By Susan DeMatei
Spoiler alert: nothing I talk about in these predictions is groundbreaking, or new technology or techniques for marketing. These are tactics that the digital eCommerce world has been using and perfecting for quite some time. We hear about these strategies at conferences, and experience them with other brands we interact with…but we don’t take those practices to work with us when we market our wine. We are a slow industry to adopt new trends. Why is that?
Margins are Low
Margins are low across the board for wine – albeit better in Direct To Consumer (DTC) channels versus wholesale – but the hospitality cost that is carried on the DTC side balances the scales. Management, at any company, is going to focus resources and innovation in the areas with the greatest impact to the bottom line. Although the last ten years have seen a tremendous focus and growth in DTC marketing, it is still not matching the infrastructure and technology behind wholesale tracking, reporting and sales.
Those With the Means Don’t Have a Motive for Change
Companies with large case production report only 5-20% of their total revenue coming from the DTC channel. This percentage increases as the case production decreases, leaving only the smaller production wineries reporting more than 50% of their total revenue coming from DTC sales. Couple this lopsided payout with the fact that most technological adoptions and paradigm shifts happen from the top – or big guys – down, DTC channels often do not receive the marketing budget and technological innovations as wholesale. The result? We have an industry where the large corporate wine conglomerates have the cash and clout to change the way we market, but there are few innovators.
Our Innovators are the Outliers
Our industry innovators are typically small wineries run by a geek winemaker or owner who was a computer engineer, or used to work in the corporate sector with technology and tools at their disposal. Out of frustration, these people have cobbled together different systems with jerry-rigged features and fields to get what they want for their winery. Since it’s the occasional oddball that is doing this, they may be interesting, and asked to speak at the occasional conference, but they don’t gain much traction in creating widespread change.
Our Focus is Diverted
Wine is an agricultural business and of the wineries in North America, the majority is very-small to small production. This has a couple of implications. First, winery decision makers don’t spend their days behind a desk. They are typically not glued to their website or social media platforms and are more versed in pH chemistry than megabytes. This also means means they are distracted and wear many hats. Winery owners typically are part farmer, part chemist, part handyman, part botanist, part guest services, part salesperson, and part janitor. Sadly, marketing and its execution take a back seat in attention. It is one thing to be able to hand-sell your wine at a pouring, but quite another to think through online marketing channels, social media advertising and Google Analytics funnels.
Our Vendors Hold Us Back
Should you choose to sell online (compliantly) and offer a wine club, there are a handful of technology platforms to choose from. These systems are handy all-in-one solutions that offer website hosting, eCommerce, compliance, fulfillment, wine club, CRM, emails, POS, and reporting. What could be better, right? In actuality, wineries get locked into these vendors with all their eggs in one basket. Vendors typically hold features and development close to their vest, not wanting to open up and share or integrate for fear of losing market share. Wineries witness a daily battle between the vendors for marketshare, and it’s the wineries that lose.
This is in stark contrast to other markets where open APIs encourage integration, allowing customers to choose and pay for add-ons, apps, and features that work best for their business. Can you imagine if Apple didn’t encourage the App Store, or WordPress didn’t have plugins? Integration and cooperation is the widespread standard in other industries, but sadly, our platforms haven’t adopted this practice. This is not in their customers’ best interests, but in their own.
Despite these hurdles, change is coming. We have finally reached critical mass in mainstream interest, generating a number of topics that will be the talk of conferences this spring.
Subscription-Model Clubs with More Flexibility are Coming
We are a subscription economy. Amazon to Zappos has encouraged repeat business by making it easy to choose what we want, and reorder often. Our wine club model is based on technology from 15 years ago which doesn’t allow members this flexibility, yet many wineries still cling to it. Can you imaging signing up for Blue Apron, or Stitch Fix, or Netflix if you had no input or control over what they sent and charged you for? You’d never do it, yet incredibly we persist in this model. This is the most obvious winery sales channel that clashes with the modern world, and for that reason it is quickly eroding. If you haven’t moved to a more flexible model by the end of 2019 – you’re not only going to lose sales, but you’re doing your customers a disservice.
Smarter email marketing will finally emerge.
90% of wineries are now emailing frequently. (If you’re still concerned you might “bother” your customers, I urge you to rethink the value of your communications.) Wineries are also acknowledging the influence of the mobile phone on email design and changing the way they write and link emails to be succinct and visual. We’ve been talking about segmentation for a decade, and it is now standard practice for our clients to create different emails for club versus non-club, geo target a list, or target emails to buyers of a certain product. All of these things were slow to happen but moves in the right direction.
The next step we will witness is wineries actively using marketing automation. We see it every day when we get an abandoned cart email, or Amazon suggests items, or Facebook puts that item we were looking at on another site into our Facebook stream. Mailchimp and other affordable platforms exist to empower novice marketers to put together thoughtful campaigns with the right message to the right target at the right time. This type of thoughtful segmentation is critical to future eCommerce conversions and we should see better responses across the board in 2019 as a result.
Integrated Campaigns and Social Media Ads will Appear
After decades of seminars and blog posts about how to and what to post, wineries are finally getting the hang of social media content. They are also seeing the value of connecting with their customers, being authentic, and sharing themselves online. We’ve gotten over the “pay for it” hurdle – realizing that these channels are a business and it makes sense to pay for increased viewership – and have gotten the hang of targeting. We can comfortably check this box off our learning list.
The next step is scheduling ad campaigns on a regular basis. We’ll see wineries plan for, and put aside social media advertising budgets. And, hopefully, we’ll begin to see more integration across platforms. For instance, the marketing email that was just sent out is also made into a Facebook ad with the segmented list uploaded as a target. This type of multiple exposure can greatly improve responses to campaigns and we’ll see more of it in practice in 2019.
Integrations will Drive Change
In 2019 we’ll start to see big wine technology vendors crack under pressure to integrate. For years they’ve been holding back the tidal wave of feature requests from disappointed customers. Technology costs are now affordable and the need has never been more focused and apparent. We will see an onslaught of new players enter the market, not to provide “all in one” solutions, but to build onto the existing platforms and help them meet these new customer needs. The vendors that embrace this will win, and the ones that don’t, clinging to their closed feature set and market share, will lose.
Outsourcing will Become the Norm Versus the Exception
There is a perfect storm brewing when you combine everything above – low margins, less reliance on the old guard technology, the need for fresh thinking – that tells wineries they must innovate to compete. However, finding technology savvy staff in often rural environments can be challenging – especially after the fires of recent years have driven housing costs out of the reasonable range for most people. The salary that wineries can afford is hopelessly out of whack with what employees need to live in “wine country”. Additionally, the competitive market is allowing employees to choose higher paying jobs with better benefits. The result is that many of these entry to mid-level DTC jobs (the Wine Club Coordinator, the DTC Manager, the Tasting Room Assistant Manager) remain unfilled, posted for a quarter to half-a-year before a new hire is made. This has resulted in an openness to outsource these DTC jobs to a consultant or agency. An outsourced agency typically has staff with specialized skills, are flexible and reliable, and cost less than an employee – and they don’t quit or take sick days. This allows the wineries to focus on what they do best – making wine. This is proving vital to small to medium sized wineries that are really feeling the economic crunch, yet still have to get work done.
So while none of the above is new, it’s new to the wine industry. 2019 will be an interesting year. We should see the establishment shaken up with new players, smarter marketing, and better responses to campaigns. This shift will certainly help the wineries, but ultimately is their customers that are the real winners.
Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California. www.wineglassmarketing.com