What is your Tasting Room Strategy?

Tasting Rooms are critical to your survival

Here are the facts, according to a Silicon Valley Bank presentation I recently attended, on the “2015 State of the Wine Industry” – In 1995 there were 2,000 wineries and 3,000 distributors in the U.S. Those seem like pretty good odds for getting your wines into someone’s book, right? Today we are faced with an entirely different reality. 7,000 wineries are entering 2015 in search of just 700 distributors. What does that tell you if you are a small production winery?

While entering new markets is certainly feasible, it has now become more difficult due to the consolidation of wholesalers nationally, and focus on volume based brands. This indicates the need to focus on the Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales channel. And at the strategic core of every DTC program is… The Tasting Room. When I write Marketing and Action Plans for winery clients I always start with a brand discussion, followed by the real estate. Do you have a tasting room, or plan to? Is absolutely every aspect of the room a reflection of your brand strategy? It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be memorable.

Is there a better place to create brand ambassadors than your tasting room? Having one affects your ability to sell wine, grow and profit from loyalty programs, and derive new subscribers and followers to market to. So the strategy is to drive traffic to your tasting room, and use engaging and authentic service to sell wine. From a sales and marketing perspective, there are only three things that you and your tasting room must excel at every day:

1) Selling Wine (66% close rate is your benchmark)

2) Selling Wine Club (10% should be your goal)

3) Getting Emails for your newsletter (I think 80% of visitors is a reasonable target)

It falls to winery owners and managers to ensure staff understands that along with the myriad of other duties, that job #1 is to create brand ambassadors. The way to do that is to out-service your competition. So, glass polishing can wait. Service first!

On the subject of “Service Talks“, and wine descriptions walk… hire staff that are a reflection of your winery brand, that you are proud to have as representatives. It’s not enough to have an earnest friends volunteer to help if they can’t ask for wine and club orders, and don’t provide exceptional customer service. Whoever presents your wines will become the face of your winery, and experiences they provide will persist indefinitely. Hire people who are natural hospitality types and Invest in their wine education. I have a few winery clients that run wonderful tasting room operations; and some have wanted to affirm public perception. We use surveys to get anonymous feedback from visitors and club members; and also hire “Secret Shoppers” and provide a script of questions, responses and talking points to engage tasting room staff. The results go to the old saw “be careful what you ask for”. We can all stand to improve our operations, right?

So, why are Tasting Rooms so important to consumers? It is no longer enough to sell great wine! Save technical details for the small percent of visitors who ask. I tell my clients in no uncertain fashion “Stop Selling Products”; “Start Telling Stories”. People expect to interact and engage with your brand, so your tasting room should have visual displays that are consistent with your brand identify; Visitors also want to have memorable “Experiences“. And the best way to do that is with well thought out questions about their interests and wine knowledge; and in a controlled environment – your tasting room. If you really think about it, don’t we all want to discover that special and reliable place we can always go and bring our friends and “where everyone knows your name” (think “Cheers!” Wine Bar)?

Why not allow guests to choose what type of experience they’d like? There has been a very positive trend toward offering different “Guest Experiences” at your winery tasting room; to have personal hands on interactions of their choice. Examples of this might include 1) Classic standing tasting bar 2) Open seated and served tasting 3) Reserved seating wine and food pairing experience 4) private space for wine club members 5) Guided educational vineyard tours 6) separate space for club members 7) Outdoor Patio or Picnic tables. Options 2-7 have proven to both increase average sales per visit, and new wine club signups. The point is to get away from the tasting bar and people moving.

Let’s face it, these days people have too much information available and so many choices; of who to patronize and which brands to introduce to their friends. First impressions are more critical than ever, and we are tasked with being accessible and authentic in all of our interactions. This highlights the need for consistency of messaging and high-touch high-energy service provided across all your marketing platforms starting with Tasting Room. Deliver good memories and people will take home memorabilia (your wines!). Although this is cliché’, it’s worth stating anyway. It’s the second sale that matters, isn’t it?

How do you know if you are successful? Tracking Metrics and Conversion rates against goals. Tracking new daily visitors, buyers, sales, club signups, email subscribers and how they heard of you is a must; Compare your results to industry benchmarks, calculate your conversion rates, and adjust the goals and incentives of your tasting room staff monthly. You will improve your sales conversions by tracking user preferences and history – so use your POS or invest in a CRM to record, segment and target customer preferences; or at least use your EMS (email system) to track notes, history and interactions.

Other TR best practices – offer strong industry discounts (25-30%) to other tasting room – they are your best referral source; when it’s busy send staff out to network and see what other tasting rooms are doing; have staff do daily Facebook posts in your winery’s voice with the mood and a photo of the day; send email thank you notes to all significant daily buyers (you got their email correct)? Ask them to follow on your social platforms; add them to your EMS (email marketing system), and setup auto-generated offers in one week; always send hand written thank you cards to new wine club members; Tweet daily tasting lineups or promos using common hashtags. Oh, and if you’re not doing this already, please visually acknowledge me within 7-10 seconds when I walk in your door.

Why Email Marketing?

Everyone has one. Some have many. Email addresses are a type of currency. They cost nothing to give out, but their value to the recipient is “priceless”… well not quite, but very valuable. In fact, after your existing customers, getting emails from prospective future customers is your most valuable asset.

Why discuss email marketing at all? There are so many other marketing subjects of interest i.e. Loyalty clubs, social media, mobile marketing, winery PR. Year end planning is a good time to get back to the basics, and email is one of the primary branches of the content tree, leading to many other points of connection with consumers. I still meet people who are just getting started with social media, mobile devices and other tech, but I know for a fact that just about everyone has an email address.

