No Ads? No Problem. How to Increase Your Instagram Following

With over 800 million active users, Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform. Instagram is of particular interest to Millennials (over half the users are under the age of 30), thus harnessing the power of Instagram is a key component to building your brand image. Inspired by Shutterstock’s recent Instagram hacks blog post, we’ve compiled a few Instagram tips of our own!

  • Follow, Follow, Follow: It’s just as important for you to consistently follow new Instagram accounts as it is to engage with your existing followers. When you follow accounts that share similar interests, aesthetics, and values you’re more likely to be followed back by these accounts and gain new fans from their bases.
  • Posting Time Matters: Sure, you can post whenever you want, but now there are tools that help you discover the optimal posting times. Use these tools to make sure your content is getting seen by the most people and on the optimal day.
  • Use Instagram Stories Wisely: Instagram Stories is not the place to just
    “throw” all the content you think is not up to your Instagram profile standards. We’ve found that Instagram Stories are essential in increasing engagement and followers. Though it sounds counterintuitive, carefully curate this spontaneous content to even more closely align your followers with your brand. However, you can let your hair down a little here and get creative with colors, stickers, and emojis. We’ve seen a threefold increase in the number of average followers acquired per month when we run Instagram Stories. Not to mention a sharp increase in impressions due to the additional content!
  • Leverage Your Influencers: Working with influencers is vital to supporting your brand’s digital presence. Ask your influencer to publish an Instagram Story featuring your brand to further leverage their followers.

Of course – this is not an exhaustive list, merely a few nuggets to get the gears turning. Without the fanning ad option that Facebook provides, you have to get a little more creative! Do you have any tips? Let us know on Twitter at @BensonMKGT or Facebook at @BensonMarketing.


Brand Awareness vs. Consumer Recommendation: Which is More Important?

If awareness is the #1 driver of brand “power,” and if awareness is driven by shelf placement, what happens to brand power if your brand isn’t on retail shelves?

This was just one of the questions inspired by Wine Intelligence’s presentation this month at Prowein 2018. CEO Lulie Halstead’s research identified and measured the effect of three criteria on brand “power”:

  1. Aided Awareness: % of wine consumers aware of a brand when shown its logo and name combination;
  2. Purchase frequency: number of times the consumer bought the brand in the last 3 months; and
  3. Recommendation rate: % consumers who would recommend it to a friend.

The rise or fall of these three criteria were measured for specific volumetric brands and, over a decade, the rise in aided awareness was dramatically higher than the rise in purchase rate and recommendation rate. Let me say that again: for successful, volumetric brands, awareness grew much faster over time than did purchase frequency and recommendation rate. In the U.S. between 2007 and 2017 Barefoot’s aided awareness rose from 27% to 71%, while its purchase frequency (31% to 37%) and recommendation rate (40% to 43%) rose more slowly.

The findings for power brands held true across thousands of consumers and 15 countries.

So what’s going on here? I’m afraid we have more questions than answers, but bear with us.

It’s not surprising that awareness drives sales. Duh. But conventional wisdom and a lot of research claims that peer-to-peer recommendations are the #1 driver of purchase, or at least intent to purchase (what people say in surveys and what they actually do can differ). Wine Intelligence’s research contradicts this notion: it claims that visibility has a larger positive effect than other factors for power brands like Yellowtail, Barefoot or Woodbridge. The other factors, purchase frequency and recommendation rate, are important but grow less than awareness does for these successful, volumetric brands.

So what drives brand awareness? At Benson, we grapple with this every day. We would posit that wine brand awareness is a function of press coverage, digital presence, advertising, shelf placement and ACV, and packaging, among other factors, and in no particular order.

Now, back to the original question: how are these drivers of awareness changing in a dynamic marketplace?

  • Imagine if 15%-20% of off-premise sales move to the home delivery model. That would decrease the potentially positive effects that shelf placement, ACV and packaging have on brand awareness, even if the delivery platforms offer brand advertising.
  • What about digital? If awareness trumps recommendations, digital spend should maximize reach and frequency at the expense of engagement (think Facebook ads versus clever boosted posts). That conclusion will be sacrilegious to many.
  • What about DTC brands? Of course, this study doesn’t directly address DTC, but it suggests what we all know: DTC brands rely very heavily on creating consumer connections, or “affinity,” as Wine Intelligence calls it.

