In the ever-evolving landscape of the wine industry, innovation is not just about viticulture and winemaking techniques; the new frontier is understanding the emotional bond between brand and customers. B Cellars, a trailblazer in the Napa Valley wine scene, took an early leap into the future by integrating artificial intelligence into its marketing and sales strategies. The results have allowed the company to carve out an enviable niche in the direct-to-consumer channel, which is the focus of their business model.
In 2018, B Cellars distinguished itself as a pioneer in the winery-meets-AI space by employing Metis, a cutting-edge, AI-powered behavioral research program developed by a San Francisco-based company, Richey International. This move marked
B Cellars as among the first in the wine industry to seek consumer feedback through AI, with a focus on emotional connection to the brand.
Metis, named for the Greek goddess of wisdom, was designed to delve deeper than traditional market research methods. It analyzes vast amounts of data, including social media and online review sites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, to provide insights into the emotional resonance a brand has with its customers and find best practices within specific industry segments. The AI searched for what consumers were saying about their experiences at B Cellars in comparison to a subset of other well-respected Napa Valley wine brands. It went a step further by also analyzing data from select non-winery businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and even retail stores; surprisingly, some of the most valuable insights for B Cellars came from analyzing the customer experience at Filson, the 130+-year-old Seattle-based outdoor clothing company.
The next step was to invite past B Cellars guests to answer questions in writing. The instructions were clear and were meant to solicit thoughtful responses by noting respondents should “take as much time as you need to develop your response…we are listening carefully.” Participation in the survey was well above industry research norms.
What Metis’ process revealed to B Cellars unlocked the essence of the relationships between B Cellars and their customers. Why did customers like the winery (apart from good wine)? What drove them to maintain a multi-year relationship? How could such a relationship endure when the customer was thousands of miles away?
The answers became clear as Metis honed in on the core differentiators that consumers perceived about B Cellars: the “soul” of the brand was rooted in craftsmanship, terroir, and the idea of a lifestyle grounded in authenticity (as opposed glamour or floridity), plus appreciation of great quality wine, food, and entertaining in a manner that was elevated yet approachable. Metis found that while these elements were amply apparent to visitors to the B Cellars estate in Oakville, these factors were not highlighted effectively on the company’s website and online user experience. Simplifying and streamlining the website made it more inviting and accessible to potential customers and aligned better with the superior elements of the B Cellars brand. Once executed, the website simplification translated into a refined pre-visit experience between guests and the winery’s concierge team, which gave way to a unique arrival experience for guests.
The insights B Cellars gained from the AI analysis of its in-person experience were also eye-opening. From Metis’ data analysis, the winery learned that their wine tastings were undervalued. So, they increased prices by an unprecedented 30%; this adjustment aligned the perceived value of their offerings with the high quality of their wines and curated food pairing experiences. The price increase also heighted the perceived luxury of the experience, which led to increased bookings to visit the estate.
Furthermore, Metis’ insights led to a reimagining of B Society, an offering that encourages ongoing purchases of its wines. Before Metis, B Society wines were predetermined for its subscribers based on previous purchases; however, AI recommended a totally customizable wine purchase approach that allowed consumers more control over choosing selections for each shipment. Metis also challenged the B Cellars approach to Society gatherings. Today, gatherings are designed to encourage deeper connections between the B Cellars team and their clients by having more intimate gatherings and allocating visiting hours exclusively for returning guests. These changes have not only improved customer relationships but also reduced attrition rates, which now sit well below industry norms.
The results of incorporating AI into the winery’s strategy have been remarkable. B Cellars enjoyed a 7% increase in annual winery visits with in the first year of implementing the Metis findings, plus a notable improvement in customer engagement, loyalty, and referrals. These changes underscore the potential of AI in transforming not just marketing strategies but the very fabric of the customer relationship. The key was deeply analyzing a comparable set of businesses and listening carefully to its customers, just as B Cellars had promised to do. In the final analysis, Metis showed that B Cellars customers wanted to believe in the winery’s ethos of integrity and authenticity. While most wineries market themselves based on what’s in the bottle, their scores, or a continuous stream of marketing campaigns,
B Cellars sought substance, which has translated into a durable emotional connection with its customers.
The success of the B Cellars story provides a roadmap for other wineries to follow as AI inevitably becomes more integrated into all of our lives. The implications of the winery’s pioneering use of AI extend beyond their own success; it opens up a realm of possibilities for other wineries and vineyards. The wine industry, traditionally reliant on conventional marketing and customer relationship techniques, is already starting to think of AI as a viable tool for enhancing business models, especially in the DTC segment, which has grown significantly during and since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Moreover, the adaptability of AI tools like Metis means they can be tailored to different business needs, whether it’s refining product offerings, enhancing customer experiences, or developing more effective marketing strategies.
The innovative approach of Be Cellars incorporating AI into their marketing and customer relationship strategies sets a new benchmark in the wine industry. As the industry continues to evolve, AI will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of winery and vineyard operations, not only in the sales and marketing spaces, but also in optimizing elements of the wine business like farming practices, supply chain, and even winemaking techniques. The experience of B Cellars using novel AI tools demonstrates that the fusion of technology and tradition can lead to unparalleled success in the wine world.