The value of email is to facilitate communications and build brand loyalty. It is likely that some form of social media will replace email communications in the future. Evidence of this is generational. My mother who is in her 80’s doesn’t have email and can’t be bothered. My niece who is 15 may have an email address, but has only given me her phone number for texting.

All of this brings me to the point of this article. Email Marketing is a proven driver of actions you want your current and prospective customers to take. It’s inexpensive and you can segment and target your audience specific to their interests and track the results. If your winery has a tasting room, this is what you’ll want to promote and where you’ll want to connect with people. If you don’t, you’ll communicate by driving them to your website and hope to transact business there. If you are one of my email subscribers and read this article in my next newsletter, I’ll suggest that you “click here to read more”, which takes you out to this blog post where the balance of this article resides. I want you to read the conclusion of this article on my website, which is my point here. You can’t sell wine (or consulting) with newsletters and social media, but you can create calls to action that take your customers where you can sell wine, either in person or on your website.

Content has become as important as the media through which it is conveyed. And targeted content even more so. Segment your email lists and deliver content relevant to specific group interests. Shipping promos for out of state subscribers, and local events for those in state are good examples.

Newsletters are just one of many ways you can build customers and followers. It is critically important that your newsletter is integrated with your advertising, and social media and displays well on mobile devices and is easy to share. Conversely, you can create integration and build your emails lists with signup forms on your website and your social networks.

I see so many newsletters with content that seems very noisy and spammy with lots of pitches and sales promos. I get that, but your newsletter needs to appear educational. Use the 80/20 rule (Educate/Promote) and you’ll be fine. People will appreciate it, and when you do offer special deals they’ll take notice. Newsletter marketing can boost sales and the effect is immediate.

The ‘Three R’s’ of Wine Club Loss Management

Wine Clubs have become exceeding popular with many consumers. I’ve heard reports of folks belonging to as many as 4-5 different clubs. It’s easy to join and drop clubs, so we all need to be on our toes. After all, members are our best customers (almost like our business family), aren’t they?

There are many reasons our customers RETRACT their membership including lack of winery contact, not being acknowledged and treated special, dumping of wines and inflexibility of choice. Be proactive during the winter months (after holiday bills arrive and with shorter tasting room hours), recognize the challenges around jobs and the economy, and keep a watchful eye on anniversary dates as the average life span of club membership is between 1 to 1.5 years.

So how do we RETAIN members? Give your members what they want! Remind them of their benefits and do something special during slow winter months. Try to take members aside in a separate area of your tasting room when they arrive during regular hours. Non-members will take notice of course. Use Customer Management Systems to track your members preferences, purchasing patterns, anniversary dates and tailor communications and promotions specifically to them. When is the last time you sent a poll to find out how they liked their last wine shipment?

When someone cancels, what do we do to RECOVER? Give them options of course! First of all sincerely find out the reasons. If within your control, make adjustments to accommodate retaining the member. If not, offer to skip a shipment or suspend for a period of time. If these don’t succeed, move them to the general email list to keep in touch with the winery. I manage a few wine clubs and know this is difficult and time consuming, but certainly worth the effort. Remember these former members have brand loyalty and are highly qualified, so be creative, prepared and have a plan to follow-up with them in the future.

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.

Why aren’t they scanning my QR Code?

I was enamored of the novelty of QR codes for small wineries when I wrote a related post in June. I still am. However, I’m hearing that scan rates are very low and consumers aren’t getting it. Who’s to blame?

A wine savvy social media technologist I know weighed in recently stating “Wineries are at fault”! But how can this be so? Even small wineries are coming online with QR codes, recognizing the use and importance of mobile devices.

Wait a minute! What’s obvious to us in marketing isn’t always so with consumers. I see QR codes as bridging the gap between traditional (print) and new (social) media, but just placing them in a print ad is not enough. Tell your readers to “Scan This!” next to the code and offer a specific reward for doing so. Make sure your landing page is optimized for mobile devices and has an offer with a specific call to action (not just your website). Eventually consumers will realize there are rewards at the end of the QR codes!

Connecting with Consumers

I think we all know that social media is not going away. If you are currently involved in social media marketing, you are a leader and early adopter. Most small wineries in the Willamette Valley know they need to have a social media plan and a program but just can’t find the time or justify the effort. Don’t we all survive on ‘word of mouth’ marketing? Think of social media as conversational media. It is one and the same. You are sharing information about your winery, and creating a conversation where the consumers are and how they want to communicate. Here are answers to the top 3 questions I get from winemaker/owners on this topic:

1.        Will it help me sell more wine? No, it will not … directly. However, it will help drive consumers to your website or tasting room where you can transact Consumer sales

2.       What is it going to cost me? Virtually nothing but your time. It’s like having your own media department! The most important thing to remember is that it does take time … social media is not an immediate return on investment opportunity.

3.       Where will I find the time? Make the commitment, keep it simple, carve out 1 hour/day, and use social media tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite to your advantage; there are countless resources via the web. By the way, the mobile applications for these sites are very easy to use, so you don’t need to be tethered to your desktop to be engaged.

You may already have setup the basic platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a winery blog. Be sure you understand the rules, etiquette, appropriate content and frequency for using these tools. An important rule for engaging is that for every one self-mention, talk about others four times (80/20 rule).  Promote everyone else and you will benefit greatly—that’s what makes this type of engagement “social.” Have a marketing plan and be consistent. There is plenty of talent right here in the Chehalem Winemakers Association. Reach out, and get the conversation started!