by Courtney Llewellyn

There’s the technical side to creating your quaff – growing and sourcing the best ingredients, fermenting them in just the right way, aging them properly. Then there’s the marketing side of your business. How do you not only draw customers in but keep them coming back?

That was the topic covered by Dr. Kathy Kelley, professor of horticultural marketing and business management in the Penn State College of Agriculture, Penn State Extension and Penn State Continuing Education, her “Building a Relationship with Your Tasting Room audience” webinar.

Kelley discussed how to engage and learn from your consumers, starting with how to articulate your brand’s story (who you are, your purpose or your “why,” who you serve and the solutions you provide), how to develop a cause marketing strategy (to show that you care about more than just profits) and how to properly survey customers (and therefore learn about their needs). “Consumers want to respond to questions if the topic is interesting to them,” she noted.

  • Articulating your brand’s story. Kelley said that 95% of all purchase decision-making takes place due to an emotional connection (per data from Ignite Sales). “When you’re thinking about your story, for the most part, we buy from people, not companies,” she said. Facts, such as when your business was founded or the products you offer, are not your story. Think about what makes you different. Talk about your history, the awards you’ve won, special growing techniques, etc.

Your “why” also needs to be important to your customers and/or have an impact with them (such as raising money for causes or having a good environmental impact or sustainability).

“Consumers find products that make their lives easier or more pleasurable,” Kelley said.

To figure out who you serve, consider creating a customer journey map. What is their age? What are their consumption and purchasing behaviors? When do they drink, and with whom? And what is it about your beverage that appeals to them? Does it make them feel a certain way?

“Empathy strips away everything that may be overwhelming to the consumer; focus on price, taste and quality – something they will really like to drink. Answer their questions,” Kelley said.

She provided a brief to-do list for putting together your story. First, briefly describe your history and define your points of differentiation. Create a list of words or phrases that describe your “why.” Identify your consumers’ needs. Ask your tasting room customers and social media followers why they drink your beverages and/or follow you.

“Use your story for more than just a place holder on your ‘About us’ page,” she said. “Share your story widely and make sure everyone at your business knows it and believes in it.”

  • Developing a cause marketing strategy. Kelley noted that younger consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they know some of its proceeds go to charity. “It’s important to have a strong emotional connection to causes, not just for profits but for people as well,” she added.

The most important thing to do here is to make your cause part of your personal mission and engage your employees to be involved with it as well. Make sure to be transparent with your donations and show their impact. Select a long-term cause and try to tie it to your business’s practices or the industry as a whole. And finally, have deadlines and offer incentives. People are more willing to give when they know there is urgency involved – and when they know they may receive a little gift back for their charity.

If you don’t already have a cause in mind, two recent surveys showed that near the top of the list of concerns for everyone is poverty and hunger issues, with Millennials and Gen Z being much more in favor of these causes. Environmental issues were also deemed important, as was education. A local nonprofit can also show more of an impact from your support than a national one as well.

  • Properly surveying customers. Why is this important? Kelley noted that 88% of consumers surveyed indicated that asking for feedback makes a positive impression about a business, with 75% saying that “it shows that the retailer cares.”

There are several ways to learn about your customers’ needs and wants. The simplest may be informal information gathering, such as through Instagram or Facebook polls. You could try to set up focus group sessions with small groups of willing customers to pick their brains.

Going bigger, you could create actual surveys and have customers fill them out in your tasting room, on your website or through a link sent to your customer email list. The most sophisticated route here would be to hire a paid marketing consultant to do a deep dive. (This may be needed if business isn’t going as well as you’d like it to.)

  • Continue learning from your customers. It’s easy to ask questions to try to provide a better experience. Look at how the interests of “new” customers differ from existing customers. Ask why they decided to visit and purchase from you. Find out which social media they use and what other businesses they follow. See what kind of content they’d like from you.

“On premise, ask what you can do at your tasting room to help them feel comfortable in preparation for a visit,” Kelley said. Aside from your beverages, what else would they have an interest in purchasing?

Building relationships means forging connections. Taking the time to do so can help your business for years to come.