By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
The options, like the terminology, are endless. Responsive design. Search engine optimization. Multiple platform applicability. Hash tags. Instagram. Twitter feeds. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Mobile apps. E-Commerce.
It isn’t a matter of whether the wine industry needs to focus resources on 21st century technologies in order to stay competitive. The question is where to begin? How should wineries navigate through the labyrinth of contemporary, high-tech choices that are vying for target audience attention to decide which ways and how much to invest in their digital identities?
Rebecca Ritz of Illinois-based Bauerhaus Design has been building brands for multiple businesses for the past 15 years. She begins with the basics.
“Your website is the center of the spider web,” Ritz describes. “That’s where your core brand needs to be well communicated. People should walk into your tasting room knowing what it will be like from what they’ve seen online.”
Ritz counsels that a sound approach to any type of digital outreach or social media marketing needs first and foremost to take into account the target audience and use their preferred channel.
“The online business world is more Twitter-focused,” Ritz explains. “Whereas, if it’s a mom, it’s more like Facebook. One brand I work with – Uproot Wines – is targeting millennials. They have an Instagram feed on their website.”
Ritz works with numerous wineries on developing their digitally based outreach programs, but she’s concerned that the wine business as a whole isn’t changing its practices quickly enough to keep pace with today’s technical advances and demands.
“Yes, you need social media, but the newsletter you create also has to be done in a format that reads easily on a smart phone,” Ritz declares. “When I design websites, I definitely do auto-responsive. People ask me, what is that?”
Responsive design automatically changes layout to best fit the screen of the reader, so whether they get your newsletter on their smartphone or visit your website on a tablet, it always looks good and works right. Anything less is frustrating for the user.
Cindy Molchany of Craft Beverage Media, a digital marketing strategy company for the beverage industry, agrees that it’s critical to stay on top of current technology. She believes that some of the wine industry’s competitors are ahead of the game, particularly in terms of their social media outreach.
Molchany points out, for example, that Untappd, a hugely popular craft beer mobile application, is “serious business” for many beer fans who log onto it every day.
“Craft beer seems to get their consumer a little better by being engaged on that platform,” she claims.
Molchany recently gave a presentation at the annual Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento about what wine industry professionals could be learning from their craft brewing counterparts, and not just about being on the cutting-edge of digital media.
“You want to be specific about who you target online,” Molchany says. “Who do you want to buy your wine? Not just are they black, white, Asian or Hispanic – but what do they like to do? What kind of foods do they eat? It’s important for any industry, but wineries have a lot of catching up to do.”
Molchany believes that any effective outreach strategy, including social media marketing, has to be rooted in a solid foundation of best practices. For instance, she says, E-Commerce can be an excellent avenue for sales once wineries are firmly established in other parts of their business, such as tasting room interactions and effective brand development.
“You can’t just build it and they will come,” she points out. “You could rock it at email lists or social marketing campaigns, but you can’t be successful if people have never tasted your wines.”
“I think the most important things that craft beer does extremely well, and why they’re rocking social media (over wine), is there’s more online energy from craft beer,” Molchany continues. “They talk about the trials and tribulations of starting a brewery. When they’re wearing their brand on their sleeve, it makes them seem more vulnerable.”
“Wineries are good at posting pictures of their vineyards or of a dog coming into the tasting room but they aren’t … letting people in behind the curtain. Online, when there’s so much coming at you, the real stories are the ones that resonate.”
The call for authenticity has become a battle cry, especially for those targeting the Millennial segment, and some wineries are more successful than others in engaging customers in a deeper conversation.
Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles, California believes that wineries need to be active in social media discussions or they risk losing audience share. He advocates for participation on the more popular sites and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Delectable.
“It’s a good practice to be involved in all of them,” Haas notes. “People spend time each day thinking about what they’re interested in. If you’re not active in social media, you lose that share of attention.”
Haas points out that there is a qualitative difference between social media and email marketing, but that “social media can be valuable for developing and maintaining a list of people who are willing to be solicited.”
Haas has been particularly successful with blogging, a huge and growing part of wine industry communications. His “Blog Tablas Creek” site won finalist and best winery blog awards in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Haas, who began the blog in 2005 before Facebook and Twitter were household names, says blogging is a great method of continuing education for readers and a good way to “connect with other writers, creating content that’s long lasting.”
“It’s also a lot of work,” he admits.
While there are a number of opinions on which social media platform is best and which industry is doing a better job, there’s absolute consensus on a few things. You have to engage, you have to know your audience and the technology, and it takes time and hard work to be effective. But if you manage to connect with your customers, it pays off.