Expert Tips for Promoting Your Brand

You can make the best wine in the world, but if you do nothing to promote it, you’ll just have a cellar full of unconsumed wine.

They’re the questions all wineries with an eye on attracting consumers to their brand must ask: “How do we promote ourselves? Do we use a firm, in-house employees, or some combination? What is working, and when is it time to try a new strategy?”

Vintner Magazine turned to its expert panel for tips and strategies about marketing and public relations. Keep reading to learn how Stoller Wine Group, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Gervasi Vineyard and William Chris Wine Company have established, maintained and evolved their marketing strategies.

In-House or Outsourced?

At Stoller Wine Group — which includes five brands— all marketing is handled in-house. 

Lindsey Morse, vice president of marketing for the Dayton, Oregon-based company, said that arrangement benefits the team because it means they can be right in the action, whether that is in the vineyard, the winery, or the tasting room. 

“Wine is all about stories, people, and place; being on-site allows us to tell these stories in an authentic, meaningful way to the consumer,” Morse said. “We can get real-time feedback on video content, photography, or promotional materials to improve our communication and messaging. A brand will naturally reveal the best version itself over time; all you need to do is be present and listen.”

Andrea Hartman, director of marketing for Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Ohio, said having an in-house marketing department helped the company with operations that include a winery, distillery, brewery, bars, restaurants, a hotel and wedding venue all located on a 55-acre property control its message more effectively.

“Sometimes the message can get diluted with an outside company. We are also able to produce materials in a timely manner,” Hartman said. “Our company is so large as a whole that it just made sense to handle our marketing and public relations internally. 

“Again, there are so many sectors to Gervasi Vineyard that one specific company could not handle the various outlets Gervasi has. Having our own marketing department has been very successful to the overall brand.”

In Hye, Texas, William Chris Wine Company uses a hybrid approach of in-house marketing professionals and contracting with outside public relations and graphic design firms.

“For PR, we work with Giant Noise in Austin, a shop that specializes in the hospitality industry. We’re in great company alongside the brands on their client roster,” Chief Marketing Officer Leah Derton said. “For graphic design, we rely heavily on Canales & Co., also out of Austin. Jose Canales and his team have been instrumental in the evolution of our visual brand identity, with several additional projects together on the horizon.” 

Derton said it was important to have “at least a few marketing folks in-house who wake up every day focused only on your brand and company’s success.”

“In an industry like ours, it’s pretty critical that your marketing team understands the customer experience end-to-end,” she explained. “Being an impactful marketer starts with knowing and appreciating where the customer is coming from, and my team gets that.”

Marketing Multiple Brands

As previously mentioned, Stoller Wine Group’s portfolio includes five individual brands: Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem, Chemistry, History, and Canned Oregon.

Ensuring each brand stands on its own creates a challenge for the Stoller marketing team, which Morse said also must work to make sure Stoller Wine Group makes an impact as a brand family.

“It really is like a family, where each member has a unique personality and reason for being, but taken as a whole, our wines tell the story of Oregon,” she said. “To create integrated campaigns across sales, DTC, eComm, PR, partnerships, and events, the marketing department uses cross-departmental thematic calendars for each brand as well as the group. 

“This ensures that our promotions, campaigns, and communications are consistent across each channel and work together in lockstep.”

Building your Team and Strategy

Gervasi said they have worked to build a solid marketing team.

Their department consists of a Brand Manager, Marketing Director, Webmaster, and a Marketing and Design Specialist. 

“We create our marketing plan and budget on a calendar year to make sure we adhere to our goals and budgetary goals throughout the year,” Hartman said. “Over the years, building up our team and department has assisted with the overall goals and strategies of Gervasi Vineyard.”

Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Oregon, said the company had recently moved everything back in-house after outsourcing some of its media outreach duties to PR and marketing firms.

He called marketing “a whole company effort.”

“Over these 40 years, we have learned our customers, prospective customers and related industry stakeholders really define one’s brand based upon a variety of information not all intentionally produced internally by the company,” Bernau said. “The most critical elements of brand positioning are the brand promises made or implied and how all company representations and actions line up with integrity — especially price to quality.”

Bernau also said it was a mistake to silo one’s marketing efforts in a company.

“The most impactful marketeers are the company’s front line representatives like tasting room employees,” he said. “Company-wide training and follow-up with employees is among the most fruitful marketing activities, given nearly everyone has an electronic social network.”

Using Outside Help Effectively

Stoller’s VP of marketing said that while they kept their marketing operations in-house, there were times that using outside help made sense.

“There are occasions when an outsider’s perspective is incredibly beneficial. Like all industries, those of us in wine can get tunnel vision or fall into the trap of ‘that’s how it’s always been done,’” Morse said. “I like to bring in agency support when I know we need to think outside the box and be challenged to find solutions in a new way. 

“I look for partners who understand wine and beverage but have significant experience outside wine in areas like outdoors and fashion. I think it’s important to learn best practices from other industries. That’s how you keep things fresh.”

At William Chris Wine Company, Brundrett said having a PR company that understands the wine industry had given them a boost with media coverage.

“Giant Noise has been a huge advocate for not only our company but also for the Texas wine industry,” Brundrett said. “We’re thankful to have had them in our corner for years now. 

“From a more practical standpoint, obviously they’ve got an incredible network of both media and industry contacts, which helps us create PR momentum much more quickly than we could on our own.”

Bernau said for Willamette Valley Vineyards, a combination of internal and contracted external expertise had worked best for them because the PR professionals often have close ties with news outlets where earned media can be generated.

He also cautioned against jettisoning your PR firm too abruptly when shifting over to in-house operations

“A lesson we recently learned again is the value of outsourcing. It was a mistake for the company to assume our new marketing hire would be an adequate substitute for our long time contractor,” he said. “It wasn’t just the loss of the media relationships but also the knowledge of what worked as news hooks relevant to those contacts that could lead to earned media coverage.”

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