DTCWW Good to Great Series #6 – Define and Leverage Key Wine Brand Differentiators

[September 28, 2023 – Sandra Beals (NOT AI)]

As the direct to consumer wine space has evolved over the past 10-12 years, we have helped leadership teams develop organizational structures, customized training programs, training manuals, hospitality service standards, and standard operating procedures. In doing this work, we walk business stakeholders through the process of defining key wine brand differentiators. This has been a “good to great” practice for high performing wine brands that stand out in the crowd year after year. In this month’s blog article, I outline a proven method for attracting like-minded target audiences and retaining long-term loyalists leveraging key brand differentiators.

Reach out to schedule a web training program to put this important work into action. Cheers!

1. Begin at the beginning.

Brand differentiation is essential when developing a brand sales strategy. It allows stakeholders to identify the profitable business qualities required to build effective offers and invitations. This way, they are on the same page about their competitive advantages and also stand out among competitors. For this activity to be effective, the winery stakeholders need to come to an agreement on the importance of this work. Instead of consumer audiences or influencers taking charge of the brand promise and differentiators, the right people who live, eat, breathe the winery business own this messaging. Once defined, a focused and clear message is delivered throughout the organization that then extends to the outside world at every touch-point. Consumers, distributors, retailers, vendors, hospitality partners, media contacts, and community partners should all be clear on what a wine brands key differentiators are at any given time. AND… don’t overcomplicate it! The list should be concise, authentic, and meaningful to stick.

2. Conduct external internal audits.

To kick off this project, dedicate some time to research. Take a good look around with fresh eyes from an external and internal perspective. Task at least 2-3 people from various departments to conduct the audit as a variety of perspectives will produce the best results.

Document the following in the external audit:

  • Brand promises
  • Brand value messages
  • Unique access points (exclusive wines, experiences, offers at each sales channel)
  • Commitment to place, people, and craft
  • Unique value propositions
  • Unique visitor experines
  • Unique innovations or approaches (all aspects of the winery business)
  • Sustainable practices and priorities
  • Customer service offerings
  • Partnering aspects – referral partners, lifestyle partners, etc. (national if large or multi-brand)
  • Charitable giving and support of charitable programs (by region if large or multi-brand)
  • Awards, recognition, industry leadership
  • Note top three competitors (as it relates to the above as well as where your business loses some market share)

Document the following in the internal audit:

  • Hiring, education, and training practices
  • Industry involvement, leadership, support
  • Wine region community involvement, leadership, support (national if large or multi-brand)
  • Vendor relation practices and principles
  • Sustainable practices and priorities
  • Decisions about charitable giving or causes (by region if large or multi-brand)
  • Employee recognition as industry leaders, wine education level, contributions, etc.
  • Somm+ certifications
  • Subject matter specialists
  • Industry innovators
  • Strategic partnerships (referral partners, lifestyle marketing partners, etc.)
  • Customer service principles

3. Gather to share audit outcomes and personal perspectives.

Confirm what you have learned as a team through the audit processes and share different perspectives. The long-term story keepers (depending on the brand this could be the winery family or marketing, sales, and hospitality directors) should be a part of this meeting. The development and evolvement of past, present, and future wine brand stories need to be taken into account when forming the list of Key Brand Differentiators that matter most today. Knowing who your top competitors are and why will help guide the group in defining the list of authentic brand differentiators that have best served to build the business. For younger brands, this exercise may take a bit more time as the storytelling components need to be dialed in as well. Keep the audit outcomes that will help shape the list of Key Brand Differentiators based on current business objectives. Table some of the other audit outcomes if helpful for shaping future sales propositions, marketing strategies, etc. The goal here is to focus on what is true and authentic VS what might appeal to target audiences. Don’t try to be what your competitor is or change brand value so much that your staff and brand loyalists no longer know what your brand promise is. Dig into those areas where your wine brand already stands out in the crowd such as unique access points, innovations, employee recognition, awards, sustainable practices, commitments – (vineyard ownership for example), partnerships, philanthropic focus, etc. To attract your ideal target audiences and welcome back long-term brand loyalists, be sure to engage with invitations and stories that best showcase your key brand differentiators.

4. Agree on priorities and approach.

Once the research and exploration phase has been completed, decide which Key Brand Differentiators best support current business priorities. This is where the one-size-fits-all approach goes out the window. Each wine brand has a unique organizational structure and the resources needed to meet business goals. Try and keep the list of Key Brand Differentiators at 3 to 5. This will ensure that each employee memorizes this list and is able to share at every consumer and partner touch-point. By creating a more concise and focused list, the sales and marketing teams will be more effective in leveraging these powerful differentiators to inspire, influence, engage, and convert. TIP: the use of Journey Maps help DTC Wine Workshops clients go from good to great at this stage.

5. Develop, train, leverage, REPEAT.

This final phase should be a collaborative effort among the winery stakeholders and original project managers. Once the list of 3-5 Key Brand Differentiators have been established, take the time to map out how each can be leveraged both internally and externally to improve consumer engagement, brand storytelling, sales, marketing and event strategies, partnership outcomes, vendor relations, press relations, etc. Schedule training sessions onsite and online if needed. Be sure to also educate external contacts such as distributor reps, press contacts, referral and lifestyle partners, etc. From there, the magic happens! Every brand loyalist should feel the difference as your employees move forward with a confident and concise approach to brand storytelling and engagement. Update all digital outlets with this concise messaging. Have some fun! Get creative with development of upcoming initiatives, campaigns, collaborations, and events now that the key brand differentiators are in place. AND take time to repeat this process every two years and as the business continues to flourish.

Questions? Contact us HERE.