“Don’t do what everyone else is doing unless you want to wait your turn to be picked”
Brian Baker is a winery brand positioning & profitability specialist and has spent three decades serving wineries throughout the US. Throughout a multi-faceted career, working across three industries, he has applied a disciplined approach to core value brand marketing, using non-traditional positioning strategies and driving profitability through provable ROI.
When he began his journey into the wine business, he was one of the “outsiders”. He had come from the publishing and travel industries–which in retrospect, turned out to be an advantage. “I remember thinking when I moved from travel to wine, I took a 20-year step backwards in technology.” While working in Publishing and Travel, he honed his skills in brand management, the art of positioning, storytelling and gained a firm understanding of the power of customer data.
Growing up in rural Riverside county, in a famous citrus farming community, Brian wasn’t raised with wine in his home; his parents were bourbon drinkers from the Midwest. “I remember the first time I tasted wine. My father was on a heart healthy kick in the 60’s and offered me a taste of his glass of red wine. His offer was tempered with a gentle warning; ‘try this I’m sure you’re not going to like it’. For a lifelong bourbon drinker, he sure had some good insight into the pallet of a nine-year old,” shares Brian.
Brian got into wine after college. His “ah-ha” moment was a bottle of 1985 Vichon, purchased at Trader Joe’s. From that point on, he was hooked. Brian started his first company, after earning a BA from USC, publishing newspapers for shopping malls in southern California. “What I did in the 80’s is now commonly referred to on the web as “native advertising – we used to call it an advertorial“. His early experience as an entrepreneur taught him the value of listening to clients and being able to adapt to changing business conditions.
From there he migrated to the travel industry serving as Global Director of Marketing for Dollar Rent a Car then VP Marketing at the SFCVB. These varied job experiences set the stage for a wine career, which began with his appointment as VP CRM—effectively the first wine executive in the United States responsible for the DTC channel. At Jackson Family Wines, his group was responsible for creating the DTC infrastructure for a portfolio of more than 30 brands and monitoring its sales impact to the overall enterprise. “Our CRM team sent the first sales email ever for the Kendall Jackson brand…it was a pruning seminar,” shares Brian. With his early vantage point at Jackson Family, he watched it grow from its early beginnings, when it was treated like a stepchild of marketing, to the powerhouse it is today. “There is no-one in the business now who does not understand the power it has within a wine business. But we can never rest on our laurels. The traditional DTC business strategies are undergoing a quantum shift with the rise of new generations of consumers and the overwhelming influence of technology.”
After Jackson Family, he created Cultivar Marketing, working with clients such as Amapola Creek, Silver Palm and the Kunde Family. He accepted a position at the historic Chateau Montelena; initially running the DTC division, which eventually grew to encompass all Sales and Marketing. While there, he accomplished a brand positioning shift from its tired “Paris Tasting Chardonnay” heritage to the more relevant “California First Growth”. At Mayacamas Vineyards, he stepped in as the GM refining, his financial and organizational management skills to bring them to the next level of profitability.
Brian shares that “Every company like every client is different; every set of challenges is tempered by its own unique set of circumstances. As such, sometimes the solution may require a novel idea, or it may call for simplicity; good old fashioned blocking and tackling.”
Words of Wisdom: At Chateau Montelena the simple approach helped grow the club and futures program three-fold. In San Francisco it required a novel approach, repositioning the city of San Francisco as a haven for foodies to draw tourists thereby cementing the SFCVB’s position as a pioneer in “foodie tourism”.
With 30+ years of executive management and business strategy, Brian Baker brings to the wine world a well-rounded background in marketing organizational management, branding and a proven track record of enterprise profitability. He has spoken professionally throughout the United States on subjects ranging from Marketing to Technology, Branding and Foodie Tourism. He has been featured on numerous panels in the wine industry and has been part of the DTC Wine Symposium since its beginning. He is both a sommelier and holds his CSW credential. Brian is the former chairman of the California Travel Industry, and a current faculty member of the Institute for Organizational Management. Download Brian’s BIO HERE.
To learn more about how Brian can help your wine brand with strategic planning services or a coaching program, request an introductory call below.