Lessons from VinItaly 2015 on how wine brands can better communicate with consumers

Originally published at www.harpers.co.uk on March 30, 2015.

As an ex-advertising executive, I am fascinated with every form of communication about wine.

I watch, observe, think, analyze and often think how differently ads and any communication content should be done. There is one common factor across almost all content from big brands to small brands and it is always about the product. Brands communicate about themselves, praising their own self-image, sharing what score, medal they have won, how good they taste. If you Google “wine advertising”, you will see what I mean. The page is filled with bottles and ads that glorify the product. This says a lot about the current state of wine communications.

Vinitaly 2015

Last week, I talked about advertising in a session entitled “30 Lessons of Wine Communications for Italian Brands at Vinitaly”, which gave me the chance to illustrate six key points that wineries should get right in order to put out successful content. In this panel the other speakers were Robert Joseph, who spoke about the importance of packaging communication; Damien Wilson illustrated how websites are crucial for communication and how marketers need to understand the valuable data they can gather through monitoring results for a better and more effective communication; Rebecca Hopkins showed six very valuable pieces of information for public relations communications; and finally, Cathy Huyghe covered six aspects of social media and mobile communications. The session was US focused, but our 30 lessons are just as relevant for any other market, because the common thread of the 30 lessons is whatever content a brand puts out there as communication on packaging, on its website, on social media and its PR materials, needs to focus on its customers, not on the product.

I talked the audience through six key points, that should help focus better on the what, when, where, how and why of wine communications.

1) Make your communication a conversation: Before internet and smartphones, consumers consumed advertising the traditional way, it was a one-way conversation, where brands talked to consumers and they could not reply to them. It was pure product broadcasting. However, with the proliferation of digital devices, consumers started not only segmenting and filtering information but also choosing when and where they want to interact with brands. They have become empowered consumers.

A simple question can put things into perspective: as a brand at a dinner party, would you prefer to be a guest speaker who walks away after their speech, or would you rather be an attendee whose interesting conversations result in a new friendship? The answer to this is the core essence of today’s digital age advertising.

Advertising needs to be content that encourages interaction between brands and its consumers. Wineries need to join that conversation!

2) Know your audience and go after them: Know your audience inside out. Make sure to base your strategy on real consumer insights. You have to know who will listen to you, who will care about what you want to say. Know their values and morals and what makes them tick!

Ask yourself what kind of customers you want to attract, and make sure your ads speak to them on a personal level. Understand their true motivations and their “why-s” behind their actions. Know what forms of advertising will work for them, do they prefer word of mouth, TV ads, or branded websites, apps, etc?

Always remember that it’s not about you but it is about them. Instead of saying why they should buy your product, you need to say why you have made your product for them. Keep your communication simple!

3) Be authentic: When you are communicating, you need to be believed. For that, you need to be credible. You won’t be credible if you are not authentic and genuine. We live in a world where people can judge brands by what they do; therefore being believed means far more than being noticed.

Instinctively we know there is no perfection in nature so we don’t trust those who don’t show their weaknesses and flaws. As consumers, we can’t trust brands that only show the perfect side of their business. By showing the bad and ugly just as often as you show the good, you can build trust and credibility.

4) Engage through experiences and emotions: Consumers hate being interrupted by brands, just as much as we hate being interrupted by a phone call. As consumers, we want to be engaged and entertained by brands. That is how we evaluate what they can do for us. In communications, this translates into making ads that call for action and participation! Engage your consumers, or target audience by making them do something, by sharing the same values.

Another way of engaging your customers is by telling a story. In theory, storytelling is about giving goosebumps, not about simply telling a story. Anyone can tell a story, it can either be a bedtime story or it can be one that is compelling and evokes emotions. Storytelling is about personal connections. We connect with a story because we can empathize, put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist, antagonist, or the situation. We listen to and then share a story when that story evokes some sort of emotion, experience, or any form of association in us. How are wine brands telling their story?

However, the future of storytelling is “story-making”. Invite your customers to tell the story of how your brand is part of their life story- enable their stories. Story-making is the art of creating brand experiences that people will remember and share not because you have prompted them to do so but because they are making their own story with your brand. Most importantly, it leads to the cheapest and most effective advertising format: word of mouth.

5) Advertise in the right places: We are tired of hearing and reading about “The right content in the right context”. However, if you care about reaching your target audience you better be where your customers are. Trying to be everywhere and everything to everyone might not be the most effective way of reaching your audience. Once you have identified your target audience you need to find out where they are, on what media platforms from TV, radio, print, outdoor, social media, apps, mobile and computers for the best way to reach them with your message. Not all platforms serve the right purpose. Know the amount of time they spend on each platform; this information is usually free if you do some research on the internet.

6) You can only succeed if you have a well-defined communication strategy: It will help you stay focused on the what, when, where, how and why of your communications. A fully integrated communication plan ensures that your target audiences receives, understands and acts on your messages. It establishes people, money and time requirements. It ensures consistency across all written, digital and spoken channels and it sets the basis for measurement. Most importantly, it will help you keep your consumers in love with your brand. Without a communications strategy, you are just doing business as usual.

As Leo Burnett once said “If you can’t turn yourself into your customer, you probably shouldn’t be in the ad writing business at all!” This is true for any content that wineries and wine businesses put out there. Make it for your customers; make it relevant and valuable for them!

Our session was part of Vinitaly’s “Talk Business Series” with US focus. It was fully booked through Eventbrite and had extra people coming in without registration. We live streamed it via Meerkat app to make sure that even those not present could follow us. Our presentation is online at this link: http://www.slideshare.net/robertjoseph/30-lessons


Originally published at www.harpers.co.uk on March 30, 2015.

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