At Lunabean Media we have clients across the US and even on the other side of the globe (helllo Australia). We work with many on an individual level, and, quite often, on a regional level when we visit these areas to lead trainings or seminars.
Because of this level of exposure to real wineries doing the real work of selling wine, we feel we are in the unique position of seeing and hearing about DTC marketing trends that are on the top of the minds of many of these wineries. We hear about services that people are trying to sell them, and we hear what they think about some of the industry’s “big ideas”.
Below you will find a quick recap of the 5 topics most often discussed when wineries get us one-on-one and want us to tell them what we know – specific to trends we are seeing in 2019.
1. ADA Compliance Services
Obviously there’s a lot of chatter about ADA compliance in the wine world – even more so now that the lawsuits have gone beyond New York and are hitting wineries in the Willamette Valley and Walla Walla.
When ADA Compliance first became a thing, we thought ADA compliance packages would be something Lunabean Media could offer our clients. After all, we can add alt tags to images, make menus and pop ups keyboard functional, make text resizable, make code readable, run the site through a few compliance checkers, and voilà, your website is ADA compliant. That was until we sat through a webinar hosted by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation & Seyfarth Shaw LLP, where we learned that several wineries that had taken these exact steps were still being sued, as the websites still weren’t ADA Compliant. Sure, they were more ADA Accessible, which is great, but compliant, they were not.
We didn’t want to offer a package where we couldn’t guarantee wineries would be ADA Compliant, and, therefore, still vulnerable to lawsuits, so we tossed all ADA referrals to our friends at User1st, a company that focuses entirely on making websites ADA Compliant. In full disclosure, we earn a small commission on such referrals, but commission or not, we still recommend going with any firm that focuses entirely on ADA Compliance.
ADA Compliance is no joke. It needs to be handled by people who specialize in it. We’ve seen people who thought they were protected get sued. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
As an end note, a couple of Finger Lakes wineries have reported that their insurance providers are now offering coverage in case of ADA compliance litigation. It may be worth checking in with your insurance provider.
2. Fear of Discounts
There’s some talk among wine thought leaders, if you will, that discounts diminish the value of wine brands, or will make these brands more vulnerable when wine’s antiquated three-tier system of distribution inevitably changes. There seems to be an echo chamber effect with this concept, as we are hearing it more and more. The idea is to be focusing on exclusivity or limited access, rather than discounts – whereas we’ve always seen success with wineries doing both.
Sure, if you are a winery that sells out of your wines year after year with no discounts, then, by all means, you do you. However, if you are a winery, like most wineries, that needs to sell wine, then a discount, or a discounted shipping offer, can and will help you do that. This is because a discount talks to everyone – from your most loyal customers AND those who are just getting to know you. Discounts provide value for everyone, while keeping you competitive in a world where there are only so many wine dollars people are willing to spend. Discounts allow people to get to know you, or try a wine they would not have tried at full price.
Exclusivity and limited access, on the other hand, really only provide value to those who, not only know you, but who have already been converted into a brand loyalist. Of course there are exceptions, but limited access is primarily attractive to those who have already bought in. And, trust me when I tell you, that person also enjoys a discount.
Now, of course we don’t want to train customers to only buy wine when discounted, or to think of your brand as any wine brand that can quickly be forgotten when wine is suddenly being delivered to our doors by grocery stores who get their wines from one of two major distributors. So, what’s the solution? Here’s where we have seen success.
Offer occasional discounts or shipping offers on specific wines to specific buying groups. For example, a welcome 20% discount to people who visited your winery for the first time in the month of June. Complimentary shipping (aka, “shipping included”) to those who purchase your Pinot Gris to celebrate the release of your new Pinot Gris. Special event pricing for wine club members on certain tiers. Loyalty points discount – or double points offers. Do all of this or some of this, all while keeping certain wines out of the discount line. Do you never discount your Estate wines? Then always exclude them. Are you the only winery in the area that makes a certain wine? Exclude it. Make certain wines untouchable with discounts (then, dare I say, actually offer an extremely limited sale on the wines that never go on sale and watch the sales come in).
The point is discounts don’t have to be sweeping, and, just because you’re doing them, doesn’t mean you can’t run an exclusivity play on the side. Sell your wines while building up a portfolio of exclusivity. It’s a win, win.
3. Am I Doing Instagram Right?
Are you being authentic? Are your photos high-quality, but not professional-quality? Are you posting 2-3 times a week? Are you NOT using Instagram as an advertising tool? Then, congrats, you are using Instagram correctly. And a lot of you are – but a lot of you are not.
