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Andrew Kamphuis
March 15, 2010 | Andrew Kamphuis

Interview with Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Rock Star - Kristi Taaffe

Kristi Taaffe
Twitter: @juiceboxdirect

I had the opportunity to talk with Kristi Taaffe, founder of Juicebox Direct a Direct to Consumer Sales & Marketing Management firm. She's also an instructor at the WISE Academy and was previously the VP of Marketing at Inertia Beverage Group and has over 15 years of D-to-C marketing experience.

I asked Kristi a few questions about Direct to Consumer marketing and here's what she had to say. (Its rather lengthy, but the content is great and well worth the read).

Kristi, for wineries just getting started or ramping up their direct-to-consumer marketing plans, what are the key tactics they should investigate? If time is limited, how should they divide their time among those tactics?

It depends on the winery and the resources that are accessible to them – or that they’re willing to invest in. For instance, do they have a tasting room? If so, it’s likely that the bulk of their direct sales are being generated through their on-premise sales and where they’re going to want to focus on implementing tactics that drive visitor traffic, encourage on site purchases, capture customers on their mailing list and sell wine club memberships.

No tasting room? Wineries will rely heavily on their customer list to drive their direct sales growth. And this means it’s critical that their list continues to grow, is maintained (regular hygiene performed, de-duping, opting-out clients when requested) and managed on a platform that will allow them to best market to their customers. They will need to take every opportunity to invite customers to join their mailing list, and then give them a reason to stay on that list, and become a repeat, purchasing customer.

Whether time and resources are limited or not, every winery who wants to grow their direct channel must monitor the results or impact of the various tactics they execute to grow the direct channel. As well, they should have a dashboard of the key metrics which their direct channel is delivering, and monitor it on a regular basis to see where improvements can or need to be made. Without having visibility into the variables which impact their overall business, it’s nearly impossible to ask the right questions or understand how to influence the positive change and growth that they’re seeking.

Relationship marketing: what are some simple, effective ways to provide personalized touches that can help deepen a winery's relationships with its customers? How does social media and email marketing play a part in that?

It seems like the Social Media buzz of late has suddenly gotten everyone thinking about how to engage with customers, and how to have a “conversation”; as if there are new “rules” that suddenly exist to guide brands in relationship building. However, the basic tenets of relationship marketing still exist and have not changed, and those tenets still hold true here: providing content, products or interactions that are personally relevant to your consumer, having your product or interaction be meaningful to the lifestyle or needs that they hold, and being available and present when your customer is personally ready for the interaction.

To accomplish the above, brands need to be true to themselves; do they know who they are? What their brand personality is? What their core values are? If you were developing a print ad, you would think about what you want to convey through the art or graphics. You would think about the words you’d use, and the tone or voice you’d take. If that ad is true to the brand, the “voice” that speaks through social media or any other one-to-one engagement should shine through with that same personality, as well. It’s also critical that that presentation is real; consumers have bullshit meters that they’re not afraid to use. And trying too hard to sell, being something you’re not, talking without listening, etc., is a quick path to turning customers away.

Second – and perhaps even more important – is that the winery understands who their customers are. Who is purchasing their product – and why? What is their lifestyle like and why did they choose to bring your brand or product into it? What do you provide for them that contribute to their enjoyment of friends, family, or any other things that excite them? When are they purchasing, and through which channels? How else are they engaging with your brand? With a deep understanding of who your customers are, it’s easy to start and keep the conversations going.

Wine clubs: what can owners and their staff do right now to drive new memberships and reduce wine club attrition?

With the current economy, attrition rates are certainly higher than ever and new club memberships are down. There are a couple of things wineries should be doing – regardless of what economic condition we’re in. First, wineries need to ensure they’re giving their members a reason to stay. They need to value their customer, let them know they’re special, make them feel like they’re part of your family and give them a reason to stay. Line up 10, 20, 30, 100 wine clubs next to each other, you’ll likely see that the only distinguishing feature is in the product itself. What can you offer to distinguish yourself and show your members you value them? “Membership” suggests something more than simply a one way share of wallet every few months from the customer; it should suggest a two-way engagement.

