I had the privilege today of speaking at the 8th Annual International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) held in the province of Barcelona, Catalunya (in Spain). For those who couldn't make it to Barcelona, or those who want a copy of the presentation, here are the highlights of my conversations with a few of the world's wine leaders about tourism, branding, and making a difference in today's wine world.
Lessons Learned: Conversations with Renowned Wine Leaders
In today's world, you can't simply make better wine and hope it sells. Making great wine is only half the formula. The other half is branding—reaching wine consumers and wine tourists in an ever growing but ever more challenging market. Here are some words of wisdom I learned from speaking with leaders in today's wine industry.
Why is Branding Important?
All of us recognize the brands in the photo below.
These recognizable brands are a few of the Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands in 2015, determined by a study for BrandZ™ Report by Millward Brown. All of the top 100 brands are worth more than $3.3 trillion.
While $3.3 trillion represents a significant piece of the consumer pie, not a single one of the top 100 global brands is a wine brand. While we may realistically never expect a wine brand to be in the TOP 100, it does demonstrate the power of branding and the massive piece of the consumer pie that awaits the wine industry.
Brand Don't Sell Products
What is it about branding that makes it so important? Why isn't enough to simply make good wine? The truth? Brands don't sell products.
Instead, brands sell FEELINGS. As Amazon's Jeff Bezos says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.”
Which is actually good news for the wine industry. Brands sell feelings and wine is all about feelings.
In a conversation I had with John Concannon, 4th generation vintner with California's Concannon Winery, he explained that “feeling” about wine:
“Wineries offer a wonderful place to gather…there's a special mystique and power of wine for bringing people together for great conversations and the exchange of ideas.”
How to Build Your Wine Brand
So it becomes important for the wine industry to build a brand that capitalizes on those feelings. But how do you begin to build your brand? How does the wine industry build brands better?
There are 5 key steps we will examine in today's conversation:
- Evaluate your Strengths, your Weaknesses, your Opportunities, and yes, even your Threats.
- Look at your brand from the CONSUMER's point of view.
- Identify your WHY. What exactly is your brand's purpose?
- Make your WHY come to life to create brand loyalty.
- Have authentic reasons for consumers to trust you.
Evaluate Your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
To break this down, let us examine the first one and look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
There are nearly 4,000 individual wine brands in the world. How do YOU stand out? How do you create customer loyalty?
Remember—wine is experiential. It is social. It is about FEELINGS.
When people buy wine, brand is second only to money, so if you move your brand forward to where it has general brand recognition, that translates into increased income. But, we don't want to focus on sales. We want to focus on feelings. Feelings are what sell wine.
One thing you will see from all of the examples I use today is that social media is a major influencer in building brand recognition—and brand loyalty—in the wine industry. This is true in most brands today, but particularly in the food, wine and hospitality industries.
Hess Family Wines Exemplify Evaluating SWOT
I recently spoke with Dave Guffy, winemaker at the Hess Collection. The wine brand has been actively evaluating their SWOT. They discovered several things about Hess Family Wines over the past few years.
- They have traditionally focused on the $10-$20 wines, which is supposed to be the “sweet spot” for wine purchases globally. Those sales are doing well, up about 12%.
- However, Hess noticed that wines above $20 are up 51%.
- Following that growing trend, and Hess's desire to make really great wine and focus on quality winemaking, they have decided to focus on the luxury brand. You can see that reflected in their web design here, showcasing their strengths and various opportunities they see in the industry. Particularly, they use headings like wine elevated, a chance to purchase wines, join the wine club or visit the winery.
- They have also addressed this new push toward the luxury wines by re-releasing limited editions. Their iconic cabernet, The Lion, hasn't been released since 2008. They will be releasing it again this September at a price point of $150/bottle. That will be followed in April 2017 by the release of The Lionness, a chardonnay that will be at $50/bottle. The secret for both is that they will only produce 50-100 cases of each, creating what they term a “luxury halo”.
