Telling your story: Letting consumers know why your brand is unique
By Dr. Kathy Kelley and Dr. Bonnie Canziani*
Every winery has a story to tell about its history and about its wines. A winery’s story often comprises the main advertising message that consumers receive. Critical visitor expectations are being formed as your potential customers read marketing materials about your winery or listen to your staff in the tasting room embellish on “the story,” using it as a performance script during visitor encounters. Indeed, your tasting room hosts are often the main onsite story tellers and serve a vital role as direct ambassadors of the brand and the company—sharing important information with all visitors to the winery.
In this post, we discuss why wineries should have a well-crafted story, examples of national brands that have been recognized as having compelling stories, and steps you can take to develop your story.
Why is a story important?
Researchers have investigated consumer response to storytelling to learn if businesses do benefit from such efforts. The Origin/Hill Holliday research group conducted studies with 3,000 U.S. consumers, age 23 to 65 years, and investigated their response to winemaker stories. Two groups were shown product pages for four different bottles of California Chardonnay. Group one was shown the pages with standard tasting notes, while group two was shown three of these product pages and a fourth page with the winemakers’ story instead of the tasting notes. Based on responses, the researchers found that the second group “was 5% likelier to choose the bottle with the winemakers’ story – and willing to pay 6% more for it” (http://bit.ly/2umZCCE).
Brands that have successfully crafted their story
While both of the following examples are outside the wine industry, each is a successful business with owners who realize that their stories resonate with their clientele and that their narratives support important business strategies.
Being authentic and personable
Dannijo, a jewelry company created by two sisters, was built on the owners’ belief that a story needs to be “compelling to consumers, [such that] they want to build your products into their lives” (http://bit.ly/2tipnzG). The sisters often model the jewelry in the ads and their social media posts include images of them outside the office and with their families, which helps make them relatable to their target customers.
In their stores, the sisters have installed a selfie booth for customers to take and share images of themselves having fun in the store (http://bit.ly/2tipnzG), and they host speakers who present “unexpected and yet brand-related subjects (e.g., fitness and health, philanthropy and sisterhood)” that are important to the owners and that can interest their primary customers (http://bit.ly/2tMN46Q).
These activities, their core products, and a café all encourage consumers to visit often and to extend the amount of time they spend at the retail outlet on each occasion.
Focusing on customers’ interests
Adidas, like several other brands, sells running shoes. While their loyal customers will buy their shoes again and again, others are drawn to the business based on how they “feel” about the brand, how the brand helps professional and novice athletes succeed in the sports they love.
Adidas is also credited with being a “listening brand.” Instead of talking purely about their shoes, the company learns what customers care about and then uses these concerns and passions as a basis for developing the “brand[’s] message through social conversations” (http://bit.ly/2tNdi9h). Examples of Instagram posts based on follower interests include World Oceans Day, #RunForTheOceans (http://bit.ly/2tN4wbg); Earth Day; sustainable athletic clothing (http://bit.ly/2tMLS3c); and encouraging consumers to perform to the best of their abilities – both on and off the court.
So, what should you include in your story?
A brand’s story is more than words on a page designed to be a pitch for your winery. Rather, your brand’s story includes “facts, feelings and interpretation” and is a way to differentiate yourself from competitors (http://bit.ly/2tNGkWf). A successful story will help a business build a following, which in turn encourages these consumers to care about the brand and, hopefully, leads to customer loyalty. Following are some tips for making your winery story genuine and engaging for your visitors.
- Storytelling is based on “interpretation”
Interpretation is a skill that connects your audience with information in ways that create emotional ties between the speaker and the listener. Basically, you take important facts about the wine (e.g., type of grapes or fruit used and production processes) and the winery (e.g., family history or facility information) and share these facts with your visitors in an informative and entertaining manner. A story is not just a dry recitation of facts and figures. Stories attract consumers looking for higher levels of personal recognition and warmth from service staff at your winery.
- Storytelling is part of your marketing strategy
Your goals need to be clear when forming and telling the winery story. Typical goals include connecting your guests emotionally to the brand, influencing guests to try something new (e.g., join the wine club or attend a future wine event), and motivating your visitors to buy your wine and share their experiences with others via positive word of mouth. One sign that your guests are engaged is if they ask for more details about the wines, the winery, or the winemaker/owners. A good story will lead to conversation and customer action.
