In Good Taste: Creating Tasting Room Experiences That Inspire Brand Loyalty

By Leisa Melancon, Director, Heron Crest Marketing

Your brand is much more than a logo or slogan; it’s your business reputation. Intuit co-founder, Scott Cook, said it best; “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Building a successful brand takes time and requires ongoing support from everyone on your staff. Every interaction with your customers provides an opportunity to build your brand and inspire brand advocacy by creating a personal connection and earning trust.

Your tasting room provides the perfect opportunity to create a setting that inspires brand loyalty and turns visitors into lifelong customers and advocates. While it’s important to focus attention on the actual tasting, the overall visitor experience must be considered.

To elevate tasting room visitor experiences you need to be tuned in to your customer’s expectations. Next to a face-to-face conversation, one of the most effective ways to gain customer insight is through social media monitoring. What feedback are you receiving on your Facebook, Twitter and other social accounts? Also check out reviews of competitor tasting room visits on social media sites, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. What can you learn and implement from the conversations?

In a recent search of social media posts about tasting room visits, I found some common insights into customer expectations. Comments centered on atmosphere and comfort, customer service, communication and memories. Key takeaways are provided below, along with some possible tactics that can be tailored to suit your unique brand.

ATMOSPHERE & COMFORT
Crowd Control – If the tasting area is busy, direct visitors to an overflow area, such as outdoor seating, a gift shop or event room. One social media post offered praise for a winery that offered them a complimentary additional bottle tasting, due to a delay.

Food – Offer cheese and fruit trays for purchase and provide seating areas for visitors to relax and enjoy them with a bottle of wine. Several social media posts mentioned how enjoyable it was to spend time enjoying the scenery after the tasting.

Music – the right selections can support your brand and set the mood. If you’re playing CD’s, consider selling them in a gift area. Live music is popular and doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider hiring a new local musician that is trying to develop a following.

Seating – Offer seating options to accommodate the variety of needs that can occur.

Lighting – Inexpensive updates can be made to enhance lighting and set a mood that best reflects your brand. Simple displays of branches strung with tiny white lights are an attractive low cost option.

Events – What makes your winery unique? What community events could you schedule that reflect your branding? Events that support local charities promote good will and are fun, profitable and rewarding.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
Friendly, Attentive Staff – Greetings matter. Even if you’re busy, make sure visitors are acknowledged and feel welcome.

Engaging Tours – Keep the content sounding fresh and interact with guests. Make it special by sharing your unique brand story and including interesting historical details.

COMMUNICATION
Education – Share and discuss each wine, and allow for conversation. Offer guests an opportunity to sign up for emails to receive updates, newsletters, etc.

Clear, Detailed Signage – one visitor mentioned that a sign indicated the winery was open until 6pm, but when he arrived at 5:35pm, he was informed tastings were cut-off at 5:30. While the need to allow time for tastings prior to close of business is obvious, communicating specifics up front can help avoid disappointment.

MEMORIES
Gifts – Even if you don’t have space for a full gift shop, you can set-up a table or counter display to allow customers to take home keepsakes from their visit. Logo merchandise, such as winery t-shirts, are popular and help spread brand awareness. Corkscrews, coasters and other wine-related gadgets are perfect gift options for areas where space is limited.

Photos – If visitors are snapping selfies or taking photos of each other, offer to take a group photo for them. Many will share their images on social media, mentioning your winery. (#brand building!) Why not create a photo op spot? A barrel display or vine-covered trellis would be a draw. Of course you’ll want to capture images for your own social pages, as well.

Consumer insight is essential to providing your tasting room visitors the enjoyable, unique experience they seek. The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to create more personal, memorable visitor experiences that inspire brand loyalty and increase sales.

