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

What We Learned at Social Media Marketing World

Every spring, 7,000 marketers from dozens of industries gather in San Diego at the country’s largest social media conference. We sent Benson’s digital marketing team to Social Media Marketing World to keep up with the latest trends and tools. In this blog, we share our five key takeaways from this year’s event. None of this will be new information exactly, but it was reassuring to hear confirmation of these trends.

Bigger isn’t always better

While gaining more follows should be an ongoing goal for your social media account, don’t assume that more fans equals more success. It’s better to have a smaller audience who cares than a larger audience who doesn’t. So focus on engaging the audience you do have by prioritizing social listening and sharpening your brand messaging strategy. Vanity metrics won’t love you back the way loyal fans will.

Focus, with flexibility

Spend your efforts on what you do best. Seeing a high number of shares when you post videos on Facebook? Spend more time on making videos than on photo shoots. Of course, leave room to readjust strategy. Monitoring metrics closely helps keep an eye on shifts in audience preferences.

Something isn’t better than nothing

Choose a primary platform for your brand’s social media communications. Have a highly engaged audience on Twitter? Put most of your time into developing customized content for Twitter; engage with your followers there. Design content that’s optimized for your focus platform, and then repost it on other channels.

Be conscious of your audience’s attention

Audiences have less trust in brands now than ever before. How does this translate into developing a wine brand’s social media strategy? Only talk if you have something to say, because redundant or generic content only contributes to the static. Be conscious of your audience’s attention by posting intentionally and choosing quality over quantity of messages.

The future of social media is relatability

Instagram and Facebook stories. Private messaging. We’re all seeing a shift towards more personalized and meaningful communication on social, in large part due to privacy concerns. Brands find success by doing less broadcasting and more human interacting. At Benson, we connect with our clients’ fans through commenting on and liking their posts, even when they don’t overtly reference wine.

Case study: One of our winery clients was struggling to grow their audience on Instagram. Through our community management tactic of interacting with followers posting about wine-adjacent topics like home entertaining and cooking, we were able to achieve 10% organic follower growth month over month.

Similarly, sharing content posted by followers and winery employees creates more personalized messaging. And we recommend taking the digital conversation a step further by utilizing private messages to communicate with fans.

At Benson, our team education efforts are ongoing. In case your missed it, here were the top takeaways from our visit to Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium in January.

5 Post-Campaign Tips

In most cases, we design influencer partnerships with the goal of attracting prospective consumers into our clients’ digital ecosystems. Creating and executing a campaign is only part of the process; if you really want to spike the results, here are some post-campaign recommendations.

Maintain a relationship with your influencer partner

Partnering with a social media influencer yields a multitude of benefits for a wine and spirits brand including one that might go unnoticed at first glance – ongoing relationships. Just because the campaign is over does not mean the relationship is over. Continue to engage with the influencer and reach their audienceby liking and commenting on their social channels to increase impressions. It maintains the association with your brand and keeps the door open for future partnerships. Your brand will gain reputation benefits among other influencers (potential future partners) by being in your partner’s inner circle.

Case study: After a campaign with the 100 Layer Cake blog, our client has continued to be mentioned on the blog, and therefore, continued to generate brand impressions and engage prospective consumers. It was the right influencer for the right wine, and vice versa.

Repurpose influencer content

Include reposting and linking back to influencer-published content in your editorial calendar. Repurpose materials that were already published, such as by re-posting photos in different social media channels, cropping photos for a new perspective, or editing text to match the season. Repurposing and re-imagining your new content makes the influencer investment even more worthwhile.

Utilize unused content

Make use of the assets created by the influencer partnership that may not have been used during the initial campaign run. A strategic influencer partnership plan has clear guidelines for asset creation and if your plan included extra deliverables beyond the campaign needs, incorporate them into your future editorial calendar. You chose a partner based on the brand fit and quality of the influencer work, so revel in the success of your selection and utilize those assets.

You bought it; you own it. Your campaign agreement should include a stipulation that all work, regardless of whether it is posted, is a “work made for hire.”

Prepare for the ripple effect

In some cases, influencers’ friends become a part of the campaign simply by being in their orbit. We have a winery client whose partner invited her influencer friends to an event at the winery. These influencers wrote unsponsored blogs about the experience and the brand was able to comment on these blogs to increase impressions. In other instances, influencers are so captivated by the campaign that they will write about your brand on their own. Expect this amplification and engage with the influencers who are the right fit by liking and commenting on their posts.