- Your stories must seem genuine to your listeners
Storytelling in the winery setting needs to incorporate truthful information about your ingredients, your production techniques, and your business background. Stories create personal ties between the winery and its visitors and people want to be able to trust that the information you are providing is accurate and relevant. The more believable stories will be shared with others via word of mouth after the visit.
Example: Honor Brewing Company & Winery
It seems only natural for a winery to support a cause either with raising funds during an event to donating a portion of the proceeds/price per bottle to a charity. Sometimes, though, the connection between the cause and the wine brand is not as clear as it could be and why the cause was selected (e.g., to help fund medical research for a disease that an employee has suffered from, to support local community efforts). Honor Brewing Company, Inc. and Honor Winery owners either served in the military or who had close family members who did. From the name to the labels (e.g., pictures of dog tags, combat boots) to their mission (“…supporting and celebrating those that have served or are serving…), the brand’s is exclusively “dedicated to the men and women who proudly serve our country” (http://bit.ly/2tO1J1K).
The owners also raise money and donate funds to charities that assist injured veterans and families of those who have fallen – and they are transparent in their efforts. In 2014/2015 they raised over $200,000 for these charities. They also encourage social media followers to post about family members in the military and partner with many veteran organizations.
- Stories are built on essential raw material
Winery stories need to cover the basics so that every visitor has a good understanding of the wines being served and sold, the fruit that goes into the wines, and other interesting details that make the winery business unique. Proof of quality is often incorporated into the winery story by emphasizing the various awards that your wines have won. The story can move from the past to the present as well as indicate new wines and strategies that are forthcoming in the future. It can also help the visitor identify the role of the winery in the greater community or wine industry in the state.
Example: Gimblett Gravels
When you think of the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District, terroir might be one of the words that come to mind. This patch of land, 800 hectares, once “regarded as the poorest, least productive land in Hawke’s Bay…and no hope of growing a decent crop of anything” (http://bit.ly/2tNlKoN) can lay claim to producing grapes used to make award winning wines: domestically, 600 gold medals and 210 trophies and 105 gold medals and 35 trophies awarded in international competitions (http://bit.ly/2tNqGKD).
Strict guidelines determine whether a wine can be marketed with the Gimblett Gravels designation. These measures protect the brand’s image and ensure that growers and winemakers make no compromises and that only high-quality wine that reflects the terroir is bottled with the name and logo of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association.
- Most winery stories are also family stories
The concept of ‘family’ appears either overtly or as a subtext within many winery stories on their websites and during the exchanges between visitors and tasting room hosts. The idea of ‘family’ is represented in multiple ways:
- remarks about preserving the family farm, land, or agricultural business heritage through the development of vineyards and winemaking operations (the ‘family-business’ message),
- sharing a history of family generations in the wine-making business (the ‘family-tradition’ message), or
- an advertising appeal aimed at generating closeness to the visitor based on the inclusive treatment of guests (the ‘join-the-family’ message).
Example: Wente Vineyards
Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley, CA was founded in 1883 and is recognized as the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the U.S. Their story begins with C.H. Wente immigrating to the U.S., learning about winemaking, purchasing land in California, and then…Prohibition was implemented (http://bit.ly/2tNtOpI).
The family and the business survived hard economic times and war and contributed to the advancement of the California wine industry. And, if this wasn’t impressive enough, the winery can boast that each winemaker has been a Wente including the current winemaker who is a member of the 5th generation (http://bit.ly/2tNtOpI). What a story they can tell!
The various family messages can overlap in a single winery story. Family images are also positively associated with consumer perceptions of winery trustworthiness.
The art of storytelling can be especially useful to wineries that are trying to develop a visible brand presence and uniqueness in the marketplace. Ultimately, winery hosts need to know how to craft and present a winery story that moves their customers to positive actions, e.g., buying wine and sharing winery experiences with others.
*Dr. Canziani is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, Bryan School of Business and Economics, specializing in the management of customer service relationships and business profitability in various sectors including hospitality, tourism, and transportation. Since 2001, she has been involved in marketing and business research focused on the NC wine and grape industry, with more recent emphasis on wine tourism.
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