- They are also participating in more partnerships. For example, I recently attended an exclusive and very unique winemaker's dinner at The Different Pointe of View in Phoenix. At that dinner, just a dozen people have a chance to meet with the winemaker and the chef. The chef personally prepares the meal in front of the guests, each course paired with a Hess wine.
The key take-away from Hess? They have adjusted their brand to match their strengths.
Look at Your Brand from the Consumer's Point of View
You must look at your brand from the consumer's point of view in order to find your niche. You can't be all things to all people, so you have to figure out where you fit into the marketplace.
Right now, there is a very real difference between what consumers want from a wine and what wine makers want consumers to want in a wine.
There are a number of studies out there that talk about different types of wine consumers. Constellation Brands named six categories: price driven, everyday loyals, overwhelmed, image seekers, newcomers, and enthusiasts. If you look at actual wine buyers, about 50% of them are enthusiasts and image seekers.
To better understand the types of people who buy wines, I combined a lot of different studies and, based on my conversations with wine leaders, found that there are really three distinct categories of wine consumers and wine tourists:
- The premium wine drinker. One study called this group of wine consumers “executives” and I think that fits perfectly. Think of a Manhattan business executive having lunch. She is after premium brands, dresses in designer labels and is about image. He sports the perfect suit, has a Rolex watch and is ambitious. These are the leaders. They want to look successful and buy expensive wines. I see this being the market that Hess Wines is going after with their new branding, although their market may bleed over into the next category.
- The educated, authentic wine drinker. That same study referred to this type of consumer as educators and professors. Imagine a professor who finishes her day teaching and meets colleagues in London for a good glass of wine. She is educated, authentic, prefers high quality over just looking good. He is confident, mature and discerning. I see this group drinking Gaja wines and perhaps the Hess brand.
- The trendy, creative wine drinker. That same study referred to these as artists. Think of the designer or writer or artist who meets with friends in a trendy San Francisco café before an evening at an art exhibit or musical event. These are artistic, adventurous, modern consumers. Each is an individual, a bit more creative than the average consumer. These might drink Veuve Clicquot, an organic wine from Mendocino, a Verdicchio from Italy or a Tempranillo from Argentina.
Case Study in Understanding Your Consumer
When you begin looking at wine consumers and trying to figure out who you are and where you want to be in the marketplace, you may find that you need to rebrand yourself. One brand that did just that and ended up with a new brand image is Santa Margherita.
Mark Lyle, USA Vice President of Marketing for Santa Margherita explains that the company has been known in the US primarily for its Pinot Grigio—and usually known almost exclusively to an older market. The company launched a series of commercials in the US to bring younger consumers to the brand. It focuses on the experience of the brand Santa Margherita and not just on drinking a glass of Pinot Grigio.
In the above photo are several stills from the company's video. This video, entitled “For Who You Are” obviously targets millennials, or anyone with that “millennial” mindset. We are introduced right away to a brand new baby, named Tristan. We see Tristan as a child, finger painting and coloring. We see Tristan going to high school and art school, getting frustrated before eventually finding her own career path. Then we go to her first gallery opening, with her name on the gallery door. The gallery has set up a table with Santa Margherita for the opening and we see Tristan taking a glass of Santa Margherita Pinot Noir and celebrating WHO SHE IS.
Identify Your Why: What is Your Brand's Purpose?
Perhaps one of the most important steps in branding is identifying your why. Your brand is unique to YOUR experience. Who are you? What will you be in the marketplace?
I would estimate that 90% of all small wine producers market the exact same way as every other winery out there. They use logos that are important to the winemaker. They have a website. They take photos of the vineyards and their bottles. They send out emails. They visit festivals. They open a wine tasting room. The wineries may even have social media accounts. But really stop and ask yourself this: HOW AM I DIFFERENT?
Catrice Jackson, brand expert at Catriceology and www.bossladyofbranding.com, tells her clients to think of five core values. Those five values must be at the heart of who you are. Those core values are your WHY.
