An Open Letter to Winery Owners: Things I Would Do If I Owned A Winery

Waiting is not a strategy.

The first day wineries were closed in California we lost 5 clients – all calling to apologetically say they were cutting spending while the tasting room was closed and would be back when it reopened. 5 months later, most of us realize there is no going back at this point. We’ve also recognized acting like an ostrich with our head in the sand isn’t going to work, either. The keyword for 2020 is “pivot,” and the Darwinism of survival will favor those who adapt quickly and are flexible.

My favorite example of a pivot is Tuco, a turn of the last century subsidiary of the Upson Company, which initially produced 3/16″ wallboard for home construction. This was all good until the Great Depression hit, all construction stopped, and Tuco found itself stuck with warehouses of drywall and construction equipment. Not giving up or waiting it out, they realized they had boards, printers, and jigsaws, so they could, theoretically, print images on the board and cut them into pieces. By 1932, Tuco was the largest producer of picture (jigsaw) puzzles throughout the early-1980s. You can still find them all over eBay, and they’re now quite collectible.

I’m not suggesting we all start making board games, but we have one client who began turning their alcohol into a grape-based hand sanitizer, which I thought was clever. We are also witnessing a surge in others making their websites more streamlined for sales, and a swap in traffic efforts redirected toward website traffic over tasting room traffic. My point here is, don’t just turn off the faucet of tasting room traffic and sales without having plans and programs to replace that stream somewhere else. You need alternatives to sales and new list signups and engagement with your members and customers that can’t come to visit. How well you continue those three critical goals will determine if you make it to whatever “normal” will be post-COVID. Let’s look at each one next.

eCommerce is Now Critical

Since February, you should have been focused on optimizing your website sales wherever possible. But if you haven’t, it’s never too late to emphasize this channel, and you still have time to get your act together before the critical Q4 selling season. Let’s break down some specific things you can do to help shore up this sales channel.

Search Engine Optimization: SEO is all about Google (or other search engines). Google scans sites and pages to serve up results that match search queries. SEO is the hidden message in which you tell Google what is on your site’s pages. Part of SEO is the meta tags, which are like a little ad for each page. Put your winery website in Google and see what comes back. If you don’t see an “ad” for each page, then Google has pulled random words, usually the navigation or footer, because it didn’t know what the page was about. Meta tags are essential and should be action-oriented 155-character statements that describe what is on the page and why someone would want to go there.

How do you do this? If you’re on WordPress, many plugins make this easy. We like Yoast. If you’re on a proprietary platform, ask them or look at your documentation site. It is unlikely that there is no way to access these page tags.

This is an example of a website that does not have META tags so Google pulled what was on the page in incomplete sentences.

This is an example of a website that does have META tags that are within the character count, are in the active voice, and have a call-to-action.

Website Presentation is Key

You wouldn’t open your tasting room if it wasn’t stocked and clean and ready for visitors so, why do so many fail to keep their website store updated? Takedown old products, and update new ones with scores or notes. Update your shipping options and tables. Please invest in professional bottle shots or, at the very least, buy a $40 product table-top lightbox on Amazon. Review everything on mobile. Put in test orders to confirm your work and ensure it is easy to purchase, and the shipping is calculated. If your eCommerce system allows, use every tool they have, such as carrots or bundles or automatic emails. Your website is your tasting room now and for the foreseeable future. Put as much care into it as you would your property so it can do the heavy lifting.

Drive traffic to your newly refreshed website

At a high level, you can group your efforts into three buckets – existing customers, existing non-buyers on the mailing list, and new potential customers.

For existing customers, make sure you have a strong email campaign touching them at a minimum once a month (twice a month is better.) They may not feel comfortable visiting you in person, but you can keep in touch with them. Alternate your sales offers with general news, recipes, and information about the winery, vineyard, or people. Everyone is feeling isolated and a bit disconnected now, so they will appreciate your outreach.

