An interview with wine marketing expert Stacie Jacob
Stacie Jacob is a brand strategist, communications specialist and marketing professional who represents clients in the food, wine, agriculture and tourism industries. In 2011, she launched Solterra Strategies LLC, a lifestyle marketing firm based in Paso Robles that focuses on branding, public relations, marketing, crisis communication and organizational change. Previously, Jacobs served for seven years as the Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and four years as the public relations director for the Washington Wine Commission.
How important is marketing to a winery?
Developing a wine marketing strategy for your winery is as critical to its success as the location you choose, the types of grapes you’re going to grow and the types of wines you’re going to produce. One of the biggest mistakes people tend to make is thinking that their wine is so good it will sell itself. In reality, you can have the best winemaker, producing the best wines at the greatest location in the world, but at the end of the day, you still have to sell the product.
Wine making is a vertically integrated industry. Understanding the market and how your brand is going to fit into it is a very important first step. You need to determine if you’re going to sell direct to consumer or if you’re going to have a tasting room. If you decide to have a tasting room, are you going to be able to train your staff to advocate for your brand?
What is an effective marketing strategy for the wine industry?
Building a community around the brand is key to a winery’s success. Developing and maintaining relationships with your customers can help escalate your voice and tell your story to a larger audience. Partnerships with trade associations like the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the Visitors and Conference Bureau of San Luis Obispo County can help drive potential customers to your tasting room.
Relationship building works well for the wine industry because you’re able to fine-tune and focus your wine marketing strategy by knowing your customer first-hand; because the person buying a bottle of wine at the grocery store for $10 may not be the same customer who’s coming to your winery to buy a $35 bottle of wine.
What are some of the marketing tools I can utilize to build relationships?
The challenge to building relationships and partnerships is: how do you make yourself stand out? Understanding the marketing mix of tools and what tools to use for what circumstances will go a long way towards your winery’s success.
Your website is the central hub from which everything else should stem. It is the best way to engage your audience and tell your unique story. Customers want to embrace your brand and share what they know about it with others. So the story behind the label has never been more important.
Also on your website have you made your tasting room hours clear? Can people find you? Does it have a sign-up form to receive digital marketing campaigns? And is your website mobile optimized? We’re living in a smart phone world where people want information about your winery, particularly location and directions, in a format that’s easy to navigate from a hand-held device.
Engaging your customers through the social media platform is another great way to build relationships. Again, people want to feel like they’re a part of your brand. They want to know about upcoming events, recommendations from the winemaker, new products, etc. It’s an extremely effective tool for creating buzz and chatter.
eMarketing campaigns, using tools like eNewsletters and eBlasts, are an effective way to stay in touch with your fan base. They allow you to engage your customers with personalized messages that enhance the relationship and create action like buying more wine or attending an event. So developing a list of customers or potential customers is absolutely critical; ask visitors to sign your guest book and have a sign-up form on your website.
These days, information equals money and communicating with your customers is key. Are you doing everything you can to capture relevant information about your customers? Once you have that information, segment it to create target audiences.
Wineries travel and wine travels: wouldn’t it be great to target an email blast directly to your fans in Southern California that you’re going to be doing a winemaker dinner in L.A.? Or that you’d like your Northern California fans to join you in San Francisco at the Rhone Rangers event? Understanding your audience and segmenting them into categories reduces unwanted emails and improves relationships with your customers.
For a small winery just starting out, the number one most important thing is creating a wine club. Your wine club members are your biggest fans; these are the people that give you a credit card to keep on file to bill them for wine shipments two to four times a year. That’s the kind of personal engagement that starts at the tasting room level or at an event.
This is really important in the wine industry. It comes back to the fact that people want to taste your wines. Any strategy you can employ that will engage potential customers in conversation while they taste your product is a path to success.
What about print advertising?
Honestly, print advertising is really difficult in the wine world. If you have a special event or something specific to drive customers to that winery, then it’s effective. But for general awareness building, it’s a real difficult medium. Because wine is multidimensional and the other marketing tools I’ve talked about allow you to strike up a conversation. Print advertising tends to be a little flat, in my opinion, and often expensive.
Who should I be marketing to?
It’s still the baby boomers and women in particular, who are primarily buying wine. But we’ve seen an increase of wine enthusiasts among the millennial generation. They’re looking at wine in a really different way in that they’re not brand-loyal but rather experiential-driven. When a millennial likes something, they want to be the first one to introduce it to their group/social sphere. To them it’s an adventure, an experience worth sharing.
The millennials grew up in our information age so they respond positively to the types of engagement we’ve discussed. The best way to reach them is to tell your story through the different channels, whether it be social media, your website or a digital marketing campaign.
Is the wine market getting over-saturated?
The short answer is no, but not everyone can rely on direct to consumer sales. That’s where wineries make their larger price point margins so that’s where everyone wants to focus. But Paso Robles doesn’t own any market yet. There’s still plenty of opportunity to sell Paso Robles (and San Luis Obispo County) wine in many places.
We have to continue bringing more tourists here to be able to introduce them to wine country. And we need to have more and more Paso Robles brands on the grocery shelves. When a wine is designated with Paso Robles on the label it becomes an ambassador for the region.
I think it’s really good that San Luis Obispo County offers such diverse sizes of wineries. Between the J. Lohrs and the small boutique brands we get to see wine all across the nation and the world that promote our region.