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By: Andrea Steffes-Tuttle, Marketing, VineSpring

Expert Editorial

Wine Clubs are a core sales channel for wineries. The concept has been around for decades.

According to a story in both the LA Business Journal and the LA Times published in 2009, the original wine of the month club was founded in 1972 by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. in Monrovia.

Kalemkierian’s core business was a mail-order wine delivery service with the purpose of boosting membership, reducing expenses, and expanding into more states. This original club model provided a variety of options in regards to frequency, volume, and price of wine shipments.

This original club is very similar to today’s wine clubs. But, a lot has changed in the last 40+ years that is forcing wineries to reimagine their club programs.

Consumer expectations are heightened. We hear this everywhere. Saying it again makes me feel like a broken record, but it’s important to think deeply about how this impacts a wine business. 

Today’s customers expect personalization, especially when it comes to subscription services. Buyers are savvy. They know that they are sharing their data, they know why you and other companies want their data, and they expect that in return for the information they provide, their lives and experiences with retailers are going to be simpler and more predictive.

And, it’s not just their understanding of the use of their data creating this expectation—it’s the services outside of the wine industry providing an increasingly sophisticated level of service and exceeding buyer’s expectations.

Meal delivery services like Blue Apron and apparel subscriptions like Stitch Fix and Trunk Club deliver highly-personalized communications and products. These services enable their subscribers to customize the size of their order, the contents, and even the delivery methods and dates.

The power has shifted away from the business and into the hands of the consumer. And this flexibility and enabled customization has improved satisfaction and set a new standard for other subscription-services like wine clubs.

How are wineries to meet and exceed the expectations of the modern buyer? You can start by asking yourself a couple of questions about your current wine club.

How can I provide more flexibility and customization for my members?

Many clubs are set up simply—six or 12 bottles, red, white or mixed. While this might seem like a selection, it often leaves your members fatigued after a couple of shipments and with a backlog of the same wines.

WISE Academy presented some helpful insights at the 2018 Oregon Wine Symposium. The first is that the average length of a wine club membership is 31 months.

Wine Club Data, WISE Academy, Oregon Symposium

Based on their research, it also seems that the reason members stay in a club is “Personalization” and the reason they leave is either a “Bad Experience” or “Lack of Flexibility.”

Wine Club Data - Oregon Symposium

This finding points directly at the demand for customization and personalization.

Here are a few recommended ways to meet this demand:

  • Use wine club management software that allows your members to customize their club shipment.
  • Provide your members the option to choose from a select group of wines for their club shipment.
  • Offer exclusive access to products or discounts.
  • Don’t force your members to receive every shipment, let them choose their frequency.
  • Consider alternative club payment models. For instance, Naked Wines allows their members to accumulate credit and then when the member is ready, they can order a shipment.

Here is a collection of examples of different club models. Take a look through and see if you’re inspired to adjust your club structure.

How might I automate and personalize my members’ experience?

Many wineries don’t have a huge staff to manage wine club members. There might be only a single person managing all of the DTC programs, including clubs, tasting room, and daily sales. In a successful DTC program, that turns into a lot of customers to manage.

In order to create a personalized experience, it helps to lean on systems to automate some of the work. There are three areas to consider when you think about personalization:

Customer Data

What data do you have on your wine club members? How are you collecting that data? Where are you storing it?

Collecting simple information such as wine preference, source (how they found your winery), and pairing that data with their transaction history provides you the data you need to personalize.

You can collect this information through automated emails. For example, once someone joins your wine club, your winery can have an automated email sent, requesting more information. And, if your email system connects to your club membership software, all of that data can be joined together to create personalized messages.

The Message

This is really where the personalization happens—through your communications. With personal preference and transaction data, your winery can send targeted messages. Like most wineries, you probably use email to communicate with your wine club members.

There are plenty of email platforms to choose from, but MailChimp is truly the most affordable and sophisticated option. The system is really more of a marketing automation platform. And while that might sound complicated, MailChimp is so easy to use.

Note, I don’t work for MailChimp or have any investment in their business. I just have a lot of experience using their software and think it’s great.

With marketing automation to support your communication, your winery has the ability to create a series of automated messages such as a welcome email, a message from the winemaker, and a special offer for new members. Each of these messages can be personalized with the information you have about the member. Using their name, preferences, and purchase history, you can create rules that determine which messages to send to which members.

Another way to leverage automation is to create a series of messages and reminders that take customers through the wine club order process.

Each release, you likely have to create a series of messages to your members asking them to confirm their address and shipment details. It’s not unusual when many members don’t complete the process. Instead of tracking these members down and sending them personal requests, an automation system that connects to your club management system can automatically send reminders to the members who haven’t provided the necessary information for their release.

Which brings me to the third area of automation.

Technology

To enable this kind of automation, you need the right technology. The systems that are going to work well for your business vary, but no matter what, look for platforms that openly integrate with other systems to make sure that you can marry all of your data.

Here’s a helpful resource that provides guidance on how to select the right DTC systems for your winery. 

The more information you can collect and connect about your customers, the better equipped you’ll be to meet the demands for personalization and flexibility.

When you combine customer data, with tailored messages, and automation, you can serve up the kind of experience that your customers are expecting, with less effort.

Andrea Steffes-TuttleExpert Editorial

by Andrea Steffes-Tuttle, Marketing, VineSpring

Andrea Steffes-Tuttle directs marketing at VineSpring, an eCommerce, club, and allocations software platform for wineries and breweries. Prior to working with VineSpring, she was the Director of Marketing at ShipCompliant. 

 
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