The Right Blend of AI Can Keep Customers from Withering on the Vine

robot holding tray with full wine glass and woman holding full wine glass

By:  David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten

Changing U.S. consumer drinking habits have been troublesome for the domestic wine industry. Younger generations including Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to purchase ready-to-drink cocktails, seltzers, or mocktails than wine, a shift from previous generations. It was noted in Rob McMillan’s annual State of the Industry report earlier this year that wineries need to do a better job of marketing to younger generations because currently the only growth being seen is among the Baby Boomer demographic. Otherwise, wine sales are falling, and less wine was sold in 2022 than in 2021. One reported suggestion was to launch a multi-winery campaign like what the dairy industry has done for milk or the cattle industry for beef. But those efforts failed. Perhaps now is the time to call on the robots for their assistance?

  It might seem like social media is the best way to reach younger generations, since a 2022 survey by Morning Consult found that 54% of Gen Zers said they spend at least four hours daily on social media, and 38% spend even more time than that. But an avatar on TikTok or Instagram enjoying a glass of merlot on a beach or in the back of a camper van overlooking a breathtaking vista is not the right robot to help the wine industry breakthrough to younger generations. Especially when the industry is competing against a movement of influencers promoting sober living as the latest wellness trend that followers should aspire too.

  So, if not social media, then what? Does the wine industry need to go head-to-head with politicians and launch an invasive television advertising campaign that floods screens across the country with bottles of chardonnay and cabernet playing the starring roles in every type of social gathering possible? Do wine tastings at grocery stores and other brick-and-mortar retail locations need to occur on a daily basis to infuse wine purchasing as a more regular habit when picking up items for meals for the week? None of these are bad ideas, but the reality is AI isn’t all that great at creating television ads, yet, and a robot pouring wine at the local grocery store would require investing in technology that is cost prohibitive and impractical.

  The most effective and unique way that wineries can connect with younger consumers is through a traditional advertising method with a high-tech, modern twist. A survey, conducted by Full Spectrum Insights on behalf of Handwritten, found that emails and text messages are, unsurprisingly, the most common way for businesses to communicate with customers but that 45% of customers would feel more valued and be more likely to make repeat purchases if they received a handwritten note. 30% of customers said handwritten notes are the most meaningful way a company could communicate with them and the least annoying, compared with the annoyance of receiving a phone call, email, or text.

  Nothing says “pay attention” like a personalized handwritten note. No one flips past or does not see a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. These stand out from everything else that was delivered. Recipients wonder what could be inside and while envelopes that look like bills or advertisements are set to the side, handwritten envelopes are usually opened immediately. The attention-grabbing nature of a handwritten envelope provides an instant advantage that even the biggest and most prevalent direct mail marketers cannot compete with. Handwritten envelopes have been found to have a 300% greater open rate than standard envelopes. And handwritten marketing has response rates 7-21x greater than printed mail, with a return on investment 3-7x greater than print. Some companies have even found that retention rates are 50% higher for customers who receive a handwritten thank you note.

  Rather than tasking an employee to sit at a desk with a stack of cards and envelopes and bucket of ice to alleviate hand cramps, the task of penning handwritten notes to customers can be outsourced to robots that are capable of using real pens to craft notes that are nearly indistinguishable from ones written by an actual human hand. There are also a variety of AI services available own that can help everyone from a marketing novice to a pro discover the right words to include in the message. From there, it’s about ensuring wineries are using the right direct mailing strategy to maximize ROI.

Spend Time On Your Call to Action

  Your call to action (CTA) may be the most important part of your direct mail campaign. This statement tells your recipients how you want them to respond and encourages them to do it. A strong CTA can boost your response rate substantially while a weak one can jeopardize your entire campaign. Every communication piece you send your customers should have a purpose. Identify it and your CTA will come naturally.

  Compelling CTAs are clear and concise. They contain actionable verbs which are impossible to misinterpret. When people read your direct mail letter, they should know what you want them to do. You can ask people outside your marketing department to read your letter and determine whether they understand what’s expected of them.

  Procrastination prevents action. Limit procrastination by adding a sense of urgency to your CTA. Asking your recipients to call today or claim a free sample by a specific deadline is more powerful than making similar statements without referencing time. The way you present your CTA can make it more compelling. White space draws the eye. Separating your CTA from the body of your letter prevents someone from overlooking it. Using a different color or font size can also help your call to action stand out.

Use Personal Text and Images

  Savvy consumers will see through a handwritten form letter. Make sure you include personal details to strengthen your bond with your recipients. Using names rather than “To whom it may concern” is an important start. But you should look for other opportunities for personalization, too. Mentioning customers’ locations, past purchases, and pop culture references that people of their ages will probably appreciate are other ways you can show your recipients you’re speaking to them.

  While the text matters, using appropriate imagery can also reinforce your words. For example, targeting a millennial or Gen Z household with a note that features a retired couple enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, probably a messaging failure.

Tempt Your Recipients With Great Deals

  The most compelling direct mail campaigns contain offers people can’t refuse. Brainstorm strategies to tempt your recipients with your direct mail campaigns.

People love feeling they’re receiving something others don’t get. They’ll struggle to resist signing up for your mailing list if you say they’ll receive exclusive members-only coupons. Ordering a product becomes much more enticing if you’ve waiving shipping costs or reducing the price for a limited time.

Get the Timing Right

  As with all marketing campaigns, the timing of your direct mail campaigns plays a key part in their success or failure. Your direct mail will ideally reach your recipients when they’re receptive to the messages inside them.

  Getting the timing right isn’t a precise science, but you’ll do best if you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. The members of your mailing list will probably be receptive to a card promoting a great sale sent in the lead-up to Christmas when they’re searching for gift ideas and planning to spend money. Sales announcements can also be received favorably in April when your customers may have extra money from refunds on their tax returns. Your sales efforts are likely to be less effective in January when customers may suffer from a Christmas credit card hangove

  Sending direct mail cards through your customers’ journey with your organization is also a great way to engage them and make them feel special. However, timing matters here, too. Send a card saying you have missed a customer’s business too soon and you’ll seem too insincere. However, with the right timing, this type of card can re-engage a lapsed customer and encourage a purchase. On the flip side, a letter thanking a customer for the individual’s business or referring a customer should be sent promptly. If you let too much time elapse, the thank you will seem unnatural.

Think Outside the Box

  Since households don’t receive many letters, your direct mail is already likely to be more memorable than a marketing email. However, you can increase the chances your recipients will recall your direct mail with a novelty. Think outside the box to create a direct mail campaign that makes a real impression.

  Knorr used leuco dye on a direct mail campaign for a new line of frozen food. The cheeky mailing read “Unlike any F****N dinner you’ve ever tried.” Recipients were encouraged to put the mail in the freezer. The extreme cold triggered a new message reading “FROZEN meals can be this delicious.” The quirky campaign, which had a 10.2 percent response rate, prompted 17,000 purchases. This campaign was so successful that half of the mail was delayed to help supermarkets manage the increased demand for the company’s products.

The great part about all of these direct mail ideas is that they stay in the minds of recipients long after they open the mail. Even if your recipients don’t take action now, they’re more likely to think about your business when they need your products or services in the future. Brainstorm relevant ways you can also enhance your direct mail materials and make them distinctive.

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