Virtual Wine Tasting Events for Press Interview

How to Host a Private, Virtual Wine Tasting for Press

How to do you plan and host a successful, private virtual wine tasting for press?

Sarah Jones Gillihan, vice president at Benson Marketing Group, was interviewed by journalist Stacy Briscoe for Wine Industry Network. Here are the key points from their video interview:

  1. Find the Intersections.  Regardless of the format of the virtual tasting, find the intersection where your winery’s story intersects with current trend, or, if it bucks trends.
  2. Webinars are Storytelling Opportunities. Facts like pH and row orientation don’t make good storytelling. Think about these virtual press encounters as opportunities to share your winery’s insights and expertise, not just facts and figures.
  3. A Webinar is not a Wine Tasting.  Too many press webinars simply try to translate an in-person wine tasting to the digital realm. But the experience itself is different, because the medium is different. Generally, if you might have a 60 minute in-person tastings for a journalist, do the virtual version in 30 minutes.
  4. Use Multimedia. Two dimensional virtual tastings benefit by the use of pre-recorded video, props, and other “show and tell” that convert a boring monologue into a more engaging encounter.
  5. Who’s Your Audience’s Audience? How does your webinar connect with the journalist or freelancer’s specific audience? So do your homework: research their last 5 articles, understand the demographics of their media outlet, and know the outlets slant.
  6. Share their Story. Make a point of sharing the writer’s story through the winery’s social channels; their ‘report card’ is often determined based on engagement.

Until then…we’ll focus on virtual press tastings, webinars.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes

Additionally, there are practical tips for ensuring the webinar is productive and professional.

Here are a few mistakes we often see and ways to correct them:

  • Weak Internet Connection: Wherever possible, use a plugged in Internet connection rather than WiFi during your session. We’ve seen live interviews from the vineyard on a cell phone, with poor cell coverage, in high wind – it doesn’t work.
  • Bad Audio: Use a wireless or wired microphone/headset for better audio quality. Simple earbuds are often better than relying on your laptop’s mic.
  • Poor Lighting; Find an indoor location with good lighting on your face that avoids shadows.
  • Unflattering Camera Position: Ideally, the camera should be positioned slightly above your head, pointing down to your face, not the opposite.
  • Reverse Video: If you hold up a bottle to show a pretty label, make sure you know if the image is reversed for the viewer.

At Benson, we believe virtual press tastings are here to stay. Today’s wine writer is likely a time-strapped freelancer who needs to pitch her editors and get assignments. She doesn’t have time for luxurious lunches and multi-day press trips unless there’s an assignment.

Bottom line: it’s about respect. Respect for journalists’ time, respect for the demands of their editors, and respect for their audience. If you take an empathetic approach and do your research, you are more likely to help deliver successful, productive virtual wine tasting events for you and the media. That leads to coverage.

Resources and Related Stories

WIN Interview: Stacy Briscoe, Sarah Jones Gillihan
Interview Series: Jeff Ngo, SVP Marketing, WX Brands.

Wine Marketing Interview Title Slide

Pivoting and Re-imagining Wine Marketing: Digital, DTC and PR Winery Marketing During COVID-19

Back in spring we published a blog on how winery marketing can pivot to adapt to changes wrought by COVID-19. Like you, we wondered which adaptations in DTC and 3-tier sales, trade education, PR and social media marketing would stick after COVID influences lessen.

But rather than pivoting, shouldn’t we also be re-imagining these strategies? Rather than “only” moving some marketing actions online, shouldn’t we also re-think end results and then back into new ways of achieving our goals?

Changing your point-of-view opens vast new possibilities.

For some perspective we asked Jeff Ngo, Senior Vice President Marketing at WX Brands to weigh in on this topic. During this mid-August 2020 interview, Jeff identifies areas that WX Brands and others are pivoting to and re-imagining for a post-COVID world — what will stay, and what will go?

 

Jeff Ngo, Senior Vice President, Marketing, WX Brands

Jeff Ngo, SVP Marketing, WX Brands

 

Here are some shifts we’re making at Benson:

More Comprehensive Story Pitches: Take the full story to them. With myriad restrictions on travel, we’re providing our network of journalist contacts with a much richer set of resources than pre-COVID. Zoom calls are fine for some occasions, but we’re also building more robust, multi-media ‘packages’ of stories, anchored with prerecorded and live winemaker Q&As and tastings. Our colleague, Sarah Jones Gillihan, covered this topic in an interview conducted by Stacey Briscoe for the Wine Industry Network.

