Wine doesn’t sell itself. Storytelling sells wine. If you believe this statement please read on.
15 years ago, high-quality premium wines may have sold themselves, but no more. Too much competition in most wine regions, along with years of experience and technology has leveled the playing field. Enter Wine Influencers. Have they become modern-day storytellers? It sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
So, can so-called “Influencers” help you sell wine? The short and controversial answer is – it depends. It depends on your brand, messaging, and target audience. But, with the predominance (love it or not) of social media and changing consumer preferences, it may be worth considering influencer social media as part of your marketing mix. This largely depends on your willingness to innovate, as some wineries did with social media 10 to 15 years ago. Generally speaking, I still think we’re in the early stages of influencer marketing, and wineries are not doing a good job of understanding or leveraging this channel. I remain unconvinced at this point, but not willing to discount influencers entirely, yet. I would ignore the noise you may be hearing and decide for yourself. Experimenting with individual content creators on a one-off basis or as opportunities arise is one approach, and doing pilot projects as proof of concept to show results is a good way to test your strategy.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we communicate and market wine. So why not consider influencers as a way to reach new audiences? Zoom and Instagram Live became the go-to communications vehicles for virtual tastings in 2020 (consumer, media, and trade), and they are not going away. Influencers may become future spokespersons for smaller brands seeking to build a larger presence. In theory, small wineries can adapt and be more nimble than large brands as technology and consumer marketing evolves. As always, knowing your brand points of difference, and having consistent messaging is the best way to stand out.
The importance of evaluating Influencers
Influencer marketing was trending back in 2019 and is still evolving. There is apparently a lot of money to be made selling “Likes” and touting products. Time will tell how to value this and if it persists. You don’t judge a book by its cover, right? Nor should you judge a content creator by her or his headshot and Instagram feed. The big issue is authenticity, in the sense that you’re paying to play with an individual or agency that does influencer marketing for you – that is generating content in hopes that their followers will buy your wines. Consumers understand this. In some cases, and especially with beverage-interested consumers, influencer marketing can help you gain brand visibility, grow followers and subscribers who will eventually consider a purchase, when they are ready.
Evaluate their consumer’s Interests and Engagement. This matters more than the size of the audience, as with most social media outlets. Quantity matters, somewhat, but quality is most important, and that you are engaging with the correct viewership. It’s not always easy to determine who is legitimate versus those only looking for free wine and access. It’s important to do your own research, vetting, talking by phone, obtaining a media kit with stats, analytics and referrals. Small wineries won’t have the budget to engage influencers with big numbers, but lots of micro-influencers exist that are worth pursuing. I recommend small businesses stick with local & regional influencers. Wine-specific influencers are not as common as lifestyle and travel, so don’t limit yourselves to wine only. In fact, the travel industry is currently leading hospitality marketing trends.
How can Influencers help you sell wine?
Similar to submitting wine for review, it’s up to wineries to close sales, not necessarily the reviewers or influencers. Wineries need to use all “influence” – whether an article, score, wine review, or influencer recommendation – as endorsements in their content marketing. While certain consumer product commodities like clothing and shoes and maybe jewelry, have a higher rate of influencer-caused sales, the goal for wineries would be to drive their visitors’ traffic to the tasting room or website where the winery is now in a position to engage and hopefully sell wine. At the very least, you are reaching outside of the wine-interested world into new communities in hopes of creating new fans and followers. It is hard to imagine influencer marketing as a significant sales channel for most small wineries. Rather, it is an additional avenue to pursue that might result in finding new audiences and wider brand exposure.
What types of creative campaigns are wineries doing with Influencers?
Experience-based marketing makes the most sense and ties into your stories and messaging, especially if you build the context around wine lovers and wine lifestyle. Instagram seems to be a good place to find image-based influencers. The same goes for YouTube as a video platform. Using all the usual Instagram specific hashtags such as – #winestagram, #instawine, #winelife, #winelover, #winetime – will help identify those lifestyle influencers who are most active; and #wine, winery, #vineyard, #wineeducation, #winetasting will point to those most wine serious and relevant. Instagram Live works well for brand building and finding new followers, less so for wine sales.
“Co-hosting” Zoom tastings can be very effective if you are working with the right influencers, have detailed agreements in place, and plan for consumer sales promotions. Having plenty of lead time allows you to market to your lists and on social media. Also, offering sampler kits (if you can get small bottles!) and shipping promotions helps. Plan on $5/bottle COGS for shipping costs, and I recommend incorporating that cost into your promotions, rather than discounting the wines.
Disclosures and Caveats
Because influencer marketing is largely pay-to-play, full disclosure by the influencer partner is a must. Consumers are pretty savvy these days and know “advertorial” when they see it. This is the same for reviewers who accept samples and who are required to note that samples were accepted. Failure to disclose risks loss of credibility, because in the end, we live in a completely transparent world.
Carl Giavanti is a winery publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He also writes a wine industry blog and interviews wine personalities. His consulting focus is Winery PR & Media communications and its relevance to consumer direct marketing. While many PR firms serve large corporate entities across multiple industries, Carl works exclusively with small production, family-run wineries, who he believes have the best stories, but least visibility in a crowded marketplace.
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