What’s in a name?

Erin Wilhelm, friend and project director at the Collaborating Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) at Georgetown University, recently reached out to a mentor. Today she guest posts about her bicoastal experience with Carol and wonders if “mentorship” is the best term for their ongoing, mutual support system.

Inspired by the creativity of this blog and its authors, I sought my own professional mentor early this year. I even borrowed some of the language Cecilia wrote in her invitation e-mail (seriously . . . inspired!)

In previous jobs, I’ve had assigned mentors and found these forced relationships dissatisfying for various reasons, and mostly because the interactions felt as compulsory as the relationship. There was no motivation to talk other than a company policy that said we should.

Recently, I began a new job at a new organization in a new field. I welcomed the challenge and opportunity to learn from all the newness. After the first months’ intense learning curve, I gained a working stride but realized there was still a lot I didn’t know. So I had motivation. Finding a mentor could help me structure the next phase of my learning. But I was skeptical . . . there were those prior bad experiences, and my new organization didn’t have a formal structure. It never occurred to me, until I read Cecilia and Suzanne’s blog, that I could just pick someone who I admired and ask!

So I did. I asked Carol, a woman I worked with only a little, but with whom I exchanged many an e-mail and “met” on occasion via Skype. (She lives and works in San Francisco, and I live and work in D.C.) Carol has great energy, humor, and brains. And we both love yoga and our dogs, so I knew there would always be something to talk about. Plus, she has worked in my new industry, for nearly 30 years, loves her career, and is successful. When I reached out to her, I was neither so in love with my work nor feeling successful, and I thought it could help to talk and work with her. Hoping her passion would rub off . . .

We structured our talks formally at first – with e-mailed agendas and “assigned” reading material. But over the weeks and months, we gradually found a rhythm of hour-long chats every week or so, discussing process and people skills, new or difficult concepts in our field, and how to maintain sanity – and a life – in the midst of a 21st century career. These talks gave me reassurance, direction, and new tricks to try.

In all, this relationship has been satisfying, and we’ve achieved many of the goals we set for ourselves. But I’m not sure that ours were typical of mentor-mentee conversations and so, when I refer to Carol, I usually say “colleague,” “coworker,” “coach,” or even “friend.”

I wasn’t the student diligently taking notes from the teacher. We’ve had the opportunity to exchange ideas in deep and meaningful dialogue. As a result, we both feel the time invested has been worth it.Of course, if I were to formally describe this relationship, I would still call Carol my mentor – because it describes our interaction with a term other people readily understand (and isn’t that what a word is for?). But to both of us, the relationship has been more. The word that best captures Carol’s role in my life is “collaborator,” but that word has been overused in popular professional literature to the point of meaninglessness and this mentor-coach-colleague-friend of mine definitely has meaning to me.

Erin Wilhelm, Georgetown University

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A Whiff of Brand in the Tasting Room

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 Roomon 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 websiteblog 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