Broadening DTC Wine Symposium’s Benefits: Rather than just porting the Symposium’s program online, the Steering Committee and Benson team are re-imagining how to broaden the conference’s educational scope, part of its mission. Previously, many DTC managers didn’t have the budget or time for a 2-day conference. But a virtual conference can certainly achieve our twin goals of providing a robust, practical educational conference while raising funds for Free the Grapes!

Stay tuned for more exciting news this fall. www.dtcwinesymposium.com.

Advertising that Drives Retail Sales: We’re expanding social platform advertising to drive more consumer sales at our client’s retail partners, not just winery DTC sales. More consumers now are enjoying the convenience of receiving wines directly from retailers, and digital ads are a cost-effective way to reach them.  And yes, we need to cite multiple retailers to stay within tied-house laws.

 

Related Posts:

Wine Digital Marketing Post-Covid: https://bensonmarketing.com/wine-digital-marketing-post-covid/

Rethinking Marketing Budgeting, Part 2: https://bensonmarketing.com/rethinking-marketing-budgeting-part-2/

5 Wine.com Hacks for Selling Wine Online

Wine.com is the largest U.S. seller of wine online. So how do you stand apart in a sea of wines?

Start by updating your wine branding information. The good news is this does not take long, based on our experience working with Wine.com on various promotions.

1. Audit Your Brand Presence

First, audit the winery content already live on Wine.com. Type your brand name in the search box, scroll down to the horizontal image with your brand name, and click “View all Products.”

2. Gather Updated Content

a. Text: Gather wine reviews, wine notes, your latest brand summary, etc.

b. Images: Only send high-resolution images. You can include vineyards, people, bottle shots…whatever.

c. Video Files: Send links to video files on Vimeo or Dropbox; don’t send links to YouTube (wine.com won’t link to them) or WeTransfer (links expire).

d. Tagging: Call out how your wine should be tagged for filtering. For example, should it be tagged as ‘Green” (organic, sustainable, natural, etc.), or maybe under screw cap? You will find the tag options in the “Size and Type” and “Fine Wine” drop down menus. Also see this document for a handy checklist provided by Wine.com (thank you!)

3. Email your Content to Wine.com

Send one email per brand with your brand name and SKU in the subject line to content@wine.com. Do not email spreadsheets with a list of wines and brands.

4. Encourage Your Best Consumers to Rate Your Wines

It takes 5 individual reviews to show a star rating for a wine, and these help drive sales. It’s as simple as clicking the line of stars on the wine’s page. Ask your club members to rate your wines.

5. Ask Wine.com to Rate Your Wines

Wilfred Wong is Wine.com’s Chief Storyteller. Email him at wilfred@wine.com to determine if his schedule allows for reviewing your wine. His reviews are a filter search option, alongside those of other reviewing publications, like Wine Spectator.

Additional Tips
  • Scores: Wine.com will include vintage-specific, public scores from Wine Spectator, Whiskey Advocate, Wine & Spirits, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Connoisseur’s Guide, Allen Meadows’ Burghound.com, The Tasting Panel, Decanter, JamesSuckling.com, Jeb Dunnuck, Vinous and Tim Atkin.
  • Retail Store Locators: If you have a store locator on your website, include a link to your Wine.com brand page, not to the closest Wine.com warehouse address.
  • SKU Updates: Your wholesaler can add new vintages, discontinue old vintages, etc. in the Wine.com trade portal

Related Benson Blog Posts: “Wine Digital Marketing Post COVID.”

Black Lives Matter

Like many of you, I am appalled by what we’ve seen lately. Systematic police brutality against Black Americans. The militarization of our police forces. Institutionalized racism and injustice against people of color that COVID has exposed in healthcare, education, etc.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. (I have vivid memories of the scary, painful days following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles, 1992).

Still, I am optimistic. I am optimistic that peaceful protests and an impending election could be catalysts for positive change. And I’m inspired by our team at Benson. It takes enormous resilience and mental fortitude to counsel clients during times like these.

As we search for our own voices on these issues, on what concrete steps we can take, I wanted to at least start by sharing some resources we and our industry partners should consider.

