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06.29.2010

How to Market a Wine Region Properly

I spend most of my day helping companies do a better job connecting with their customers. It would be really easy for me to turn this blog into a constant conversation and critique about marketing in the wine industry. But that's not nearly as fun as drinking the stuff, so I try to hold off on the discussions about brand experience. However, on occasion I come across industry-related goings on that are worth talking about.

As regular readers know, I spent some time in Australia back in March of this year, exploring some of the wine regions I hadn't been to and visiting some of the country's smaller producers. My summary of that experience included some thoughts on the challenge that Australia faces in the wake of the global financial crisis and shifting preferences of global wine consumers. In particular I was interested in the dichotomy between where the money is in the Australian wine industry (the big exporters) and where I believe the future is for their industry (smaller producers).

I wrote:

"Indeed, some of the most exciting wines I had in Australia are made by tiny producers who don't make much wine, and export even less to the U.S. It seemed rather clear to me that Australia hasn't figured out a way to easily make this diversity available to the world at large, perhaps as a result of scale, but perhaps also as a result of a focus of its energy on "simpler" ways of communicating to global consumers about Australian wine. Australia (by which I mean primarily the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, the main trade body in the country) should be celebrating and promoting its smaller producers more."

Well I learned recently that the folks in Australia have been thinking along the same lines, and have launched what I think is the best marketing campaign I have ever seen or heard apluswine.jpg of for a wine region.

It's called A Plus (Australia Plus) and it's so brilliantly simple, the tag line explains it completely: "every one has a story."

It's a web site where every winery in Australia can submit a photo, a brief story about what makes them interesting, and put a link to their web site. Visitors can browse all the stories, vote on the ones they like the best, and share their favorites with friends. But most importantly they can see the stories.

The stories are short. Some are funny, some are profound, but mostly they're all at least interesting, which is more than you can say about 95% of the winery web sites and marketing campaigns in existence.

At the moment, the site is focused on the wineries themselves, and seeks to build up a comprehensive library of stories. But according to Paul Henry, the director of the Australia Wine and Brandy Corporation who responded to my questions about the campaign, this is merely the first phase of a dedicated effort over an extended period of time to use these stories as the basis for retelling the larger story of Australian wine to consumers everywhere, or as he put it "I believe the artistic term is 'finding one's voice.'"

Stories are what we care about. Stories are meaningful, and they are memorable. Wine is ultimately a story, of a place, of the people who farm it, and the unique circumstances that lead to the creation of every vintage.

Despite this, it's the story that gets lost in all the concern for points, tasting notes, and pricing that pervades the wine marketplace today.

And that's why I'm so impressed with this A+ campaign. It's such an honest, soulful departure from the usual ways in which countries or wine regions go about marketing themselves. You've certainly seen those campaigns before -- the ones that could be selling anything from Viagra to time-share vacation rentals. They always remind me of the campaign that ad exec Dudley Moore created in the movie Crazy People: "Come to Greece, the French can be Annoying."

The A+ web site is well executed, and it has a ton of potential. There's a lot more that can be done with these stories as they begin to accumulate, but the site is a great start and just what Australia needs. Provided that they can:

1. Actually get Australian wineries to participate (they'd be silly not to)
2. Get global consumers to the site (not an insignificant challenge)
3. Figure out how to leverage the content and the buzz on an ongoing basis

I predict it will be a great success. Of course, there's still the challenge of selling the wine, but stories have sold stuff since the beginning of time.

Check it out.

Comments (13)

Jeff wrote:
06.30.10 at 9:00 AM

I would contend that a constant conversation about how the wine industry talks to consumers is much more fun than talking about drinking the stuff, but that's just me.

The reality is that in a world full of instapundit meta-analysis the fact that the wine business maintains one of the last crumbling facades of uni-directional lifestyle marketing is the exception rather than the rule. 360 degree transparency isn't far off and its precisely that context to communication that people are interested in beyond the glass. "Don't tell me what time it is, tell me how the watch was made" and that goes beyond human interest stories.

