La Crema uses crowdsourcing to make wine, engage consumers
It’s tough for wineries to break through in the crowded social media marketplace. It’s easy to zone out amid the mix of ubiquitous shots of the perfect wine-and-food pairings - dubbed “food porn” by some admirers - funny cartoons, and yes, even cute animals.
Then there are the multitude of platforms. The activity is spread across a myriad of choices, including Twitter, where the #winewednesday hashtag will trigger a flurry of posts, to beautiful vineyard shots on Instagram to the chorus of voices weighing in on the latest Facebook post.
While vintners appreciate the likes, shares, and retweets, what they are especially looking for is consumer engagement to help develop brand loyalty and increase sales - a tough code to crack despite the millions of dollars spent trying.
But Jackson Family Wines’ La Crema brand has recently achieved success by taking an unconventional route in its latest effort: allowing customers to participate in making their own special brand of wine.
The Windsor-based winery’s “Virtual Vintner” program takes customers through the winemaking process by allowing them to vote through crowdsourcing on such decisions as the varietal, the appellation, the vineyard, barrel type, name and design, resulting in a special bottling of 500 cases to be released in late fall 2015. Participants will have a chance to purchase the wine when it is released.
Since it launched in August, the interactive website has led participants through their important decisions with sharp pictures and graphics, easy-to-understand text and short videos featuring Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, La Crema’s director of winemaking, explaining the process in ways that are understandable even to someone who doesn’t know the difference between pinot noir and pinot gris.
The metrics have far exceeded expectations. The winery had expected 10,000 participants, but it has resulted in 22,485 registered users so far. Those visitors have logged 43,000 votes and quiz participations and 38,000 likes, shares and retweets and other engagements through social media sites.
‘Entertains and educates’
“Wine is such a social product. You want to have that innate ability to entertain, but also educate people about wine. Again, that’s what Virtual Vintner does. It entertains and educates,” said Caroline Shaw, executive vice president who oversees marketing and communications at Jackson Family Wines.
One promising measure is the average length of time spent at the site, 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which shows significant engagement beyond voting; visitors want to know more about the product and how it’s made.
“We want to make it really interesting for folks who were just starting to delve into the subject, but also still have enough juicy details for folks who perhaps wanted to make a little wine on their own,” said Grant-Douglas, who joined La Crema as an enologist in 2001 and was promoted to her current position last year.
Other analysts and winemakers have also noted that Virtual Vintner has struck a chord by allowing consumers to feel part of the winemaking process.
“The fact that it stretches out over the length of a winemaking year, explaining each step in the process along the way, is a clever way to subtly educate users. The various naming contests keep it fun and competitive,” said Liz Thach, a professor of wine business and management at Sonoma State University, in an email.
The ultimate goal of social media engagement is to build loyalty and increase sales. In one recent case study at the Wine Industry Financial Symposium, Constellation Brands’ Arbor Mist line invested $200,000 in Facebook advertising that allowed it to gain 421,000 new fans. Those fans were more likely to purchase Arbor Mist, and accounted for $1.3 million in increased sales, a sixfold return on the investment.
A customer’s experience
But the pitch can’t be blatant. The main lesson vintners must realize is that storytelling should not be focused solely around their brand, but rather the customer’s experience, said Mia Malm, who owns her own communications company and works with the Wine Institute in its social media engagement in the United States and more than a dozen foreign countries.
“It’s really about bringing their audience on a journey with the consumer,” Malm said. “It’s not you being the hero of the story. … You want to have the audience be on the journey with you.”
The outreach applies across the board, no matter the size. Malm offered up two small wineries that also are succeeding in the social media realm: Lagier Meredith Vineyard in Napa and Twisted Oak Winery in Calaveras County.