View from the Top: Marketing Lessons from the Virginia Wine Summit

As another year comes to a close, it’s only natural to contemplate the past twelve months, mentally unpacking the highs and lows; reflecting on what worked well, and what did not. What are the accomplishments of the last year, and how can remaining goals be achieved in the next? For Virginia Wine, this year was one for the record books. In 2014, Virginia was praised by Food & Wine Magazine’s Ray Isle, explored by celebrity chef Jose Andres, and the focus of the entire travel section of The Washington Post. But that was just the beginning.IMG_20141021_090853

With more than 20 wineries added to the roster this year, Virginia isgetting noticed; both as a wine destination, and as a new challenger in the ring with the world’s best wines. But how do we capitalize on this momentum? How do we make sure Virginia’s wines out-compete the best from other “lesser-known” regions, like New York and Texas, to claim coveted spots on restaurant wine lists and in online shopping carts across the country? At this year’s Virginia Wine Summit, marketing was a pervasive element of larger conversations about what is working well, and what isn’t. The topic of marketing permeated discussions on expanding grape production, industry best practices, and the branding of Virginia wine.

If you missed the Summit, or are looking for a refresher going into 2015, here are my top five marketing insights from this year’s event:

  1. Winemakers and winery owners need to tell their story.

It’s clear that winemakers and winery owners play a critical role in wine marketing; each one has a unique story to tell, and if you package it properly, it will sell. Customers engage in more than just the wine; they want to understand the back story, get increased access that others don’t, and feel like they’re a part of the inner circle (hello, Social Media!).

  1. PR is worth its weight in gold.

People are tapping into new wine regions and intel every day, and interested imbibers are willing to pay for shipping just to try the hot new recommended wines. Get your wines into print (or video) and you will attract new brand ambassadors and fans. Done and done.

  1. Virginia doesn’t need a signature grape, it needs to keep doing what it’s good at.

There’s been a lot of talk about Viognier ever since the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office designed a marketing campaign promoting “Virginia’s Signature Grape.” There’s no question that Virginia produces a number of excellent Viogniers and that this grape is wrapped in an extra layer of intrigue because it’s not particularly well known among casual wine consumers.

The overall consensus at the Summit, however, was that Virginia is tapping into a number of interesting grape varieties, and stands to benefit from such exploration, building a diverse portfolio of spectacular wines rather than demonstrating a range in quality for one particular grape. Instead of honing in on one grape variety to create its signature character, winemakers are growing what works well for them, including Petit Manseng, Tannat, Petit Verdot, and even Albariño. Virginia will build its reputation for quality on many different grape varietals, so from a marketing perspective, sing the praises of what you’re good at, whether or not it’s Viognier.

  1. If you’re not on Social Media, you’re missing out.

Social is as social does. Let’s face it: social media has changed the way we do business, and that includes the wine industry. Customers expect to reach the brands they like and support when it’s convenient for them, whether voicing a complaint, asking a question, or providing positive feedback. It’s critical to be where your customers are in order to listen, interact, and learn from them. An incredible 65% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on feedback from their peers on social media, and 77% of consumers in a recent Forbes study said they are more likely to buy a product from a brand that is active on social media.

With social staples like DrinkWhatULike’s Virginia Wine Chat on Twitter, and VirginiaWine.org’s Virginia Wine Month, it can be hard to know where to spend your time, but with 82% of consumers indicating they gravitate to businesses that are active on social media, you simply cannot afford to be absent.

  1. If you build it, they will come (your brand, that is).

Here’s the catch: your brand isn’t going to build itself. And as much as you might like to lean on the Virginia wine brand built by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office and VirginiaWine.Org, your brand needs to be separate and distinct, because you need to tell your story (did you read #1?).

Think of one product or company you really love. Now think about their color scheme, logo, style, and what they stand for. Did they have to tell you these things directly? Most likely not. That’s called branding, and a strong brand will confirm your credibility, connect your target audiences on an emotional level, inspire loyalty, and motivate them to buy from you. But it won’t build itself. The battle for imbibers in the Virginia Wine industry is growing stronger every day, and a strong brand will help you connect with them and make you memorable.

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So there you have it! The Virginia wine industry had a year that would make Jefferson proud. Here’s to tremendous success, both present and future. Cheers!

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