co. -- a master of presentation and creation/delivery of heightened expectations with its ubiquitous little blue box.)

As a first time customer, after spending nearly $400 on a case of wine, I was hoping for a little more love -- at some wineries, this purchase would immediately propel me into the "case buyers" club with a special invitation for more.

I am looking forward to opening the wines and sharing the selection with friends.  Long after the bottles are empty, I'll remember the offer that caused me to drop what I was doing and order a lot of wine.  (This is especially significant for someone who spends over 10 hours per day promoting her clients' wines and typically receives a sizable trade discount.)  Just not so sure if I'll feel like it was a smart decision given the impulse buy, full experience and extraordinary amount of competition for my dollars out there.

The risky part about raising the bar through an especially creative promotion is that the customer's expectations are equally, or perhaps exponentially raised -- especially when you smartly tap into a cheery emotion that brings us back to one of the joys of childhood. Let's hope those wines are drool-worthy :)

Happy holidays to all, and to all a strong OND selling season!


A Creative and Integrated, yet Simple Marketing Promotion

Another wonderful Salud! auction weekend is underway.  Since moving to the Pacific Northwest almost five years ago, this event has become near and dear to me and our company.  I was honored to be asked to become a member of the procurement committee a couple years ago and have since enjoyed linking everything from Graham's and Dow's Port to Brasada Ranch and client wines to this honorable cause supporting health care for Oregon's vineyard workers.

As usual, there were some stunning Salud Cuvee Pinot Noirs at last night's tasting at Domaine Drouhin.  This annual event brings together some of Oregon's finest producers who have agreed to donate a barrel (25 cases) of a special blend, which is sold via auction. 

It is always curious to me how purveyors in the epicurean space choose to present themselves.  Most of the tables last night were void of information, which is a lost opportunity. A simple, yet smartly designed card with the winery's information and perhaps a special offer for Salud! attendees would help attendees remember their favorite wines and help convert awareness to purchase.

One supporter took a very different approach: Volcanic Mineral Refresher, a family-owned water company based in Ashland, Oregon.  In addition to rack cards, they had a unique promotion benefiting Salud! and their brand.  Attendees were encouraged to "like" Volcanic on Facebook and make a donation to Salud!.  Those who donate $20 or more gain a coupon for a bottle of water; those who donate $200 and up will receive a case.  This smart promotion helped me remember the product, gained them a "like" and increased my contribution to Salud!.  (We raised $350 for the organization during our industry sales and marketing research earlier this year; I've increased my donation amount to $370.)


Change Takes Time

In life, our personal and professional habits typically become part of a deeply ingrained routine.  When we decide that our routine is not best serving us, or it becomes readily apparent, it is time to make a change.  Whether it's starting a new fitness regimen to change your health or working with a consulting company to transform your business results, welcoming this change often the toughest part.  (By welcoming, I mean accepting that the status quo is not working and being open to operating differently, and then actually changing behavior to produce desired results.) Truly facing our challenges at hand -- whether they be on the scale or in the P&L statement, takes a lot of personal strength; it is much easier in the short-term to stay in our comfort zone.

We are well aware of the challenges of change when working with clients.  Eighteen months ago, I wrote about our phased consulting process, which inevitably creates some tension to produce positive results.  From our perspective as marketing and management consultants, the ability to work with owners and operators to effect positive change is exhilarating.  We know and trust our process, so it is easier for us to see the medium- to longer-term benefit and not be paused by the shorter-term challenges.  So we are sure to let prospective clients know that it tends to get tougher before it gets better (hopefully, much better).

This is much easier said than heard -- the longer client businesses have been operating in one pattern, the tougher it is to weave another.  I've recently been thinking a lot about change from the client perspective, and what our process experience must be like for those we serve.  The researcher in me has decided that this very topic will be our next client survey. In the meantime, I'm going to share a few thoughts from my perspective.

