Covid, Community & Commerce

The emergence of online engagement and eCommerce 

Many wineries, business partners and consumers are at home in some form of quarantine or under stay at home restrictions. This is a communications opportunity – to interact with other tasting room and wine industry professionals on social media – as well as with your customers, and not just to sell wine. Consumers will want to know what’s going on with the winery, and may be interested in engaging with you online. DTC marketing outreach by old school mail, email and social media will keep people informed and updated, as well as offer them online opportunities to enjoy your wines shipped direct to their homes.

Be authentic and genuine. What is Your Brand really all about? I’m reading that people don’t want more pitches for wine, but want to know what the winery is doing to accommodate followers and community during the crisis. I would hedge a little on promos, and err on the side of subtlety and indirect offers, by focusing on wine education and entertainment experiences which are brand appropriate.

Is this the long-awaited inflection point to meaningful winery eCommerce? Now is the time for wineries to find creative ways to shift their business models and shift their sales channel strategies. The last 10 years saw an adjustment from reliance on distribution sales to selling Consumer Direct. Small producers with fully established DTC programs are the most affected by this disruption and many are reacting very quickly and creatively with online solutions. I think this will be the point of transition for those wineries that have not fully embraced eCommerce, to establish online sales as a significant and ongoing part of their DTC programs.

In addition to curbside pickup and drop-off services, there has been lots of interest and many calls for Virtual Tastings from the winery associations and the media. They are looking for events that are part of your programming, so scheduling and publishing well in advance – to allow for system testing (Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Zoom, Skype, etc.) and presentation practice is important, as well as providing ample time for shipping if customers are interested in acquiring specific wines for the event. From my perspective, this could and should become part of your ongoing DTC program – post pandemic – to reach out-of-state and other targeted groups, i.e. consumers, out of state club members, trade or media – so why not get a program in place now and take a leadership position?

I also suggest you do the math and focus on “Shipping Included” promotions versus discounts. Develop a progressive schedule of different packages and gift packs for instance. Consider which wines to offer for virtual tasting events featuring winemaker and staff. You might be surprised at people’s willingness to meet and taste with you online – with either your wines or for wine education. Finally, remember the phone? I know its old school, but the human voice is reassuring. Keep your staff engaged by having them contact your best customers, not just club members. Check to see how they are doing, let them know what’s happening at the winery – and just this one time – don’t ask or mention selling them wine. You might be surprised at the results.

Here are some best practice marketing articles I’ve read that you may find helpful:

For my part as a publicist, I’m focused on shipping wines to reviewers across the U.S., not only the large national publications but also critics and writers whose opinion matters. Their reports and reviews will help my clients stay top of mind and provide important content to support their marketing efforts. I’ll also reschedule canceled March and April visits, and hopefully start booking media tours again late spring, early summer. That’s my best guess timing at this point. Of course, pitching client stories to national and regional outlets including magazines, broadcast and radio seemingly never ends.

Things that wineries can do on the digital and marketing side are:

  • Website – update all pages with current information, virtual offers and photos. Position the site as if you are an online only business, with tasting room and in person experiences coming soon. Special focus now should be on the shopping cart and mobile shopping experience. Is the site fully responsive? If not fix that. What shipping or “quarantine” promos can you run to capture online sales?
  • Photo Gallery – setup or update your gallery by category (Seasons, Views, People, Vineyard, Harvest, Events, etc.) and populate with best available high-resolution photos. Someone will need to curate your library of photos. I use this resource often for media image requests. Why is professional photography so important?
  • Content Schedule – setup and maintain a schedule for email and social media marketing. Identify content in advance – news, promos, photos, etc. This also helps me coordinate media outreach and with your marketing department.
  • Wine Club Retention – you are likely to get some cancels or credit card rejections. Offer membership suspends for 3 months, downsize club levels or at least keep them on the general email list for future “we want you back” campaigns.

I believe the 2020 pandemic will trigger an industry-wide transition to more meaningful digital and social communications, and most importantly eCommerce as a profitable channel. Not all wineries will get it done. Those that do will be in a better position going forward.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 10th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

Is your Wine Club still relevant?

As Groucho Marx famously once said “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member”.

Let’s assume you are a craft producer with a well conceived and unique branding approach, and don’t mass produce your wines; then why would you mass produce wine club members?

Wine Clubs are now in place at 90% of all wineries in US, and are growing year over year by an average 15%, according to the SVB Survey as reported in July by Wine Business Monthly. They have become an expected commodity. How to differentiate your offerings from the madding crowd of clubs?

First, let’s note some of the ways a winery can fail at the basics of club execution:
· Not asking people to join your club (not selling membership)
· Not asking for member referrals and providing member rewards
· Not auto charging cards in advance of pickup
· Allowing members to purchase their wine allocation at their leisure over time
· Growing members too fast and not being able to service them
· Not providing special treatment to your members during a tasting room visit
· Not communicating regularly with your wine club (1/4ly club news and invites)
· Not having enough events and pickup parties to engage and sell to your members
· Doing the same things most other wineries do; not offering something unique
· Shipping paid for wine without communicating to members
· Not offering a “Choose your own wine” option. Mandating “Winemaker Selection”

What happens when you lose Members? See my December 2012 article on “Wine Club Loss Management“.

How to make your club offering more relevant in today’s competitive market?

Start with surveying your club members. Survey Monkey is a free survey tool that is easy to use, anonymous and no cost to you for up to 10 questions (which are plenty). You will be surprised and impressed with what you will learn from your own best customers. Next, design and implement some changes. Announce the results to your club members with great aplomb and thank them for their feedback and ongoing loyalty. Communicate the details of your next club event when the changes will be rolled out. There is really not much to it, but to do it.

Other than discounts, what motivates members to continue patronizing your club? I’m starting to see “Experiences” rather than discounts emerging. I have a client who decided they weren’t giving purchase discounts to their members, but would create a dynamic series of unique group experiences instead. I was resistant at first but came around (Fellow consultants, listen to your clients!). Seated tastings have also been widely proven to increase the average wine purchase per visit and wine club signup rate. This makes sense since customers opt to pay a few dollars more for something special and you provide exceptional and personalized attention.

Also, points based loyalty programs, where the buyer decides what level of discount they want to earn, are another example of an innovative client rewarding the folks that spend, after they have spent! This is very similar to what the airlines and lodging industry have popularized.

Why bother to up the ante and keep your club relevant?

Average tenure of club memberships has increased from about 18 months to over 2 years. Average annual spend per member appears to be up from an $450 two years ago to almost $650 per member. Let’s do the math here. That’s a lifetime value of about $1,500 per member. Is that enough of a reason to keep your Wine Club relevant?

OWB Steps Up

Good things happening at Oregon Wine Board – a new executive director and experienced marketing staff, a cool new mobile website designed by the folks at Lynksnap, lots of exciting plans and 2012 marketing initiatives. Kicking off 2012, check out this first annual consumer event sponsored and produced by OWB:

Taste Oregon, April 29th at the Left Bank Annex in Portland kicks off Oregon Wine Month. The event is intended to showcase the state’s great wines under one room along with delicious food from local chefs. Attendance is expected to be 750-1,000 people. Sign-ups will be taken on a first come first serve basis. Taste Oregon will work to accommodate as many wineries as are interested in participating. Please fill out the linked form and submit it to the Oregon Wine Board by December 30 along with payment.