Photo of Leisa Melancon

Leisa Melancon is a Certified Marketing Consultant and Director at Heron Crest Marketing in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Heron Crest is a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in branding, content marketing and creative design. Leisa can be reached at leisa@heroncrestmarketing.com

 

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An Insider’s Guide to Wine Festivals

This article first ran in The Old Town Crier in May of 2011

By. Neil Williamson

We are well on our way into Virginia wine festival season.  For those not familiar with wine festivals, these outdoor events feature music and wine tastings as well as wine sales.  Some of the festivals include an educational seminar component as well.  As I am now entering my tenth season participating on both sides of the table, the Old Town Crier thought it might be fun for me to share festival strategy.

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Don’t go it alone I can’t think of a single festival that I have enjoyed going to alone.  I strongly encourage you to bring a friend or a group of friends so that you can discuss the wines and enjoy the beauty that is the Virginia countryside.

Have a designated driver If one of your festival patrons will not volunteer, I have known friends to be bribed with wine purchase (usually a case) to serve as the designated driver for the group for the day.  While the primary benefit of the designated driver is safety, ancillary benefits include a clear headed friend to keep your group out of any incidents at the festival itself (stuff happens).

Choose the right day Do you like crowds, excitement and generally more rocking music choose to go to the Saturday of a two day festival.  If you prefer to have conversations with winemakers and shorter lines choose early Sunday.

Dress the partshoes Most festivals feature a center tent and then winery and craft tents in a field.  Shoes that work well in that environment are a must.  Many wine folks can tell the tale of the high heels festival goers had to put in the trash after a surprise afternoon rain created a mud bog.

Dress the part – hat As we start the festival season, the sun can sneak up on you.  I know I sound like your mother but a good hat (and sunscreen) are important to the enjoyment of the day.

Plan your attack – When I attend a festival, which are great opportunities to taste lesser known wineries, I always seek those out first.  It never fails to amaze me the ppatrons who choose to go to their old standby’s first.  In the industry there is a term known as palate fatigue – as you taste flavors (regardless of if you spit or not) your palate becomes increasingly less sensitive as you continue to taste.  As I know my favorite’s flavor profiles I tend to taste those later in the day.

Eat – Fesitvals tend to have some of the best “fair” food in the state.  I have been known to bring crabcake sandwiches home from festivals to rave reviews from the family.  Eating is an important part of the festival experience, whether you bring your own picnic (check with each festival) or select from the multitude of food vendors.  Both the break in tasting and the chance to sit down with friends and eat is a welcome respite.

Drink more than just wine (water) – Smart festival goers pack their own water into the event (usually permitted) beyond the potential heat, the tannins in the wine can deaden your scenes at the next winery you taste.  In addition if you did not like the previous wineries last pour you have your own water to rinse that from the glass.

Don’t smoke in the tasting line – Far be it from Grapevine (who has been known to enjoy a fat cigar every now and again) to tell you not to smoke; but don’t smoke in line.  This is a tasting event and if someone is blowing smoke rings from a nice thick Padron cigar, they people in front of them will have a tough time tasting the apricot undertones of the delightfully light Viognier.

Ask questions – When you are tasting with folks from the winery don’t accept the canned “it’s a full bodied red blend” ask questions.  What’s it a blend of?  Did this spend time in Oak?  How was the vintage year compared with others?   What would you serve with this? What’s your favorite wine?  These folks are pouring wine because they love wine, learn from them what they know.  And if they don’t know (or direct you to someone who does) – that says something too!

Wait your turn – You will never learn any of the fun stories if you are reaching over three other people to get served.  If the line is too long either find a less crowded winery or buy a bottle and sit and listen to the music.

Buy wine – The festival is designed to showcase Virginia wine in a manner that you will buy some.  While the wineries know you have paid to be there to taste wine, they have also paid to be there to pour wine.  Unless they sell wine it is unlikely they will be back.  Wineries often have festival specials that can’t be matched even at the winery tasting rooms seek them out along with six pack and case discounts.

Use will call/wine pick up – most of the larger festivals have a solid will call wine pick up service.  When you buy your wine they haul it over to a spot where you can pick it up and (often) have it loaded in your car.

