Once upon a time, back before social media and broadband internet access, growing sales for your winery was much like growing the grapes themselves. It could take years of careful planning for your business to bear fruit. Clinching deals with distributors and being lucky enough to have people actually want to come visit your winery were cause for celebration.
But now, everything moves faster. Winery businesses unable to carve out their niche can quickly wither and die. However, those able to cultivate a positive online reputation can see their brand grow bountifully. Through clever winery marketing strategies, solid branding, and continual attention to your role in online conversations, your winery can find substantial growth and success.
The fact is that while competition is more abundant than ever, so are opportunities. The number of wineries in the U.S. quadrupled from 2002 to 2012, and premium wine segments have been seeing double digit growth in the past few years.
Many factors have contributed to this flourishing of winery businesses, but online visibility and reputation management for vineyards has played a huge part.
So what can your winery do to find its way into millions of glasses rather than die on the vine? Carefully controlling your online reputation like you would the fermentation of a rare vintage is key. Here are 11 critical strategies you can use to increase your chances of success.
1. Be a Destination
A winery is not just a place to grow grapes. It’s a vision of what the world should be like. If you aren’t sure what we mean, then think about the amount of people who come to visit and say, “I would give anything to live here like you do.”
That’s because wineries take us out of the rigors of our daily lives and introduce us to aspects of life we aren’t accustomed to seeing. Unobstructed views. Rolling hills of green. Nature and humans intermingling together. Life at a different pace.
These qualities are all what most people really go to a winery to experience. The fruity or dry vintages are just a nice way to top it all off.
To help your own reputation, pay close attention to how well your facilities capture this sense of peacefulness and magic. Try to evoke a simpler time in your architecture, and make nature the showcase of your grounds. If you want a more modern or industrial take for your vineyard, be deliberately artistic with this interpretation.
You can also create standout areas for your guests to gush over, such as a butterfly garden or a decorative pond with tranquil seating. Specified areas for dogs and young kids are especially popular.
The end goal is for every angle of your facility to be extremely photogenic. This will help sell visits to your winery through social media and on review sites. It will also encourage visitors to photograph themselves and share their experience with their friends.
Remember that going viral is a grassroots effort people see something they can’t help but share and that others want to experience for themselves. Even if your aim is to earn more sales through distribution, branding your headquarters can still affect how positively people see your brand and how readily they recognize it. Who can think of Disney now without thinking of Disneyworld?
2. Make Your Wine Stand Out
Wine should be like a good character in a movie — you want to be able to pick it out of the lineup.
Beermakers have the advantage in this sense in that they can introduce all sorts of crazy things during the brewing process, whereas wineries generally approach winemaking from a traditionalist point of view.
This is ok! What makes your wine unique doesn’t necessarily have to do with its flavor. It can be a unique design motif that appears on all your bottles. It could be that your grapes are grown in compost created 100% from recycled food scraps of regional restaurants. It could be that you classify all of your products as great culinary wines that pair well with particular ethnic cuisines.
As long as your wines have some sort of defining characteristic, people will remember them. They will also have a focalizing point in conversations, such as, “Oh, you mean the guys who use food scraps, right?”
Being distinguishable aids your brand’s efforts at getting awareness and recognition online while helping you own a particular niche of the market. Be bold, not subtle, and you will gain momentum for spreading your reputation online. This will help you earn winery visits, but it will especially help when people make choices at the store or at their local bar/restaurant.
3. Offer Unparalleled Customer Experiences
Having a solid reputation is as much about what you don’t do wrong as it is about what you do right.
Case in point: just one bad customer experience is enough to make your winery go viral for all the wrong reasons.
On the other hand, consistently positive reviews can strengthen your reputation and differentiate you from competitors, such as wineries located in the same area as you.
Remember that online reviews count for a lot, too. Over half of people consult reviews “always” or “often.” Also, more people trust online reviews as their most trusted source of information — even more than friends, family or colleagues.
Every review counts, and therefore every experience counts. Drill home the importance of consistent customer service to every member of your staff, and explain the need not to let small setbacks get in the way of their ability to deliver an outstanding experience every time. Dictate strict quality control throughout every part of the winemaking process, as well.
Define policies for moments when a disagreement or guest concern arises, and keep a professional face even if you have to say “no” to a request repeatedly. There’s a reason Disney World calls their workers “cast members.” They have a role to play, and breaking character is verboten — even in the event you have to ask someone (politely yet firmly) to leave.
4. Take Every Customer Complaint Seriously
Vamping off the previous point, there will be moments where your best efforts still go sour. You can’t please everyone, after all, and misunderstandings do happen.
In these instances, don’t go on the defensive. Instead, determine what the guest needs to feel like their issue was resolved. In most cases, the damage done to their experience has become emotional rather than some sort of objective concern. You will have to express that you do care about each guest and that their concerns are valid. Explain that you want nothing more than them to come back and see what your winery is really capable of.
Avoid disagreeing with their take or making excuses for what happened, lest the encounter devolve into “he said, she said.” The only exception is if you have a firm policy in place, which should have been clearly expressed to them at the time in the first place.
For people being truly unreasonable and whom you can’t console, you do have the option to have certain reviews removed. Contact the review site directly, and use as much concrete information as possible to back up your side of the story. Try as hard as you can, because each one-star or negative review is like a teaspoon of poison in the well.
You can look for other strategies for dealing with negative reviewers in this excellent OPEN Forum post.
5. Treat Online Reviews and Social Mentions as Valuable Data
Still on the subject of online reviews, you should consider them one of your most valuable sources of public feedback. Take the time to create notes based on common recurring positives and negatives you hear.
Important data points to consider are:
Praise for specific facility features.