For non-buyers on your mailing list, follow much the same strategy as the existing customers but target them with “trial” offers with low barriers. This is not the group to send a case offer. Lean toward 2 bottle packs and comp shipping to nudge them to make their first purchase. And possibly lean more toward introductory copy about you and your winery since they don’t know you as well as your existing customers.

Gathering brand new customers is a must. Consider that we’re experiencing double-digit unemployment at the moment and that databases, in a good year, decay at a rate of 2% a month. This equates to my prophetic prediction that if you check now, you’ve lost, at a minimum, 12% of your mailing list since the COVID closures in March. All those newly canceled business emails will only increase your bounces. You’ve got to start working on accumulating qualified leads as soon as you’re done reading this article. See our blog post with some ideas.

You’ve got to start working on accumulating qualified leads as soon as you’re done reading this article.

There are two significant ways to get qualified signups to your mailing list and get sales from new customers online: Facebook ads and Google Ads. Facebook is, by far, the easiest. If you can Google Search, you can find tutorials and blogs written about how to set up Facebook ads. I can’t encourage you enough to do this right now. You should have two, maybe three campaigns running at all times. The first one, with a smaller budget, maybe $100 a month, with the goal of “like-ing” your page, so you are continually gathering a community online. A second campaign with a slightly higher budget, maybe $150-$200 a month, should focus on lead generation. Facebook has collection forms and a whole ad category for collecting leads. Just follow the directions or Google for help. The third campaign would be for sales. Pick that same introductory two-pack you’re offering to your non-purchasers on your database and create an ad on Facebook. Upload your purchasers and unsubscribes to Facebook and target this sales campaign to a “lookalike” audience.

Google can be very effective at these three objectives as well. We have had particular success with the sales approach. Targeting is more complex, and you’ll have to watch a few online tutorials to master this, but I would encourage you to give it a try. Expect to spend about $600+ a month, however, to see decent results.

What Do You Say to them?

It is understood that times are tough, and you need sales. It is also understood that your wine is delicious, award-winning, and handcrafted and that if you are open, you are doing everything possible to keep it clean and contact-free. It is so universally understood – try to avoid saying it because it isn’t about you… it’s about them. 

They are feeling lonely, isolated, unsettled, burnt-out, and exhausted. While we don’t want to market ourselves as an alcoholic elixir that will solve all problems, wine is a lovely balm for much of what ails us. Over the past months, we have seen plenty of creative emails and social media posts about zoom happy hours, food and wine pairings, wine and toilet paper offers, and everything from updates on winery dogs to staff members to keep us engaged. Don’t forget to remind them there is good in the world and you are part of that good, and they are good and should treat themselves to your good wine. Keep it positive and heartfelt.

We didn’t mention discounting. On the whole, discounting (beyond what you usually do) isn’t an effective strategy for a downturn. Why? Because in times of stress, people tend to purchase for emotional reasons, not logical ones. If you were to re-read that list in the previous paragraph of what our customers are feeling right now, a 35% discount doesn’t solve them. So, don’t rush to devalue your product. Instead, position your product as an integral part of their new reality.

For more on messaging – see our blog post on this topic.

One Last Point: Do Something

I realize many of you are feeling very alone now. You’ve had to furlough or let go of staffers and are now a winemaker, general, tasting room, wine club, and marketing manager. But, to circle back to the beginning of this article, doing nothing is not a strategy for success. Please don’t sit back and watch all that you’ve built fall apart around you while you wait for tasting rooms to return to their former glory.

You don’t have to be radical or expensive or even innovative – just pivot your efforts and your businesses toward online sales. I tried to give you tips here to get online sales on your own. If you still need help, you can literally Google how to do almost anything. But, if you don’t have the time, don’t give up. Instead, get some help. You don’t have to hire WineGlass Marketing; there are many other capable agencies. You could work with one of the hundreds of consultants out there that specialize in email or social media or website editing. And don’t forget about recent graduates. We have an entire graduating class with nowhere to go who are eager to get started with their lives. A quick and free ad on Craigslist might find someone capable who can help you for a very reasonable hourly rate and have you reaping in online sales by this time next week.

Be safe, and hang in there,

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