Small Winery Marketing Rule #1: Know Thy Self

Rule1 Late last month I appeared at a seminar at TASTE Washington in which I outlined for those in attendance, "THE TEN THINGS EVERY SMALL WINERY MUST KNOW TO MARKET IN TODAY'S WINE MARKETING UNIVERSE."

This talk led to a blog post in which I briefly outlined those ten items on the list. Today's, and subsequent posts here at Fermentation, will delve deeper into each of the TEN THINGS that are critical for small and medium sized wineries to consider as they market their way into the 21st century and toward success

If you and every person that works for you can’t tell me why
I’m better off buying your wine instead of your neighbor’s wine and if you can’t
tell me what makes your winery unique and if you can’t do this in 30 seconds
or less, then you are going to have a very hard time surviving in a marketing
universe where you marketing efforts will be dominated by one-on-one
conversations and small group conversation with folks that have been brought up
to have short attention spans.

This is the most fundamental marketing rule of our time and
it is the most overlooked marketing rule of our time.  The answer to what makes you unique and distinct from other 7000 wineries in America is going to be the foundation upon which you build
your brand, build a following, and build every communication tool you use to
get the attention of consumers, accounts and the media.  

Do the exercise if you haven’t already: In 100 words or less:
What does your winery/brand stand for? Figure this out before anything else. In some corners of the marketing world, this is called your "Brand Proposition". Some call it "positioning". Other marketers with a more activist mindset refer to this essential definition of your company's utility by asking, "What do you stand for"?

Ideally, that idea that defines your brand and products and services will be unique from your competitors. For example, you might turn to me in the elevator as we speed up to higher floors and respond to my query, "So what do you do", with something like this:

"I own XYZ Winery. I started it because I wanted to produce small batch, single vineyard Syrah from cool climate regions of California and Washington. Essentially, we explore the confluence of dirt and climate using the Syrah grape as our medium for expression."

Or maybe you respond like this: "All my wines allude to the heroes of the comic books I loved as a kid and carry comic book art licensed by great comic book illustrators. We make a "Hulking" red that is big and strong. We produce a Zinfandel, America's national grape, that we call 'The Captain.' "Comics Estate is a pairing of popular wines and pop art."

Is, "We make Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate in Oakville" enough of a statement of brand positionng? Personally, I don't think it is. What's really critical about your brand identity is that in describing it you can metaphorically take your potential customer by the hand and lead them deep in your world by using words, phrases, and ideas that spur positive connections in their own mind. You'll miss sometimes, because, well, some folks just won't feel too connected to The Hulk or Captain America. Others will have long before concluded that Napa Valley producers equal snootiness rather than great red wine. But finding a right audience for your unique products is something all together. If you are a human being that lives on the same planet earth as other human beings then you'll find there is a collection of folks located somewhere that will find appeal in your brand.


6 Responses

  1. Mary Baker, Central Coast Wine Blogs - April 14, 2010

    Excellent post. I like the word ‘identity’. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

  2. Fred - April 14, 2010

    A famous Burgundian vintner opens an American outpost to produce the finest pinot noirs this side of the Atlantic. Their positioning: “Oregon soil, French soul.”
    A Napa Valley vineyard management company with thousands of acres of vines under its care opens a boutique winery, drawing fruit from its client’s vineyards. Their positioning: “The benefits of an estate winery without the boundaries of an estate.”
    Against the trend of having wines express ever-smaller plots of land comes a wine made, not from a single vineyard or even a single appellation, but rather all 14 of Napa’s AVAs. Predicated on the assumption that each AVA brings something unique to the table (that is the point, isn’t it?), this wine aims to define Napa Valley as a whole. Their positioning: “The parts are great. But the sum is even better.”
    A successful entrepreneur with a taste for claret and a sense of adventure decides not to parachute into Napa and buy a pedigreed property, but rather to restore a badly neglected vineyard perched 2,400 feet above Alexander Valley. Were you to visit, you would find his crew toiling in rugged isolation much like the pioneers who first farmed these hillsides 150 years ago. Their positioning: “Bordeaux tradition. Frontier spirit.”
    This is Positioning. This telling your story in a way that makes you different and memorably so. This is forging an identity that is independent of scores and reviews. This is the kind of work I do for small wineries who really want to know themselves.
    Thanks for letting me plug, Tom.

  3. fredric koeppel - April 15, 2010

    Fred, those aren’t “positionings”; those are slogans, designed to be catchy, rhythmical and alliterative, as all marketing and advertising slogans have been since the concept of media advertising was born in the 19th Century. None of those you cite tell consumers anything real or solid about the wineries in question. I receive by mail and email every day press releases from wineries old and new that trot out similar phrases. I would love to go a day without reading about wineries that assert their “passion and purpose,” their “terroir and taste” and so on. They might as well be marketing high-performance automobiles or luxury cruises.

  4. Tom - April 15, 2010

    As a product developer and marketer for over 30 years, it’s hard to find a more fractured industry than alcoholic beverages. Over 5000 wineries in the US alone with many having two labels or more and several varieties each. It all still comes down to knowing your customer.
    What do they look for in a wine, beer or spirit? How many of them are there? How many bottles do they consume? How do we get them to consume more? I have had the pleasure of visiting wineries and talking with passionate owner/winemakers in many countries. Most take great joy in seeing your positive reaction to their creations. Some get created in a few oak barrels and some in huge stainless multi-thousand gallon tanks. What makes them different? I haven’t seen anybody say, “Try us because we make enough wine to fill the LA River basin!” The differentiators within the industry can be pretty small from one to the other.
    I think the industry is pretty much an embodiment of what was once called “mass-customization” in the manufacturing sector. Everyone can get exactly the product they want no matter how minute the differences from one product to another. The big problem is finding the method for linkage.
    To a wholesaler or retailer your positioning is basically based on their own system of pricing and variety and profit from the cost you offer them. If you can spend wads of money building your brand’s awareness with a consumer, you may get more sales and therefore attention. If you make a great cabernet, work out of an old shed and sell it by the roadside in northeast Missouri – stick to Facebook and Twitter for building your brand. If you are OK with that then you “know thyself”.

  5. Winefoodme - April 16, 2010

    I couldn’t agree more. There are tons of wines out there, and many pathways by which you can connect with potential customers. If you are clear about who you are and who your customer is, it’s much easier to figure out how you can connect the two.

  6. Marcia - April 18, 2010

    I just wanted to add that I spent the past weekend visiting a dozen or more wineries (out of nearly 30) on the April in Carneros tasting event. Even when you live here and are familiar with the wineries, you are on information overload.
    To help distinguish one winery from the next and try to remember what made each one unique and different I looked at each for a “mission statement” or “100 words” or something that said “this is what we do that sets us apart.”
    The only winery that has this information clearly on display was Adastra Wines. They posted their “70 Word Statement” for all to read, which was (in fact) very helpful.
    Lack of conveying the “Know Thyself” to your prospective customer base is a BIG oversight. For the most part wineries simply push one bottle after the next in the tasting rooms with little effort made to say, “This is what we do that is unique to us.” It’s a shame they miss the effort to make that impact, because when you’re tasting upwards of 30-40 wines in an afternoon, they tend to blend together. …Even if you’re spitting. …Even if you’re taking notes.
    Wineries need to take every opportunity to shout out their USP simply because we’re human, and it’s hard to remember what you tasted where and what made it special. Help us remember!

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