Second, review your club levels for untapped opportunities; watching the purchasing patterns of members and soliciting feedback from members can give you insight into modifications or new levels you may need to create. Is the frequency of shipment too high? Create an entry-level club that ships 2x/year. Is the average order price too high? Reduce the number of bottles per shipment. Are repurchases of certain products higher than others? Create a new club offering. Offer these alternative levels to customers who may be thinking of leaving.

Finally, members won’t stay forever. But, just because they’re leaving your club, doesn’t mean they’re leaving as a customer. Thank them for their membership, ask to keep them on your mailing list, perhaps even offer them the same club discount for that occasional purchase and continue to treat them as a member; send out newsletters, invite them to club events. Treat them well and they may join up again in the future. At minimum you’ll still have a customer and an advocate for your brand.

What are some tactics you recommend to increase a winery's online sales?

eCommerce is not an art. There’s a pretty scientific formula which nearly all of the top ecommerce websites are employing – and while they all may look different at the surface, there are some basic web design, usability and conversion tactics that many wineries are – unfortunately – not yet employing. I encourage all wineries to take a look at their own websites and review them for the following:

  • Clear navigation. Can visitors “find” what they’re looking for with ease? It’s critical that your site is easily navigated and users can move around without having to visit the dreaded “site map”. Additionally, you have the opportunity to “guide” visitors to the areas you want them to go (for specific promotions or campaigns you’re running, for instance). Does the design of your site allow you to do this?
  • Robust content. Customers need information to make decisions. This isn’t just varietal, price point and vineyard. It’s also tasting notes, other customer reviews, in depth info on the winemaker, and so much more. As well, not all visitors may be purchasing online, but they’re still potentially customers; many use the web to research a wine before they purchasing it at a favourite restaurant or retail shop. 
  • Images. “Image not available” or a generic bottle in place of your wine image isn’t a way to sell. Similarly, images that are not consistent in size or presentation make for a cluttered and messy site. “Cluttered and messy” don’t instil the confidence that visitors need to transition them into purchasing customers. 
  • Refreshed content. Give customers a reason to return. Event highlights and pictures. New releases highlighted. Holiday campaigns. New vineyard footage. The update of content also provides you with a reason for another email or outreach. 
  • Personalization. Many of the top ecommerce sites welcome me back by name and remember my purchase history or recently shopped products. The ability to review back through prior purchases can remind me of the products I liked and want to purchase again, or remind me what I didn’t like and may want to avoid. As well, recommendations made off my purchase history can help encourage that next purchase and bring more relevancy to the engagement and the relationship with the brand.
  • No surprises. We know we can’t ship wine to all states. And we know it’s expensive to ship wine. But customers don’t always know this. Give customers the ship to state information up front. Give them shipping costs before they’re 2/3rds their way through the check out process. If customers are leaving the minute they see shipping rates... consider subsidizing shipping as a marketing expense.

How do you feel about wine product pages that feature consumer reviews?

I love consumer reviews. As a long time internet shopper, the sites I find myself purchasing from most frequently are those that have consumer reviews. And the placement of the consumer review should be on the product page. That supports the notion of available content where and when I need it. I navigated through to a product page, which means I’m ready to learn all about the specific product. The “buy now” button is likely in front of me waiting to be clicked. If I can get as much information as I need to make that decision now, I will. A customer review does that for me. With the vast number of review sites out there now, consumers are going to find a product review if they want to. Why not be that source?

Which areas of direct-to-consumer marketing do you see wineries struggling with the most? Why do you think that is? Your advice to them?

The most prevalent question is “how do I sell more”, of course. But when you start to get into marketing strategies and different vehicles available to wineries, most questions are around new media; online, social, mobile, etc. Any so-called “struggle” is more about how they should be using them, and of course how they contribute to building sales.