Make Your Why Come to Life to Create Brand Loyalty
Once you identify your why, you must make your WHY come to life to create brand loyalty. I want to spend the remainder of the time examining those who have made their brands come to life and are at the top of the game. How did they succeed at branding themselves? How have they gained brand recognition?
One example is Concannon Vineyard in California's Livermore Valley. I recently spoke with John Concannon, 4th generation vintner and great-grandson of the founder, James, who established the winery in 1883.
Family, history, and a sense of accessibility set the brand identity for Concannon. Today, 80% of California's 88,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon are planted to the Concannon clones.
Concannon knows how very valuable wine tourism is for his family, his brand, and the state of California. In fact, winery visits are the second largest tourist industry in California and Concannon sees the value in working with the state to promote wine tourism—but never straying from their brand of family and community.
Wine Tourism Sells Dreams: Concannon Vineyard
John Concannon sums up the wine tourism industry: “Wine tourism sells dreams.”
John Concannon understands that wine is all about the experience. It is a feeling. It is a dream. In this photo, John and his father Jim stand in front of the Ellen Rowe Concannon Victorian at the Mother Vine Vineyard that was planted 133 years ago. The Victorian home and that vineyard are trademarks for Concannon. This one is especially close to my heart—it was the first US vineyard I ever visited, with my husband and my mother, back in 1990.
Concannon never forgets that he is selling dreams. To help make those dreams come true for visitors, Concannon has introduced several experiences for visitors, including the Concannon Wine Country Experience. Visitors get premiums tours, tastings, visits to the wine bar with food and wine pairings. They have a chance to meet with the family.
As John told me, “Being welcomed by the family provides warmth and a personal touch. It's important to visit with our guests—we value, respect, and appreciate them.” And John says it remains very important for the family to show their visitors how much they appreciate them.
Concannon strives to be a brick and mortar brand with a family connection. Their motto is “Preserving the past while engaging the future.” They do that through a lot of different initiatives—working with California tourism, serving reserve wines by the glass on their outdoor wine pavilion, private wine tastings, working with PBS, USA Today and other local, national and international media, working with the UC Davis Sustainable and High Tech Vineyard Management Research Center, and even working with the Smithsonian Institute to set up an exhibit in DC about the US wine industry.
Wine Tourism Sells Dreams: Wente Vineyards
Another leader I spoke with was Karl Wente, 5th generation winemaker with California's Wente Vineyards. Another of the “old” US wineries, 75-80% of all Chardonnay grown in California today is from the original Went Clone that came from France.
Wente's goal? They defined their “why” quite easily: They want to take not only Wente wines, but California wines to the world.
Wente wants to turn their customers into brand ambassadors. They see international visitors, particularly an increasing number from China, as key to growing the Wente brand. Karl told me, “Our goal for international visitors is to turn them into Wente Vineyards brand ambassadors upon return to their home country.”
In their tasting room, Wente has maps with their distributors, websites where people can buy locally, and even names of importers. This gives them a very real opportunity to build brand loyalty.
To take it one step beyond the tasting room, Wente has partnered with Visit California to take the brand international. Wente wines are available all over Europe. They have a new service in China featuring home delivery for returning visitors. The wine tasting room visitors place their orders in the US, then receive the wines on their doorsteps when they return home to China – all from stock readily available in China.
How Wente Vineyards Creates Brand Loyalty
In addition to creating brand ambassadors who can take their brand around the world, Wente truly embraces their California location. They sell Wente as a uniquely California brand.
They have unique experiences for their guests, including a golf course, restaurant, summer concerts, and a hands-on studio that gives visitors a chance to work with various winemaking and grape-growing activities, depending on the season.
Wente also uses the ever-present gift shop to build their brand, focusing on gourmet foods and accessories that allow people to create their own California wine experience.
Have Authentic Reasons for Consumers to Trust You: Gaja Wines
Once you have made your brand come to life, you must continue to offer authentic reasons for consumers to trust you. One company that does this well is Gaja Wines in Italy.
