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Successful wine marketing starts close to home

'Make the story as concise as possible,' expert tells vintners


Capital Press

Wine producers hoping to venture into new geographical markets should first ensure their labels are well-represented close to home, experts say.

Distributors won't be impressed if they visit a company but don't see its wines in nearby restaurants and shops, according to experts at the recent Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland.

Wholesalers who can bring wine to new markets want to see that it's capable of winning local support, said Dan Grunbeck, senior vice president of the wine distributor Young's Market Co.

Otherwise, they expect to face a lot of "pick-and-shovel work" in selling the brand, he said.

"Without a strong home market, your story-telling from afar won't be based in much fact," said Chris Sarles, executive vice president of the company.

Wineries that have found local acclaim should then try to emulate their success in similar markets elsewhere, Grunbeck said.

Breaking through in a city that's similar in size and culture as your home base is easier than penetrating a huge metropolis that's already saturated with diverse wines, he said.

Major cities generally are surrounded by smaller towns and suburbs where local retailers will be more welcoming and can allow winemakers to ease into the market, Grunbeck said.

"Going into New York (City) is very expensive and very competitive," he said. "Go to Connecticut."

Wholesalers are constantly overrun by requests from winemakers and others, so it helps to understand how they operate, Grunbeck said.

To win them over, winemakers should develop a plan for growth that's supported by a sensible rationale, he said. "We're not bad people. We're busy."

When presenting product to a wholesaler, a winery should also distill its pitch to the essence rather than load up on technical minutiae, Sarles said.

This tactic is also useful for the wholesaler's sales force, which must be able to remember and repeat the salient aspects of the brand, he said.

"Make the story as concise as possible. Make it as memorable as possible," Sarles said. "We're just monkeys and we need to be trained."

Most wineries trying to connect with consumers overly emphasize what they do or how they do it, said Lesley Berglund, chairman of Wine Industry Sales Education Academy, which trains sales teams.

However, what really resonates with people is the company's motivation, she said. "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Apple Inc., for example, doesn't dwell on its process for making computers, but instead casts itself as a rebel that wants to change how people think about technology and design, Berglund said.

To find the right message, a winery must figure out what truly makes it unique in a crowded field, she said. A company must go deeper than simply saying it's high-end, family-owned and produces handcrafted wine.

The winery should identify three "key brand points" and then find numerous examples for its sales team to explain each point, Berglund said.

Once a company is able to pinpoint its brand message, it should be careful not to undermine it with inconsistency -- a common stumbling point, she said.

For example, a company that cultivates a sophisticated air can subvert that image with jarring music or finger puppets in its waiting room, Berglund said. Every detail should "speak" to the brand and align the consumer experience with the company's vision.

"The only thing that matters is what your customers' gut tells them your brand is," she said.


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