Case study:  One of our clients partnered with over 60 influencers in 2018. As a result of their great reputation and product, many influencers hope to work with this brand – and they feature the brand in unsponsored posts in hopes of gaining that opportunity.

Strengthen your digital community

Liking and responding to the comments from the followers gained during the campaign will further cultivate trust with your new audience. Actively engage with your growing community because social media is, after all, social.

If you’ve read through to the end of our four-part blog series, thank you! Tell us what you think – what did we miss? What did we nail? What topics should we cover next?

 

In case you missed it, here are links to the first three posts in the series:

Part 1 – 6 Reasons to Use Influencer Partnerships

Part 2 – 8 Tips for Selecting a Wine Influencer Partner

Part 3 – 5 Tips for Running a Successful Influencer Marketing Partnerhip

5 Tips for Running a Successful Influencer Marketing Partnership

Once you’ve selected the right influencer partner for your wine or spirits brand, and developed goals, then you’ll dive into executing your campaign. Here are some suggestions.

Choose your Campaign Type

What will you ask the influencer to do? Here are some options (not mutually exclusive):

  • Sponsored social media posts: they post about your brand on their social channels
  • Sponsored blog posts: they blog about your brand on their site
  • Sponsored giveaways: they run a consumer contest or promotion sponsored by your brand
  • Social media takeovers: they create all content for your social channels for a day or more
  • Hosted events: they create an event with other bloggers that features your brand
  • Guest blogging: they write blog posts for your website

Your campaign goals and budget will influence the type of campaign. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Want more fans and engagement? A longer-term partnership with a series of social media posts will work better than just a few posts. So think two months and not one week.
  • Want to educate new, prospective consumers? Then a sponsored blog post will reach their followers.
  • Want to increase your digital footprint? A hosted event can reach your partners as well as other bloggers who attend (because they will also post about it).
  • Want to freshen up your social content? A guest blogger or takeover can really jazz up photos and text.

And don’t forget that influencer marketing partnerships can creatively address business opportunities using outside-the-box ideas. Here are two initiatives we conducted last year with clients:

Outline a Campaign Brief

After you’ve chosen an influencer whose work aligns with your brand, it is vital to provide a written campaign brief that includes content guidelines. Don’t assume they know your brand! Provide clear direction and expectations, such as:

  • Campaign timeline
  • Number of content pieces
  • When the content will be submitted for approval
  • Approval turnaround timeframes
  • When and where the content will be published
  • Campaign goals
  • Metrics to be reported during and after the campaign

Pro Tip: Sometimes we include a report template – such as an excel chart with all relevant KPIs and spaces for them to fill in actual figures – so that we can more easily measure results against goals without having to translate their reporting. 

Create a Contract

Is your partner contractually obligated to meet or exceed your key KPIs? They should be. Create a written “scope of work” or “memo of understanding” that covers the campaign obligations and make sure both parties sign a copy before the campaign begins. Include a requirement that all influencer-created content is a “work made for hire” and you own the IP, whether it is used in posts or not.

Review, Approve, and Watch the Content Go Live

It’s your brand, so protect it!  Your influencer will submit content for your final approval – review it carefully and provide timely, clear and constructive feedback so you both are aligned. As we discuss in our blog “8 Tips for Selecting a Wine Influencer Partner”, your brand may be held responsible for any content published through your partnership. Ensure your partner’s content follows industry guidelines and legal regulations.

Once the content goes live, interact with it! Share it. Comment on it. Like it. When your brand engages with the influencer partner’s content, it further strengthens your association.

Gather Data, Analyze, and Adjust

Once your campaign is live, dive into the metrics early in the campaign. If you are not hitting your KPIs, you can make mid-course corrections. Look at engagement numbers and types of engagements – do they make sense? Is the tone and voice supporting your brand identity?  Read some comments and see if those people fit your target demographic group(s).

At the end of the campaign, document a post mortem.  What worked? What didn’t? What will you do differently next time? Use the results to refine future campaign strategies and follow our recommendations for making the most of the post-campaign benefits.

Hopefully, we’ve provided some practical tips for executing a campaign. In our fourth and final post in this series, we will address how to really spike your results with post-campaign actions!

8 Tips for Selecting a Wine Influencer Partner

Now that we’ve shared why you should partner with a social media influencer, here are top tips for researching and vetting potential partners. We implement these steps for clients like Hahn Family Winery, Wines of Languedoc, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Geyser Peak Winery, and others.

