Written by

Jill Barth


August 9, 2020

Our top 5 takes from a live and lively conversation in Summer 2020 with Amber LeBeau, Justin Noland, and Shem Swerkes.

Last week the Outshinery team hosted a bold, live talk on Zoom:

The State of now in the wine industry

Identifying silver linings and the powerful shifts they facilitate.

It may be unexpected, but the state of NOW in the wine industry is actually filled with silver linings. Wineries are finally adapting to tools and tech to improve the customer experience. Months into a period of disruption, unrest, and uncertainty around the world, the wine industry is starting to learn from forced change delivered at unprecedented speed.

It led us to wonder? Is this new era the industry’s most consumer-centric phase?

So we asked three well-respected (and frank!) experts to share their perspective on this long overdue shift, and provide insight on taking advantage of lessons for your brand. Hear from Amber, Justin, and Shem (moderated by our own star, Keltie). If you don’t know this panel yet, here’s a brief intro:

Amber LeBeau

Amber LeBeau is the founder of Virtual Wine Events and the author of SpitBucket blog.

Justin Noland

Justin Noland is the vice president of marketing and DtC at Goldline Brands and co-host of the podcast Libation Domination.

Shem Swerkes

Shem Swerkes is the director of digital marketing and ecommerce at Goldline Brands and the other co-host of the podcast Libation Domination.

What did they have to say? Wine marketing has got to be focused on what the consumer wants and needs. To quote Amber: “Nobody wants to be ‘sold’ now.” I listened closely (and took ten pages of notes) and then got together with the rest of the Outshinery team to chat.

Here are our top 5 takeaways, which your winery can consider today. There’s no time like NOW.

Want the replay? Get it here.

1. Wine marketing no longer has to be like a “bad first date.”

This quote comes from Justin, and he made the point that wine brands often spend bandwidth talking about themselves, rather than demonstrating how much thought they’ve put into the customer. This theme popped up throughout the whole conversation, with every panelist insisting that brands must engage with people and build relationships.

This actually isn’t new, but according to Justin, the urge for connection has “crystalized” over the past few months and the brands (in any industry) that are motivated by one-on-one connection with the actual people that buy their products are the ones that will thrive in today’s highly digital environment.

Shem reminds us that this approach is a “long play, not a direct correlation to a sale” and that putting “profit over people” is “irresponsible.” Amber reflected on a grim prediction for companies that aren’t willing to respond to customers on social or wherever there’s potential for touchpoints: Starting now, “people are going to be even more willing to drop brands that don’t engage”. She resurfaced the dating theme,  saying that that ghosting an engaged customer is like a “one night stand.” Not good.

Practical advice: Comb through your social channels and be certain that you’ve commented and liked every tag related to your brand. Be friendly and appreciative and make a connection.







2. Video is your “silent salesperson.”

This quote came from Amber and she makes an excellent point. Think about how the Sopranos would sit around and eat and drink on the show. Inevitably, someone would have a can of Coke or a bottle of Ruffino (or an unexpected surprise of a bottle of Segura Viudas Cava).

Tinder Nightmare

In the advertising world, that’s called product placement. While wineries like yours are undoubtedly making video with intent of selling wine, there are pages from the ad world’s book to consider.

There’s a great example of this in the replay when Shem tips a bottle of 1850. He doesn’t say a word about the wine, but everyone watching knows what it is at a glance. (For more on how visuals influence split-section decision-making, check this out.)

Amber says that wineries may need to revamp labels so they are unmistakably clear on video. In a digital world, recognition is about being super memorable on screen, not just on the store shelf.

Practical advice: Critically test out how your labels look on a computer camera view, such as Zoom. Even if you can’t update or change your label, experiment with positioning that shows it off clearly.

3. It’s not about the pandemic, it’s about content that can live infinitely.

This is directly tied to the topic above. Shem pointed out that YouTube is the #2 search engine next to Google, so all of your brand’s videos should be loaded there — with topic-specific titles, captions, and hashtags — so they pop up in search results.

Currently, consumers realize they don’t have to retain every fact about wine in order to be able to enjoy it. Instead they can search up background details in the moment, and your brand could easily be the source for high-quality, entertaining, and reliable information. As Shem says, when preparing a piece of content, “think of all the ways this can be useful down the road.”

Meanwhile, Amber offers a useful idea that doubles the power of your video. She says to “take a cue from the podcast world” and aim to make video content that can rely only on audio and stand alone as a podcast. She suggests inviting other winemakers or a charismatic sommelier to a chat that doesn’t actually depend on a computer screen to make it come to life.

Practical advice: Take time to load all of your virtual event videos onto YouTube, and rather than calling them something vague like “virtual tasting,” find a theme from each that is useful for people whenever they discover it. For example “how to taste wine.”

4. Invest in skill sets, not “unicorns”.

When asked what single tool or tech to invest in right now, Justin hit the nail on the head: invest in people that know how to use technology, particularly data and analytics. Look outside of the wine industry, if you must, or develop current staff on new digital skills. 

He says that he hears people say that they have new ideas but not the time or staff to pull them off. To this he offers some strict advice: Figure out how to do it. He says it’s all about solutions, most of them people-driven, not the easy route.

Practical advice: Ask some of your friends and colleagues about the digitally-focused staff at their workplace. Find out what kinds of data other industries get to “play with” to make the customer experience even better. Most wineries aren’t doing this, so learning what works outside of wine, and then making a commitment to get someone on board to help execute it, will elevate your brand.

5. It’s not what can we get?, but what can we give?

As Amber said, the wine industry’s old marketing playbook was based on impulse spending: someone visits the winery, has an awesome time, and buys wine. Now people are instead searching and spending time comparing not only wine, but all of the other things that money can buy, before making a purchase.

Providing relative content, as mentioned above, is one way to give people something in exchange for their time and, hopefully down the line, money. Amber adds that this is also a way to demonstrate transparency. Digital conversations, through video, virtual tastings, or social media allow for engagement, and back-and-forth authenticity. “Don’t waste that,” says Amber.

The panel also agreed that virtual events shouldn’t just be a mechanism to sell tasting packs,  they should be meaningful to anyone, on the spot, with no wine present. Justin reminds us that any virtual event should be “part of the broader ecosystem of experiences that people will remember.”

Practical advice: Instead of framing up any event (virtual or at the winery, as reopenings emerge) as a simple tasting, think of a topic that is evergreen, such as How to Taste Wine Like a Pro.
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Tech Recs

Audience members had the opportunity to ask questions, and several people wanted suggestions or recommendations. Here they are:

Examples of wineries rocking digital according to panelists:

Empathy Wines
Domaine Jones

Elegant Night Out Collection

Scenes depicting a night out with an elegant and refined mood, dining and drinking with friends or on a date.

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