Businesses need a blog. Or so they think. And a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and a LinkedIn profile. Build it and they will come. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Many wineries and wine retailers have set up a blog, Facebook page, and the rest, only to find that it’s very time consuming and hasn’t attracted many visitors – other than friends or family. As a result, the digital communications strategy gets largely left on the sidelines, blogs are neglected, and momentum is lost.
The purpose of a blog, and the social media that accompanies it, is part of a discipline known as ‘inbound marketing’, and it isn’t a commitment to be taken lightly. While many small retailers and wineries don’t have the time to spend on this strategy, the increased frequency of job advertisements for digital and content directors at larger wine retailers in the past year suggests that there is a growing realisation that digital marketing and sales require commitment.
So why do it? The major reason is that new digital and content tools give producers a low-cost way to get their message out, and control that message, in an age where there are fewer wine writers and wine publications but more competition.
What it is
‘Inbound marketing’ is a term used by David Halligan, CEO of internet marketing company HubSpot. He defined inbound as “an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful – not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media – unlike outbound marketing, which fights for their attention. By creating content designed to address the problems and needs of your ideal customers, inbound marketing attracts qualified prospects and builds trust and credibility for your business.”
In other words, it’s a marketing discipline that encourages companies to use self-publishing tools such as blogs, social media sites, and search engine optimisation (SEO) to attract potential customers, rather than going out and trying to do the hard sell with cold calls or adverts. A subset of inbound marketing is known as ‘content marketing’, which creates content that will be useful for a potential or existing customer and which could thereby turn into a sales opportunity or cement loyalty to the brand. In other words, customer-centric marketing.
Michael Meisner, director of marketing at Last Bottle Wines, a high-end wine daily deal site based in California, advises: “Think beyond yourself. It’s not about your wine, it’s about sharing the context, or educating people in a broader sense, like La Crema – they publish lots of recipes to pair with wines. They get it.” He also uses the example of Red Cap Vineyards, a small label on Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. “Ex-Silicon Valley guy Michael Nguyen wanted to get into wine and asked them [Red Cap] if he could do their social media. He has built their brand through Instagram.” The results? Before Nguyen came along the brand was little known, but the loyal online following created by Nguyen means the wines are often sold out.
Inbound marketing attracts customers through keywords, blogs, and social media, encouraging them to visit the winery website. Content should be dictated by the profile customer base. If an Old World-wine retailer’s customers are mainly male professionals, aged between 50 and 60, who play golf at the weekends, there would be little point in writing a blog about Moscato cocktails or producing a ‘what should I drink tonight’ infographic.
In addition, it’s important to know where customers spend their time online, which comes from knowing who the target customer is. For example, nine out of 10 Instagram users are aged under 35, so companies with older clients might be better off targeting other social networks such as Facebook. Bryn Snelson, managing director of digital acquisition for the UK-based retailer Majestic Wines explains: “We have an amazing asset of customer data on 90% of our transactions going back 30 years. We use this to tailor all our communications.” For those who don’t have such data, customer surveys – of both regular and irregular customers – can be a way of uncovering the consumer’s profile.
Companies who don’t have a clear idea of who their customer is, or who don’t have the opportunity to survey people, can choose a different tack. HubSpot and other digital marketers recommend creating ‘buying personas’ – fictional representations of the ideal customer. What are their tastes, their budgets, their buying habits? Once the buying persona has been created, marketing communications should be directed at that person. The communication strategy can be tweaked in light of real customer interactions.
After converting a lead into a customer, it’s essential to ensure they are happy with the wine and follow up service to keep them coming back – and encourage others to try out the product.
Quantifying the return on investment (ROI) with inbound marketing is not as simple as with direct-selling techniques, which measure response rates. Even social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk agrees that quantifying the sales results from social media activity can be difficult to assess. In his YouTube video, ‘What’s the ROI of your mother?’ he recounts meeting a senior executive who grilled him on the ROI of social media. After he cited the multitude of metrics and engagement rates and other data available to measure social media engagement, she continued to pester him about the ROI. “What,” he asked her, “is the ROI of your mother?” His point? “The ROI of my mother is everything. The reason I’m buying a multi-million dollar sports franchise is because of my mother.” He then recounts the ways his mother’s love led to his success. “I can’t show you in data the ROI of my mother, but I promise you, it is all of it.”
What is possible, however, is the ability to track site visits, clicks, likes, shares, and other engagement, thanks to free analytic tools. “The more we engage digitally, the more our brand awareness grows – especially on mobile platforms,” reports Caroline Shaw, executive vice president and chief communications and marketing officer for Jackson Family Wines. “Social media offers an opportunity to target our media buys to individuals who are wine drinkers, which is an ROI in and of itself. We also find with a robust website our ecommerce has increased dramatically.”
A unified digital strategy is now an important marketing tool. Inbound and content marketing offer a way to identify the customer and engage with them personally – and keep them coming back.
Rebecca Gibb MW
Inbound versus content marketing
These two terms cover very similar activities, as Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute has admitted, but professionals define the two separately. Inbound marketing is more focused on generating leads, and is more heavily reliant on data. In other words, a sophisticated inbound marketing strategy will involve targeting and focusing on leads in ways that ensure that sales staff are dealing with people who have a high likelihood of buying. Content marketing creates and distributes valuable or entertaining information to attract and retain an audience.
The rules of inbound marketing:
1) ‘Viral content’ that is interesting enough to be shared is essential to any good inbound marketing campaign. Achieving this is not simple, and requires images and words that capture the attention and imagination of your target audience. Bear in mind that attention spans are notoriously short nowadays, especially among younger internet browsers, so brevity and relevance are essential.
Production values are important. You are almost certainly competing with companies with very deep pockets, so an amateurishly produced ebook, for example, will not help you very much. Images also need to be professional and eye-catching.
2) SEO – search engine optimisation – is crucial. The popular movie Field of Dreams may have popularised the idea that ‘if you build it they will come’, but in the real world that’s not the case. You need to ensure that anyone looking for anything that resembles the product or service you are offering will come to your site first.
3) Effort devoted to promoting your site and your products on social media will pay off – providing you promote it in the right way and on the right social media for your business and your target market. Among the ways that are known to work are through having a presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, and especially YouTube.
If your consumers use Snapchat, that is where you need to be; if LinkedIn is their natural playground, that should be your focus. If they use both, you need to understand how to exploit the potential of these very different platforms. Similarly, Instagram – arguably the most important platform for marketers today – requires its own expertise and commitment. (Irregular posting is a no-no.) Whatever the platform, however, you should not be ‘selling’ your wares; you need to establish a personality that users are happy to engage with.
This is an extract from a longer article that ran in Issue 3, 2017 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available by subscription.