Our first phase is entry -- in this phase we are gathering the information necessary to write a proposal.  From our perspective, we need to identify areas of opportunity and assess fit for both parties as not every prospective client is a match.  When we determine a likely great fit, it is exciting and a little nervous because we of course want to work with 100% of great fits, even though we know it's not an achievable goal.

For clients, however, this phase must come with excitement when imagining future possibilities and challenge given our questions, which are detailed.  Even though we explain that confidentiality is critical and sign NDAs for prospective clients, for some -- especially those newer to the industry, sharing this information must also be at least a little bit uncomfortable.

In our research phase, once we are officially hired, we continue to gather information in the form of more interviewing, surveys and client data.  Then we go about analyzing everything to present an initial recommendations report.  For clients, this can be a tough phase because it involves opening up parts of their business that even they may not have examined in years.  Our intention is to prepare teams to think differently and begin to view their roles with the aid of a different perspective.  When we present that initial report, there are always strengths to celebrate and challenges to navigate.  It's the "moment of truth" and is usually a big turning point in our projects.  When I see a client come away both inflated and deflated, I know our process is working, and I respect that it is often very tough.  (I used to feel very similar when coaching first time triathletes for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program.  Many of my team members had never run a 5k and therefore a triathlon must have felt like climbing a mountain.  I loved cheering them on and seeing each of the incremental results along the way; yet I knew the training could be grueling.  "Just think how amazing you're going to feel crossing the finish line" helped people swim, bike and run a little bit harder and probably gave many people a good snicker as they were rolling their eyes at me.)

Our action planning phase may just be the toughest part for clients.  We have just created that turning point, and now need to focus on the "quiet" time of the engagement, while they are usually ready to see the results.  Communicating why we need this period and how it will benefit our clients is very important.  I'm quite sure that it must feel like we have shown a path with light and then shut the door, asking them to wait a few weeks more.  I've heard that seeing our plans is the first time many clients believe the change can actually be effected.  I've also heard that it can be overwhelming.

The implementation phase for many is the fun part.  The toughest work is done and as long as we follow the plan, results will come.  Our ability to project manage and use timelines helps ensure everything is kept on track. This is typically when I hear a first "thank you so much" or "this is really working", or even, "I wasn't so sure at first but this process has been more helpful than I imagined".  It always delights me because I respect how difficult it is to bring in an outside perspective and fully open your business to change.  It is also a time when I ask clients for feedback -- not just positive, because we are continually working to improve our process.

Finally, the transition phase is either the time where we are wrapping everything up or discussing our next engagement.  By this time, the working relationship has been solidified, both parties have learned a lot, and we express our gratitude as well as desire to remain a valuable resource. My goal is for clients to feel and see a tremendous amount of value in the process and most importantly, positive change in their business -- both quantitative and qualitative.


Still Dreaming About IPNC

I was thrilled to be asked to serve on the media committee for this year's International Pinot Noir Celebration.  This is such a beautifully run event and it attracts top producers from around the world to McMinnville, Oregon for a weekend of incredible wine, food, hospitality and friendship.  It was my first time attending the full weekend and I vowed never to miss it again!

Below are some highlights from that glorious weekend:

Burgundy Seminar with Allen Meadows
This was an amazing experience and timely since my husband and I were there this past spring.  Burgundy is a place that requires much study and understanding given 1600+ climats, or specific delimited terroirs.  In this seminar, we sampled wines from Domaine Lecheneaut, Maison Louis Jadot, Domaine Henri Gouges and Maison Ambroise.  The wines that gave me most pause are as follows:

2006 Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru "Clos St. Jacques" - red brick color lead to aromas of stewed strawberry, slight smoke, pure rhubarb jam (is there such a thing?) with an outdoorsy quality of fresh rain and chalky soil.  There were notes of soft worn leather and earth, and so many additional subtle flavors... The tannins were dusty and the mouthfeel was downright beautiful.  The finish lingered -- it would have done so throughout the day if there weren't so many more wines to taste!