1. Determine your campaign goals

You won’t achieve your goals if you don’t define them. That is, make sure your campaign is optimized to meet your goals. Determining realistic benchmarks will depend on the size of your current social media accounts, as well as the metrics for your influencer partner. Set the following goals before choosing an influencer:

  • Social Media Follower Growth: 25%? 50% this year?
  • Impressions: Need to reach a mass or micro target audience?
  • Reach: Maybe, like some of our clients, you want to reach wine buyers who don’t necessarily read about wine?
  • Engagements: Want to increase shares, likes and comments?
  • Target demographic: Want to reach more Millennials? Consumers in New York? Luxury buyers?

Once you have identified these goals, you’ll be able to identify an influencer(s) with the right follower count, as well as the key questions you’ll need answered in order to select the best partner.

2. Ensure the influencer’s visual identity is a good match for your brand

Influencers grow their audiences by building, and fiercely protecting, their personal brand. As you scroll through the feed of a potential match, take note of their photo styling. Does their look align with your brand? An influencer known for their richly textured food and wine styling wouldn’t be an appropriate match for a winery with a crisp and clean visual style. Although your marketing team will provide guidelines for content creation, don’t expect a potential partner to dramatically change their style. At the end of the day, you’ll have to trust this person to speak on your behalf. And you’ll reaffirm your brand identity by working with an influencer whose imagery and tone of writing aligns with yours.

Case study: Hahn Family Winery (see logo below) partnered with Drinking with Chickens; a perfect visual partnership.

 

3. Review the influencer’s past partnerships

Evaluate previous paid content on the influencer’s page. This will allow you to see both how the influencer presents sponsored products as well as what types of products they promote. If you’re a luxury wine brand, you should ensure that the potential influencer frequently advertises premium products.

Pro tip: Don’t be scared off if an influencer has worked with your direct competitors. This could be a great sign that their audience will be interested in your brand.

4. Consider the influencer’s audience location

Make note of where the influencer and their audience are located. Consider if you need to coordinate an in-person event or photoshoot. Make sure you can legally ship wine to the influencer. Look at the language in the comments section and at the profiles of engaged followers to determine audience location.

5. Check for fake followers

A primary goal in selecting a partner is choosing one with an audience who will be interested in your brand. Fake followers are an increasing concern. Follower count is meaningless if the audience isn’t real; it defeats your marketing objectives and might even damage your brand’s integrity. Have your marketing team or agency vet potential partners for fake followers by checking for warning signs like a sudden spike in followers. Another cause for concern is a nearly 1:1 follower-to-following ratio which indicates the use of automation services to spur follower growth – real influencers do not follow thousands of accounts.

6. Make sure the influencer follows guidelines for industry responsibility 

In the court of public opinion, and potentially the court of law, sponsoring an influencer can be seen as condoning their behavior. Evaluate the way partners run their accounts. Here are some red flags:

  • Promoting overconsumption
  • Promoting drinking alone
  • Claiming alcohol has health benefits
  • Not clearly indicating sponsored content — an #Ad should be in the caption of every sponsored post
  • Running alcohol giveaways
  • Drinking alcohol while pregnant
  • Promoting consumption by minors
  • Featuring people that appear under 25

Everyone working in social media on a wine brand should review and adhere to the Wine Institute guidelines for digital marketing and advertising.

7. Your budget will determine the right influencer

Every influencer sets their own prices, and costs will vary depending on their follower count. Consider your budget and campaign components when determining where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. While a macro-influencer partnership is likely to spur larger follower growth in a shorter amount of time, we often recommend partnering with a micro-influencer to reach a niche audience (engagement rates can be much higher).

8. Request Media Kits and Proposals

Normally, we vet prospective partners to create a shortlist of 10-30 influencers, and request media kits and proposals from 5-15 identified as the best potential matches. Next, request a media kit. Influencers should be able to provide:

  • Audience breakdown by location, age and gender
  • Time of day their audience is active (to identify time zone)
  • Average impressions per social media post
  • Average engagements
  • Unique monthly page views to blog
  • Timeframe for production
  • Breakdown of fees for photography, blogs, videos, events, etc.

Now that we’ve discussed why to use influencers and how to research and vet them, we now turn to best practices for executing a campaign.

6 Reasons to Use Influencer Partnerships

Influencer partnerships reinforce your brand’s identity, introduce your brand to prospective customers,  build your Instagram base, and can even improve search engine results.

These campaigns are increasingly successful for our clients, so we decided to share some insights in a four-part series.

First, for the sake of this series of posts, we define influencers as bloggers who create photos, videos, and posts, as well as run events and giveaways. Many are small media companies with subject matter expertise and attract a loyal following. In other words, we are not defining influencers in this series as sommeliers, retail buyers, journalists, etc.

