A CALL FOR MORE AND BETTER CONTENT

Guest Column by Jim Gullo

What a pleasure it is to watch this Oregon wine industry grow and evolve before our eyes. There were just over 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley when I moved to McMinnville seven years ago and began to cover this industry as a journalist and copywriter, and then experienced it behind the counter as a Tasting Room Associate. Now there are nearly 450 wineries in the valley, and over 600 in the state.

We do so many things well that it almost seems effortless to the casual observer. The wines are consistent and top-quality, and have earned Oregon a reputation as being world-class. The visitor experience is casual and likable – tasting room guests talk all the time about how pleasant and informal we are, with unusual access to the winemakers themselves. Even behind-the-scenes things like vineyard management have gotten better and more consistent. Biodynamics, for example, were little known and rarely practiced as recently as 2008.

What hasn’t changed much, curiously, and where we remain behind on the world stage, is in marketing in general and content in particular. Content: The written and spoken words that wineries use to tell their stories to their customers, and how wineries attract more people to seek them out. Stories delivered not only by tasting room staff directly to visitors, but via newsletters, blogs, press releases, clean and exciting websites, and social media. Nobody In Oregon – be it a winemaker, winery or trade association — has grabbed the content reins and become the go-to source of Oregon wine and industry information in the way that Randal Grahm/Bonny Doon has in California, or Charles K. Smith has in Walla Walla. The field is wide open and ready to be seized.

I may be biased, because I make a living from writing and telling stories, but I think that content management will become the next big, important component to a successful winery, as vital to your operation as clean barrels, your vineyard contract and catchy labeling. It has to be: When consumers get the idea that most, or at least a vast majority of wineries produce wines of a similar quality, it is the story, the presentation and the professionalism of the content – of telling the winery’s story – that put it at the top of the list for tastings and direct sales.

Think this isn’t on the mind of the major players in the industry? Argyle Winery in Dundee, which sees extraordinary traffic, will complete a new visitor space this summer. One of their stated goals was to have more areas where customers could sit in small groups and interact with staff – talk and mingle and hear stories about the winery. That’s content. The new management of Scott Paul Wines in Carlton includes a former Nike brand manager and communications expert, and the first thing they will do is renovate the tasting room for more personal interactions and story-telling with customers.

And here’s the nasty flipside: When your content appears to be shoddy and unprofessional, riddled with errors, outdated and loaded with typos and bad writing, it reflects poorly on the brand that you have been so carefully building. Want an example? One winery insists on the front page of their website that they “pour over every detail” in making their wine. They probably mean “pore” over every detail, and that simple error makes you wonder how good their attention to detail really is.

Another tells us on their website that their property “abutts” another (the right spelling is abuts; we all know what a butt is), and from their property you can see “…a statute of Saint Francis of Assisi…” They probably mean statue, unless some legislative body created a statute just for them.

Look, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or be the school librarian here. But we suddenly have new competition for customers, and when your website and communications are evaluated side by side with the slick, advertising agency sites of your new competitors, will they pass scrutiny?

You know you need professional winemaking, of course, to make your business work. You need professional vineyard management, compliance and accounting. You need business management. Wineries that want to stand out also need professional content management and marketing. Short of that, at the very least, every message that you put up on your website or blog should be proofread by two or more people in your company who have solid English skills. It’s amazing how even professional writers can overlook obvious errors in our work. When we instituted a proofreading policy at Angela Estate, the typos and spelling errors were almost completely eliminated. Everyone in your company should be encouraged to write or post, and a point-person should be in charge of scheduling the flow of information.

Good luck and may the information flow. I can’t wait to see how this industry matures, and how we tell our stories, as we enter the next fifty years of Oregon wine.

Jim Gullo is a freelance writer whose work appears in Oregon Wine Press, and the Alaska and Horizon Airlines magazines. He has published eight books and was the editor and publisher of Oregonwine.com, a web magazine. He has also written and edited content for many wineries. His website is http://www.jim-gullo.com; e-mail is jim@jimgullo.com.

What’s Your (Tradeshow) Plan?

Trade Show Attendee Strategies

Tradeshow season is coming up soon. Conferences usually last more than one day, so how to come out of the conference energized with ideas to grow your business? Unless you are visiting to purchase something specific (more on this later), there are only three things to focus on during winery tradeshow – Promote Yourself and Your Brand, Market Research and Networking.