Of course, this list is not complete or exhaustive. But that’s not the point. The point is to start a process. At Benson we are working out plans for potential partnerships and resources aimed at supporting the causes we support.  

Community 
  • Support changes in policing in the cities you do business. Gather fellow business owners together and write letters to your Mayor, city council, and other decision makers.  
  • Partner and support Black-owned purveyors and businesses in your community. 
  • Highlight the businesses on your social media pages with links; feature in your content streams. 
  • Share links and information highlighting books, movies, articles that audience can read to learn about racism in US. 
Industry
  • Support organizations that extend wine education opportunities to people of color 
  • Support Black somms, influencers, winemakers, distillers and associationsFeature these on your social channel, advertisements, in programs, wine dinners. 
  • Include diversity in photo shoots for your brand. 
  • Share links of national organizations to support.  
  • Host events that feature Black wine professionals in high-visibility roles. 
  • Share links and information highlighting books, movies, articles created by Black wine professionals.  
Company 

Organizations to Support  

George Floyd Memorial Fund: This memorial fund is established to cover funeral and burial expenses, mental and grief counseling, lodging and travel for all court proceedings, and to assist Floyd’s family. Donate here. 

Minnesota Freedom Fund: Combats the harms of incarceration by paying bail for low-income individuals who cannot. The Minnesota Freedom Fund has raised $20m and is asking that future donations be routed to Black Visions Collective and Reclaim The Block. Donate here.  

Black Visions Collective: Aims to create the conditions for long term success and transformation for all Black people. They believe in a future where all Black people have autonomy and where safety is community-led. Donate here. 

Reclaim The Block: Organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety. Donate here. 

National Bail Out: Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. Donate here. 

Black Lives Matter: Movement and ongoing fight to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy. Donate here.  

Bail Project: National nonprofit organization that pays bail for people in need, reuniting families and restoring the presumption of innocence.Their goal is to secure freedom for as many people as possible and fuel momentum for equal justice. Donate here. 

National Bail Fund Network: Made up of over sixty community bail and bond funds across the country. They regularly update their listing of community bail funds that are freeing people by paying bail/bond and are also fighting to abolish the money bail system and pretrial detention. Donate here. 

Wine Digital Marketing Post-Covid

Will wine consumers continue to buy online?

Why wine e-commerce, shipping, takeout and delivery are here to stay.

Four suggestions for winery digital marketing.

 

Wine consumers are making a massive shift toward digital purchases.

In summary:

  • First time e-commerce buyers are driving growth in this channel,
  • Consumer purchases of loyalty programs indicates a longer-term channel shift, and
  • The in-home dining experience is being re-set, with wine on the menu.

An old marketing adage is that consumer attitudes are easier to change than behavior. But COVID-19 is giving a jolt to both — we are witnessing a transitional phase, a quick shift toward wine e-commerce channels that is unlikely to evaporate once COVID-related situational factors lessen.

Here’s why.

First-time E-commerce Shoppers are Driving Digital Sales Channel Growth

During Wine.com’s May 1 webinar for the trade, Mike Osborn reported that wine.com attracted 7 times the number of new customers in April 2020 versus April 2019.  April revenue growth was 3.5 times the previous year, and larger than December 2019.

Revenue growth was driven primarily by new customers; existing customers were not buying more bottles, or more frequently. This finding is consistent with reports of Drizly’s recent results for delivery.

New E-commerce Consumers Will Continue Using Digital Sales Channels

Again, citing Wine.com, the number of new subscribers to their flat rate shipping program, StewardShip, grew 14 times in April versus previous year, and far ahead of December. It is doubtful that StewardShip members – like Amazon Prime customers – are only interested in a 1-time purchase.

Nielsen’s Danny Brager recently pointed out survey data illustrating that frequent on-premise drinkers are more likely to have used DTC channels during the pandemic than the average alcohol consumer.

Consumers now have a taste of the convenience of e-commerce, and of the options available to them for delivery and shipping. (Many industry watchers erroneously assume all consumers know that they have these options.)

If you can have those heavy, cumbersome bottles of wine, beer and spirits shipped or delivered directly to your home – from your favorite retailer, grocer, winery or distiller – why purchase them the old fashioned way?

