In a 2015 Sonoma State University study, American Consumer Wine Preferences, authors Dr. Liz Thatch and Dr. Kathryn Chang found that price is the number one decision making factor when consumers purchase wine. No big surprise here, especially with the plethora of wines and deals available. Brand came in second at 67%. Again, not surprising since people want to trust what they buy in an ocean of choices.
What is particularly interesting to me is the big gap between price, brand and the next factors: variety and country, which came in at 36% and 35%, respectively. Appellation was a mere 20%. Brand trumps grape and place by two to three times.
The authors conclude with eight recommendations for marketers regarding selecting wine styles, focusing marketing messages on relaxation and social benefit, providing online information, achieving sales placements, promoting via regional organizations and facilitating online sales.
We agree with the recommendations and go one step further: following these steps doesn't do much good if few people have heard of your winery. In addition to marketing messages that highlight the joy of the experience, you want to share your story, both in written and visual form to entice and support the other aspects of the brand such as name and packaging. (It's quite possible that the study authors didn't include a story recommendation because it's such a basic aspect of wine marketing. Unfortunately, our experience shows that stories are often incomplete or missing entirely.)
Forming relationships with media is a terrific way to accomplish recognition for your winery and build your brand equity. In doing so, you harness the value of third party endorsement, which can be shared and turned into sales and marketing opportunity. We respectfully offer suggestion number nine.
In the wine industry, we wax on an on about vineyard spacing, clonal selection, and sustainable farming programs. Then obsess over sorting lines, punch downs, yeast selection, fermentors and barrel regimes. We are calculated, mindful, and even dogmatic when it comes to our vines and wines. But when the time comes to build a business model, particularly as it relates to the marketing and demand creation side of things, we have a very small or non-existent budget, little time and even less interest.
This is like spending two days preparing a fancy French meal with the finest fresh ingredients and serving it on paper plates with Coors Light. Or writing an impassioned love letter to the object of your affection and dropping it into a mailbox without a stamp. None of this makes sense given all of the time and financial investment required to prepare the meal, write the letter or get a wine into bottle.
A recent survey by Sonoma State University's wine business researchers found that the number one strategic challenge facing wine businesses is "managing and building customer relationships and brand awareness." And the top two skills needed to prosper in the wine industry are marketing and strategic planning. Yet there are a surprising number of wine businesses operating without that third leg of the stool, and many wondering why it's so difficult to compete.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy I've heard hundreds of times: "we don't have a marketing budget..." This mindset is a choice, and a very telling one at that, especially given what isn't being said: "...because we don't value marketing." Until there is investment and time set aside to build that third leg, it's going to continue to be a really tough market.
Marketing wine is both difficult and simple. On one hand, the competitive landscape is nothing short of shocking, sort of like winery financials in the first five to 20+ years. On the other, the good news is that you already possess your number one and number two marketing tools: samples and a corkscrew. (If you bottle under screwcap, then luckily you don't need the second and will avoid the TSA scrutiny I receive every time I accidentally forget to remove the corkscrew from the diaper bag!)
My 15 years of wine marketing experience supports these statements, particularly my five years working with Symington Family Estates of Portugal, who continue to build their North American business, Premium Port Wines, sample by sample. The family just celebrated the tremendous honor of being named to Wine Spectator's 2014 Top 100 list with the number one and number three wine -- Dow's 2011 Vintage Port and Chryseia 2011, respectively.
Samples are indeed your number one marketing tool, and now we also have the data to prove it. Trellis Growth Partners just completed the analysis of our September 2015 national wine media research study. The results and recommendations report we're launching next week finds that 90% of media are either interested or very interested (65% of the 90%) in receiving samples. A respondent said it best:
“Samples are the best way to evaluate a wine. Tastings and events only give you a snapshot of the wine.
I need to taste it over a course of days to really understand a wine.”
While this finding isn't surprising given that media covering our industry need to evaluate wine to write about it, what is shocking is how many wineries resist investing in sampling. It is true that time and shipping costs add up, but many fail to factor in the value of the coverage samples can generate.
We recently did a ROI study on a client's spring sample mailer, calculating the cost of goods on the wines, shipping, time and materials. When we compared their total investment in samples to the earned media value of the coverage we generated, the figure came in at 20 times return on investment. Note that the coverage is still coming in with two more articles just today!
There is of course a catch, and that is that of the 90% of media who are interested in samples, 41% want them sent proactively and 49% want to be pitched first. This means you need to have a relationship with the media with whom you are trying to influence to cover your winery's story. And it goes without saying that the quality of your wine needs to speak for itself.
Stay tuned on Facebook for our report release next week.
I just finished a terrific time management book by Laura Vanderkam, I Know How She Does It. Vanderkam had high income ($100k+) working mothers keep detailed time logs in an effort to study how they use the 168 hours we all have each week. She challenges many of the widely held narratives that in order to balance a successful work and family life, that either sleep or leisure or both need to be put aside. And she shows with data how a more mindful approach to time and how we use it can significantly improve our efficacy, efficiency and overall joy.
