Home Wine Business Editorial DTC Wish You Were Here: Notes from the 2024 Wine Sales Symposium

Wish You Were Here: Notes from the 2024 Wine Sales Symposium

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Insights from the 2024 Wine Sales Symposium,
produced by
Wine Industry Network (WIN)

By Alexandra Russell and Laurie Wachter

On Thursday, May 16, more than 300 attendees showed up for the 2024 Wine Sales Symposium, a one-day educational conference, presented by Wine Industry Network (WIN) and held at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa, Calif. Across the day, industry leaders and winery executives from thriving brands shared their strategies for succeeding in today’s competitive landscape.

The Symposium program opened with a welcome from WIN Founder and CEO George Christie and a keynote address by Ben Dollard, president of Treasury Americas. Dollard, who joined Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) in January 2020, told the audience, “The ambition of our category is one-on-one connection. Sharing stories, digging deeper to develop more personas and tightening those connections — that is the opportunity.” He shared case study examples, from taking the wine experience on the road outside of wine country to using targeted celebrity partnerships, such as Cali Cocktails by Snoop Dogg, to compete in the RTD space to an employee-driven push to achieve 100% renewable goals by 2024, which is crucial to many consumers.

Following Dollard’s presentation, the audience broke into smaller groups to attend panel sessions encompassing topics of vital importance to those in attendance. WIN’s team assembled close to 30 experts from across all aspects of the wine industry to address the changing landscape and how companies can adapt. A series of hosted sessions took place in a separate meeting room. Here are some highlights from the WIN expert panels.

Data-Driven Insights: Sales Trends and Predictions

Wine, particularly the $8 segment, is unlikely to show medium-term growth, said Dale Stratton of Five Points Consulting. He recommended emphasizing to retailers that wine remains an attractive, high-margin category and studying how the spirits industry successfully markets to multicultural consumers, since half the people turning 21 today are multicultural. Mary Jo Dale of Customer Vineyard explained how wineries can integrate consumer data on behavior and attitudes from their wine clubs with national databases to boost their knowledge of customers and to design targeted marketing and in-person, on-the-road sales events and maximize ROI.

Succeeding and Growing in the Wholesale Channel

Panelists emphasized the need for wineries to work alongside their distributors to create successful marketing opportunities. This “partnership” should include consistent messaging aligned with the brand’s larger presence in the market, including both retail and DTC. The more you can identify audiences and markets to target — and provide the tools / products they’re seeking, the more successful your marketing campaigns will be. “Distributors are overwhelmed,” said Heather McCarthy, Director of Marketing for Rombauer Vineyards. “Make their efforts easier.” The sentiment was echoed across the panel, with moderator Ray Johnson (Sonoma State’s Wine Business Institute) advising “Never stop being engaged with your consumer or your distributor.”

Understanding High-End Wine Consumers: An Overview of Motivations and Behavior

Wine Market Council‘s Christian Miller and researcher Darcen Esau of Terroir Consulting shared recent research that showed some core and marginal consumers attrited, but the remaining core wine consumers bought more, resulting in a net increase in wine consumption among high-end consumers. Younger (21‒39), more multicultural consumers are the largest segment at the high end, and although they don’t buy as much wine, they are willing to splurge when they do. They’re also less likely to join a wine club, but a gateway-priced wine and ad hoc marketing keying in on creating adventure, making memories and connecting with friends can get them curious and excited about wine.

Best Practices of Customer Communications: Growing Sales and Relationships

Moderator Shana Bull of Shana Bull Digital Marketing fired the first shot: “Everybody wants wine experiences, they just define that differently.” In response, the panel offered suggestions on how to adapt messaging to connect with different audiences. The key to meaningful ongoing communication, they agreed, is to collect data at all points of engagement through better staff training and targeted outreach. And while it may be impossible to quantify the ROI of social media and personalized messaging in dollars, these modern tools are invaluable when calculating the goodwill a brand creates with its customers.

Boosting Brands, Traffic, and Sales with Digital Winery Marketing

Websites should perform a winery’s most critical function as fast as possible, advises online strategist James Marshall Berry. Use WordPress instead of a bloated pre-built solution, organize scripts in Google Tag Manager and optimize for the 60%+ who visit on mobile devices. Digital marketer Eric Schwartzman told DtC wineries that local search drives traffic to tasting rooms, and 90% of searchers visit the top three wineries listed. Google treats links to other content like recommendations, so the best way to raise your rank in the ‘map pack’ is to encourage links by generating informative content about the area.

Data in the C-Suite: Leading from the Top

Foregoing any PowerPoint introduction, the group jumped right into the topic: how to incorporate data into the development of company culture, and how to use data to guide better top-level decision making. The panel distinguished between macro data (ie. industry overviews and surveys) and micro data (“What’s happening at my company?”), saying both are important but in very different ways. Cathy Huyghe, Founder and CEO of Enolytics, noted that every company should identify a “data advocate” who’s willing to learn how to apply collected knowledge to real-life situations. “You don’t know what’s possible until you review the data and start to interpret what it’s telling you,” she said.

Mastering Wine Club Retention: Strategies for Sustainable Growth

WISE Academy‘s Jennifer Warrington asked two wine marketers how wineries could counter declines in tasting room visitors and wine club retention, noting that only 36% of tasting room employees pitch the wine club to visitors. Justin Erb of O’Neill Vintners & Distillers recommended looking outside wine for a modern DtC experience, modeling e-commerce on Amazon and freshening marketing by bumping up the energy with faster cuts and higher-tempo music. April Enos said Far Niente increased its conversion by 10% with in-home tastings for friends and family of high-spend members. She advised digging into data to pinpoint your winery’s opportunity areas.

Murder on the Dancefloor: How to Gain Your Competitive Edge with Human-Centric Marketing

Polly Hammond, founder and CEO of 5forests, shook up her audience with a dynamic presentation focused on psychographics, a lesser-used approach to marketing and segmenting audiences for data collection and targeted sales. “Human-centric marketing supersedes generations,” she said, instead saying that wine should engage with audiences based on personality, interests, lifestyle, social status and core values. “People don’t fall into neat little generational packages,” Hammond continued. “They are individuals with ideas, priorities and values that can be shared across those easy lines.” Don’t let preconceived divides prevent you from seeing who’s at your door.

Wine Marketing Awards

The day concluded with the presentation of the 2024 Wine Marketing Awards, a new addition to the event. A brief video presentation highlighted the efforts of each winning company, while WIN’s Christie explained the difficult selection process. After a call for entry, WIN assembled a panel of expert judges that identified ten companies that successfully navigated the unique challenges of marketing wine in a hyper-competitive and highly regulated market. A wine-and-cheese networking social followed the award presentation, giving attendees a chance to connect and compare notes after a full day of learning. 

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Save the date for the 2025 Wine Sales Symposium on Wednesday, May 14, 2025. Sign up for event updates at: winesalessymposium.com/updates.

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Alexandra Russell

Alexandra Russell is Managing Editor at Wine Industry Advisor. She can be reached at arussell@wineindustryadvisor.com.

Laurie Wachter
Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter brings her expertise in consumer behavior, food & beverage marketing and direct-to-consumer sales to writing about innovation and challenges in the consumer packaged goods industry. She works with a global client base from her Northern California Wine Country home.

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