2008 Domaine Lecheneaut Chambolle-Musigny - deep red cherry color with bright aromas of fresh raspberry, clove, black cherry, moss, mocha and a hint of apricot juice.  Wow, this wine had such a pretty minerality in the mouth with bright fruit, an interesting soft chalky texture and a long, pure finish.

2008 Maison Ambroise Echezeaux Grand Cru - a wine full of flavor and complexity including smoke, pepper, oregano, wood spice, earth, fresh meadow, pepperoni and tons of fresh raspberry.  Extraordinary finish. 

The Fine Dining/Meals/Cuisine
A detailed description would take 1000s of words...  The main point here is that the culinary delights are a major highlight of this event.  From the breakfasts with fresh fruit (the biggest berries I've ever seen) to the al fresco lunches and dinners catered by top chefs and served by professional sommeliers, the cuisine is not overshadowed by the very fine wine.  Every morsel was more delicious than the next.  This is an incredible accomplishment when you consider that there are nearly 1000 attendees to serve -- all with high expectations.  The entire chorus of chefs, servers and winemakers puts on a fun grand finale for the Sunday brunch where this year's sommeliers dressed in Greek fashion -- some taking the toga party theme to a fantastic level.

Connecting with Friends Old and New
IPNC was the first major event I attended when we moved to the Portland area in 2008.  I volunteered during the lunches and was thus introduced to what has become a wonderful tradition.  In the last five years, I've had the pleasure of meeting many talented colleagues in the industry, and taking time to relax and enjoy each other's company is always a treat.

Supporting Two Great Clients
Bill Stoller, Owner of Stoller Vineyards, served as Chairman of IPNC during this event, and he did a terrific job encouraging the crowd and representing the industry.  I've had the pleasure of working with his team for the last three years.  Stoller is the largest contiguous property in the Dundee Hills AVA with nearly 200 acres under vine on its 373-acres.  The winery is a leader in pioneering environmental sustainability, and is this month celebrating a new name (Stoller Family Estate), new tasting room and winemaker, Melissa Burr's 10th vintage.

A newer client, Ghost Hill Cellars, debuted at this year's event.   Mike and Drenda Bayliss, co-owners, presented their wines alongside winemaker, Rebecca Pittock-Shouldis.  It was a thrill to see them recognized for a top accomplishment in a relatively short period of time.  Ghost Hill Cellars is located on Savannah Ridge in Yamhill-Carlton's AVA.  The property has been in the Bayliss family for over 100 years.


Role of Strategy: "Adapt or Die"

"You can't discuss changing strategy unless you are ready to discuss what makes people resist change and what part people could potentially play in creating more adaptability in an organization." 

This morning while reading the weekly HBS Digest, I paused on the above quote by Harvard Business School Professor, John Wells, who was interviewed for "Strategic Intelligence: Adapt or Die" about his book, Strategic IQ: Creating Smarter Corporations.  While he cites case studies of larger businesses, much of what he presents is relevant to small businesses, too.

Wells defines "strategic intelligence" primarily by the ability for an organization to adapt to ever changing circumstances.  He gives an excellent example of how Circuit City grew 20+% over a period of years in the 1980's to the detriment of then little known Best Buy.  When Best Buy adapted by changing its strategy to lead in pricing by reducing inventory, storage and labor costs, Circuit City ignored this competitive landscape change for a decade and ultimately filed for bankruptcy.  (I just bought a projector at Best Buy, not Circuit City, and there's a reason for that.)

Change is tough.  And when sales and profits are growing, it is perhaps easier to ignore the need to continually hone a competitive strategy.  This may be the most dangerous point, though, as it leads to the complacency that allows the competition to move in. 

Resistance to change is something we look for at Trellis Wine Consulting starting with the first phone call with a potential client.  In our primary meetings and before there is even an agreement to write a proposal, we probe for change resistance because we know that this will create an impasse.  There is a tremendous difference to being concerned about change -- yet open to it, and being resistant.  When we find the latter, we know it will not be a fit since our process is all about creating an effective and efficient path to enhanced sales and profitability. Which almost always means change.