Quite honestly, there isn’t much that we can say about wineries use of Instagram better than recent articles by Amber LeBeau of Spitbucket.com. Here they are:
In summary, stop with the bottle porn, and stop treating your Instagram feed like a commercial for your winery. The user feels you doing this, and they automatically (and unintentionally) put up a wall between you and them – which is the exact opposite of how you should be using Instagram. Instagram is about inviting the user in – not with professional imagery and generic captions that read, “It’s the weekend, enjoy a glass of wine”, or, worse, “Which wine of ours will you be pouring this weekend?”. Do this frequently, and watch your engagement rates plummet, soon to be followed by a dive in your organic reach.
Think of social media as a cocktail party – if you just talk about yourself, people are going to lose interest. However, if you tell a story, if you’re authentic, and if you engage others, people will be drawn in. Bonus, just like a real cocktail party, Instagram allows you to have one-on-one communications with those who want more info without being obnoxious to the group – direct communications on Instagram are a great way to connect with customers trying to find wine in local markets, respond to press inquiries, connect with trade, and sell events.
The point is, Instagram isn’t a daily print ad. It’s meant to be alive, current, and fun. Respect that people have taken the time to follow you – don’t just serve them ad after ad after ad.
Oh, and don’t fall for metrics schemes that promise to build up your followers – we’re seeing a rise in these again, too. There’s no better way to piss off a potential customer and show yourself to be inauthentic than a good old follow/unfollow campaign. Follow, if you must. Unfollow at your own risk.
4. Tasting Notes
This one is more of a gripe rather than a question we hear a lot. It’s something we have told wineries year after year – I believe Jeremy toured Oregon with the Oregon Wine Board with this one – but we’re still not seeing it enough. Your tasting notes are boring. Please make them more interesting. Act like you’re trying to get someone to buy the wine, rather than making it the last thing you have to check off your list so you can get the tasting notes up on your website.
One thing you can do is use language that is accessible and familiar to the public. This item came up in a recent Forbes piece, “Two Words that Matter to Wine Lovers, but the Wine Industry Largely Avoids.”
In general, wineries need to get out of their own heads. Even those ultra-premium wineries who have loyal and educated customers can tone it down a bit.
Another way to make your notes better is to tell a story. Remember this line from Sideways, “I like to think about the life of wine…How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now.”
At this moment Virginia Madsen either taught people to love wine, or reminded people why they already love wine. Wine is a story in a bottle. So why do we kill that story with boring tasting notes or, even worse, repeated tasting notes, year after year, with the switching of only a few words?
Find a story. Make it short and sweet. Give your buyers something to grab onto that makes your wine stand out. Maybe it’s something about the grape (I used to tell people the Melón de Bourgogne we used to sell came from a vine that was smuggled in years and years ago – people loved the story and the wine sold like crazy), maybe it’s something about the label (Owen Roe’s labels, for example, all come with their own story), maybe it’s about the people who own the winery. No matter, give those who sell your wines a story to tell. They’ll buy in and remember it much better than, “Bright fruits, with a bit of earth and lavender. Strong tannins.”
Years ago, I used to wait tables at a restaurant that had over 100 wines on the menu. A couple of times a year, one of the distributors who sold to the restaurant came in and let us taste a selection of wines that we were pouring. The representative always gave us a story to tell with each wine. He was a good rep, as those were the only wines I ever sold.
Your stories are your marketing. Invest in them.
5. Wine Experiences?
Wine experiences are all the rage in Napa, and now the Willamette Valley. The thought is that you don’t just want to sell customers your wine, you want them to imprint on the entire experience your winery provided, thus making them a bigger buyer and a more loyal customer. And, sure, this works (particularly when you advertise your experiences to specific audiences), but sometimes it doesn’t.
Some customers, myself included, enjoy the occasional experience, but would rather taste wine without the show. And there are a lot of people like me, which is why, I believe, we are seeing a return to the tasting bar with some wineries, or, even, seated tastings that are less guided than they have been in the previous couple of years.
I believe this is, in part, due to the reminder that Gen X (my people), exist. We have spent so much time, as an industry, speaking to the needs of Boomers and Millennials, we have, almost ironically, forgotten about the Gen Xers (the generation, by the way, that makes more and spends more than any other generation).
Gen X owns homes, has jobs, has spending money, and is still deep in family and kids. We love a good experience away from those kids, but we also need to get done what we need to get done – and, sometimes, wine tasting, and wine buying, is something that just needs to get done. So, let us do it.
And, also, think more about us. The Millennials will come when they have the money – but Gen X is here. We are oh so loyal, we love a good bargain, we love quality, and we love researching big purchases. Make it work, and we will be yours with or without an experience.