While the media and other voices may have us believing these are magic pills to building a brand and a business, they’re not. They’re simply another tool in your toolbox to engage customer and build your brand. My advice is to first consider your overall sales & marketing platform; to who are you marketing, how are you positioning yourself, what reasons are you giving your customers to engage with you, what are you offering your customers that will build that long term relationship? Second, what are you trying to accomplish with your marketing? Knowing your goals will help you make the best decisions about which vehicles you can use to best accomplish those goals. Finally, establishing a discipline around your direct marketing is critical; put processes into place, assign responsibilities to staff, be consistent, test, measure, plan, replan. There’s no magic pill, but with a disciplined approach it’s a much easier undertaking and the longer term benefits can be built. 

Anything else?

It takes discipline and dedication to build and maintain a successful direct sales program. It’s like any other element of your business: you need to plan, invest, monitor, learn and continually apply those learnings to help guide its growth. It’s important, for instance, to invest in a centralized database to get a 360 degree view of your customer, to employ qualified and dedicated staff to implement and manage your efforts, and to find strong service partners to help execute your direct initiatives. Without this kind of discipline, long term and sustained revenue growth won’t be realized.

Kristi I want to thank you for both the phone calls, emails and the effort you put into this interview. There is so much good content here.

Kristi can be followed on Twitter here, connect on Linked In here, and/or contact her via JuiceBox Direct's website.


Jon Bjork's Gravatar
Jon Bjork
@ Mar 15, 2010 at 10:30 AM
Very good advice! Coming from the software industry, where DTC channel sales of upgrades was crucial to the bottom line, I can say that wineries are just beginning to get on board. Even wine clubs are a pleasant surprise source of income to many. In my opinion, we're just starting to see software customized for wineries that can support even the most technophobic winery owners. I'm hoping for the next round - Wine 3.0. At that point I'm hoping we can say we've arrived.

Greg Brumley's Gravatar
Greg Brumley
@ Mar 15, 2010 at 5:38 PM
I think Kristi's advice is outstanding. Her website checklist should be especially useful to anyone.

Implementation, I think, is what seperates those who'll grow from those who won't.

Most of my clients must do most of this, themselves. It's surprising how many small wineries have young family members who understand the ins & outs of social media -- and are ready to apply it. Supervision and direction are necessary, of course, but these youngsters bring much-needed skills. (And it's the best method to get the next generation involved.)

As Kristi says, social media are a tool. A tool which may not produce significant return for some time. Thus, doing as much as possible in house is wise stewardship.

More importantly, the personal contact with wine club members yields immediate dividends. This is a time-consuming activity which, I believe, owners/family/managers must do. A call from Mr. Smith at Smith Vineyards, or Joan Jones' daughter at Mrs. Jones Cellars is the #2 relationship-building tool (face time at the winery is #1). Nothing can replicate that personal contact from the family at "my winery in California". It requires planning and training for the contacts. It requires scheduling and precise accountability. And it requires that all-important central database Kristi mentioned.

And we're back to implementation. If you want to sell more wine, you gotta either do it or pay somebody else to do it.

Very nice work, Kristi

Greg Brumley

Kristi Taaffe's Gravatar
Kristi Taaffe
@ Mar 17, 2010 at 9:39 AM
Thanks to Andrew and the Vin65 team for the inteview and blog - appreciate the soapbox. :)

As you can tell from the above, I'm a big believer in approaching direct channel sales with a consistent and disciplined approach. There are some great insights on implementing that discipline provided by industry bloggers like Vin65, as well as a tremendous amount of resources outside of the industry; a few of my favorite non-industry resources include:

So many more out there, but lots of great insight to be found!


Ian's Gravatar
@ Mar 17, 2010 at 12:49 PM
Really great article that should help many of the D to C websites out there. Also the advice about monitoring and tools is well structured. I have bookmarked this post for future reference. It will be important for my winery to communicate with customers and follow the simple guidelines to ensuring customers know there shipping costs up-front for each state.

Thanks for the article.

field sales training's Gravatar
field sales training
@ Oct 6, 2010 at 8:27 AM
I wonder if Juicebox Direct has anyfield sales training? They could be going places if they were to implement it.

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