This doesn't mean we are dictating strategy -- far from it.  Developing it is a process within our engagement.  It is worth noting that Wells recommends that consultants be involved in the strategy development process, but that companies take care not to delegate this function.  We couldn't agree more; in fact, it is critical that our clients are involved because it is their vision that leads the process.  We are in a position of asking probing questions, providing recommendations based on past experience, and challenging status quo.

Strategic intelligence is a skill that must be ever present in a company; it is a mindset.  When we work with clients, we are in a position of helping them think differently about their businesses.   We translate the common complaint, "I don't have time for planning" as "I don't value it (or understand its potential value to my business) so do not make the time" to strategize.  

The how is as important as the what.  A chosen path is not an accident; it can and often does lead to a specific outcome.  One of the most interesting things about strategy you don't have to have one to operate.  There are profitable companies without them.  The right question to ask though, is what might you be leaving on the table without one -- is there an opportunity cost to ignoring strategy?  The problem with not having one or engaging in the process is that you'll never know.


Don't Forget the People Side of Change

For some, the word "change" is invigorating -- filled with opportunity; for others it's something to be avoided at all costs.  Dictionary.com states that it's anything from "to make the form, nature... different"; "substitute"; "give and take" to"transform".*

As a management consultant, a lasting positive and profitable transformation of a client's organization is my main priority with every project.  This typically includes selling more goods and services more profitably, and should include improved experiences for the client's customers and internal team.

Planning is of course an important part of these engagements.  We must anticipate the gaps between the current state and the desired future outcome.  No matter how small or large the project, we must consider two sides of the change equation: technical and people.

It is unfortunately all too common to focus on the technical side, forgetting the human element required for successful change.  Let's use an example of building an e-commerce site for a client which has never before used an online business channel:  Simply creating a project plan, implementing it and running through the testing with a demo is not sufficient.  The technical side may work, but the people side will suffer.  So we must also understand how the team takes and processes orders, who is involved in each state, when each step must occur and and where the important information lives.  Then we compare the former process to the new in order to create a change management plan including coaching, follow up and point persons.

You can imagine how a change management plan intensifies when ours is a project covering the entire business side of the operation given the number of people and functions involved.  The scope is much broader, but our process stays the same.

* When speaking with potential clients, assessing how they view change is critical to the potential success of a project together.  Just as with any fitness regimen or new habit, we have to be ready and committed or the effort will not work.  So we only enter into client agreements when we are confident that the outcome will be a successful one.


How Does Your Brand's Pricing Align with the Competition?

Analyzing the competition is an essential aspect of business planning. Examining the competitive market’s strengths and weaknesses, for example, can lead to opportunities for your business; one company’s weakness is another’s opportunity.

It is also important to regularly check competitor pricing.  This is easily done by surveying accounts to determine what deals are being offered and where your brand fits within the price spectrum.

In late May, we challenged the students enrolled in Dixie’s Introduction to Wine Marketing at Umpqua Community College’s Southern Oregon Wine Institute to examine wine prices at a local off-premise accounts.  We asked each of the 12 students to gather information on five Pinot Noir brands from Oregon and California priced from $10 to $20.[1]  

The data we requested included the brand, vintage, original price and discounted price if one was available.  Then we pulled together a summary of the findings, which are detailed in the table below:

Vintage Range
Price Range
$10.99 - $21.49
$8.88 - $29.99
$8.88 - $29.99
Avg Price
Avg Deal Price
Avg Discount
Number of Producers
Number Discounting Producers

One of the more interesting things we found was how many producers were discounting -- 42 out of 57 surveyed.  On average, these discounts are 24% of suggested retail price or about $13.  We were also interested to find the range of vintages being offered.

 For an individual Pinot Noir producer looking to compete in the off-premise, being aware of the state of pricing and discounting is a must.

[1] With an approximate even male-female ratio, we asked female students to examine California brands while males collected information on Oregon producers.


