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.



5 Tips for Handling Donation Requests

Wineries are constantly approached for donations.  In fact, smaller producers -- for example, many of those here in the Pacific Northwest-- could probably donate their entire production.  From health organizations such as American Heart Association and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (a cause dear to my heart) to family support non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and YMCA, and the various opportunities at local animal shelters, arts groups and schools; there is no shortage of worthy charitable causes.

The wine industry is a giving group.  We want to support our communities and well know the joyful camaraderie (and giving boost) wine can bring to a fund-raising affair.  So how can a winery or related businesses with a desire to contribute to the greater good, while building brand awareness, build an effective strategy without becoming a non-profit itself?  I offer donation best practices below:

1. Become a camera lens.  First, zoom away from all of the requests and into the bigger picture.  How many cases of wine do you sell per year?  What is your winery's annual revenue? 

Determine a percentage of cases and revenue you're willing to donate based on these figures.  A very generous 5000 case winery-- XYZ-- looking to donate 3% of its cases, therefore; has 150 cases with which to work.  Since XYZ's donated wine retails for $250 per case, this cash value donation translates into a very significant $37,500.

2. Think like an investor with your lens.  Now, zoom in and decide how you are going to invest this donation.  It's a sizable amount, so it must provide a return on your business and brand investment. 

Will you give one case to 150 worthy organizations?  Or will you select a focused few causes and give them 50 cases each?  This decision is somewhat personal -- how many causes are important to you and your team members?

My husband, who is a financial advisor, recommends diversification for his clients. Holding a properly varied "basket" of financial investments makes sense for most long-term investors. The key in his industry and in ours is neither too over- nor under-diversify.  In wine, I'd argue that the basket should be smaller than in finance to maximize impact.

If XYZ spreads its brand very thin with one case donated to 150 organizations, many consumers will be very lightly touched.   If XYZ chooses only one organization, a very small group of people will be touched multiple times.  The answer is somewhere in the middle depending on XYZ's personal vision for charitable support, production size and donation philosophy. 

Consider the additional ROI of involving your staff or club members in your decision of which organizations to support.  This can be a tool for retention and provide a deeper connection to your brand.  When I worked as Director of Marketing & Communications for Premium Port Wines, the Symington Family Estates' North American importer, we were given a very generous one day per month to volunteer in the community. 

XYZ winery could offer each team member five to ten cases to donate which is both a benefit and a marketing exercise.  This winery could also allocate 20 cases to its club membership and offer them a feedback survey with the opportunity to vote on a charitable cause. 

3. Test the chemistry.  Is the organization a fit wit your brand? Do you hold similar values?  And most importantly, is there personal meaning?

I have worked with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for many years.  From a childhood friend who suffered from the disease to several adult friends who have been affected, blood cancers have always resonated with me, and I like the way the LLS organization is run.*  One of the key ways it raises money is through community participation in sports via Team in Training.  I was a triathlon member, captain and, eventually assistant coach of a Bay Area team during the near decade I lived there and found the personal fitness and fund-raising journeys of my colleagues to be a synergistic inspiration.  (There is a lot to learn from the way LLS markets its teams.)

Which organizations align with your winery?  Do these causes inspire your staff, club members and community?

4. Require a "fitness" regimen, especially for the bigger donations.  I don't expect everyone to find raising money per mile completed a worthy exercise, but I do recommend a regimented approach.  For a donation offer to be most attractive to a winery, it must satisfy the following conditions:  a) advance notice, b) co-marketing, and 3) exclusivity and recognition for larger gifts.

If XYZ agrees to give 20 cases to a 250-person high profile dinner event, I have certain expectations.  The solicitation should arrive at minimum four months prior to the event, preferably six.  (This-sized donation means your winery should be an "A list" guest, not a seat-filling invitee.)

Advanced notice gives you time to collaborate and market the event, both to the organization's members and your mailing list.  It also means that the charity will have time to include your winery's name, logo and marketing message on its invitations, website, e-marketing promotion, etc.  And you will have time to reach out to their members with a special offer beforehand if you are able to secure a mailing list.

Exclusivity means that at a significant level of donation, your wine should be the focus of the event.  (If you're donating a magnum, this doesn't apply, but for the dinner pairing example I give, it does.)  Sponsored by "XYZ Winery" is an attractive marketing tool; being buried among a list of wineries is not.

