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

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