By Rod Hughes
Across the country, masks are coming off. Businesses are re-opening. Wine lovers are planning vacations. Amid these long-awaited developments, questions abound for small wineries and independent vintners — how to rebuild lost sales, maintain or grow customer engagement and maintain any sales channel gains realized during COVID-related lockdowns.
A strong communications strategy is a vital step in the right direction. Below, I’ll talk about some essential tactics for a good communications plan, then how to pull it together as a strategy that can resonate.
One of the best, low-cost resources available to wineries for public engagement is social media.
Many use social media to announce new releases, events, holiday messages, specials and stylized photos of the product and/or the property. While some small mix of the above is useful, there’s a more valuable use for this low-cost communication vehicle. Remove the filter, take your audience behind the scenes and give them information they can use … with or without your products.
A branded YouTube channel is a great start. Using little more than your smart phone and some no- or low-cost video editing tools, you can create insightful and authentic informational videos. Brevity is key, and topics can include information about this year’s harvest, educational pieces from your winemakers to help novice shoppers become armchair sommeliers, wine pairing recommendations, commentary on the latest wine trends and more.
Just don’t be promotional. Viewers should feel you are giving something away, in this case, information. Produced in the true spirit and voice of your brand, these videos can be generated regularly to help keep your winery top of mind while also attracting younger millennials and older Gen Z consumers who aren’t buying wine at the same rates of their parents and grandparents.
Wineries have traditionally used a “push” model of email marketing. Pushing product news to customers, advertising promotions and events, etc. I don’t recommend abandoning this approach; however, just as with social media, there needs to be a benefit to your customers.
Sharing your informational YouTube video as well as simple surveys can create a great mix. Easy-to-use, low-cost survey services like Survey Monkey, Typeform, Survey Gizmo and others will help you create user-generated data for custom newsletter content. Topics can include favorite summer wines, best pairings, most scenic wine drinking locations and so forth. With a bit of wordsmithing, you can turn your survey results into unique content for your newsletter as well as website. Customers feel invested in these surveys and want to know if their selection was the popular choice. Bonus: this type of original content posted to your website helps with search engine optimization as well.
Engaging local, travel and tourism media is also important. Whether telling your business story of COVID survival, inventive ways you kept your winery going or sharing your perspective on what consumers will expect/demand once the economy is fully reopened, getting your voice – and your business’ name – into the media is important.
In addition to helping with SEO, media coverage lets the public know you’re open for business. Finally, news stories give you third-party validation you can share in your email marketing and social media — all of which, when done well, can help drive business.
Focus on Strategy
Don’t get lost in the tactics. You need a strategy, which is a way of positioning your business post-pandemic that makes it stand out effectively through the use of the above tactics.
When considering a strategy, ask these questions: What’s your vision for your wine business going forward? How will you change your operations or differentiate from your competition? What is your target audience(s) and how will you reach them?
Considering the above, think long-term and be willing to adapt your tactics based on audience response. With a focus on your differentiators and the audiences you need to reach, you can build out messaging for your ecommerce shoppers, tasting room visitors and those who still want a bit of social distance as the pandemic fades.
A messaging strategy that speaks to key audiences of your various sales channels will help you use the recommended tactics above to best engage with your customers while working to maintain and grow sales.