While I don't agree with all of Vanderkamp's tips and opinions, I did find the majority to be thought-provoking and practical. Her assertion that one of the biggest contributors to time frustration (and the feeling that we don't have enough leisure) is multi-tasking. How many of us are guilty of checking email (again) or social media when we are supposed to be "off"? The constant connection to technology is both a blessing for information flow and a curse for the mind break we all need to maximize creativity. Setting some boundaries around communication -- for example, phone off between 8pm and 6am and on Sundays, is something that we can all test to see if it improves our overall performance and enjoyment of life.
Ahh, Bill Lumbergh. We all know him from somewhere, hopefully a company that's listed in the past on your resume. My "Lumbergh" came fairly early in my wine marketing career, just after Office Space, the cult classic by Mike Judge was released. The movie was an important part of my survival skill set under his direction, and since I've enjoyed more sessions with this movie than I'd care to admit -- always with a glass of something delicious and usually after a tough work day.
In my experience, since there are relatively few wineries in the Pacific NW that employ marketing communications professionals, there's a lot of "What would you say you do here?" surrounding PR. In my last post, I wrote about the true essence of PR for wineries, so for this post I'm going to stick to concrete examples -- those which I believe The Bobs were looking for in their interviews.
It's early Friday, so looking back over the last four days, here's what our team of three has been up to:
* Successfully pitched a KATU television segment for Willamette Valley Vineyards
* Coordinated interviews for KOIN and KGW for Stoller Family Estate
* Achieved 32 instances of press coverage for our clients including tv, articles and blogs
* Corresponded with 28 members of the media with whom we have working relationships
* Connected with 10 people serving the industry
* Communicated with 7 new media
* Hosted 6 client meetings
* Tracked 6 benchmark competitors' press for our clients
* Created 5 top press hit files
* Removed 5 members of the media from our CRM since we found them to be inactive
* Coordinated and prepared for 4 media meetings
* Sought feedback from 3 media and industry connections regarding an event we helped host last week
* Spoke with 2 potential clients
* Met internally 2 times to go through pitch lists to ensure that our media communications do not overlap
* Spoke with 2 social media experts on how we can optimize our journalist interactions
* Provided 1 recommendation to a client regarding his thought leadership goal
We've also worked with a designer to envision an improved client reporting tool, sent 40 press files to our local printer to complete our press books and project to literally surround ourselves by framed press. And finally, we have sadly paid tribute to friend and wine journalist, Cole Danehower, who passed away.
It's been a productive, exciting and sad week... and it's not over.
According to Public Relations Society of America, "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."
True. So how does a winery do this?
When boiled down to its essence, PR is about devising a strategy to share your winery's story in the right way with the right people. These audiences include consumers, trade and media; each needs a specialized approach. Since our agency focuses on media relations -- working with journalists who cover our industry through lifestyle, trade or food and wine angles, the remainder of this post will highlight specific recommendations for working with media.
The Right Way
Just as you wouldn't want to be on a date or interview with only one person doing the talking, public relations professionals must take into account the intended audience's interests, preferences (and in our case, policies) to be effective. This means we spend a significant amount of time researching individuals before approaching them. It is important to find a common ground, ask the right questions and most of all, offer something of value before making an appeal for consideration.
For example, some media only want to communicate over email; others prefer the phone or social media. There are journalists who don't want to be bothered before their weekly article is due on Wednesdays, and others who publish pitch schedules to which they'd prefer you adhere. Many are open to pitched ideas so long as they appeal to the readers and "scoops" or exclusive content is always preferred.
In all cases, once you have done your research and gained the attention of a journalist, providing a clear and concise story and profile of relevant and timely information is critical. For a winery introduction this includes an story overview, wine list, background on principals, and vineyard and property information. The key here is to provide all of this information in a format that does not overwhelm. And keep it relevant: a scoring publication doesn't want to hear about your wine club, and a Georgia based writer will not likely be interested in receiving samples of your winery only Riesling not distributed in his state.
Some pet peeves to avoid include boasting about points from other publications, leaving out suggested retail pricing, documents that are too lengthy or worse, not providing any information at all. Uninvited follow up calls are usually a "don't," and complaining about reviews or not being included in a piece might cost you a relationship.
The "little things," like being polite and thankful, go a long way. Journalists are bombarded by people wanting coverage all day long, but the number of thank you's they receive after offering recognition is shockingly low.In the end, the right way boils down to approaching journalists one by one, and focusing on building a long-term relationship. The good news is that the relationship is the fun part.
The Right People
Our clients tell us that one of the main benefits of working with PR professionals is our ability expand their networks. An important part of our work is sharing our relationships; therefore our ability to nurture long-term networks and create new connections is key.
For a winery, approaching the right people starts with devising your PR goals and progresses to connecting personally with journalists who might be interested in your story in your select markets. For example, if Minnesota, Florida, New Jersey and Arizona are your top markets, starting with media in those states plus your own region makes sense. This should include a mix of print, online and possibly radio and television connections.
Once you've selected your regions, you can connect with aligned journalists in three primary ways: pitch stories, seek meetings with traveling principals and offer send samples for consideration. These are the only ways to "bring the story" to the market shy of bringing the journalist to the winery, which can be costly unless he is already traveling to your area.