But we’re not suggesting wine merchants are going away. If anything, many retailers are doubling down, investing in systems better adapted to meet surging consumer demand in March and April. That tech isn’t going to evaporate; retailers will continue to benefit from their more robust infrastructure and, remember, many of them (you) have very robust consumer email lists and social followers.

This point was made by Bourcard Nesin’s recent piece in wine-searcher.com; the Rabobank analyst cited the longer-term benefits of systems investments by retailers:

“Many executives believe there will be a sustained shift to e-commerce as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and so they are investing more into the channel. While we do not disagree with that premise, we feel that the scale of those gains will depend on the industry doubling down on their investment…we have no doubt that they (investments) will have a long-lasting impact.”

Separately, we heard Drizly’s CEO say in early May they probably need to triple the number of their retailer partners to meet demand.

Re-setting the In-home Dining Experience

There’s no place like home: safe and secure.

In the post-COVID phases of “re-opening,” safety and health concerns will support in-home dining. And wine digital marketing and sales can work even harder because consumers generally perceive wine as a beverage choice that enhances food and the dining experience.  Their attitude toward the product category fits the trend (or requirement, depending on your location).

Headwinds

Of course, no one really knows how macroeconomic factors and COVID-related factors—the easing of social distancing rules or the speed of virus testing and vaccine development—will affect the short-term. But it’s easy to identify a few key obstacles to streamlined wine digital sales and marketing success:

  • Consumer resistance to shipping costs
  • Technical impediments like poorly managed e-commerce portals
  • Lack of digital marketing spend and, therefore, brand awareness and loyalty
  • Laws that ban or set obstacles to interstate and intrastate commerce (full disclosure: Benson Marketing Group runs the campaign, Free the Grapes).
How Can Wineries Adapt?

Beyond the wine category, the pandemic is spurring rapid testing and breakneck innovation around the globe, even as companies horde cash. Sysco built a new distribution and billing system to serve grocery stores in a week. The Economist covered this topic last week, citing that in a small crisis power moves to the center, while in a big crisis, “it moves to the periphery.” Innovation relies on boldly testing new ideas, on partnerships and cooperation, not on a ‘command and control’ management structure.

Winery CEOs and digital marketers can adapt to these behavioral shifts in a number of ways:

  1. Push out decision-making authority to your sales and marketing teams;
  2. Build a higher percentage of shipping costs into wine pricing to counteract resistance to shipping costs;
  3. More aggressive digital advertising to build awareness in local markets and convert awareness to local retail, as well as DTC, sales;
  4. Developing consumer-friendly purchasing options, including more flexible subscription services.

Yes, this may sound self-serving coming from a wine marketing agency, but consider the facts of a very competitive marketplace:

  • 130,000 wine SKUs are sold in the U.S. each year
  • Roughly 30% of wine sold in the U.S. is imported
  • 9,950 wineries in the U.S. compete for less than 10% of the market by volume.
Fortune Favors the Bold

Fortunately, being bold doesn’t cost much. We are testing digital campaigns for less than $1,000. Our clients are conducting virtual wine events and seminars for the first time — they may not be totally polished, but consumers don’t expect winemakers to have the chops of a TV anchor.

It’s just the start of a longer-term requirement to connect digitally with your consumers and trading partners. You can’t wait for them to come to you.

Take that staff time and budget and re-allocate it to meet the marketplace.


SOURCES AND RELATED POSTS
Wine-searcher.com: “Will Covid-19 Change Online Wine Forever?” By Bourcard Nesin.

The Economist: “Crucible of Creative Destruction.” April 25, 2020.

Bensonmarketing.com. “11 Ways to Adapt Your Winery Social Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Benonmarketing.com: “The Big Pivot: How Wine Marketers are Adapting to Coronavirus.”

Winery Social Media Marketing

11 Ways to Adapt Your Winery Social Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic

How do you adapt winery social media marketing to changes in consumer buyer behavior and social media usage?

The social media content agency, Convince and Convert, held an excellent webinar this week titled, “11 Things You Must Adjust in Your Social Media During these Crazy Days.”

We’ve paraphrased their key points and suggested some ways to apply them for wineries. The summary includes practical tips and common sense reminders for winery social media marketing managers, whether they are in-house or third party partners.