And a final, humbling note: Even when prompted with a wine logo and name, the average number of wine brands a US consumer could identify was only 17, and for France the number was 8. Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Taken from the presentation, “Global wine brand power and consumer trends,” Lulie Halstead, CEO, Wine Intelligence.

Benson Speaks at Les Vignerons Indépendants de la Drôme

Our French Director, Jeanne Peron, was invited to speak at Les Vignerons Indépendants de la Drôme at Vercheny on Thursday, March 8th. She discussed how wineries can improve their image with different types of communication tools. See some of her key points below!


Click here for more information on Les Vignerons Indépendants de la Drôme.

What is your objective?Objectives, benefits and solutions


Unpacking “Advocacy Marketing”

Advocacy Marketing At Work

Is Tesla a car company, or an energy company with a car division?

How companies describe their products and services is not only important to how they are perceived, but also how they function and innovate.

We help wine and spirits companies phrase their strengths every day, and the impact on their teams and customers is thrilling to watch.

Occasionally, we turn the focus on our own company.

Early this year Benson added “Advocacy Marketing’ to our list of services. This is a common phrase among marketers but perhaps less so outside the realm of marketing geeks. Once we tried on the idea, it fit like a comfortable jacket. Here’s why.

We help create brand advocates by working with the media: journalists, bloggers and online influencers.

We also work with advocates in the professional trade by, for example, coordinating regional trips, educational seminars and private events for sommeliers, buyers and importers.

And increasingly, we orchestrate media partnerships that can combine advertorial, editorial, events and social platforms. ( did a story on this topic last month that featured how Benson helps clients target customer segments.)

But rather than dividing services strictly by audience – “this is a trade promotion Idea” or “that is a press idea”—the term “advocacy” pulls together trade and media and consumer audiences into one. So what, you say?

Well, what happens next is where it gets interesting. A simple word change is driving our agency’s mission – integrated marketing –the core of Benson’s ethos. If each of us perceives our responsibilities more broadly than trade or consumer, earned or paid media, then we can better integrate services. And integrated campaigns create better ideas, better results, and higher ROI for clients.

Changing a few words is knocking down mental walls, and already sprouting new ideas and perspectives. Immediately, our team thought of promotional ideas that will help both our clients and influencer contacts. We discussed new processes and the systems that can empower those ideas. We will report on some of these results in the following months.

NB: To answer the first question, Tesla’s stated mission is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” See their website.

Cassoulet Day Campaign for Client Languedoc Wines

For the last three years, we have capitalized on this cassoulet trend along with an influencer marketing campaign accompanying national #CassouletDay (January 9, 2018) to bring the wines of Languedoc to a new audience.

DTC Wine Symposium 2018: Another Success for Industry

At Benson, we have the pleasure of working with the Steering Committee and managing the DTC Wine Symposium, the annual summit that raises funds for Free the Grapes!, the industry coalition that has helped open states and replace onerous regulations.

In its 11th year, the Symposium attracted another sold-out group of wine club, tasting room, marketing and DTC managers from 19 states and four countries. Along with speakers, volunteers from Sonoma State (thank you!), and sponsors, nearly 500 execs packed the Hilton Concord hotel for a 2-day program of 5 keynotes, 7 sponsor sessions, 7 workshop sessions and 4 Town Hall sessions (whew!).

Great Feedback. In our post-event survey, 105 respondents gave high marks. Ninety-six percent recommend the summit, and 86% said the conference was either “excellent” or “good.” Many people said it was the best DTCWS yet. Astra Digital even blogged about it.

Importantly, we also received great suggestions for improvement. The beauty of the DTCWS is that it is a “big tent” for the industry to learn what’s new and next, and to network with peers, vendors and experts.  Constant improvements, and a rigorous speaker vetting process, helps propel the DTCWS and helps the whole industry build the $2.6 billion sales channel.