So why work with influencers? Here are six reasons.

1. Amplify your brand identity

You are the company you keep. By partnering with reputable influencers whose visual style and tone (i.e., their point of view, syntax, level of formality, etc.) complement your own brand, you strengthen your brand’s identity.

But first, make sure you vet potential partners to ensure their photography and writing style aligns with your brand. For example, a traditional, iconic Napa Valley luxury brand won’t benefit by partnering with a sassy, irreverent blogger.

2. Increase awareness with targeted, prospective customers

Our client campaigns are often designed with goals such as targeting potential customers in their late 20s and 30s or reaching wine drinkers who don’t read wine columns but do follow home décor or home entertaining influencers. Based on an influencer’s followers, your brand can get exposure to these “pools” of future customers, often at a competitive CPM (cost per thousand impressions), and in an editorial environment that isn’t saturated with your competitors. (And, by the way, these programs can complement a targeted PR campaign, but that’s a subject for a future post.)

Case study: By partnering with female influencers, we helped a client in 2018 increase the percentage of female Instagram audience from 65% to 72%.

3. Influencer opinions are more trusted than ads

Followers are attracted to influencers who inspire new ideas and serve as an “editor” of current topics, trends and products. Good influencers are the Sherpas of their domain. By providing valuable insights, experience and practical advice, they drive loyalty and trust. And people trust endorsements. According to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Report, 66% of the consumers in the U.S. trust recommendations from opinions while only 46% trust ads on social networks1.

4. Grow your Instagram audience

Fanning ads on Instagram, unlike Facebook, are not an option. But influencer partnerships can reach large audiences of prospective customers and help boost follower acquisition more quickly than “organic” growth alone; that is, just relying on followers engaging with your posts. Put another way, influencer-created content has a better opportunity of being discovered than organic content or traditional social media advertisements alone.

Case study: One of our winery clients doubled their Instagram audience from 3,500 to 7,000 followers in 2018 as a result of influencer partnerships.

5. Rank higher in search results

Both the quality and number of links to your root domain positively affect your SEO value. It might be an unexpected reason to work with social media influencers but doing so can increase your search engine rankings. Additionally, keyword optimization in your influencer partner’s content can also affect your brand’s ranking. Both of these benefits help drive more traffic to your website, which could drive more email signups, online purchases, winery visits and more.

6. Create new content for your brand

Influencers are in the business of creating content. So, the terms of your partnership contract should include usage rights for their photos, texts and posts. Tap their creative energy to refresh your image library, because your in-house team probably doesn’t have the time!

Now that we’ve made our case for why to partner with an influencer partner, read our second post in this series: how to select a wine influencer partner.

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8 Things We Learned at the 2019 DTC Wine Symposium

Every year, the DTC Wine Symposium addresses the timely issues affecting direct to consumer marketing and sales. Group panels and keynote speakers zero in on what managers need to know now in the context of a rapidly changing sales channel.

Our team identified several actionable takeaways from this year’s symposium. In no particular order, here are eight.

Micro-influencers are misunderstood

At Benson, we engage influencers in “wine-adjacent” lifestyle topics such as home entertaining, décor, and travel to pull new consumers into our clients’ digital ecosystems. So while our clients have had success with these programs, it was fascinating for us to hear DTC managers’ perspective – many complained that micro-influencers are always asking for comp’d tastings! Our suggestion: shuffle influencer inquiries to the PR team or your PR agency for vetting to ensure that consistent brand messages are shared and the most is made from their visit.

Rules governing social media are evolving

Making the wrong move on social media, even accidentally, can result in loss of license or severe fines. Thankfully, Tracy Genesen at Wine Institute shared some important rules and best practices for staying legal on social media. These are the key lessons we walked away with:

  • Put your social media in the hands of industry-savvy professionals you trust
  • Get all stakeholders on the same page on what is and isn’t legal before starting social media program.
  • Don’t assume previous rules are still in effect.

At Benson, our team stays up to date on regulations in the wine and spirit space, better protecting our digital marketing clients. Should you have specific questions about what is and isn’t legal in your marketing campaigns, we recommend referring to The Wine Institute for more information.

Social media is often overlooked

Social media is not always valued as an important part of the overall marketing communication strategy. We heard that some DTC managers of smaller wineries view social media as an optional extra that might be tacked onto an employee’s existing job duties. With this mentality, social is simply not used to its full potential – as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Social media can be utilized to strengthen bonds with your existing fanbase, to share time-sensitive information, to encourage online sales and in-person visits, and moreover, to communicate your brand story to a new audience. In planning out your brand’s social media content and putting attention into community management, your holistic marketing strategy is immediately strengthened – as well as your ability to reach a wider (and often, younger) demographic.