Here are their 11 adaptations:

  1. Update Your Social Platform Bios: Specify ways your operations have changed. Change your Twitter bio, and create an Instagram Story highlight focused on virus-related info or promotions.
    • Implications for Wineries: Put a link to special offers in the Instagram link in bio.
  2. Increase Time for Community Management: Right now, many consumers are more emotionally sensitive and tense, so make sure you are checking and responding to post comments frequently. And ensure that internal protocols are established for responding to both positive and negative comments.
    • Implications for Wineries: Devote more internal or third-party support to community management, as we are at Benson.
  3. Only Post with a Purpose: This is always good advice, of course, but posts should reflect a deep understanding of your audience, have a specific communications objective, and be geared to create a desired behavior or outcome.
    • Wineries: Reduce your editorial calendar planning window. At Benson, our content development time frame for some clients has reduced from 2 weeks to 2-3 days. Now is not the right time to post something just to check off a task or hit a metric.
  4. Humanize your Posts: Focus on people, on individuals, not “the company.” Example: the Getty Museum asked fans to recreate famous artworks at home from everyday materials. It’s a simple idea that puts the focus on art fans.
    • Wineries: Feature staff, club members, etc.  For Hahn, Benson did an Instagram story of their employees enjoying wine in their homes, #HahnatHome. That struck a positive chord.
  5. Double Down on Influencers: Convince and Connect reported that clicks on Instagram posts with #ad in early March spiked 76%, meaning that influencer content was getting a lot of engagement.
    • Wineries: Check out our 2019 blog post on working with influencers.
  1. Make Sure Visuals Follow Current Social Norms: Ensure your post photos and virtual seminars are following government guidelines for social distancing, etc. Many companies (outside wine) are replacing their images of groups of people with individuals.
    • Wineries: Double check those images in future editorial calendars and ads.
  2. Test New Formats and Publishing Times: New content consumption patterns have likely changed with COVID-19-related disruptions to consumers’ normal schedules: work from home, no gym time, no commuting, etc.
    • Wineries: Test assumptions of formatting and timing–try posting on weekends, late at night, and try text only posts, or carousels, or other formats you don’t normally use. Watch the frequency of other winery virtual tastings, which tend to cluster around 4:00-5:00pm PT.
  3. Paid Social Media: Don’t Stop. Overall, Convince and Convert reports a drop in social media ad costs last month, but also a drop in CTR (click through rates). Their recommendation: reassess your return on ad spend (ROAS).
    • Wineries: Test new creative, messaging and formats for your ads, measure ROAS in a narrower time-frame to understand the dynamics.
  4. Maintain Your Consumer Relationships. People may want to buy, but cannot right now. That doesn’t mean you should stop posting — play the long game.
    • Wineries: Be the “wish board” for the wine industry or region. Show those dreamy vineyard photos that transport your consumers and inspire a future visit to your winery.
  5. Re-purpose Your Successful Content: Simple enough. Recycle what has worked in the past, and expand it across your channels, including emails, website content, etc.
    • Wineries: Understand what resonates with your followers, and double down on it.
  6. Focus on Helping, not Selling:  What can you do to help? Sage advice at any time.
    • Wineries: Consumers want to engage with wineries via virtual tastings, chef demos, and even “normal” posts that allow them to escape the day’s news. (For CA wineries, the ABC has relaxed some enforcement restrictions on donations for COVID-related beneficiaries.

If you’ve got 60 minutes, we also recommend you view Convince and Convert’s webinar.

Convince and Convert works with  a wide range of industries, from health care to education. and during the session they were careful, as they should be, to point out that some results are based on their own client base and may not apply to other industries, like ours. But even their common sense recommendations make for good reminders.

Thanks for reading.

Related Blog Post: The Big Pivot: How Wine Marketers are Adapting to Coronavirus.

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Want to Schedule a meeting with Jeremy Benson?:

The Big Pivot: How Wine Marketers are Adapting to Coronavirus. Some Wine DTC, PR and Social Media Tactics to Consider.

As we write this on March 19, it has been a remarkably hectic 7 days or so helping clients adapt to the Coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic.

In summary, it’s been a “big pivot” for the supplier tier.

While we don’t pretend to have all the answers, we wanted to share a selection of marketing ideas our team, our clients and others are executing (we hope to get to a spirits post soon). And, while this may sound overly optimistic today, what steps can we take to emerge stronger marketers, post-pandemic?

