Explores Marketing and Communications Strategies for a Changing Landscape
SAN FRANCISCO — Wine MarCom 2020, an information-packed half-day webinar for Wine Institute members, presented insights from wine journalists and social media experts, followed by a lively panel on communicating about sustainable, organic, and other planet-friendly practices to trade, the media and consumers.
In the session, What Would Wine Journalists Do Right Now if They Were You?, moderator Jeanne Sullivan-Billeci of Sullivan Says PR & Coaching led a discussion with Virginie Boone, contributing editor at Wine Enthusiast; KRSH radio personality Ziggy Eschliman; and Mary Orlin of the WineFashionista, Edible Silicon Valley, and the “Sip, Sip, Hooray!” podcast.
When communicating with wine writers, panelists suggested investing time to create an original approach. For example, Orlin said, “There’s a Napa winery that’s partnering with a very famous artisan ice cream maker, and they sent the ice cream along with the wine to taste with it. That was kind of fun and cool.”
With everyone spending time on Zoom calls, with the occasional dog or cat cameo, Boone added, “This is a great time for experimentation and breaking down barriers. It’s refreshing, and people are really responding to access to winemakers and the behind-the-scenes work, whether it’s walking through a vineyard with the wine team or tasting with the winemaker. I think people just want to feel like wine is fun again.”
To connect with their audiences on a different level, wineries can collaborate with other businesses and organizations, both within and outside the wine industry. For example, Orlin suggested that wineries consider partnering with local musicians. “Musicians are really hurting right now because they can’t go out and perform,” she said. “Maybe they can do something on Zoom with you and create an experience.”
Eschliman recommended that wineries and appellations come together to present educational experiences about their regions, wines or a vintage. “It really gives people a broad perspective,” she said. “You could also partner with someone less obvious, like a barrel maker.”
When communicating with journalists and consumers about the recent wildfires, panelists urged wineries to be patient and take a long view. “I was really shocked at how many people were putting out press releases saying they’re not going to make a wine this year because of smoke,” said Boone. “Why would you ever want your brand to be associated with smoke in any way? I think you also have to think about the larger community, because you may be putting some of your neighbors under the bus who are going to make some nice wines.”
The session, Visual Storytelling: Why Images and Video Are the Key to the Success of Any Social Media Program, provided practical tips for visual storytelling. Moderated by Adrienne Young and K.C. Cornwell of Poppy Social Media, the program featured photographer and videographer James Collier, and food and travel expert Aida Mollencamp, founder of Salt & Wind.
Young advised marketers to tap into lifestyle themes through imagery to make emotional connections with consumers. “Showcase the people behind the brand—the employees, the owners, the people who drink the wine,” she said. “Be human, relatable, authentic and truthful.”
It’s also important to establish visual guidelines for your brand, including styling, lighting, camera angles and image orientation. “This is a tool that you can use with the photographers or influencers you work with,” Young said. “This should be part of everyone’s toolbox.”
Along with considering which social media platforms images will be used for, Cornwell noted, “You want to think about the entirety of the consumer’s journey. If you’re shooting photos for your website, what are we doing online? Are you selling wine? Are you getting people to sign up for your wine club? Are you encouraging people to book events? The imagery should look and feel like that.”
Mollencamp pointed out the power of bringing intimacy to images. “It’s a way of making people feel like you’re bringing them into your space,” she said. “There’s often a lifestyle aspect to a brand and a sales aspect, and in an ideal world, all of these things live together.”
Wineries should also take advantage of their natural visual assets, Collier said. “Farming light is really good light,” he said. “Early in the morning, late in the evening, these are times when the light is very directional.”
Like Mollencamp, he emphasized the importance of personalizing imagery—for example, including animals in a shot, or employees who help with farming or winemaking. Appealing to the senses can also be highly effective. “Show people the kinds of images that speak to their desires,” he said. “Right now I think people want to escape, so you can do some of these things with beautiful scenery that will put people outdoors at a winery, or at a space outdoors where they can drink and share wine.”
When shooting your own images, he added, it’s not about buying the right gear. It’s about understanding basic photography principles and having a good eye. “Find within your organization someone who has some design sense,” he said, “or takes photos for themselves.”
In the session, Coming “Clean” About Sustainable, Organic, Natural and Traditional Wine: What Do These Terms Really Mean and How Can Producers Who Embrace Them Work Together, moderator Kimberly Noelle Charles, founder and owner of Charles Communications Associates, was joined by speakers Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA); Peter Work, winegrower and winemaker at Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc; Brian Freedman, digital writer for Food & Wine, Forbes, and Departures; and Stevie Stacionis, owner of MAMA Oakland restaurant and the Bay Grape wine shop in Oakland.
Jordan kicked off the session with a refresher on the differences between certifications such as sustainable, organic and biodynamic. “There certainly are similarities between all three approaches—soil health, integrated pest management and biodiversity,” she said, “but sustainability covers a much more comprehensive set of issues for things like water, energy efficiency and social equity aspects.”
With climate change an increasingly urgent issue, it’s important to convey how sustainable practices can help mitigate the impacts. “Things like soil management and water use efficiency are related to climate change directly,” Jordan said, “and I think it’s really an effective approach for both mitigating greenhouse gas emissions as well as adapting to change.”
Work, whose winery holds sustainable, organic and biodynamic certifications, uses a variety of strategies to inform trade, media and consumers about Ampelos’ vineyard and winery practices. “We want to tell everybody about what is inside that bottle,” said Work, who includes the CSWA logo on Ampelos labels, as well as a list of ingredients. “It is so important for us to communicate this message to everybody in the value chain.”
Ampelos also incorporates sustainability messaging into its wine club events. “Before the (pandemic) curtain came down, we would have events at our ranch house where we would take people in the vineyard and talk about our farming, and show them what we do,” he said. “Now we focus a lot on virtual tastings, and we always have a little tidbit on sustainability in every single session to get them to understand why it’s important.”
Freedman spoke about the importance of honesty and transparency in winery messaging—pointing to the “clean wine” movement as an example of what not to do. Pitches he has received have been riddled with inaccuracies, which many consumers accept as facts. “When you define one thing you are also defining its opposite,” he said. Therefore, if you’re calling your wine “clean” because it’s made in a particular way, other wines, by definition, must be dirty.
To combat misinformation, Freeman said, tell the truth about what is in your wines. While there may be some initial concern about certain ingredients listed on a wine label, it gives the winery the opportunity to educate people about their purpose in the winemaking process. “I think the more we break through that, the better,” he said.
Stacionis, whose wine shop highlights eco-friendly wines from independent producers, agreed. “I don’t really care about having nutrition information on wine labels, but I do care to know what specific ingredients might be going into it,” she said. “That would be the biggest first step that we could all take. The wine industry has the capability to be one of the most forward-thinking, trendsetting industries in the world on these topics of diversity and inclusion, and sustainability.”
“It is so important that we take it as an ongoing challenge to keep on educating everybody in the value chain,” said Work, “to get the consumers spending the money to buy the right wines based upon the right principles. We need to keep on telling the stories.”
Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy association of 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses working at the state, national and international levels to enhance the environment to responsibly produce, promote and enjoy wine. California wineries are responsible for 81% of U.S wine production and more than 95% of U.S. wine exports. They also contribute $114 billion annually to the U.S. economy and create 786,000 jobs across the country of which 325,000 are in California, bolstering economies through hospitality, taxes and tourism and enhancing communities through environmental and social sustainability. See: www.wineinstitute.org.