Attend the seminars, cooking demonstrations and tasting tents – The festival coordinators work to develop educational opportunities that are generally undersubscribed.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION – I will also be serving as the host of the “Top Five” Tasting Tent at the thirtieth annual Vintage Virginia the first weekend in June at Bull Run.  I will also be a part of the Wine 101 seminar  at the Montpelier Wine Festival held in May in Orange County.

Whether you choose to be a part of the seminars or not, I strongly encourage you to attend a couple Virginia Vine Festivals and taste how Virginia wines have grown in variety and excellence. I do hope to see you along the Virginia Wine Trail.

 

Wine Festivals – Marketing Goldmine, Necessary Evil or Simple Drunkfest?

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Anyone that has been paying attention over the last twenty years has witnessed the growth of the wine festival.  The bulk of this post will focus on Virginia wine festivals but I have seen similar patterns in other states as well.  As a disclaimer, I have created festivals, worked with festival promoters, been a festival attendee and been an exhibiting winery.

One truth at the outset — All festivals are not created equal.

Back in the Industry’s early days, wine festivals were the hot spot to find the new wine meet the wine makers and hear good music (all of this is still true).  In addition these festivals were hugely profitable for the wineries because people would come and buy cases of Virginia wine that were not available at their local stores.

Then three major changes occurred:

  • Others saw the festivals were successful and fun and more festivals popped up
  • Virginia wineries started selling in the neighborhood wine shops
  • A bunch more Virginia wineries (now over 200) came on the scene

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Does this mean festivals are no longer a good idea for consumers or wineries — absolutely not but how both consumers and wineries approach festivals should change.  In addition smart festival promoters are differentiating their festivals with additional programming, unique locations, and special top-notch entertainment and promotion.

First, consumers should change their methodology at a festival.  Rather than heading toward either the first tent or your favorite, I encourage festival goers to “start in the back and work forward”.  Seek out those wineries you don’t know before you head back to your well known favorites.  Secondarily, eat — trust me you need to eat.  After over a decade in the wine business, I can tell you the sun and the wine will catch up with you.  Finally and most importantly buy.  The wineries have come to the festival to sell you wine.  Don’t ask where you can buy it — look at the cases stacked behind the taster — you can buy the wine here!

The wineries need to be more selective about their pours.  Knowing you are headed to a festival where a number of wineries will be pouring do you think it is wise to bring all 14 of your wines?  An interesting study mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink tested consumers provided four options of jelly to taste versus 12 options of jellies to taste — which portfolio sold more?  The one with only 4 choices.  Take a good look at your wine inventory and determine which wines you can afford to pour and sell at festival.  In addition, after two years of festival going, wineries should take a good hard look at their festival profitability, not all festivals make money but those that cost a bunch should be considered for discontinuation.

Finally, the promoters must recognize two important realities first the people come to the festival for the wine so be really nice to the wineries and make it easy for them.  Secondarily, that the days of throwing a wine party in the field and having any crowd come are long gone.  You need to have a hook, a solid marketing plan (including social media), as well as hope for good weather.

Festivals are an important part of the Virginia wine business.  In addition to being a solid sales/marketing opportunity it also draws the industry together in a unique way.  You will never forget who was near you when the Tornado Warning came down from the hill or what wineries made it to the convention room floor despite over a foot of snow.

Above all else, all involved in wine festivals need to have a can do attitude and recognize that whether the event is like a Super Bowl winning team or the voyage of the Titanic, we are all in this together.

The answer to the question in the post headline is “Yes!”

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG

Winery Weddings — I Do or I Don’t

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Wineries, like any other business, are often looking for ways to diversify their income by maximizing their assets.  Vineyards and wineries tend to be romanticized and provide a great backdrop for a wedding where the goal, not unlike wine, is for the relationship to grow better over time.

Photo Credit: First Colony Winery

Constructed properly weddings (and other private events) can add significantly to the bottom line of a winery.  A quick review of the central Virginia wine market found  banquet room rentals can be between $2,000 and $8,000.  This is before you add in any wine minimum.  Several wineries do over forty weddings a year, this can generate over $200,000 gross revenue annually.  Even just one wedding a week in the three summer months would equal $60,000.