Social Media Community Management, Digital

  • Reviewing Editorial Calendars Daily: While ensuring our tone is appropriate and empathetic, we are adjusting our content and CTAs on a much shorter cycle, in most cases, daily.
  • Reassessing Ad Strategy: Reviewing all social ads for appropriateness and relevance and, in some cases, simply stopping them.
  • Developing Content that Provides a Break from the News: For example, short video clips of harvest or bud break can provide some relief. Pre-recorded video or live, video tells a compelling story.
  • Identifying “Safe” Content Themes: We put them into four buckets: lead with gratitude, show the human side, make the virtual connection, and share moments of joy.
  • ID Facebook Ads that Work: To borrow from marketer Andrea Vahl, ads that work include those that offer positive messages, messages of the community, and distractions for homebound people with time on their hands.
  • Teasing Hashtag Holidays: We’d promote and support #WorldMalbecDay (April 17) anyway, but since it provides a delicious diversion, why not couple it with a DTC offer, livecast, etc.?

DTC Offers

There’s a lot of creativity out there, not surprisingly, as this sales channel will need to play a larger role for many companies. Here is a sampling:

  • Virtual Tastings: Of course, many winemakers are doing online tastings (or video) focusing on newly released wines and wine club shipments.
  • Shipping Discounts, Delivery Options: Many winery offers are in the range of reduced cost shipping (1 cent to $10) on 6 bottles or more, or orders exceeding a range of $75 or $100. There are many variants, but we’ve seen several in that range. Vinography blogger Alder Yarrow provides a large roundup here. Jancis Robinson has listed 500+ retailers around the globe offering home delivery here. We’re sure there are many more such listings.
  • Win-Win Partnerships: Offer gift cards to a food delivery service as part of your wine club shipment to “surprise and delight” your members, and support local restaurants.

Some of these ideas are also suggested in Rob McMillan’s good post, “SVB on Wine,” here.

Wine PR

  • Put Your CEO Glasses On: While tactics have pivoted, we need to ensure PR tactics achieve overall business goals. Review tactics through that lens.
  • Check-in with Writers: While blanket story pitches are verboten at any time, it is a good time to check in with writers — using short emails! — asking how we can help.
  • Virtual Press Interviews: No surprise here – we are rescheduling media trips to New York and other markets, turning them into web calls.
  • Regional Press Trips: Rescheduling spring press trips to the fall — both inside the US and to our international clients —with “go, no-go” decision deadlines of May 1 or June 1.
  • Sampling: Revisiting our calendars and release schedules to accommodate reviewers.
  • Philanthropy: As during other economic shocks, we will certainly see creative opportunities for wineries and others to support fundraising actions for our friends on-premise.
  • Sharing Info: For you PR pros, here’s some advice from Cision on communicating during a crisis.

Working with Agencies During a Crisis

While it is not business as usual, most agencies like ours are designed to be  purposefully agile, with a technology infrastructure intentionally mobile. For wineries, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Nothing is “Out of Scope:” A crisis demands a broader, more integrated set of agency services, so we’re providing DTC work when we might only be hired for PR, and vice versa. Suggestion: pull your agency into your decision-making process early.
  • Keep Calm and Market On! At Benson, we’ve worked with clients impacted by fires, earthquakes, a Great Recession, 9/11, etc. Suggestion: Now is not the time to draw back from communicating with your consumers and trading partners, as was nicely expressed by WineGlass Marketing here.
  • Agility is King: Email is great but can be distracting and can slow decision-making. We always lean into phone/web calls for more rapid info-sharing and decision-making during dynamic times. And we give our teams the freedom to turn off Slack, Teams, email and other tech so they can focus on priorities

Let’s take care of each other, and ourselves, as we live through this dynamic time.

Questions? We’re here to help. Contact Jeremy at benson@bensonmarketing.com, 707.738.6520, or you can chat from our website.

Related Post: 11 Ways to Adapt Your Winery Social Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Rethinking Marketing Budgeting, Part 2

In last month’s blog post we floated the idea that wineries should consider total sales and marketing budgets together, rather than separately, to adapt to changes in the retail marketplace.

That is, to consider above-the-line sales expenses and below-the-line marketing costs as one total budget.