Thought Leadership. This year we repeated the popular Town Hall-style discussion sessions, which put up some huge, positive numbers in our survey. For keynotes, we brought in one of the leading thinkers on design and AI, IOT and mixed reality, Phil van Allen, professor at Art Center College of Design. From inside the industry, we had a legislative update by Wine Institute’s Steve Gross (bottom line: rigorous compliance is key). Larry Cormier, GM at Sovos, gave us a sneak peek of the Sovos/Wines&Vines 2017 DTC report. Bottom line: YOY volume and value increased 15%+.

So Where does the Money Go? The summit is presented by and a fundraiser for Free the Grapes!, a client of Benson Marketing Group. While wineries, Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners contribute generously to Free the Grapes!, the vast majority of funding comes from the DTCWS. We then execute a state-specific campaign including hiring local PR agencies (e.g., NJ, AZ), creating and advertising in social channels, writing email campaigns, and an app that allows consumers to send personalized messages to their state legislators. In the first five weeks of 2018, we’ve worked in MS, AL, IN, DE and NJ, generating numerous press placements and 1,374 letters to state legislators.

How about 2019?  Soon, we will announce the dates and location for the 12th summit. In spring, we will bring the Steering Committee back together to plan how 2019 can be even better! If you’re interested in serving on the S.C., email us at If you are interested in speaking—and are willing to share detailed case studies and participate in mandatory rehearsals—we want to hear from you, especially if you have not had a chance to share your expertise at other industry conferences. (We like to shake things up.) But wait till the S.C. publishes a Request for Proposal in summer 2019. We’ll keep you updated as long as you sign-up for the Free the Grapes! email list.


What’s the future of marketing?

As previously covered in this blog, we placed a client (Campari America’s Dave Karraker, VP of Engagement and Advocacy) at ad:tech New York, which took place the first week in November. This provided a good excuse for several of us to attend and we’ve captured some thoughts from spending 2 days with the leading and largest agencies serving Fortune 500 companies.

Too much noise! Creative content is king.

While marketers are getting better at targeting specific audiences with the right message at the right time, we are far from proficient, or effective, in the eyes of many experts. The result is just noise. Conclusion: nobody cares if the content isn’t good. This conclusion carries some extra weight when it’s coming from the likes of Microsoft, Kimberly-Clark, Samsonite and others. Implication: great, creative content that addresses consumer concerns will win. Wine and spirits has amazingly rich content, but often we’re not focused on seeing our brands as solving consumer needs or problems.

Practical data use wins out.

The global VP of Media and CRM from McDonald’s gave an impassioned delivery about how companies can do a better job focusing on creating a “value exchange” between company and customer. Conclusion: companies that are best at using their own data to address their customer’s needs will succeed. Develop your own data, and don’t rely just on the walled gardens of Facebook and Google.

AI is scary, not scary.

The Internet of Things (IOT) applications, a subset of AI, are about to play a much larger role in our lives, removing the boring elements of our lives. But, wait. What? We like some of those boring elements! Sometimes, technology seems to replace things that encourage human interaction. What do we lose with efficiency?

AI is here, get over it.

Microsoft’s CMO ran two video ads from Japan and asked everyone to vote on their favorite. Of course, most preferred the artistic one – remember that the audience is full of ad creatives – over the one with a dog spouting green sparks (we’re not making this up). But the ad that did best in Japan was the latter one, created entirely using AI.

Audio search is here

There was much breathless excitement over the advances of voice-based search—not surprising since about 40 million Amazon Echoes have been sold. Also, ad technology, plus the popularity of podcasts, are coming together to provide more opportunities for highly targeted podcast sponsorships and native ad content.

360 Customer Views are a Fantasy

We all hear vendors purport to provide 360-degree views of your customers, a complete history of interactions through multiple touchpoints. But when senior execs from Samsonite and Citibank – who have the resources and a vested interest in this topic – tell you this is pure marketing fantasy, you have to listen. One of them said, and we’re paraphrasing here: “there are only three companies that have a 360 degree view of customers: Amazon, Google and Facebook.” Their recommendation, as we interpret for wineries: work with these “walled gardens” but create your own internal processes for understanding and owning your customer data.