A final part of this regimen is recognition.  Exclusive wine donors should be announced and thanked during the event, which is a standard practice.  From the cocktail hour where you request signage indicating your brand and the specific wine served (and not to forget, server training so they aren't offering "a Merlot") to the announcements during dinner, your winery should be recognized.

5. Don't forget your CPA.  Our accountant friends are presently right in the middle of their "harvest," with only one month go to until tax day.  They can advise you regarding your donation practices and should be kept informed of your charitable contributions.  So be sure to document all of your good deeds -- this can come in handy when your business taxes are due and can even be used as a marketing tool.  After all, as an XYZ club member, wouldn't you be proud of supporting an organization that donated 20% of its net profits to charitable causes?

In closing, remember that the person requesting a donation from you is somewhat like the buyer you are soliciting for a placement of your wine.  You are both calling on people who receive many more requests than they can honor.  And you are both potential customers of the business.  Never be rude to someone soliciting wine for donation -- this could be a former, current or future club member.

Once you have a charitable donation strategy in place, it will be that much easier to grant those requests that fit with your winery's vision and politely decline those that don't.  Whenever I turn down a request for a charitable donation, I strive to offer an idea to the solicitor -- for example, a lead for a winery who supports the particular cause. And if it's possible to give something such as a limited time special purchase rate or complimentary tasting, I always accept because it drives new customers to my clients' businesses.


Key Takeaways from 2012 OR Wine Symposium

This year's annual Oregon Wine Symposium was held in late February in Portland and saw record attendance.  The event always provides a good chance to learn, connect with colleagues and network; and I was delighted to find that the outlook and energy level have improved dramatically since I first attended in 2009.  I left also with four key takeaways, which I detail below.

#1 Opportunity Awaits
For me, a critical important takeaway is a mindset of opportunity and openness to change to seize it.  Most businesses -- mine included -- can find areas for improvement in good times and in those more challenging.  (I feel quite lucky to have started Trellis Wine Consulting in 2008, as I had nowhere to go but up.  Many people have commented to me over the years how hard that timing must have been, but since I didn't know any differently, there were no laurels to rest upon and no pulls of complacency.)

Rob McMillan, Founder and SVP of Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division, predicts 7-11% growth in 2012 and sees opportunity for higher priced wines at $40+.  These are of course the wines that struggled most during the recession, and it's encouraging to know that outlooks and sentiment alike are positive.  These predictions do not mean that all businesses will see growth in sales and profitability -- it's still a very, very competitive market and continues to become more so.  Having a defensible, written competitive strategy will be a factor in separating the businesses that grow from those that stagnate.  McMillan suggested that Generation X -- those born in the 1960s through the early 80s -- are a prime target.  And he encouraged wine businesses to invest in CRM (customer relationship management) software.  CRM investment continues to lag in the wine and spirits industry, which is a weakness given its focus around better understanding and serving customers.  Considering we're all first in the hospitality business, it is a critical weakness.

#2 - Wholesaler Relationships Need ImprovementI've always been surprised by the frustration and animosity many Oregon producers have toward their distributors.  This tends to stem from a blend of two factors: problems on the distributor side and lack of understanding of how these relationships are supposed to work.

I understand the plight of producers.  A boutique winery that isn't being paid for its goods and is, therefore, placed in a difficult situation given lack of leverage is very tough.  Brutal, in fact.

What I don't understand is an unwillingness to understand the wholesale business and work as partners.  In a partnership, both parties need to outline expectations, goals, communication preferences, etc. And they both need to support each other while recognizing that it will never be a perfect relationship.  The same winery lamenting a distributor's poor performance in North Carolina (picking on my home state for no good reason) may be lacking fundamental tools for its distributor partners:

1. wines delivering excellent quality and packaging

2. clear, competitive pricing

3. plan to invest in the market with regular visits (no, it's not just the distributor's job to sell a supplier's wines)

4. understanding the importance of sampling as one of the best marketing tools

5. plan to invest in marketing to create pull through (i.e., well designed website with trade section containing useful tools, truly competitive packaging design, promotional and programming calendar prepared in advance, etc.).

Eugenia Keegan and Ellen Brittan delivered an excellent presentation.  They surveyed distributors beforehand and gathered very important data to support their points.  Having correct pricing, a compelling story, and a plan of action for the market were cited as most important.  Quality and value are the most salient factors in a distributor's decision to engage a supplier, but there is much, much more a winery needs to do to be competitive.