Since then, this idea has struck a chord with wholesaler and winery thought leaders we’ve met. There is a sense of anxiety about the wine marketplace. At Benson, we believe the industry is at an economic inflection point that will reward dramatic action and efficiency, and punish complacency.

Sales & Marketing Headwinds

We all know that wine sales are soft, with some notable exceptions.

The middle tier faces headwinds including the effects of private/custom labels on brand sales, the growing influence of the larger wine and spirits retail chains, the effects of home delivery on in-store activation results, and chronic under spending by wineries on creating consumer demand.

On the other hand, wineries are seeing a crowded three-tier marketplace dominated by large wholesalers and retailers, a DTC sales channel constrained by winery visitation, and only the occasional anecdote of how these two channels can support each other. (The DTC Wine Symposium 2020 has an interesting Workshop scheduled on this topic.)

How can clever marketing help address these market conditions?

Moving Toward Integrated Sales and Marketing

We’re not suggesting spending more money; just spending smarter. Here are some suggestions that could apply to wineries selling in the three-tier market.

  • Push thematic marketing campaigns to the local level: Take a marketing campaign’s central theme and don’t just create a hashtag campaign or a tasting room promotion, but extend that theme into a sales plan with POS, incentives, instore tastings, etc. Schedule in-market winemaker dinners, press meetings, and geo-targeted advertising in support of that theme. In short, create a 360-degree campaign in key markets, at specific times. (While that may sound obvious, very few wine companies execute at this level.)
  • Create Better Digital Assets: Wholesalers and retailers need winery trade sites to provide easy access – be careful of clunky share drive platforms, and password-protected trade sites.
  • Know how your ABL budget is spent. Sales incentives, depletion allowances and other above the line costs are often opaque, high decentralized, and may not actually support marketing activations or brand image goals.  And, are the wholesaler allocations actually being spent?

Synthesis

We will be the first to admit that promoting integrated marketing is self-serving! It’s in our mission and it’s how we staff account teams. But we also know it works. And who would oppose budget efficiency when faced with a sluggish market, extreme competition, and built-in obstacles to the two main sales channels?

So, what are we doing about it? In addition to our normal planning activity, we are paying more attention to a few areas:

  • Brainstorming Out of Scope: Creating campaign themes and sharing our experiences with extending themes into sales campaigns with POS, incentives, in-store tastings, contests, PR, etc. That is, thinking more broadly, and often way beyond the scope of current client agreements. At times like this, we need to invest even more time in our clients’ success.
  • Repurposing Digital Assets: Reviewing how investments can be efficiently repurposed and recycled.
  • Supporting the Middle Tier: Asking wine importers and wholesalers how our agency can better serve their needs.

We recommend you keep these ideas in mind as you plan for 2020-21. Thanks for reading.

Time to Rethink Marketing Budgeting?

“How much will it cost”?

That’s a frequent question from prospective clients. The expected answer is an annualized figure, but how about if we answered, “our fees will be $2 per case”?

Why isn’t that a reasonable or at least an expected answer? Two reasons: first, the Profit & Loss financial statement, and second, it’s “not how we’ve always done it.”

Our point: While wine and spirits brands are rethinking how to better integrate marketing and sales, maybe we should rethink how we budget and measure these results, too.

Above and Below the Line

As you may know,  wholesaler incentives like depletion allowances and similar sales-oriented expenses are deductions from gross revenue. They are captured in the P&L statement “above the line” separating revenue from expenses.

On the other hand, marketing costs for third party marketing agencies like ours live “below the line,” alongside other expenses like compensation, insurance and rent. (And, yes, there are other definitions of this concept but let’s not get carried away.)

Don’t worry accountants!  We are not suggesting changes to the P&L. What we’re positing is that this (arbitrary?) separation of the costs of sales incentives (as deductions from gross revenue) from the costs of creating demand (as expenses) tends to separate functions that should be considered together.

Don’t Separate, Integrate

Put another way, it doesn’t make sense to separate budget lines for pushing product and pulling product through the sales channels for two reasons: the lines separating marketing and sales are, if not indistinguishable, then at least blurred; and second, the marketplace is leaning toward placing a higher value on results driven by the integration of sales and marketing.