In addition, you are introducing a large number of individuals to your property, selling a large amount of wine (many wineries have a minimum), all during time your tasting room would usually be closed.

Residual sales also benefit as folks marrying at the vineyard tend to return and purchase.

So it is clear there are several reasons wineries consider doing weddings.  Why would a winery not want to serve as a nuptials host?

Winery location is too remote
Not enough space vineyard for a tent
Staffing demands
Wear and tear on facility
Security issues
Neighbor concerns
Fear of Bridezilla
Does not fit personality of the owner
Takes away from other guests’ experience

In my years in the wine business, I have often found that the very characteristics that make a great winemaker are not always the same features of an accomplished wedding planner.  The most successful “wedding” wineries tend to have dedicated staff willing to work with the Bride [and the family] for a year or more prior to the event and most comfortable holding their hand through the planning, decision making and the actual event.

If you are planning a winery, determine if you believe your personality fits hosting events, if not, can you afford someone on staff with these skills?  Then prior to even laying out the vineyard, no less the winery, visit several wineries that do weddings.  Read their websites, meet with their approved caterers, understand their challenges and try to build your venue to be both different than theirs but learn from their comments.

Just as with marriage, weddings aren’t for everyone.  The best way to minimize risk, is to go in with eyes wide open — that’s pretty sound matrimony advise as well.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

How Does Push Marketing Impact The Virginia Wine Business?

By. Neil Williamson, The Grumpy Marketing Guy

One of the many distinctions in marketing is push versus pull marketing.  Push marketing focuses on getting the product “pushed” out your cellar door.  Pull marketing focuses on getting consumers to “pull” your product off the shelf.

Distributor promotions (see below) are an example of push marketing while coupons are a good example of pull marketing.

The Marketing Made Simple website has a great post on this marketing concept including the diagram below:

push-pull-promotional-strategy

So where does Virginia wine fit into this picture?

Well, there is a need for this chart to include the three tier system where many wineries are represented by wholesale distributors this adds another layer for between the manufacturer and the retailer.  This presents the opportunity to push to the wholesaler as well as the retailer.

As an overarching marketing theme, Virginia wine must continue to develop brand identity to differentiate itself as a brand rather than “Wine” as a commodity.

Long before George Foreman started selling countertop grills he unsuccessfully attempted to market his own branded milk (then and now a commodity).  His pull strategy was to look into the then new TV viewing audience and tell potential consumers, fist raised, to go to their grocer and demand that they carry George Foreman milk.

Virginia is headed in the right direction when it focuses its significant marketing and advertising budget on the wine press in the US and especially in Virginia.  While getting wine placed in the Whole Foods Markets in Kensington, London is a solid news story – I would like to see more Virginia wine in the Whole Foods Markets in Virginia as well!

In most cases once a winery reaches a certain production level, it makes economic sense to work with a distributor.  Some wineries are amazed that they are still required to work sales once they have a distributor – this is a fatal flaw.  Distributor relationships are like all relationships they require work, a push marketing campaign.

Wineries are wise to remember that a distributor is only as good as the wines in its “book”.  Some distributor books are more like the phone book for the number of wines they represent, this is not a critique merely a statement of fact.

How do you make your wine stand out .  #1 have great wine #2 is “push” marketing.  Don’t bother with #2 if you have not accomplished #1.

A few years back, First Colony Winery, was looking to excite their distributor sales team and 2010_cab_franc therefore increase their sales.  But the fall campaign concept needed a hook.  As the client label featured a large silver star near the top, we built a promotion around the Redskins Cowboys football game.  The top sales representative received two tickets to the game, a hotel room and a voucher for a dinner at one of the restaurants carrying their wines.  The competition was fierce and in the end sales were significantly increased year over year.

It is important to remember that a pull marketing campaign, or even an awareness campaign can be used as leverage for a push marketing campaign.  If a winery is planning a brand building marketing campaign, they would be wise to inform its distributors and its retail partners to better position advance sales.  Only if the product is on the shelf can a pull marketing strategy work.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, The Grumpy Marketing Guy