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 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.

Original, Critical-Thought Wine Writing – Why It Is Imperative to Your Brand

By Alan Goldfarb

“Originality is how we separate ourselves, including you, from the pack”. Who said that? I said that. I meant it as it pertains to the good folks that write about wine. But, of course, if you – Mr. & Ms. Winery Owner – are fortunate to have an original, unique story published about you, you’re almost guaranteed to separate yourself from the morass of wine brands that seem to pop up every day of the week. So, for our purposes here, let us concentrate on the (wine) media: those members of the so-called fourth-estate, be they traditional print writers (magazines and newspapers), new media involved with posting on the Internet, or members of the electronic media (radio & TV).

It is these folks with whom you must figure out how to engage, and who will disseminate your winery’s stories to the world – and mostly for free(!). We call this “earned” media, as opposed to “paid advertising” or “pay-for-play” and advertorial articles, which will cost you dearly. Third-party endorsement I’m sure you’ll agree, is the goal.

So, whom to engage and enlist in your public relations (we prefer the term media relations) campaign? Whom to target to get the most meaningful benefit from your efforts? Well, we all know – and much to the curdling of my printer’s ink-infused blood – traditional print media is shrinking faster than a guy in cold water. Newspaper and magazine wine writers are being excised as though they’re mold on cheese. Nonetheless, traditional media offers audience targeting and is measurable, and therefore is not to be dismissed.

Streaming wine radio or podcasts however, are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, as well as is wine coverage on the web that is spreading rapidly. But, a word of caution: While wine coverage is reaching critical mass, the vast majority of media still lurk out there without real journalistic or writerly experience; and for whom perks such as food and wine, and seeing their name in print, is the primary lure; and for which an original or creative thought was not part of their SATs.

So, my advice to you, is to go after those few members of the wine media who think for themselves, harbor authentically singular and distinctive thought; and oh, who know wine and what they’re talking and writing about. It is these individuals who are apart from the chaff; albeit far and few. The task is to identify those idiosyncratic members of the wine media.

As a wine journalist myself for the last quarter-century or so, I learned years ago that it was imperative to find my own voice as a writer. That construct is not meant as a platitude, but is offered to writers who I believe must find their own voice, identity, and style. It is what makes readers take notice. It’s amazing – and sometimes disheartening – to read a writer, whose work contains no critical thoughts, no original ideas, uses your website copy or is devoid of creativity.

It manifests now for me when I have my winery public relations hat on; when I read a review or story from a writer, who has posted or published an article about one our clients. Pieces are often predominated by words from our media kit that we furnish to writers in order for them to get a better understanding of our clients.

It’s flattering and rewarding, of course – especially for the winery – to see an article written about them. But to me as a media consultant, it’s disappointing when I read something that has been regurgitated almost verbatim from our press materials.

We are always truly grateful that the writer thought enough of our client, and by extension, enough of our press information, to warrant an article on the Internet or in a magazine or a newspaper. It means we’re doing our job.

But we’re only human and when I see a piece that’s chock full of original thought with compelling turns of a phrase, we’re automatically drawn to that journalist; and we will try to get placements again and again with that writer on their blog, or in their newspapers. Because it’s meaningful and valuable, no matter the readership of the writer.

Elaine Chukan Brown

Some writers that stand out for us are Fredric Koeppel out of Memphis with his whimsically named Bigger Than Your Head ( http://biggerthanyourhead.net) blog, or Elaine Chukan Brown from California and her imaginative Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka website (http://WakawakaWineReviews.com).

Also, check out Pennsylvania’s Joe Roberts on his 1WineDude (http://1WineDude.com) site or Jon Bonné writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://sfgate.com). How about Leslie Sbrocco with her restaurant-centric show, Check, Please! Bay Area (http://blogs.kqed.org/checkplease), on the PBS KQED-TV series that is shown in the San Francisco Bay Area. A wine writer first and foremost, Ms. Sbrocco always makes sure to devote a segment to talking about wine; a rare occurrence for a TV show or even a restaurant review to spend some time on wine.

So, the point here is: Just as the wineosphere becomes more cluttered everyday with a plethora of brands, so too is the Internet becoming overrun by mediocre wine writing. In the end, original, well-thought out writing will reap ever bigger rewards, for everyone.

In turn, it’ll be much more meaningful for you, your winery, and your brand. Hopefully, in time, it’ll add up to selling more wine.

ALAN GOLDFARB has been on both sides of the media-relations aisle, first as a 25-year wine journalist, and now as a winery media relations consultant. His writing has appeared in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, and he was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star in the Napa Valley where that assignment was not unlike covering Catholicism at the Vatican.
Now, Alan has partnered with Carl Giavanti (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media) in their winery media relations consultancy. Their clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Dry Creek Valley, Willamette Valley, and Columbia Valley.


Guest Article by Alan Goldfarb, wine journalist and media consultant

This really happened: In the midst of our initial meeting with a PC (prospective client), the man turns to me and says: “You have to manage my wife. I can’t. She has severe depression.” I know this man; he has severe ADD, and he wants us to manage her? Get a shrink!

But Carl Giavanti and I – in our winery public relations consultancy biz (because we prefer to work with small producers), almost every time, run into unique family situations. Sometimes we have to play the role of psychiatrist.

That’s not the case, of course, with you, dear PC. But we know that every situation, every PR campaign, every client, is unique. There are few cookie-cutter shortcuts when we take on a client (and goodness knows, we don’t take everyone as a client). That’s why it’s a great challenge – and I mean that in the best sense of the word – to ascertain the quirks and differences of each of our winery partners.

And when we do that – when we figure out the key to your puzzle – it makes it special and even easier for us to convey those qualities to the media. After all, it’s the writers who will ultimately be your messenger, who will tell your story to the rest of the world; and ultimately build your brand and in the end, sell your wine.

Oh, did I tell you we make house calls?

What is Your Voice?

PR is Social

Storytelling is PR

Your Voice is Storytelling

What is Your Voice?

Aren’t all of us publicists and promoters… either on behalf of our own business and personal interests, our clients or something else we believe in?

In traditional approaches to marketing and advertising, ad agencies and other marketing firms produce messaging that is distributed to print publications, on TV, billboards and other media. These types of promotions are still relevant but losing effectiveness because they are impersonal and less targeted to specific audiences.

While these traditional methods of marketing should still be part of a balanced plan, Digital and Social Media allows for live interactions, responses, comments, customer feedback and sharing… in short real time engagement. Is it any surprise that we are experiencing a major shift in marketing and communications strategies?

These online channels have gained mind share and will continue to surpass mass media because they are more customized and targeted and encourage a brand’s voice and personal point of view. What we are seeing is a move from mass marketing to relationship marketing. Your unique story can be told in a very cost effective way, and people want to know. So what is your story? What is your point of view?

What do you have to say that will resonate? How do you make your story stand out? What will people remember?

Try telling different stories to consumers; different pitches to the media; produce distinctive creative for your online advertizing. Be memorable. We all want to, need to have a unique voice. What is Your Voice?

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.

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.