Downtime continued -- a source of creativity

In my last post, I wrote about the power of downtime.  A couple of weeks later, I took my own advice and kept smart phone use to a maximum of 15 minutes per day while on a very enjoyable vacation.  I returned energized, focused and ready to tackle the always busy summer filled with new client engagements and their events.

Fast-forward two weeks after vacation and I've clocked about 70 hours in each with some very late nights and early mornings.  The first week, I could blame the early mornings on jet lag; at the end of the second, I am reminded of the constant struggle for balance in our society and among entrepreneurs -- it's especially hard when you truly love what you do.

Last night, while returning from a full day meeting in wine country, I heard a radio talk show host discussing how to enhance creative flow.  (Unsurprisingly, tackling work projects was not listed as a way to enhance creativity and productivity.)  She is indeed correct about time -- one of our most "precious resources", and how down-time allows us to capture a quiet, focused mind for problem solving.

The times when we feel most overloaded and "stuck" are exactly when we need to take a break.  Switching gears with a walk, music, aromatherapy, massage, napping, spending time with a pet, or even day-dreaming all qualify as relaxation activities.  I am personally guilty of hurrying my beloved Newfies on our walk so I rush back into my office.  And I can't remember the last time I actually drifted into a day-dream -- do adults even do that?

Tomorrow is officially a work- and technology-free day for me at Trellis Wine Consulting.  Perhaps I'll re-read one of my favorite books: Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which discusses how to improve life quality by ordering the conscious.


Power of Down Time and Disconnecting

We've all seen it and we're (probably) all guilty of it.  I sure am.  Smart Phone addictive tendencies. If it's the last thing you check before falling asleep, the first thing you see in the morning, and a part of your daily life -- even while on vacation, you need to know about some insightful research.

Leslie Perlow, author of Sleeping with Your Smart Phone and Harvard Business School Professor, challenged a team of Boston Consulting Group professionals to take "predictable time off". These "world's leading business advisors" fit the addictive tendencies I mention above, and over 90% work over 50 hours per week with a third clocking in at 65.

The results reported in Harvard Business Review were very telling -- I highlight a few below:

  • 51 percent (versus 27 percent) were excited to start work in the morning
  • 72 percent (versus 49 percent) were satisfied with their job
  • 54 percent (versus 38 percent) were satisfied with their work-life balance
This parallels a recent change at Volkswagen, which turns off the email push to Blackberries beginning 30 minutes after the end of the work day until 30 minutes before the next starts.  Interestingly, this is only for union workers in Germany -- not management, but I wonder if this will become a broader trend given the research findings.
My relationship with my first Blackberry (and the expectation that I would always be "on" as a PR professional) started ten years ago, so it is a tough habit to break.  In the last six months, I've been turning off on Sundays, and I have seen my creativity, productivity and energy levels increase.  Last year I even took a 10 day vacation without my phone.  (Well, I brought it with me, but it was turned off the entire time.)

The areas where I'm still struggling are early morning and evening times, when the urge to connect, produce for clients, or just make sure everything okay, is a strong one.  Perlow's research proves something I've known deep down for a long time -- that constant connectivity is neither the most efficient, effective, or health way to run a business.  It also proves that "mother is always right" because she told me to establish a set schedule and stick to it within the first month of starting my business.

Here's to a more productive, creative and healthier way of working!


I recently explored, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything... in Business (and in Life). Author, Dov Seidman, a noted leadership expert, demonstrates that the nature of today's fast-paced, information-driven, social media enhanced environment has changed the nature of reputation and culture building.  As a marketer and management consultant, Seidman's message struck an important chord.

Our personal and professional "brands" are under more scrutiny than ever before.  In the 1960's -- think Mad Men era marketing, simply devising a great visual and copy strategy then funding it well would build a brand.  Now, forty years later, there are a multitude of inputs into creating and fortifying a brand's reputation.  Primary examples include positioning (intended by the company -- a la Mad Men), the actual living internal culture created by team members, traditional media reviews and real-time customer feedback made possible by social media.  All of these measures and more contributes to a brand or company's net reputation quotient.

