By Mindy Joyce
The wine industry is highly competitive, with more than 60,000 registered wine labels in California alone. It’s also sizable, with U.S. consumers spending $38 billion on domestic and imported wine annually.
For wine brands, making noise in this cluttered environment is a challenge. No longer can brands afford to be "snooty" when consumer demographics are changing and how people consume media and purchase is rapidly evolving in favor of digital platforms.
There are two demographics that collectively make up 48 percent of sales in the U.S.: “Millennials” (21-37 year olds) and “Gen Y” (38-49 year olds).
Together these two groups make up what I call the “Now Generation,” a collection of savvy online consumers who use the Internet to shop, buy and share -- anywhere, anytime.
Their purchasing power will only continue to grow, making them a significant group for the wine industry’s future. (And most other industries, for that matter.) Successfully connecting with them is the key to success for wine brands.
Here are five digital-minded shifts that wine brands should make to reach this “Now Generation” -- already and influential group of younger wine enthusiasts.
Be memorable. Having a unique -- and even better, fun -- domain name is going to help you stand out in a crowded field of wine brands. While a 'dot-com' (.com) domain has remained the status quo for a few decades, brands now can be more memorable by using innovative and industry-specific extensions such as 'dot-wine' (.wine) and 'dot-vin (.vin).
These new domain options are part of a bigger trend transforming the Internet namespace -- and one that Millennials are drinking up (pun intended). Other industries are getting corresponding domain extensions, too. For instance, the food industry can now boast 'dot-restaurant' (.restaurant) and 'dot-catering' (.catering), while travel has gained 'dot-vacations' (.vacations) and 'dot-cruises' (.cruises).
The latest wine brands and organizations to pioneer the a 'dot-wine' domain include:
Be mobile. The “Now Generation” wants and expects access to information anywhere, any time. Shopping can take place at any time of day and on-demand services are quickly becoming the norm.
Take, for example, the success of brands that started out as apps. Both Uber and HotelTonight launched as apps (versus websites), filling a need that websites and their respective industries couldn’t. Today on-demand services via apps are the norm. For marketers, there are two areas to tackle first before even considering creating your own app.
First, make sure that your site is mobile-responsive. Having a responsive website means it changes accordingly with diverse devices, such as iPhones, Androids and tablets. If your website is not responsive and you have a transaction page where purchases take place online, it should definitely be a priority to upgrade your website to be mobile-responsive -- or reconfigure the functionality of your site and create a mobile site -- or you could be losing business, especially among Millennials.
Second, join conversations already happening on mobile apps with a large number of followers. Recommendation and review apps such as Vivino, a large wine community with 13 million users, offer wine lovers the opportunity to learn about new wines, as well as buy and share reviews. Wineries can claim and manage their wineries on Vivino, essentially a free service allowing wineries to manage their own brands on the platform, while retailers can sell wines via the app or direct consumers to their retail locations.
Be engaging. Create content on your website to keep this digitally savvy audience engaged. Websites that serve a purpose and are educational-yet-fun understand this. For example, La Crema keeps its audience entertained with wine recipes; a "What Wine are You?” quiz; and a “Virtual Vintner” program.
Sites looking beyond simply selling include Club W, where most of the listed wines have accompanying videos with sommeliers describing the wines. It also includes wine recipes on the site.
Think about how your website could be more relevant and engage this younger wine demographic beyond the simple transaction. The easiest way to do this is to host a blog on your website that will spark conversation, drive traffic and keep your brand relevant.
Be top of mind. The continued success mobile applications such as Vivino and Delectable have not only shown us that wine apps serve a functional and relevant role for online consumers, but purchases are inspired by recommendations from friends.
Millennials, especially, are less interested in a critic's point scores and more interested in wines recommended by their friends. Recommendations, reviews and price comparison tools are the staple in other industries (e.g. TripAdvisor) and serve an important role in wine, too.
Inspiring customers to review and rate your wines in wine-specific apps can help you build awareness within their networks of friends and beyond.
Be part of the conversation. There’s a good chance people are already talking about your brand, or varietals in which you specialize, on social media channels. Even the biggest brands with robust social media followings still forget to engage with these people because the conversation doesn’t always happen ontheir Facebook page. Sometimes you need to search and seek it out.
Social media is a critical part in the daily lives of Millennials and those in the Gen Y demographic. It is the best listening tool to see what people are saying about your brand. Successful brands make social media a core part of their marketing strategy and embrace the conversation going on around them. Some even go so far to employ social media when it comes to new product development -- which, in turn, engages and reinforces brand loyalty.
An example of this is Arbor Mist, which has social media fans involved in product development and voting on new flavors. Also, J Winery & Vineyards keeps a steady stream of conversation going with their followers on Twitter -- from asking questions to chatting with bloggers to thanking guests for visiting the tasting room.
I, for one, am always impressed and encouraged to see wineries that respond right away after I Tweet, Facebook or Instagram about my visits.
Mindy Joyce is a marketing consultant based in Napa, Calif. She specializes in brand strategy and marketing for wine, travel and luxury brands. You can reach her at: @Mindyjoyce and Mindy(at)sugarflymarketing.com