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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 associations. Feature 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.

Tara Randall

Tara Randall Joins Benson

Tara Randall, formerly digital marketing director at Scheid Vineyards, has joined Benson’s Napa Valley office.

Tara will work with the Benson team in Napa and New York on strategy and execution for the agency’s social media and digital marketing campaigns for winery and spirits clients. The agency provides full-scope social media services as well as digital advertising promoting both DTC and 3-tier retail sales. Prior to joining Benson, Tara ran digital marketing for the brands produced by Scheid Vineyards in California’s Central Coast. She focused on content creation, advertising, web management and SEO. Prior to that she ran her own SEO consultancy.

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.

Monty, Mooshagian, Garren Join Benson

To manage digital and PR projects in both Benson’s Napa and New York offices, the agency has hired three new professionals.  All three will contribute to US-based campaigns for wine brands, regions, and spirits companies. Cristen Monty joined the agency’s New York office this month. Her PR expertise was honed in New York agencies including Rubenstein PR and JMG PR. Erin Mooshagian joined the Napa office with a background in technical and freelance wine writing for a variety of outlets, as well as wine education at Domaine Carneros winery Finally, Amanda Garren also joins the Napa office; her background focuses on in-bound marketing campaigns for SaaS companies outside the wine and spirits industry.