So how we conduct ourselves is much more important than what we proclaim.  It is no longer enough to demonstrate only quantitative success metrics; a brand must strive to create a positive culture and reputation, which necessarily means embracing the qualitative measures of integrity, values, social responsibility and more.  Since we are constantly being evaluated, our messages must be more genuine; more organic and less concocted.

Personal and company reputation are therefore now the sum of "how" we've achieved instead of the collection of "what" we have achieved.  How is your company reflecting this in its marketing communication and management efforts?  Have you changed your approach to brand and leadership management in the last 10, 20 or 40 years?


Excuses versus Results
Our spring newsletter went out today highlighting a risky, but important topic for our industry -- the Top Five Excuses for neglecting marketing investment.

The first two -- "we don't have time" and "we don't have a budget" are perhaps the most common, but the other three are just as important to understanding the misconceptions surrounding the demand creation function.

We are excited to announce that we're in the process of developing an industry-wide sales and marketing survey.  The results report including benchmark metrics will be made available to all who participate.  The survey will go out this summer with results to be released just before harvest.


Highlight Wines from Taste WA

We attended one of my favorite annual events this past weekend -- Taste WA in Seattle.  (For those who missed it, a smaller version of the event is being held in Portland on Monday, April 23 at Pure Space.)

The Washington Wine Commission team always does a fantastic job with this event, and over the years has added seminars led by industry leaders and national media, and more recently changed to a two-day format.  I particularly like Taste WA from an event management and consumer experience perspective for the following reasons:

* great value - from the wide support by industry to the high level of service, this is an excellent place to learn and taste fantastic wine

* appropriate venue - it is held in a central location with plenty of space (Century Link Event Center) and tables are well laid out

* ease of arrival/departure - there is plenty of parking and public transport

* well-organized - registration and check-in are easy, and they use email marketing for confirmations and reminders, and there are many staff available

Both the Red Willow Vineyard Exploration and Celebrated Vintages seminars were highlights for me.  The Sauer family's Red Willow can be viewed as the birthplace of Syrah and one of the most beautiful properties in the state.  Its elevation ranges from 1000-1300 feet and it has a very distinctive chapel atop the vineyard with a view of the Cascades -- it's breath-taking.

During the Red Willow Syrah seminar, we tasted six different winemakers' wines from Red Willow, including Betz, Columbia, Efeste, Gramercy, Mark Ryan and Owen Rowe.  The Betz Cote Patriarche 2009 was the stand out for me.  It had enticing black cherry, blueberry, white pepper, mocha and forest floor aromas with deep, complex fruit notes on the palate.  The wine is still quite youthful and has much more complexity to develop.  It had a delicious peppery -- almost pepperoni-like finish that just went on and on...

Sunday's Celebrated Vintages seminar was sold out for good reason.  The presenters took us on a journey beginning in 1987, when there were 60 wineries and 9000 planted acres, and ending at the present day with Washington's 740 wineries and 43,000 acres under vine.  During the last 25 years, the panel mentioned 1975, 76, 78, 83, 89, 92, 94, 95, 99 and 2005 as standouts.  We tasted and compared the following wines:

1995 Woodward Canyon Charbonneau, Walla Walla
1995 Col Solare, Columbia Valley
1999 DeLille Harrison Hill Vineyard, Yakima
1999 L'Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla
2005 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla
2005 Betz Pere re Famille Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley

All of the wines showed finesse, balance and beauty.  The two that most arrested me were the Woodward Canyon and L'Ecole 41.  The Woodward Canyon showed worn leather, tar, black cherry, raspberry, cigar box and complex dirt aromas mixed with pencil shavings.  The palate demonstrated all of these flavors and the finish lingered for some time.  The L'Ecole 41 had a prettier (less bold) and more red-fruited make up: raspberry, cherry, black cherry, bark, worn leather and cigar box aromas.  It blossomed into a very smooth, velveteen texture with a hint of smoke on the mid-palate and a persistent red-fruit finish.  This persistent red fruit we learned is a function of the vineyard sourcing -- it's a characteristic of Seven Hills.