Data, tech, content.

If there’s an overall theme from ad:tech, it’s that these three elements are just getting more important. Control your data destiny and use it to create solutions for your customers (e.g., Fitbit). Adtech technology will continue to improve audience segmentation and targeting (e.g., Facebook). Finally, none of this matters if you can’t turn ad content into desirable content unique to your brand (e.g., the LEGO movie).

It was an inspiring 2-days. But we have a lot of work to do!


Speaking Engagements: You’re Missing Out if you’re Not Participating

Not everyone likes speaking in front of crowds. It brings back memories of your college public speaking class. You’re sweating and your knees buckle, so why would you do it? Speaking engagements at leading conferences give brands added exposure and marketing executives a chance to establish their companies as thought leaders within the industry. This year, Benson secured five speaking opportunities for Campari America executives at leading marketing conferences including iMedia’s Brand Summit, Brand Innovator’s Brand Week and Argyle’s Leadership Summit.

Now, Campari America’s Dave Karraker, vice president of engagement and advocacy, is joining the ranks of esteemed executives (you may recognize names from Google and Visa) to speak at November’s ad:tech conference, a leading two-day marketing and advertising technology conference in New York. This is the conference where today’s top marketers go to exchange notes on the latest marketing trends and advertising innovations. This year’s conversation will focus on how technology has completely transformed the marketing landscape, empowering consumers and forcing brands to re-think how to deliver valuable content. The event schedule is so compelling that our team members will be attending (hint: there will be another post with the inside scoop, so stay tuned).

For a wine or spirits company, marketing conferences can be overlooked or ruled out. But if you have a point of view and something to share, here’s a list of reasons why you should reconsider:

“Guilt (Gilt) by Association”—This isn’t the same guilt by association for being friends with that bad kid in the class. Think of it as ‘shining’ among other leaders in your field. Speaking amongst these high level executives associates you with a class of thought leaders. Other consumer brand executives want to hear your perspectives on marketing wines or spirits. You have great ideas; share them!

Brand Representation—If you look at any conference website, you will see all the brands that are participating. There are usually several different places for a brand to receive recognition. Whether it’s through social media, media coverage, or their newsletter, conferences promote the brands that will be represented during their event. This brings us to our next point…

Media Coverage—Some conferences are held by media outlets, which means they are covering the event and as a participant your brand can be incorporated into press coverage. In addition, some conferences invite top-tier media to attend or speak on select panels and keynotes.

It’s Free – You read that right. Many conferences are willing to pay for your flight, hotel and even provide meals (and not gross ones).

If you’re thinking about where to start, take a look at Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium. It’s a combination of marketing and wine so you get the best of both worlds. We want to help you speak to other brands and executives, don’t be shy!

Why “Millennial Marketing” is Misplaced

The wine industry’s infatuation with “Millennial Marketing” needs a reboot.

For years, we’ve heard a variety of experts claim that the Millennial generation is, or is not, the savior of the wine industry—depending on who’s doing the talking.

But segmenting an audience based on age is a Marketing 101 mistake. A broad age range of consumers do not all act the same. Yet this is how the important topic is framed.

A demographic group of 77 million consumers is certainly a juicy target. But a 24 year old single person does not have the same lifestyle as a 35 year old married consumer. Yet, the wine industry tends to clump these two together. (To their credit, spirits companies tend to have a more nuanced view here.)

At the risk of sounding too basic, wineries must look beyond age brackets and segment based on behaviors, attitudes or interests, and then strategically connect this idea to their own business model.

Here’s a case in point. We manage US marketing for the Vinho Verde category of wines. A key to our strategy is to attract consumers interested in discovering new wine because Vinho Verde is not well known. While certainly not a unique approach, our campaign targets consumers that exhibit a penchant for trying new consumer products—i.e., discovery behavior. This fits our model of increasing awareness, trial, adoption and advocacy. We believe we’ve got a good shot at appealing to them based on Vinho Verde’s approachable taste profile and value proposition.