Some examples:

  • A grocery chain buyer asks a brand owner, “what are your digital marketing plans in our market and how is that going to help us sell your wine”? Should that digital campaign be an above the line deduction from gross revenue, or a below the line expense? How can the local sales team best leverage the marketing spend in its sales efforts?
  • A brand conducts a city promotion combining billboards, digital and sales incentives. Can they discern how the elements contributed to sales or creating demand?
  • Are the costs of sponsoring a brand on a delivery service an above or below the line cost? Is there an opportunity cost to channel those funds to off-premise sales incentives instead?

In conclusion, brand owners may be able to better meet the demands of the market by considering the total sales and marketing spend, and actions, together, in order to understand how the dynamics of push vs. pull tactics are playing out on retailer shelves and restaurant lists.

How to Launch an International Wine in the U.S.

[Editor’s Note: During a fall 2018 seminar in Bordeaux, we tried to answer a difficult but frequently asked question:  how does an international winery successfully launch a new wine brand into the competitive U.S. market?  The seminar led to a blog post on our French site, here, but we thought others might want to read the English language version, below.]

 

Are there common characteristics of successful new brand launches in the US?

Based on our own experience, as well as some research, we came up with five traits that appear to influence success. While there is no single feature or strategy, a combination of several guidelines should help set yourself up for success. And that’s the key: planning. Wine does not sell itself.

First, a caveat: as a marketing agency we take a marketer’s perspective. Second we are assuming a path-to-market through the traditional three-tier system as opposed to direct import, DTC sales through an intermediary, and other options. Also, this post does not include important topics like compliance, licensing, taxes, etc.  And for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on French wines exported to the US, even though many of the same points apply to all wineries, and spirits brands.

  1. Articulate Your Brand Story in 30 Seconds

When in front of a buyer, state your brand’s key features and benefits in 1-2 sentences. Americans prioritize information from beginning to end; the most important info is at the beginning. Your first sentence or two should summarize your story and why a buyer should care. And make it relevant — for example, can you tie your brand story into recent trends? How is your wine or spirits brand different from the wines that he or she carries from around the world, not just France?

  1. Be an “Easy Sale”

For importers and wholesalers, an “easy sale” often has these components:

  • Addresses a Market Need: A differentiated brand that is relevant for, and targeted at, specific consumers and trends is very important. That is, the more your brand features are differentiated from competitors approaching the same desirable consumers, the better your chances of success.
  • Right pricing for category.
  • Fills a gap in a wholesaler’s portfolio – it is an incremental versus substitute sale, or in sales parlance, an accretive vs. dilutive sale.
  1. Share Your Marketing Plan

Have an organized, well-designed marketing presentation (PowerPoint is fine) that includes plans for in-market visits, digital marketing, in-store tastings, events, etc. Scores continue to be very important for importers and wholesalers, especially.

  1. Focus on a Few Markets

While not a truism, many successful brands start by focusing sales and marketing efforts in specific cities or regions, rather than attempting to be a national brand in the first few years. Why? You want to demonstrate sales success to help attract wholesalers in new states. Test and, if necessary, re-work your “home market” blueprint strategy to accommodate for the distribution and market specifics of your expansion markets.

  1. Maximize Chances to Gain Wholesaler Attention

Park Street gave a terrific presentation in 2018 that advises companies to prioritize retailer re-orders, as opposed to large case sell-ins. In other words, showing “turns” is very important to establishing retailer sales momentum.  Second, start with a small portfolio, maybe 2-3 individual wines, for the same reasons stated above. (While Park Street’s presentation concerned spirits brands, we have seen success using this strategy for wine brands. See link below.)

In summary, do your homework, have a plan, and ensure your plan is based on what the marketplace needs, rather than just what you can produce.

Everyone needs to “win” in your transaction:  consumers, retailers, restaurants, wholesalers and importers. There are at least 100,000 wines for sale in the U.S. which drove sales of an estimated 4.8 billion bottles of wine in 2018.  While it may sound harsh, assume no one in the US needs or cares about your brand. That will help frame the task ahead,  presenting a cohesive plan with the right wines, at the right prices, with a memorable story.

For more information, here are two good resources, which we draw from:

Finally, Benson has created a suite of services geared to help French wineries launch in the U.S.  For more information, contact Jeanne Peron, Directrice, at peron@bensonmarketing.com, or +33 (0)4 37 44 02 83