Image via WikipediaThe 4th Annual License to Steal national wine marketing conference was held earlier this week in Geneva, the capital of Ohio’s Wine Country. More than 120 representatives of wineries and the wine industry gathered to steal ideas, network and sharpen their marketing skills.
Many insights were prompted, the primary one being it's nice to uncork a bottle and savor a glass of great wine without worries of harvesting grapes, marketing product, vineyard management, upkeep of the winery and tasting room and on and on. I’m in this game for the enjoyment, new experiences and friendships sparked by the fruit of the vine. A winemaker can labor years to produce a vintage only to to have hopes dashed by the flick of a pen (or a few clicks of the keyboard).
The conference, organized by the wine marketing offices in Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, featured an array of great speakers and sessions. The “steal” sessions are priceless for the wine professionals – in these open mic sharing segments an endless stream of great suggestions were aired. Some of the great ideas were an adult Easter egg hunt, charging customers to help harvest grapes (and making it a special event) and having wine quizzes with prizes via Twitter. You could see the light bulbs go off as ideas were shared from the the vineyards of Maryland all the way to Idaho.
My first session featured wine free lancers Laura Taxel, Yvonne Horn and Jenny Pavlesek (each with impressive credentials).
One of the first things I was told when I began my career as a newspaper reporter is that every story needs a hook. The panelists agree – saying that simply existing isn’t a basis for a winery story. Yvonne also commented that there are some terrible winery Web sites out there. Absolutely!
Wineries have a burgeoning desire to connect with customers electronically and via social media -- most (but not all) winery owners feel inadequate in this area.
Wines from Ohio and Michigan (and certainly the Finger Lakes) are almost mainstream compared to those from the fledgling wine industries in places like Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa (all of which were present at the conference).
If wineries fall short in the area of tasting room hospitality or the winery visit experience, it isn’t because of a lack of knowledge. It’s out there. Wine consultant Patty Held of Missouri offers a “secret shopper” service to wineries. She will surreptitiously visit a winery and provide a detailed evaluation on everything from the condition of the parking lot to how often the tasting room employees smile.
Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, also is planning to launch a similar program in Ohio where volunteers visit wineries during wine trail events and provide candid feedback via a survey. The feedback can then be channeled back to the wineries. (Donni is a real promotional whirlwind working on behalf of Ohio wineries!)
Here’s one suggestion: Giving visitors wine in a plastic cup is ridiculous – something that happened to me more than once during my last wine trail visit. In one location I received my wine tastes in tiny plastic shot glasses. It’s hard to take the “winery” seriously if they show no respect to the wine.
Perhaps the most engaging presentation I saw came from Joe Pulizzi, author of “Get Content, Get Customers.” His message: You have to become the media. Advertising is a luxury, but content is survival. He said providing compelling content to customers on a consistent basis is the way to get them involved in your brand.
Here’s a link to Joe’s blog where you can view his PowerPoint presentation. Fascinating stuff.
At the conference I had the chance to visit with some old friends and make some new ones. As a result, I’ll be on the road soon to visit some more Ohio wineries and provide reports.
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