Reposted interview from The Swirl – a Newsletter for Small Wineries
An Interview with Susan DeMatei of WineGlass Marketing
DEC 14, 2023
Talking to the queen of wine industry digital endeavors about how to maximize your small winery website in 2024…
To round out 2023 on a high note, this week we have an interview with the incredible Susan DeMatei of WineGlass Marketing, talking about how small wineries can maximize their websites in 2024. Susan is the absolute guru when it comes to the unique challenges and opportunities that wineries have in the digital space, and I’m beyond thrilled that she has agreed to talk us.
What are some mistakes that you see small wineries making on their websites?
Underestimating the impact of the internet. I get it. As a small winery you’re forced to deal with the fires right in front of you: The machinery that needs fixing, the staff that needs your attention, the utilities that need to get paid and the customers coming to your door. But while you’re doing those very important things, hundreds, if not thousands, of people will see your website this month. Think of all the time and money you spend focused on your tasting room experience – now consider that your website will be presented to ten times the people than will ever see your physical location. Your website is your virtual tasting room and just as important for your brand, your club, your customer service and your sales. If it isn’t, you haven’t focused enough on it as a tool.
A second mistake would be the “set it and forget it” mindset. Websites are like cars in that they need tune ups. Hackers are out there waiting for outdated plugins as loopholes to get into your data, and broken links annoy not only Google search rankings, but also customers. It is shocking to me how few wineries know where their infrastructure stands or how to login to it. If you don’t want to know, that’s fine, but then hire someone to watch it for you. WGM or other support firms like us can do it for a little over a dollar a day, it’s not a big investment.
And a third mistake would be to think of your website like a printed brochure that has static and evergreen information about your company. Your website should be dynamic, constantly updated and as detailed as possible. You should be updating your site monthly, if not weekly. Customers will appreciate it, come back more often, and it will decrease the cost to serve them. On that last point, many wineries will say they want to provide “a more personal” experience and expect customers to call or visit, but the luxury model is shifting quickly toward convenience. If you’re not allowing as much self-service as possible, you’ll soon find yourself without club members.
For a winery with a limited budget to spend on their website, what are three things you recommend they focus their resources on?
1. A Website Template
A website template will get you 60% of the way there. Choose one that fits with the assets that you have and the amount of information you need to convey. If you’re on something like WordPress there are literally hundreds of thousands to choose from and then you can spend your time or budget customizing it and making your copywriting interesting instead of coding. Shameless plug: see our templates here.
The intersection of technology like smartphones, the popularity of apps and social media tools like filters and editing, and our ever-increasing pace of processing information have created the perfect storm for visual storytelling. From icons to emojis to Instagram, to say we are a society that relies on visuals is an understatement, and flawless photos are every teenage girl’s selfie norm, so you better have a game plan for decent marketing photography.
But we sell a product that is glass, curved, and sometimes has foil or screen-printed text. It is not as simple as snapping a selfie of you and your bacon bloody mary for Instagram #SwineAndShine. Luckily, we all have excellent cameras on our phones, hundreds of photo editing apps for pennies, and thousands of free YouTube videos with tips on how to use them. There is literally no excuse for bad images except laziness and complacency, so make 2024 the year you say no to bright reflections, lip marks or spots on wine glasses, and fuzzy label text.
3. Descriptive tasting notes
For some reason, the effort put into websites seems to fall off when we get to the product information in the eCommerce store. While a marketing manager or owner looks over the copy on most website pages, the products – which are arguably the most important – are left to a part time tasting room person to update when the vintage changes. The result is poor resolution images in different sizes, and typos or incomplete tasting notes. Almost 70% of carts end up abandoned, so the odds are against you even if everything is perfect. There is research that suggests that bad pictures, broken links, or poor descriptions cause consumers to doubt the safety of entering their credit card numbers and greatly decrease eCommerce conversions. And data suggests we’re unforgiving – when we leave for these reasons, we don’t ever come back.
Is there a certain platform or tech stack that you recommend for a small winery with limited budget?
No, they’re all priced comparably. We recommend looking for a single platform for customer data (versus a separate POS, eCommerce, MailChimp and Quickbooks, for instance), and the choice of that single platform should be made based on your business requirements. Make a list of what you need it to do – and ask everybody from the shipping and receiving to accounting to contribute their wish list. Prioritize features you can’t live without, and the rest as “nice to have”. Then go shopping armed with that information. After you’ve found a couple of platforms that check the most boxes, then negotiate the price. If they want your business, they’ll work with you.
What trends are you seeing right now that small wineries should focus or capitalize on in 2024?
We do a lot of data dives to help wineries understand who is actually buying their wines and why. When you know this information, you can find more people like that. In doing this for the last few months I’m noticing a lot of databases with large groups of customers that have been inactive for 36+ months. It dawned on me the other day that this is because of COVID. During COVID wineries were really hustling to get new customers online, and so there was a surge of new prospects from 2020. But then the tasting rooms opened up and they went back to focusing on club events and driving traffic to the tasting room, and these customers that raised their hand in 2020 and said they were interested three years ago have just been sitting, waiting, decaying.
According to the Harvard Business Review, retaining an existing customer is significantly more cost-effective—it can be between five and 25 times less expensive than acquiring a new one. Do everything you can to engage your mailing list and don’t let possible customers slip through your fingers.
What are the five most important elements that a small winery should have on their website?
That’s hard to answer so I’m going to flip it around. Your website should have a main objective. I realize it has many roles, but one objective should be above all. If it exists to drive people to your tasting room, and most people drop in without reservations and find you while they’re driving around, then the five most important things on your website should probably be a phone number, a Google map, hours of operation, description of tastings/experiences and a link for group reservations or to ask questions. And you should design it for mobile first.
If your main objective of the site is a central place for the club to login and update allocations, then you’ll want a home page reminding them of benefits, a clear button to login, customized membership area, one-click text ability to club manager and maybe a private events area for their scheduling.
Think of what you want the site to do and revolve the functionality around that objective.
What are some important elements to have on your shop page to drive sales?
Your shop should have everything you have about this product to sell it. Think of Macy’s or some other major e-retail store. You don’t go to a section called “sweaters” and read about the wool and farming and colors or styles, then you get out of that section and go into a store section to buy a sweater. No, everything you possibly need to know about that sweater is right there next to the buy button. Yet we insist on having separate sections for “vineyards” and “winemaking” and sometimes even “wine” in addition to our eCommerce areas. Cross link if you must. And don’t worry about overwhelming. Customers will self-select. If they don’t care about the pH and scores, they don’t have to read it. But for the customers that do want to read about malolactic fermentation, have the information available.
What is one tool that you think every small winery should have?
A wine opener. That’s a dumb question.
Haha – fair enough. What small winery (or wineries) do you think is killing it right now?
I really like the Oliver Winery site.
They have a lot going on but the use of the mega menu, the sorting options in the store and liberal application of white space keeps it from being overwhelming. I like that they have serving ideas for the wines as well as use icons and graphics to easily describe the taste right there in the cart. And it’s great that they offer both a subscription and a wine club.
I also might be biased because of the doggies, but I love what Potcake is doing.
They have a very strong brand presence and message that permeates everything they do, and they’ve melted these two cultures of Oregon Pinot and Caribbean together brilliantly. The website instantly tells the story of the brand, and the cart doesn’t get overly fussy. They focus a lot on events and local support, which has served them well and you can see on the very full events page.
Where can people find you if they want to learn more?
I’m at therapy every Thursday afternoon from 3-4 and my court appointed community service on Saturdays. Other than that, I’m usually on my email – email@example.com.