The next time you are working the market, ask the sales rep to see his price book.  Take a moment to understand how he must approach his day.  There are anywhere between six to 12 spots in most rep's wine bags, so hundreds or thousands are not selected daily.  One of your primary goals should be making it easier for him to select one of your wines with some consistency. 

If your child were applying for a spot at a coveted university which selects fewer than 10% of applicants, would you advise her just to send in the application with a minimum amount of effort since it's the university's job to know how special she is?  I think not.  The burden of proof lies with the winery -- which actually spells opportunity.

#3 - Never Underestimate the Importance of Friends  I was also impressed by the panel presenting "Oregon Wine in the eyes of the World," moderated by Domaine Drouhin's David Millman.  Bringing together a panel of speakers ranging from a noted Oregonian to wine experts from across the nation underscored the notion of wine as a globally competitive marketplace.  Speakers included Jeremy Noye of Zachy's, Doug Frost (one of the world's only MS/MWs,) Josh Raynolds of Steven Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, and Sam Tanahill of A to Z Wineworks.

When devising a brand strategy we need to consider the entire market, not just the competitors in our backyard, because those are the wines on the shelves we covet.  The panel highlighted the need to do the following to build a successful national brand:

1. Employ a longer-term strategic vision.

2. Value market work and the personal relationships it creates.

3. Develop strong wholesale relationships. (Sound familiar?)

4. Devise ways to unify the Oregon wine industry to raise awareness of the quality being produced here and grow the share of all wines from the state.  This is an especially longer-term return on investment, requiring suppliers to put brand Oregon ahead of brand XYZ winery.  We see this a lot in the old world -- think Wines of Spain, Wines of Greece, Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, etc.

#4 Recognize and Appreciate What You've Accomplished  The wine industry is a tough place.  It takes so much hard work to tend vines and coax fruit into wine (or have the patience to let it be).  It's no wonder owners and operators are sometimes to exhausted to think about the marketing and sales side of the business.  Not too long ago, when there were many fewer competitors in Oregon, making great wine was enough.  The success of the pioneers like David Adelsheim, who won the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, made the industry that much more attractive . . . and now, competitive.

We do need to take the time to recognize our accomplishments.  Celebrating successes and rewarding great performance infuses a winery culture with the positive energy to face the work that needs to be done to continue growing. 

Jesse Lyon and Duke Tufty of Davis Wright Tremaine, one of the few firms specializing in wine law in the Pacific Northwest, encouraged their panel to think about creating a "culture of compliance."  Duke enlightened us about OLCC decoy policy given his experience on a ride-with, which interested me so much that I asked my colleague, Janel Lubanski, to schedule one.  (Stay tuned -- she'll be blogging about her experience in a future post as soon as it's completed.)

I was honored to be a part of this discussion on the importance of direct sales and how to blend best hospitality and compliance practices in tasting rooms.  My section focused primarily on the value of direct sales to the overall industry, and how tasting room visits lead to wine club members.  For example, a May 2010 Wine Business Monthly study found that 83% of all club sign-ups stem from a tasting room visit.

Bill Baldwin of Partners Group reminded owners to take a close look at insurance coverage and factor defense fees into the amount taken.  Also, he emphasized that prevention is critical.  Two industry direct sales experts then provided specifics on how their wineries handle prevention. 

Ashley Hancock
of Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa, California, offered some excellent advice, such as "to slow down when it gets busier" and offer guests who have over-consumed a refund, as well as the opportunity to return as a "guest of the winery" to save what could become a very difficult situation.

Michael Brown
, Sokol Blosser's Director of Consumer Sales, reminded the audience that all of us had likely been in a bachelor(ette) gathering and encouraged everyone to re-think how we approach and serve groups.  Providing a suitable space, food pairings, and plenty of non-wine beverages can add to the group's enjoyment and lead to repeat visits . . . and even wine club sign-ups.

In closing, we would, of course, be delighted to discuss any marketing projects that were inspired by the symposium.  Please reach us at 360-210-5551 or email me today.