Alfonso wrote:
06.30.10 at 3:25 PM

I have said it a million times to wineries in Italy: Dump the Flash platform on your websites. It is slow, it is manipulative and it doesnt work on I-phones or Blackberries

Ian wrote:
06.30.10 at 7:08 PM

While a good concept, I'm not sure the execution is right. The interface makes it difficult to get drawn in (and in my opinion it does the opposite; it's overwhelming). A bunch of photo fragments and often dry call-outs.. It doesn't make me care, which is the goal right?

Martin Silva wrote:
06.30.10 at 8:44 PM

Ian is right, the interface is dreadful. The collage itself would make a cool poster, but it's a user nightmare. Back to the drawing board.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
06.30.10 at 8:54 PM

OK folks, the title of this piece was not "how to design a web site." Could the site be better, sure. That's not the point. The point is that the idea is a good one.

Kathy wrote:
07.01.10 at 4:43 AM

Concept: B+
Execution: D
Sustainability: C+
I tried to think about what story I'd retell over dinner with the wine. The 20 or so I looked at failed.
The problem with stories is you have to tell me the story, not tell me about the story.
Put me in your pocket. Let me share the predawn shiver as you pick dewy Shiraz at 4 am. I otherwise think it is sizzlin' hot and dry 24/7/365. What were you doing when a vine caught your eye that led to obsessive research into clones? Who do you surf with when you go to California? What makes those Caesar salads so damn good in Adelaide?
And, whatever buzz you create, it will be very difficult to find American distribution for small-production wine. Good luck.

Matt Lamborn wrote:
07.01.10 at 10:07 AM

Alder - great post and material. I think the earlier points on Flash and the overall site accessibility are especially befitting here rather than off-topic. I think the messaging is great - but could be rendered useless if not delivered using a more accessible means (especially for mobile viewers).

The site is beautiful. It's simple yet deeply personal. I think it's a tremendous concept. One thing I think is missing (earlier posts touch on this as well) is a clearer connection to place/origin. I appreciate the shots of dogs, tractors, VW bus, etc. - but besides all the wineries being in Australia, where exactly are they?? I think a simple fix would be to group the thumbnails by region, which would unify the growers, cull their stories, and shape a collective 'face' for each region.

With origin branding we have found that it's not just about one's individual story, but the collective success or failures of a region (a number of 95+ ratings in one region serves to elevate the group as a whole, etc). Again, grouping the individual tiles on the site would help form, strengthen, and clarify (& organize!) the message.

My 2 cents.

Thanks!

Christina wrote:
07.01.10 at 8:13 PM

From a non-web designer who loves the idea of centralized winery info, I think this site is a great idea. Thanks for passing it on! I will definitely use it and will also share it with others.

Mart S. wrote:
07.01.10 at 11:09 PM

It's great that I learn a thing or two on this posts. Cheers!

Andrew wrote:
07.04.10 at 11:14 PM

Totally agree about AWBC promoting its smaller producers more, and yes everyone does have a story to tell. A+ looks like a great platform for people to tell their story. I certainly will be telling our story on there :)

Alfonso wrote:
07.07.10 at 4:08 AM

Alder-
I don't have a problem with the A+ site. Think it's a good idea.

My comment was in response to your subject title "How to Market a Wine Region Properly" and the Italian (and French) propensity for wanting to use the Flash platform to control the process with those who visit their site.

The A+ site is very cool.

I'm sorry if I got off subject - but this is the internets - so those things are bound to happen.

07.08.10 at 8:43 AM

Great concept, even if some folks have a hard time with the interface. Just to be clear, this is not a Flash designed site, but is done with Javascript instead, which has been around for a long time, and all of the content on the page is search engine consumable...they had to be thinking about that when they came up with the idea. For what it is worth, the web is still mainly built for actual computer browsers. Folks have to understand the development costs involved when tailoring sites to the multitude of (and sometimes short-lived)mobile device browsers, can be cost prohibitive...

Jenny wrote:
08.16.10 at 11:22 PM

he site is beautiful. It's simple yet deeply personal. I think it's a tremendous concept. One thing I think is missing (earlier posts touch on this as well) is a clearer connection to place/origin.

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