Things guests wish you had.
Differences between local, regional and out-of-state reviews.
Mentions of specific events or limited-time product releases.
Descriptions of rude workers or of workers who were particularly helpful.
You don’t have to rely just on specific ratings-based reviews, either. Social listening tools can let you monitor mentions of your company name, your products, or your regional industry niche, such as the phrase “wineries near Sacramento.”
Compile all of this information into a document, and decide ways to act upon it when forming your quarterly or yearly marketing strategies.
For reviews of your products, don’t take them personally. Everyone has different tastes; your sales figures tell the real story.
6. Work With Others in the Community to Create Can’t-Miss Events
A great way to boost your reputation and generate considerable buzz is through an event at your winery or in your local area. The best events involve a collaboration with people in your local or industry community. Invite a locally famous band, or invite a restaurant out to run a pop-up catering event on your winery grounds.
You can also invite industry experts to give lectures or instructions on skills like wine tasting technique. These events can excite enthusiasts and possibly even draw others in your industry out, such as distribution reps or staff from other wineries.
Collaborating in this way effectively doubles your audience by marrying your existing influence base to whomever you happen to collaborate with. You also give people double the reason to come visit, and FOMO (fear of missing out) has become one of the strongest draws for people seeking to do something different during their week.
7. Use Smart PR Strategy to Evolve Your Brand by Giving Back
We hope this doesn’t come across as cynical because it decidedly isn’t. The fact is that charitable giving not only strengthens the image of your brand from multiple angles, but it also helps balance out your priorities as a business owner or marketing manager.
If you’re throwing fundraisers for local animal shelters or organizing a 5k for needy kids, then you end up focusing on more than just your bottom line. Instead, you’re meaningfully making your community a better place. You also help support causes you’re passionate about by synergistically combining them with your operations.
Charity-related events also bring coverage outside the standard social media post or “Events Around Town” mention. You could earn coverage from local news affiliates, a statement of appreciation from the causes you support, or a profile in industry publications.
To maximize attendance to these events and the awareness they generate, release a PR statement both before and after to relevant newswires. These releases provide significant exposure potential for SEO and help color your reputation when people search for your brand name online.
8. Make Every Piece of Content Picture Perfect
The biggest difference the internet made for winery marketing wasn’t search engines or review sites. It was content.
Just about everything accessible online is either content or a link to content. Heck, most blog articles these days are just sharing tweets the author found.
If you’ll notice above, a lot of the advice we’ve offered thus far has to do with shaping the content others post about your business. We advise making your winery more “Instagrammable,” providing conditions that lead to good reviews, tips for making your brand more identifiable, and so on.
The good news is that you can post content of your own that you don’t have to shape or guide indirectly. Instead, you get to pick what’s said about your brand.
That’s why getting content right is critical — both from a visual and language perspective. Everything you write should be professional and in line with your desired brand image.
If possible, try to work in your winery’s most defining characteristics within the words you choose for your blogs, web pages, social posts, and such. For example, instead of just writing about “Things to Do This Spring” and mentioning an event you’re hosting, open up with how important nature and sunshine are to the quality of your wines.
More importantly, try to provide a visual element to everything you post. Visual posts, like photos and videos, made up 80% of all Facebook content in 2016 and earned 92% of the share of all interactions. Visuals get people engaged, and they can shape the image of your brand as much as, if not more, than the text you use.
Smart use of visual content can be especially effective if you want to establish a particular connection to your brand. Announce a summer wine with an image of people picnicking, or a wine with strong berry notes surrounded by fresh fruit. Associations like these are easy to forge and hard to shake.
9. Keep the Conversation Flowing Online
Chatting with people at your winery is one of the best ways to make a solid impression, but you don’t have to be there in person to make these magical conversations happen. Instead, keep a watchful eye on engagement with your social pages or branded mentions people have. Take the time to thank at least a few people every week. Address others’ concerns and questions. Leave a comment at an event you attended saying, “Thank you! We had a great time!”
Actions like these spread your footprints around while making your brand appear more human. Both are essential to improving brand recognition and recall.
10. Develop Relationships With Others in Your Industry
Remember that wineries aren’t just marketing to consumers. You also have to woo distributors, grocery chains, restaurateurs, journalists, trade associations and others.
You can use most of the tactics above with some slight adjustments to win hearts and minds. Reaching out directly is even more important.
For instance, you can attend meetings for trade associations. Or, you could invite local chefs out for a special catered dinner at your vineyard.
Once you have a relationship with others in your industry, you can leverage them to expand your visibility online. Just imagine having a prix fixe dinner at a local culinary hotspot where each course is paired with one of your wines. Or, what if a chain like Safeway had a special on all your wines that they advertised online and in their local mailers?
Occurrences like these don’t just happen by accident. They are the result of hard work, attention to detail, and a commitment to making friends who can be in your corner when you want to seize business opportunities.
11. Ensure Your Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Branding, and PR Strategies Are All Aligned
Developing a positive online reputation for your winery is a team effort. We aren’t just talking about the people you work with! “Team” also refers to how your various marketing and business components work together to establish a visible, definable, and positive reputation for your business online.
As an example, if your winery has family-friendly facilities, why not extend that aspect of your other marketing assets?
- Business Blog: Write about fun things to do in your region with young kids.
- Distributor and Retailer Collateral: Use images of families enjoying themselves while the parents sip wine.
- Social Media: Highlight can’t-miss events for families coming up, such as a special kids’ screening of an animated classic.
- Website: Talk about how your staff and owners are all a part of the same family.
Consistency is key! Each interaction can reinforce the next, like mosaic tiles creating a picture of your brand reputation that is impossible to miss for people browsing online.