Our consumer target likes wine, but doesn’t worship it. They don’t know much about Vinho Verde (yet). They get their recommendations from peers more so than rating publications. They are mainly in their late 20s to mid-40s, want to discover new products, and are open to experimentation in a variety of CPG categories. We want to introduce them to something under the radar, delicious and affordable!

Who me? Millennial? Photo credit: James Coletta

Are many of our targets in the Millennial age bracket? Yes, of course. Are they all? No.

How do we reach them? For starters, digital marketing and social media are key because our segment gathers much of their lifestyle information through these channels. We use media partnerships with food, travel and lifestyle influencers to introduce them to a fun, innovative wine from northern Portugal.

Events also provide opportunities to connect, especially because Vinho Verde has a potentially high conversion of trail-to-purchase based on its approachable style and affordability. Last summer we put on a sold-out tasting for 550 consumers in Brooklyn, promoting the event as a fun, educational evening of wine and food discovery, and an unusual opportunity to meet 21 Vinho Verde winemakers (see picture).

Is our strategy working? Well, yes. Starting in in 2016, the US became the #1 export market for Vinho Verde by value, with more growth on the horizon in 2017.

You don’t need a large marketing budget to do effective segmentation. Does your brand seem to appeal to consumers interested in art, or maybe travel? That may suggest using media partnerships with art or travel influencers, and/or digital advertising, to interest prospective consumers with similar interests. Starmont (not a client) appeals to tennis fans through its tournament sponsorships. There are other examples, but not too many.

Once you find your niche, you can use inexpensive tactics – such as “like audiences” through Facebook—to target prospects most likely to be your next fans. Go beyond age; find a segment that might drive more awareness and sales, and then test, test, test.

PR: Five Things You Might Be Overlooking

PR = Marketing

All too often public relations is viewed as some other-worldly practice out on its own. For many companies, PR is Pluto. Sure, communications practitioners have slightly different audiences and timelines, but PR needs to be at the table when discussing new marketing communications and sales initiatives. The result is a more fully integrated campaign that pulls together trends, company news and facts to back it up. So when you’re drawing up a new brand launch, you want your PR team providing some sparks.


The Press Release is Dead, but Not Dead

Lots of marketing blogs will tell you that the press release is dead, but the idea of a press release has a very specific function that is actually still relevant. Think about a press release as a signpost on your company timeline. In 2017, this important mile marker occurred. A press release, is not, however, a story pitch. Today, a press release is best used as a reference document that summarizes the 5 Ws behind a campaign, a new hire, a big purchase, for example.


Nobody Likes a Trick Pony

Communications managers need company spokespeople to not only share defined, concise company messages, but also connect the dots sharing insights on larger trends, business motivations and even controversial ideas. Where is the gray space? Your publicist needs you to go there. Where can you show real thought leadership? A ‘trick pony’ simply performs the rehearsed presentation, whereas an effective spokesperson leads a reporter to a bigger story.


Sending Samples is Not PR

So, now you’ve got your PR team integrated into the marketing department, you’re leveraging your spokespeople, and being judicious with your press releases. Next up, tap into your best assets – your products. But simply sending a sample to a writer and submitting wines for scoring does not constitute a PR campaign. Your products are tools, but your company messages and points of differentiation tell a deeper story that can lead to feature press coverage. Don’t confuse access to your products with access to what makes your company unique.


Are You Using the Right Tool?

PR, or more precisely, media relations is an efficient strategy employed when your desired outcome is building your brand’s credibility. A key benefit of earned media coverage in reputable media outlets is that third party endorsement. However, if you are after a direct customer response (purchase wine, visit a destination), there are other tactics that should be considered. Direct response campaigns that utilize social media targeting tools, advertising, direct mail/email and partnerships are better employed here, offering more precise tracking and typically quicker results. Trying to drive traffic to a tasting room simply through editorial coverage is like using a feather to hammer in a nail.



Benson offers PR and other digital, social media and trade promotions services. Learn more about our areas of expertise and read about our integrated approach here. If you would like to talk more about PR and how its role in the marketing mix can work for you, contact Jeremy Benson to schedule a credentials review.