Building relationships with the right people also means keeping in touch. So a one and done approach after gaining coverage will have a much more limited impact than deepened ties over time. Put a reminder on your calendar to read your target journalists' work periodically and be sure to communicate any compliments not related to your winery. For example, just today I read an Orvieto piece by a gent who provided a great history lesson. So I emailed him with praise just because.
Public and media relations can be a heck of a service to sell, especially when a potential client is new to the function: there are no guarantees, neither agency nor client can control coverage, and you pay a fee whether the placements happen or not.
So why in the world should anyone consider hiring a PR firm?
To begin, take a look at your industry's competitive landscape. In the wine and culinary realm, competition is extremely intense, and there are far more products than there are slots on retailers' shelves or in consumers' wine collections. Are you getting a share over the coverage of your industry?
PR done well helps your company stand out from the very crowded crowd.
Then assess your company's performance. A lot of what we do in the wine world is share stories -- are you and your entire team able to tell a captivating story that engages your customers? And back it up with third party endorsement?
Further, are you attracting the right customers? (Or are you even known?) Selling through inventory on an acceptable turn cycle? Achieving targets for wine club membership, online sales and profitability? Growing according to your vision?
PR is not a magic solution for business challenges, as there are often multiple problems when performance is lagging. However, PR done well can help increase awareness and drive sales. In our 2014 agency report, we found the following statistically significant findings for investment in PR and media relations:
1. PR is associated with larger wine club size. Increased frequency of engaging media predicted larger wine club size. Those who engaged the media were 1.6 times more likely to have a larger wine club.
2. PR is associated with selling more wine direct to consumer and more wine online. Increased frequency of engaging the media predicted increased percentage of cases sold directly to consumers. For each increase in how often the media were engaged, the odds of selling direct cases online increased by 2.7 times.
And finally, question your readiness. Even if you understand the value of enhancing your share of press coverage and and how PR can help business performance, you may not be in a position to benefit from an investment in an agency's services.
Does your product offer excellent and consistent quality given the price? Are you willing to commit time to nurturing the relationships that precede coverage? Once you get the coverage, are you able to market to and well serve the customers whose loyalty you desire? And finally, do you have a budget set aside to make a long-term investment in telling your story?
You are very likely marketing your business in a less than inspiring way. I sure was.
Do you spend a lot of time talking about your clones, soil, or special barrel regimes? How your particular Chardonnay is long in the palate or perfectly balanced? And tend to highlight that you've been doing it for 10, 20 or 50 years? If the answer is yes, then your marketing needs to be more captivating.
The 15 minute TED Talk by Simon Sinek linked below stopped me in my tracks. (Warning, watching it will likely be both exhausting and invigorating.)
Before watching Sinek deliver his presentation, when approached by prospective clients and asked questions about our agency, we would highlight our strong relationships, proven results and processes, regular results reporting and constant cycle of seeking continuous improvement in everything we do. Etc. etc.
All of this is still true; it just isn't a compelling reason to invest in our services. That's because Sinek argues that people buy your WHY, not your HOW or WHAT.
The good news is that your WHY is likely a pretty clear vision with which to reconnect. It goes right to the heart of your company. WHY do you love what you do? WHY does your company bring you joy? WHY did you start it in the first place?
In our case, our clients do not buy the HOW we do it (our cultivation of strong relationships, industry expertise, benchmarking results, hundreds of communications with journalists monthly) nor WHAT they receive (increased recognition, high ROI measured in earned media value, increased demand).
Instead, the businesses who are a fit with our family of clients connect with WHY we do what we do. They want to work with a wine focused PR agency that is inspired and driven by their WHY, and people who derive pleasure from cultivating the relationships necessary to achieve recognition for their vision.
Interestingly, understanding this produced a common thread amongst all of our clients -- something bigger than bringing delicious wine and food to market. Such as a deep desire to create a legacy, share joy, provide for others, or create a community or culture. Perfectly, really swallowing this makes for much better storytelling, which is WHAT we do.
It makes my day everytime one of our clients is featured by the journalists who work so diligently to bring compelling stories to their readers. What makes your day as a business owner?
Engaging media can help you achieve press, which helps improve your visibility and increase consumer demand. But how do you maximize your recognition? If you’ve received a glowing review but don’t know what to do next, strengthen your coverage by following our five tips.
1. Prepare in advance.
This is not the time to "wing it." Take the time to research the journalist's preferences, beat (specific coverage interests) and read his last two to three articles to gain a sense of what your interviewer is seeking. Outline some answers to questions you'd like to be asked and practice, especially if you're new to being interviewed.
For our clients, we prepare detailed media briefs including this information plus more background given our relationship. (On average, we connect with 30 to 50 members of the media each week, so it's our job to know the details.) We also provide media coaching -- not to drown out the good stuff but to help our clients feel comfortable in interviews so they can shine.
Avoid: Bringing additional guests to the appointment, unless otherwise requested or specified in advance.
2. Be positive, engaging and genuine...
For the remaining tips and our full Q1 newsletter content, click here.
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