A friendly, welcoming approach to wine branding is explored in this guest post by Emily Valentine, a fellow communications professional benefiting from the mentorship of Suzanne. Emily is a senior account executive in Richmond, VA, at award-winning public relations and marketing firm CRT/tanaka. She originally published “3 Case Studies from California Wine Country: A Whiff of Brand in the Tasting Room” on the firm’s Buzz Bin blog on March 14, 2012.
I tend to view the world through brand-colored glasses, so, on a recent trip to California wine country, I wasn’t surprised to find my mind wander to the realm of customer experience.
A positive tasting room experience will clearly lead to repeat purchases, but beyond that, a purposeful on-site tasting is the ideal opportunity for a wine brand to make its mark in the minds of consumers.
To me, the emotional and sensory experience a winery manages to deliver to customers on site – and then re-create online or at the point of sale – lays the groundwork for effective wine branding.
I’ve witnessed several good examples of this principle at work in my home state of Virginia (see 5 Reasons to Try #VaWine), but here are a few highlights from the golden state:
- Scribe is an artisanal Sonoma winery that won my heart on this trip. The love affair began when I stumbled on a handsome bottle of Scribe cabernet sauvignon before heading to Sonoma. Its thick glass body and wax-dipped neck spoke of candlelit dinners and intimate conversation, creating an allure that only grew stronger when I arrived on site at the winery. Perhaps I was seduced by the fresh-cut wildflowers adorning the outdoor table where I sat, the buttery shortbread baked with rosemary from their garden, and the relaxed attitude of the woman who led our tasting. It was as if she – and every employee – had been hand-picked as an embodiment of the Scribe brand … effortlessly cool and open-minded. I left feeling like I’d just visited a new friend at home for the first time, suddenly comprehending all the intangible factors that make her who she is. Needless to say, I’ll buy Scribe wine again whenever I’m able (the limited availability only adds to its intrigue). In the meantime, I’ll keep up with the winery via its website, blog and Facebook page, and spread the word to friends through my own social networks.
- Flora Springs Winery prides itself on being family owned and operated. It’s one of the first things I learned when I arrived at the estate, and the idea of family pervaded my experience with the Flora Springs brand. A twinkle-eyed man full of mischievous jokes led our tasting, putting everyone at ease in what could have been a stuffy setting. He invited us to experience the brand’s “legacy” with wines that reflect the spirit of its matriarch. Scanning a QR code on the wine club brochure took me to a webpage celebrating Flora’s 100th birthday with eight webisodes on the family-based history of the winery. Flora Springs seems like a brand that’s never met a stranger … tweet @florasprings and expect to get an enthusiastic response.
- Kuleto Estate Vineyards boasts an idyllic mountaintop setting shaded by Spanish oak trees and luminous views (see above). For the scenery, I’d go back in a heartbeat … to make a purchase, I’m not so sure. The wines might have been good, but the brand experience was so watered down that it diluted their taste. Why didn’t Kuleto’s personality shine through? Maybe it needs further aging to reach its full potential … or maybe it was just muffled by the 80s rock blaring in the tasting room. What I’d love to have gotten from this brand is a better feel for the face behind the name and how his creative viewpoint is expressed through his wines. Videos, photos, even one great story would have gone a long way in making the wines less forgettable.
So, here’s my “glass half empty” marketing insight: Wine brands hoping to succeed in today’s marketing environment can’t afford to neglect their customer experience offering – in the tasting room, online or elsewhere. There are too many other options for consumers to choose from, and too many ways for consumers to broadcast less-than-positive brand reviews.
And, for the more drinkable “glass half full” version: The emotional and sensory nature of the tasting room experience poses tremendous opportunity for wine brands, big and small. Boutique wineries with limited marketing budgets should orchestrate cost-effective experiences to differentiate themselves and galvanize brand advocates.
Emily Valentine, CRT/tanaka