Very few premium wine brands can rely on their brand perception alone, most rely on regional perceptions to help them demand higher prices. Arguably the most important tool for increasing the regional quality perception is the Wine Regional Marketing Organization (RMO).
I’ve started to research which Wine RMOs are most effectively promoting their region through the internet. The idea is to help the struggling under-resourced Wine RMO marketer identify best practice and make the case for greater resources.
Wine RMO Objectives
Wine Regional Marketing Organizations (RMO) exist to
- lobby and represent the industry to government
- assist with the spread of technical viticulture and wine making knowledge
- promote wines and regions to the rest of the world, often including wine tourism
I will only consider the promotional objective here, though I acknowledge the importance of the lobbying and training roles I leave that to a more qualified person to investigate. Likewise I only look at the internet side of promotion, I acknowledge events and PR are also important but leave that to tasting event and PR experts to blog about and research.
Wineries and RMOs
There is a real dichotomy for small and medium wine businesses when it comes to a Wine RMO. The RMO provides the most cost effective way to represent themselves in the wider consumer market and yet these wine businesses also have the least budget to spare. From a wine marketing perspective I am a big supporter of building the region’s wine brand, here’s why.
Wine RMO is the Moon
A rising tide lifts all the boats.
This phrase, made popular by JFK, was about how a growing economy helps individuals as well as industry. Or in our case the growth in the reputation of a wine region assists all the individual vineyards. In the same way the height of the tide is influenced by the strength of the Moon so the strength of a region’s brand is influenced by the Wine RMO.
The opposite is also true of course, a lowering tide drops all boats. Mike Paul reports it this way in regards to the Australian wine industry in the UK,
Read any interview with Michael Cox, Yvonne May or Jo Wehring – or an individual producer of premium wines in Australia, Chile or South Africa – and you’ll spot a common theme. They’re almost certain to vent their frustration that the quality of their premium offer is not being sufficiently recognised, either by the trade or the consumer.
Appellations, formal and informal, provide a short hand way for wine consumers to judge wine quality. Although the wine industry likes to talk of terrior this concept is probably only truly understood by the wine enthusiast and even then the enthusiast is unlikely to understand terroir of many appellations. To quote Stephanie Grubbs* (ex-Mondavi),
For a large percentage of our consumers, especially at the Woodbridge and Coastal levels, appellation does not mean very much. These consumers are not really concerned about where the wines come from. So an appellation philosophy is based on something that does not mean much to probably two-thirds or three-quarters of Robert Mondavi’s customers. The task of the winery is to convey to consumers what appellation means in terms of wine characteristics or attributes so that they can use this information in positioning our wines. If we are successful, appellation will become meaningful to consumers of at least the Napa Valley and Coast brands
So the initial wine region brand perception is critical to the performance of premium wine brands. Indeed the wine region is often the key substantiation of a wine brand’s claim to be High Quality. If there are no gold medals or 90+ point ratings then it may be the only one.
If a region does not have a strong Wine RMO then it leaves the region’s reputation to be decided by the vicissitudes of wine writers, bloggers and other commentators who proclaim a region up or down. Their moon is weak (biodynamic winemaker readers must surely love me by now). Sometimes a region is dominated by a brand or two who, in effect, decide the whole region’s strategy with little input from others invested in the region’s future. Their moon is strong but controlled by local competitors, effective but risky.
Some regions will get extensive visits by wine writers because their resources allow writer travel subsidies and event creation, while others just down the highway (or across an ocean) get very few. Some weeks later beer is poured in one as they celebrate headline news while the others sip water to wash away the bitterness of lack of publicity.
The Wine RMO becomes a way to shape the world’s perception of a regional group of wine businesses. Wine businesses can make a Wine RMO strong and have more influence over that perception or keep it weak and leave it to others (including competitors) to tell the world about the quality of wine it produces.
Wine RMO strength depends on Members not so much the Staff
Note I have a fair amount of sympathy for many Wine RMO staff. Many of them work without the resources they need, yet achieve so much with so little. My hope is that my upcoming report helps Wine RMOs make the case to members or government of how more resources can help members compete in a very competitive industry. With this in mind I’ll focus on best practice rather than ‘seagull’ the less effective (swoop in, crap and fly away).
Wine Internet Marketing
I think most Wine RMOs have already identified that the internet is important. Here’s how Chile** puts it,
The explosive development of information technologies and the widespread expansion of social networks in our major consumer markets not only make it possible to communicate directly with a large number of our potential consumers at a very low cost, but also to establish a direct dialogue with them and participate in their conversations among peers and members of their networks of interest. This new ability substantially modiﬁes the traditional paradigms of communications and brand building from a passive unidirectional model to one that is multidirectional characterized by networks and a multiplicity of simultaneous conversations.
In this context, the active participation of Wines of Chile and the wineries in the different social network platforms and wine and lifestyle blogs, along with the development of powerful, attractive, and highly interactive web sites become an immediate requirement for the industry.The key to relevance in this context, however, will be the ability to be perceived and validated as an honest and authentic voice of Chile, its wines, its producers, and its people.
But identifying it’s importance and implementing the strategy well are two different things.
I’ll look at the following disciplines:
- Websites and Search Engines
- Facebook Marketing
- Twitter Marketing
- Mobile Marketing
- New Channel activity including Google+ and Pinterest
- Clear Brand Voice and Positioning
I’ll be using a similar approach for Wine RMOs as I do for wineries and wine retailers in my Wine Internet Marketing Workshops (see slides here).
Websites and Search Engines
I’ll focus on region and varietal keywords for each region. Then I’ll run the website through SEOmoz software to see how they rank for keywords in Google US, UK and Australia search results. It will also identify any technical issues with their websites.
I’ll be looking for whether the Wine RMO website has accurate NAP (Name-Address-Phone) listings for members tasting rooms and whether they have any local presence themselves.
A great way to target keyword searches as well as encourage social sharing. Do they have a blog, if so is it regularly being used, is there much engagement and what are the target search keyword phrases.
The four key things I’m looking for here are Regularity, Interaction, Personalization and Encouragement.
How influential and sharing is the community that follows them using Followerwonk.
Do they have a mobile website design and app development. Extra credit for any hint of Location Based Services such as FourSquare, SCNVGR, VinPass etc
New Channel activity including Google+ and Pinterest
Have they dipped their toe into this new area.
Clear Brand Voice and Positioning
Is their brand voice clearly coming through in everything they do.
I’ll be making an initial sweep over all the regions in Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon, and Washington. It would take me too long to do everyone so I’ll focus on a dozen or so from each country. I’ll also look for other regions that do wine internet marketing well. I know Bordeaux makes a big effort. I may look at Germany and Austria. Yet to look at South Africa and South America.
If you have any comments on who does a good job then please comment below or tweet me.
On yer markets
Get set, let the research being. Software locked and loaded, robot army at the ready, Facebook Pages socialized, Twitter tracking commenced. Should take a couple of weeks more or less.
What do you think? Would you have done this differently? Are Wine RMOs far less important than I make out? Your thoughts are, as always, valued.
Images courtesy of Tide out by Nick in exsilio, Albuquerque Moon by Jason Bache, California – Oakville: Robert Mondavi Winery – St. Francis of Assisi by wallyg
* “Successful Wine Marketing”, Mouton and Lapsley, p.195
** “Strategic Plan 2020 International Market”, Wines of Chile, p.67