Promote Yourself and Your Brand – establish yourself and your winery business as a leader. You do this by offering information and assistance to your peers, and being participative during the tradeshow. This will also help you get Media exposure if it arises; requests to be a future panelist, which highlights your areas of expertise and further promotes you/your brand; and opportunities to participate in winery and industry associations. The other benefit of being active versus passive it that you’ll feel energized and recharged with new ideas and initiatives.

Market Research – you go to these shows because your winery competition is there, and you have a primo opportunity to gather intelligence and best practices ideas. The payback for offering info is getting new ideas, techniques and emerging trends in return. Issues with stuck fermentations? Treatments for blights and bugs? POS and inventory issues? How are they selling so much wine online? Is social media working for you? How are you getting those scores and wine writers reviews? You get my point; now be sure to ask.

Networking – make friends with other winery principles and managers (also wine industry suppliers) that can help you. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations. That’s why people attend these types of events. Why not conduct business meetings during show breaks? Find new dealers and vendors to establish long term relationships. You will eventually need their help, products and services in the future. I find it helpful to immediately make notes on the back of business cards as follow-up reminders.

Logistics and Tactics – download and print the show agenda and attendees lists. Identify and highlight (yes, use a marker pen) which “must do” classes and sessions to attend and which speakers you want to talk to. Schedule yourself and stick to the schedule. Our nature tendency is to kibitz with wine business friends, taste wine and relax. Resist this and stay on plan. This is your investment of time and how you outpoint your competition. Take an end row seat in the middle of the room. This enables you to see the entire audience for influential and information contacts. It also provides easy regress when you need it.

Next, see who else is attending the show. Highlight those contacts who have the most value and make a short list to refer to. What is it that you’d talk to them about? You’ll see them throughout the show and can spontaneously strike up a conversation. To do that, arrive early in the morning and hang out at the coffee and water stations. People will arrive relaxed and conversations are easy going. Be there early for breakfast and introductions. Look around the room and see who you want to speak to and sit with them. Stay late for wine tastings and social activities to make more connections. When “winesense” turns to nonsense, beat feat back to your room and get some shut eye in prep for tomorrows events. Working out early in the morning and arriving top of the day’s agenda puts you one step ahead.

Plan on purchasing something? Consider your most pressing problem or need. Is it related to grape growing, winemaking or marketing and selling your wines? Once you identified 1-2 business needs, decide if you have budget and what the timeframe is to acquisition. This will help you have a business discussion with vendors, and acquire good and competitive information about their products and services. Should you make a purchase commitment at the show? This can vary based on whether you are offered a “Tradeshow Only” deal that evaporates as soon as you depart the floor. Having spent many years in sales I know that these deals can be reconstructed or re-negotiated later. My strategy is to politely decline but give the salesperson your card and ask them to follow up after the show. It’s their job after all to do so. This puts you in a better negotiating position and not subject to artificial “sense of urgency”. You can also evaluate and leverage competitive offers without the strain of show deadlines.

What is Your Brand?

The importance of Branding and Messaging for small wine producers

Branding exercises are not fun. There… I said it. Not doing them can be fatal, particularly in today’s competitive environment. Not having a clear sense of your winery’s identity, position and target customer is equivalent to starting a meeting or conversation without making introductions. Without doing the difficult brand identity work (essence, philosophy, position, point of difference, brand promise and proof, and the stories to support these), you are communicating without point of reference and your messaging may not resonate; in fact, may not connect with anyone at all.

Ninety percent of small producers haven’t completed a branding or re-branding exercise. And, most of you are marketing the same way — logos, websites, email newsletters, social media, festivals and events. Without a clear brand strategy and message, how are you really different than the other 90 percent of “small family, boutique, premium producers” in the marketplace?

The good news is that if you’re winery has less than a 5,000-case production, less than 2,000 emails in your database; less than 1,500 Facebook and Twitter followers , and haven’t gotten a lot of press lately, then it’s not too late to re-visit, re-brand and re-focus your business. More good news — if you actually read this article there is hope for you. If you believe that doing branding work is important but can’t get started or don’t have the capacity, then call a professional for assistance.

Ad agencies do this type of work for corporate brands successfully. Think of any large consumer brand — Apple, Coke, Harley-Davidson, The Rolling Stones, Disney, etc. They have strong brand identities, know who their customers are; and their target audience knows how and why they’re different. These brands have created philosophical and emotional connections and their customers care. They don’t sell products, they sell feelings. Brand awareness puts them on the short list. Sounds difficult and expensive, right?

Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be, who people perceive you to be. Your brand is a result of the images and experiences in people’s minds. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Why should customers trust and care about your brand? You need to give them the reasons. And they need to be authentic. You do this by looking long and hard at yourself first and personally; then extrapolate your philosophy, vision and stories to your winery business. Try writing your stories, and in both long and short form. Have a 20-second elevator speech that sums up how you are different and why people should care enough to pursue your brand. Remember to ask the “So What?” question on each point. This is hard work but needs to be done and will help you decide “What is Your Voice”. Get help if you need it from someone who understands the process, but by all means put in the time to differentiate your brand and identify your unique selling points; and audience. Once you have a clear constituency in mind, you’ll tailor your messaging to them and find them. If not, you won’t.

So how to get started? Do a standard SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) on your winery to establish brand position compared to your competition. Prioritize each of these items. Next, begin to think about story platforms that might work and with whom specifically your stories will resonate. Think of people and stories as interchangeable, in the sense that your target customer has needs, and your stories and brand have to fulfill them. Examples for stories your target audience can relate to — vineyard or winery legacy; family stories; unique varietals or winemaking styles; lifestyle promotional; social affluence aspirational; technical or educational perspectives; travel and adventure focused; independent minded entrepreneurial, creative and leading edge, etc.

Once you’ve identified your position in the marketplace; documented your authentic stories; and selected your specific target customer, you’re ready to work on messaging, which will be used for all verbal and written communications. This messaging is how you convey your promise to your customers and what gives them a reason to care about your brand and tell their friends they should, too.

Marketing Wine to ‘The Media’

Tom Wark’s recent blog post weighs the differences between traditional and social media: Social vs Traditional Media in Wine Marketing It is an excellent summary of the importance of taking a balanced approach to telling your story and getting your brand’s message reviewed. The Press or traditional wine journalists may be diminishing in numbers but not importance. Online writers and bloggers are increasing in numbers and gaining mind-share.

So, what’s a small production winery to do? Yes… you’ve heard it here before “Do what you can and outsource the rest”. Not to seem too preachy here, but despite the cooperative nature of the wine industry we are all competing for media attention and ultimately to capture the interest and loyalty of consumers both locally and nationally.

Pitching your story likely falls into the realm of outsourcing to professionals that understand how to qualify a writers palate preferences and story interests, know how to pitch an article and already have both traditional and online journalist contacts and developed relationships.

Messaging and Branding – What’s your Story?

End of year is a great time to work on ‘Messaging’, as we start preparing next years marketing plan. Messaging directly influences wine sales and brand building results. Remember, your brand and its messaging are not about Product. Producing excellent wine is just the start. Quality wines are assumed by the consumer, and quality is the price of admission for any premium wine brand in this crowded marketplace.

Your brand is the set of experiences and images in the minds of your consumers. Please read that last sentence again and think about how your brand is different from other brands, and how you can create compelling and memorable experiences for consumers.

Let’s talk about Differentiation…

Have you ever used these words when describing your wines to consumers – artisanal, burgundian-style, elegant, complex, terroir driven, well balanced, reserve, etc? Although there may be some truth to all of these, consumers hear this messaging all too often. We need to tailor our messaging in ways that are important to our customers and compel them to buy our wine, join our clubs and become ambassadors for our brand.

Start by documenting your winery’s unique and relatable stories – the inside stories of the winery, property history, personal stories of the founders, winemakers and team members. This can be an excellent team building project that results in distinctive and consistent communications whenever you are engaging or selling wine to consumers (eNewsletters, events, tasting room, website, traditional and social media).

Do this Exercise!

Everyone has heard of the ‘Elevator Speech’ where you have 30 seconds or less with a total stranger, to provide them enough information to peak their interest and search out your brand. In 30 seconds (or about 100 written words) verbally explain who your winery is, how you’re different and why a consumer should care. After each statement ask the question “So What?” to test relevance. I did this exercise recently with a client and found that everyone on staff had a different elevator speech! Some were surprised at what others were saying and new facts were discovered by all. This activity can be difficult to do, but should result in the distillation of a few key points of differentiation, your unique position in the marketplace and what your winery brand really stands for.