The Gaja family has been making wines since 1859, so that gives them an edge on authenticity. But you don’t have to be an old winery to be seen as authentic and even Gaja can't sit back and hope that age will keep authenticity with today's market. Some of the ways Gaja works to ensure authenticity can be used by even the youngest winery.
One way they strive to remain authentic is by frequently working with other brands to promote quality. For example, they often partner with Riedel glass. A couple of years ago, Angelo Gaja and Georg Riedel conducted a series of wine tastings across the US for small, exclusive audiences. They spent the evening bantering back and forth, tasting wines, talking about the glasses, and sharing stories of their family histories.
Gaja has reached out to the next generation of wine consumers as well. Gaia Gaja, Angelo’s daughter, is now involved in the business and promotes the wines around the world, taking the message to a new generation. By sharing family and working with other highly-respected brands, they help build consumer trust.
Have Authentic Reasons for Consumers to Trust You: Veuve Clicquot
One of the leaders in wine branding is Veuve Clicquot. A big part of their branding is building consumer trust. They do that by setting themselves up as a prestigious brand. They partner with some of the biggest names in luxury to help keep that level of trust high.
- They have associations with high-end design events around the world. For example, a Vera Wang Show in New York, a presence at Design Miami, and being part of fashion events in Milan.
- They have set up exclusive champagne bars at hotels, on cruise ships, in high-end stores. They recently did a pop-up bar at the exclusive Little Nell in Aspen.
- They sponsor special events, such as the Manhattan Polo Classic and the British Gold Cup.
- They co-brand products from yachts to glasses to champagne buckets decorated by world-class artists.
Social Media Plays a Part in Consumer Trust
A huge part of consumer trust today is built via social media. Not just a website, but a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube.
Increased social media helps build your brand recognition, which then leads directly to increased sales. Most importantly, you can reach millions of people via social media. This is a way to build bonds with those followers. They feel as if they know you when you take time to tell a story and make consumers feel as if they are a part of your organization.
There are two caveats when using social media:
- Reward loyalty by linking to customer stories. If a customer tweets a picture or themselves drinking your wine, share it. Comment on it. Become involved. Be real to your customers.
- Use social media to EDUCATE and TELL STORIES, but not to directly sell. People want the experience, the relationship. And remember, wine is all about feelings.
Making Social Media Work for Your Brand
There are a handful of wine brands who are using social media effectively. By looking at some of those, we can see ways that you can put some of these ideas to work for you.
We immediately see the branding on the Veuve Clicquot website. We see it through the use of color, younger models, a fun campaign. They are artistic and trendy. They evoke emotions. Because, remember, brands sell feelings.
But Veuve Clicquot takes branding beyond the website to their social media channels.
The photo of the Vuevue Clicquot Pinterest account clearly shows that same perspective. They are selling feelings. They use similar colors and their signature gold color shows in several boards. They're telling a story—boards on women of influence, sweet things, perfect pairings, entertaining.
The same thing can be seen in their other social media platforms. On the left is the Veuve Clicquot Instagram account. It also tells a story. They don't just have photos of wine bottles. They use videos. Notice the top row tells a story itself, incorporating a series of photos and a video. They include people. The brand is young, fresh, relevant.
On the right is their YouTube channel. Again, definitely branded and just by having a strong YouTube presence, something that is favored by those under 40, it sets the brand apart. In a 2010 Lift9 study, experts found that 700,000 people watch wine videos every month. That number is even higher in 2016. How many potential customers are you missing by not including YouTube?
By contrast, look at this website for Champagne Taittinger. A very different feel. The elegantly dressed woman in a library reaches out to an older demographic. It screams old money.
Even the social media sites for Taittinger are more reserved. Notice, there are no bright colors, no young 20-something artists. On the left is the Taittinger Instagram. It definitely tells a story, but a very different story from the one told by Veuve Clicquot. On the right is their Google+ page. While they feature events and tell stories, it is on a different level and by choosing Google+, they direct their brand toward those who would be in that London restaurant looking for a good glass of wine, not necessarily the most trendy drink. They target the serious, the mature, those who don't mind paying for quality but don't need to be flashy.