The wine industry is overlooking female consumers

… and missing out on the 7 trillion dollars they spend in the US each year. The previously dependable “older male, wine collector” customer persona is increasingly becoming a relic of the past. To keep up with the times, Kristi Faulkner of WomenKind urged DTCWS attendees not to underestimate the buying power, and wine interest, American women possess. If you’re ready to take the jump, don’t assume marketing to women will be similar to your previous tactics. Kristi recommends to:

  • Create an immersive/engaging experience in your tasting room
  • Draw your female customers into the story of the brand
  • Create an emotional experience for her, as it is more likely to be remembered

The key question tasting room managers should be asking themselves is: When a woman walks into your winery, what senses can you engage in the first five minutes?

Creating a personal online experience is key

Commerce7’s sponsor session “3 Transformational Changes Impacting the Digital Customer Experience and How to Apply them to Your DTC Program” hammered one key point home: consumers want to build a relationship with your brand. Some digitally savvy wineries achieve this online through smart member dashboards and segmented email lists. Our take: don’t overlook community management. One of the most direct ways to build camaraderie with your fans is through social media engagement, this includes:

  • Respond to questions or comments received on your social pages
  • Find and engage with social posts where your wines or winery have been tagged
  • Recognize and build relationships with highly engaged fans
  • Support sommeliers that love your wines
  • Pay attention to adjacent topics your fans are interested in besides wine, and work that into your communications

Through well-executed community management, we’ve seen fan growth on social media pages of up to 10% month over month, without any advertising spend.

Winery DTC is maturing

The much-anticipated Wine Direct to Consumer Shipping Report compiled by Sovos and Wines & Vines was released in concert with General Manager Larry Cormier’s keynote speech this year. Larry pointed out that legal winery DTC states comprise 95% of the US population, and the remaining 5 illegal states will not add much to sales growth. So while the growth rates are still in the double digits, future rates are likely to slow.

But there’s still plenty of room for expansion

One could assume that as the DTC category matures and grows at somewhat less-torrid rates than year’s past, the average bottle price would drop. Not so; it rose 2.4% to nearly $40/bottle, which is about 4x the average bottle price sold through the retail channel. And there appears to be a lot of upside outside California, which comprises 12% of US population but a robust 30% of DTC winey sales by volume.

What form will competition take?

While many, if not most, wineries invest in creating experiences for guests, average visits per winery are dropping. Future revenue growth is likely to be less correlated with onsite visitor counts. What does this mean? Probably more flexible and personalized subscription benefits, better digital marketing, and possibly more “in-market” activations such as wine dinners and consumer events.  Certainly it will help to further professionalize the use of existing tactics (email, SEO, etc.), but we believe it will take broader marketing strategies to really move the needle for brands, such as a tighter integration of 3-tier and DTC marketing strategies.

Wine Marketing: Napa Valley Style

Under new leadership, Napa Valley’s legendary Clos Du Val winery began its current transformation in the vineyards four years ago, focusing on estate wines and production investments. The winery’s evolution continued this fall with the opening of a new visitor center, called the Hirondelle House, and a new set of guest experiences.

Hirondelle House is drop dead gorgeous. It welcomes guests into a chic setting adjacent to vineyards and winery production. The message is clear: Clos Du Val wants to connect guests emotionally to not only its wines, but also to its estate vineyards. The room is modern but cozy, providing conversational nooks, a variety of tasting options, and a seamless inside/outside design featuring a 60-foot sliding glass door and 3,000 square foot patio. You want to stay, wander around, and explore. Designed by Michael Guthrie & Co Architects, with interiors by Erin Martin Design, it’s the latest must-visit winery in the Napa Valley.

“Guest expectations have changed over the last decade, and wineries also need to evolve,” stated Clos Du Val President and CEO Steve Tamburelli, echoing a larger trend in retail away from a transactional point of view and toward an experience POV.  Over the past decade or so, onsite winery marketing in Napa Valley, and elsewhere, increasingly centers on creating an experience that connects guests emotionally with the winery and its wines, and the winery’s unique “sparkle” that makes it compelling.  Visitors are spending more time at each winery, which drives down the average wineries visited per day, but deepens the memories of each visit.

This trend is now prevalent with specialty retailers, too. For example, home furnishings retailer Restoration Hardware now has a restaurant in Napa Valley. For an interesting read on this trend, visit  https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/specialty-retailers-are-getting-into-the-restaurant-business/