by Sally Colby
When it comes to marketing a winery, brewery or distillery, there’s no single plan that works for all. A major portion of marketing is a mindset, and it’s up to you and your staff to create a memorable experience for guests.
First, make sure your business is easy to find – guests who are anticipating a winery visit then have difficulty getting there makes for a poor first impression. Make sure your address is GPS-friendly, and if you’re in a difficult-to-find location, provide additional information on your website. If your working vineyard/winery has multiple buildings, be sure to clearly designate customer parking and entrances. Parking lots should be paved and well maintained during all seasons the business is open, with ample handicapped spaces.
When customers arrive at a winery, brewery or distillery, first impressions count. Customers who catch a glimpse of vineyards or hopyards and a nicely landscaped property or an attractive building are already arriving on a positive note. For businesses with city locations, a clean, easy to see storefront helps provide a positive impression.
Once customers are in the door, the priorities should be interaction with competent staff and great products in a comfortable setting. Customers entering a winery, brewpub or distillery should be greeted by a friendly staff member who’s well-trained and has a sense of how much presence to offer. No one likes to be hounded by staff, but it’s equally important that staff members are easily accessible and ready to answer questions.
Disappointing ambience can make a big difference in a customer’s first impression. Harsh overhead lighting in a noisy room with uncomfortable plastic chairs and dated décor will likely dampen the quality of what you’re selling – no matter how good it is. Odd odors such as from cleaning products or air fresheners are a turn-off for many people. Outdoor locations such as a streetscape or deck can offer either quiet respite or a raucous crowd, so establish the kind of atmosphere you want and guide guests appropriately.
Most craft beverage establishments have a story, and most customers are interested in hearing it. Include any local history that’s pertinent to your business, and be knowledgeable enough to provide more than just basic information. During the height of tourist or trail season, many customers will be visiting the area for the first time and are interested in local history and folklore. All staff should be familiar enough with area attractions to answer basic questions on locations and what those attractions offer.
Ideally, your story will connect in some way with the products you offer. A winery that’s situated near a historic landmark will likely have an interesting story, and can take advantage of naming wines that reflect that history. A brewery along a river or near the ocean can easily capitalize and connect to that location and promote itself through clever names for brews. Craft distilleries can often tie their history directly to Prohibition, which always makes a great tale.
Keep up with and consider partnering with concurring events in your area. Businesses that are in or close to a towns that hold a bike week, dog rescue event, sports tournament or music & arts festival have another opportunity to promote and sell.
If your establishment doesn’t serve food, work with local food trucks and create special events around what they offer. Choose a variety of cuisines and provide selections for a variety of tastes over a period of time, even if the food truck is present just one or two evenings a week. Make sure you advertise food trucks’ presence and post a schedule on your website and social media to draw maximum numbers.
The role of social media is critical for nearly every business today. Have a presence on at least several social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest. Use social media to announce upcoming special events as well as new releases, bottlings and tap lists. Good photographs say a lot, and the right photographs on Facebook or Instagram often draw new customers.
Having a website is essential, but only if you intend to keep it current. Customers who visit a website that lists events for December 2017 aren’t as likely to pursue your establishment six months later. Websites should be optimized for search engine returns and easy to navigate. It usually pays to hire a professional to create and maintain a fluid website.
If you have an email list, a regular newsletter can keep customers in the loop about what’s happening at your establishment. Provide an option on your website for customers to sign up for emails. Be careful to not inundate customers with too many emails – a monthly email is usually enough, especially if you’re following through on social media.
Blogging works well for many wineries, breweries and distilleries, but it’s important that the blogger is a competent writer. Blog posts can include information about what’s going on in the vineyard, new releases, event reviews, suggested pairings or provide info on changes such as expansions or relocations. Blogs are more effective with photographs, and photos should be simple, clear and reflect the blog topic.
Consider a YouTube channel to promote your business. Short clips of planting new vines, pruning, harvest, pressing and bottling are interesting to customers. A video clip can take potential customers on a short trip through your brewery and show them what it takes to create a great beer, or feature your bartender mixing a drink, explaining what goes into it and how the flavors are carefully selected.
Well-trained tasting room staff is a critical aspect of marketing, especially for guests who are new to wine, beer or spirits. First-time guests should feel comfortable and open to learning without feeling as if they’re asking what they might refer to as ‘dumb questions’. Guests who have been made to feel at ease and learn something new during their visit are more likely to return.
Provide good support for your staff, including good initial training. Make sure everyone on the staff realizes the importance of their role, and that they’re the forefront and spokespeople for the business. Offer ongoing training for staff, especially when new beverages are introduced.
Remember that everything you serve, from smiles and information to your products, is active marketing and will strongly influence customers’ decisions to return.