Case Study: Surveying as a Decision Making Tool

In September of 2011, I posted about using business milestones as catalysts for growth. Surveying your key stakeholders -- customers, trade accounts, distributors, etc.-- is a method for gaining an understanding of your business's current position and perception.  The knowledge acquired from a survey is also a great tool for charting a course of action forward to achieve your next milestone.

We are currently working with McKinley Springs Winery on a brand strategy project and used distributor surveying as a research and decision-making tool.  The winery's Bombing Range Red is a terrific red blend from Washington's Horse Heaven Hills and offers a unique story and excellent value, given it's delicious taste and $12 price point.  It has been a vehicle for sales growth given its excellent positioning, and we are looking to help McKinley Springs continue to grow sales with either a positioning change, add-on wine, or both.  (I am not giving specifics on the questions they had or the actions we're now taking, but will share how we approached the survey and used it as a decision-making tool.)

Instead of making recommendations about additional wines or packaging based solely on our experience and industry expertise, we designed and conducted surveys of the winery's distributors to gain an understanding of the brand's strengths, challenges and areas of opportunity in its distribution markets.  Since McKinley Springs is a small, family owned and operated winery, we elected to use qualitative phone surveys over online collection tools to allow for more pointed inquiry and analysis. 

We spoke to all but one distributor, most of whom were happy to be asked to give feedback (versus being asked to sell a new or changed product they were never consulted about), and some of whom gave us some great creative ideas for our next steps.  Simply asking for feedback can provide buy-in for the future in addition to knowledge acquisition.   Further, in speaking directly with the men and women who are interacting with buyers everyday, we avoided the "marketer trap" of offering suggestions without field data and were able to test the hypotheses we developed based on this research.

After completing the survey period, we analyzed all of the answers and provided McKinley Springs with a grouping and ranking of responses and our recommendations.  We are now proceeding with the next phase -- elevating the brand positioning and -- will be introducing the fruits of our joint effort in the spring of 2013.  Stay tuned . . .

In closing, there are a few survey design best practices I'd like to share:

1. Begin with the end in mind.  Determine specifically what you'd like to know before launching into questions.

2. Develop a list of all possible questions.  We tend to recommend 10 or fewer questions to avoid survey fatigue and therefore increase response rate, but it is important to consider all angles before committing to specific questions.  You can then narrow them down to a reasonable amount and select those that are best worded.

3. Consider the effect of how the question is asked.  Yes/no questions give you very little data.  Since "yes" or "no" is often the result, we tend to avoid this question.  (There are of course exceptions, but very few.)   There is also the element of the amount of data you'll be collecting.  Open-ended questions like "please explain" give you a wealth of data, but can be very difficult and time consuming to analyze.  Often, a "rank" or "select all that apply" or what we call "temperature check" (i.e., strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree) are more useful.

4. Consider the order of your questions.  Your survey should flow well -- you don't want to hop from pricing to customer experience to value to club membership.  Group like questions together to make the experience more thoughtful for respondents.

5. Keep it short to avoid responder fatigue (and abandonment).  Three questions are excellent, six work well and ten are still okay.  Go beyond that and it becomes a lot more work for everyone involved.

6. Offer an incentive to increase response rate.  If you're planning an event, give away a complimentary registration.  If you're asking for feedback from your club members, gift as a special bottle.  Consider offering multiple incentives to increase the respondent's excitement around his/her chances of winning.

7. Determine how you will conduct and distribute the survey.  If you're doing a qualitative analysis with phone or in-person meetings, you'll be taking notes and perhaps recording the sessions.  Surveys deployed with online tools do not allow for clarification questions, but can reach a wider audience more efficiently and provide analysis tools.  In either case, a clear set of instructions is very important and should detail the 5 W's (who is conducting it, what method is being used, when will it be due and followed up upon, where will it be conducted and why it is being conducted).

8. Consider the value of anonymity.  We almost always recommend it to increase the level and value of the feedback.  If respondents feel that there is a chance for retribution, they will be more careful and measured in their responses.

9. Set a deadline for responses that is within a week.  If you give respondents too long, they will delay; and, if there isn't enough time, those who are particularly busy when they receive it will delete it.

10.  Give respondents feedback.  Thank everyone who participated and let them know when you'll be making decisions.  Recognize the winners if you offered incentives.  Then, once you analyze the results and decide upon a course of action, communicate the high-level summary of actions and thank them again.

If the thought of the time investment required to survey your key stakeholders is overwhelming, send us a note.