Wine Marketing More Than a Message

Wineries attending direct to consumer symposium urged to provide experiences

by Jim Gordon
david blum
David Blum
San Francisco, Calif.—An interactive marketing expert told an estimated 450 wine industry attendees at the Jan. 18-19 Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium in San Francisco that low-cost digital tools, apps and games are driving today’s most successful brands—not messaging, the traditional advertising approach.

“The good news for small and medium-size wineries here today is that marketing is becoming more democratic,” said David Blum, the managing director of Ozone Online. “We are experiencing a massive and pervasive shift in the way that brands engage and communicate with their customers.”

Blum has developed marketing campaigns, platforms and experiences for big consumer brands like MINI cars, RadioShack and Columbia Sportswear. He explained what big brands like these are doing to create memorable experiences for their potential customers using digital media, and urged the many winery employees and supplier companies in the audience at the Stanford Court Hotel to follow their lead. 

Old-school messaging

To make his point clear, Blum cited the recent Dos Equis beer ad campaign featuring “the world’s most interesting man” as a particularly good example of old-school messaging. It’s one-way communication from the brand owner to the general public.

The new experiential form of marketing is better illustrated by North Face, the outdoor gear maker, which built an app for smart phones called the Trail Finder. It uses GPS technology to help hikers find the nearest trailheads. The app is branded by North Face, but it does no direct selling or promotion of North Face goods.

Charmin developed a somewhat similar app for travelers needing to find public restrooms in a hurry; they called it called Sit or Squat. The restrooms may or may not be equipped with Charmin toilet paper in them, but the app carries the Charmin name and helps make friends for Charmin in a relevant context. 

A winery that can’t think of an app like these may still be in an excellent position to create memorable experiences for potential customers if it has a tasting room to visit, conducts winemaker dinners or uses other marketing techniques that are old hat to wineries. 

Mass customization

Giving customers and potential customers a way to interact with your winery is a good idea, Blum said. As inspiration, he cited MINI’s mass customization options for its cars. Consumers can go online at no cost and design their own personalized MINI with dozens of options in colors, equipment, styling, etc., leading to hundreds of combinations. Blum said 30% of people who configure a car this way actually buy it.

“Personalized brand experiences create empowered, inspired and more loyal customers,” Blum said. Many wineries already offer custom labels for the trade, and some do so for consumers. Could a winery take the idea further and let consumers blend their own wines without even coming to the winery?

Besides Blum’s keynote speech, the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium included 10 other general and breakout sessions and a trade show that involved about 60 supplier personnel. It was the fifth annual edition of the symposium, and the first in San Francisco after two years in Napa and two in Santa Rosa. Two wine industry organizations, the Coalition for Free Trade and Free the Grapes, operated the event.

Sean Carroll of the Benson Marketing Group said the San Francisco location helped attract several winery attendees from the Central Coast and at least 20 attendees from other regions including Washington, Oregon and Canada. There were 342 paid registrations and more than 450 industry representatives at the event, including paid registrations, trade sponsors, and speakers.Registration fees were $395 for the Thursday program and an extra $75 for the Wednesday evening mixer.

Posted on 01.24.2012 - 09:22:41 PST
A couple of other ideas based on David's examples:
*Create an app that pinpoints and features info on wineries in a region with similar wine styles to the sponsor winery or an app created by a wine association that features wineries in their region based on wine style. A visitor seeking wineries featuring dry vinifera wines can input that info into the app and have it create an itinerary of wineries to visit selling that wine style. Why not build credibility by proactively providing recommendations via an app? If there are some already in existence, I'm not aware of them.
*Personalized experiences. Rather than the standard tasting room bar experience, create intimate experiences similar to Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro's "The Wine Salon", small bites paired with a flight of Red Newt wine,tailored to visitors' taste with guidance from a personal food and wine ambassador: http://rednewt.com/ww2/bistro/3-events/139-wine-salon
*Disclosure:Red Newt Cellars is not a client of mine

Melissa Dobson

Posted on 01.24.2012 - 11:11:23 PST
Blum's ideas are better suited to F500 companies that can afford to indulge in branded apps. He clearly has no idea about winery economics. Otherwise he'd know that an idea like custom blends doesn't scale. Even Crushpad struggles with it.

I would argue that Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man" is exactly what wineries need: a simple idea that is distinctive and engaging. The very things that ostensibly drive social media.

The trick is moving wineries outside their comfort zone to embrace ideas that aren't simply product-based. Recall that The World's Most Interesting Man only makes passing reference to beer at the end of each spot. His signature line is: “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

In short, you need to have the message figured out before you go looking for platforms (tools, apps, games).