In closing, the below wines tasted during the Grand Tasting are also memorable:

Maison Bleue Rose
Dunham Cellars Riesling
Domaine Pouillon Gewurtztraminer
L'Ecole 41 Semillon
McKinley Springs Chenin Blanc
Airfield Aviator Red
Airfield Spitfire Red
Boudreaux Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Cab
Bunnell Apic Rhone Blend
McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon

If only we could have tasted more!


Pinning is Believing: Share Your Winery Story on Pinterest

by Janel Lubanski, Media Relations and Client Services

If you haven’t heard the buzz about Pinterest, the ultimate virtual bulletin board site that takes social sharing to the next level, you may be missing out on a new medium to reach your customers.

Pinterest is a virtual platform that allows users to organize and share photos and videos found on the web.  

How it works:
A user creates a themed board and adds Pins -- photos and videos to his or her board; similar to other social media sites, these can be liked and repined (shared) to followers’ boards. Inspired by the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, what better way to share your brand’s story than through an infinite imagery portal?

In February, this two-year old company reported a 10.4 million-user count, seeing 11.7 million unique visitors in the month of January alone.

Why should your business care?  While its not as heavily utilized as other social media giants such as Facebook, businesses who have jumped on the bandwagon are seeing increased sales and web traffic -- both of which are sworn to be a direct result from their presence on Pinterest. This is not your “here today, gone tomorrow” social media site. In February, a comScore statistic report noted that daily Pinterest users have increased by more than 145% since the beginning of 2012. See more stats here.

A company profile on Pinterest enables you to share your brand’s life story using product and event imagery and videography. 

The benefits are similar to those of your other social media profiles such as Facebook or Twitter; Pintrest engages customers and drives awareness to your products, brand and website without the high costs of advertising.  The only difference is that customers are engaged by what they see.  It’s an ideal platform for storytelling.

Here are few ways to put Pinterest to work for your brand:

Share and Promote your Products
Add photos, videos, products for sale, recipes, gifts, etc. -- anything that can depict your brand. When adding a photo, include a short, clear description of the pin to help improve your search-engine ranking. Don’t forget to brand your boards. There are currently a total of 32 different categories under which to classify pins on Pinterest.  These categories help code a user’s board under a specific theme.  Photos and videos can be more easily found if the description has a keyword for which a fellow “pinner” is searching.

Appeal to the Masses
Instead of creating only one board of your wine collection to be classified under Food & Drink, create a board of images from your winery and classify it under Architecture, Outdoors, or Travel & Places. 

Let’s say your vineyard is part of a long family history and tradition.  Pin a timeline of photos or a video and classify it under History.  If your winery hosts weddings, create a board of past weddings that have taken place at your winery. Wedding boards are extremely popular on Pinterest.  By creating themed boards and classifying them in numerous topics, you will reach a greater amount of potential pinners and repins. 

Engage Followers and Customers
Follow boards and encourage others to follow you back -- sound familiar? Remember to show what has become the standard in social media interaction etiquette: if someone repins your photo (you can set notifications for this), send a thank you note.

Interlink your actions on Pinterest with Facebook and Twitter.  Post a tweet about a new board or encourage your followers on Facebook to follow your boards on Pinterest.  For increased optimization across all your social media platforms, Pinterest allows users to share a new pin on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Promote your Incentives
Are you conducting a contest or give-away?  Share it on Pinterest.  This will give consumers a reason to learn more about the contest from your Facebook page, which will entice them to sign up through your website and share it with their followers on Twitter – optimization at its finest.

Integrating Pinterest into your social media strategy can be beneficial if you seek more outreach and interaction with your customers.  If you don’t yet have a social media strategy or if you would like to improve your current practices, contact us for a complimentary consultation.