Let's look for a minute at something directed to the average wine consumer. Remember, you can't be everything to everyone, so it is perfectly fine to target those average consumers.
This is from the Twitter feed of Whitehall Lane, a mid-level winery out of the United States. Notice, they are telling a story. It's about everyday life. On the left is an article about a wine and cheese party from AGardeningCook.com. It's not by or about Whitehall Lane. It's not selling the winery's products. It's educating and telling a story. But there is no doubt that when hosting a wine and cheese party, Whitehall Lane will be in the mind of the consumer who reads this.
On the right are two more tweets from Whitehall Lane. One is a retweet of an article from Wine Folly about using the right wine glass. Nowhere is Whitehall Lane mentioned. It is simply something relevant that they believe their consumers would find interesting. It goes to building trust, building relationships, telling a story, and offering advice.
The larger tweet is from a recipe on myrecipes.com for Tequila-Marinated Chicken Fajitas. They have created a graphic (I do this using Canva.com) with the photo of the dish along with a photo of a Whitehall Lane bottle of wine and their logo. Again, it's not directly selling Whitehall Lane, but if the consumer goes to the store to buy what they need for the fajitas and want to pick up a bottle of wine, they now have an idea for which bottle of wine to purchase—because, if you remember, a significant number of wine buyers are either overwhelmed or newcomers. This is also speaking to the brand because they are sharing something intimate. They're exchanging recipes. This makes them accessible. It makes the brand personal.
Let's look at the social media for The Hess Collection.
Remember, Hess determined that their unique spot in the market is to focus on luxury offerings. They want to be able to produce really great wines and charge a premium for it. They had redone their website, as we saw earlier, to reflect that. They have also created a Pinterest presence to reflect that change.
On the left is their Pinterest collection. Notice boards that are directed to consumers that fit their branding—Wine Elevated, Elevated Living, Luxurious Travel, Elegant Recipes, Fine Wine Fashion, Modern Art Collections. These are all things that are of interest to their target market. By focusing on these, it reinforces their luxury brand. They do have boards specific to wines as well, including Hess Wines and Tours & Tastings, but overall they use social media to educate and tell stories. This approach ties the Hess brand to the luxury market and promotes the feeling and experience of being pampered.
If you look closer at one of the boards, the one on the right is the Luxury Travel board, you can see that they highlight not just traveling to Hess Vineyards, but to other luxury destinations around the world.
This is the social media for Concannon Vineyard. Concannon, as we mentioned earlier, focuses on family, visiting the family at their 133-year-old winery, sharing events with the family. Their social media reflects more of that.
On the left is their Instagram account. There are photos from Concannon, showing some of the unique experiences you can have when you visit. On the right is from their Facebook page feed. Notice, they're inviting the public to a Barrel Tasting Weekend in Livermore, California. Even if you can't go to that event, you see that they're opening up their home to the public. The Concannon brand is about the family. They invite the public to come meet them and spend time at their home.
And one final slide shows the social media for Santa Margherita. Remember, they decide to focus their brand on Santa Margherita as a wine brand for a younger audience. Because they're targeting a younger audience, they have focused very much on social media. There is a link to their social wall on the homepage. That social wall, shown on the right, showcases Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
On the right is the company's home page. You can see that it is an interesting blend of sharing their history, enhancing their authenticity, and appealing to a younger crowd through the use of modern photos, events, the wine culture and even special programs. In this case, they are highlighting events that tend to matter to millennials—Treedom (planting trees in earthquake-devastated Haiti), an evening combining wine and literature, and details about the wine harvest.
Summary: Building Your Brand
To recap: you must build your wine brand because selling great wine is only half the battle. And for those who are part of the wine tourism industry, understanding the audience is the key to success. The five essential steps are:
- Evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)
- Look at your brand from the consumer's point of view
- Identify your why—what is your brand's purpose?
- Make your why come to life to create brand loyalty
- have authentic reasons for consumers to trust you
If you have any questions or need assistance helping to define your brand, feel free to contact me.