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The Best is Yet to Come

Richard Owens
May 26, 2020

This article was first published in the May 2020 edition of Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine.

So, you’re an online business now.  Welcome!

There’s no denying that online strategy was always relegated to the bottom of every winery’s to-do list - so I’ll start by saying how thrilled I am that it’s now everyone’s number one priority.  I believe this is the start of a very exciting chapter in the life of your business.  

I was asked to write this piece because I’m the founder of one of the few platforms that sells the tools wineries need to engage, retain and convert customers both in-person and online.

I started our business because I was a customer who found it really hard to buy wine direct from wineries.  Our approach is simple: we make wine easy for you to sell by making it easy for your customers to buy.  As Peter McAtamney has highlighted in this magazine, we start with the customer experience and work backwards.  

Over the years we have developed a reputation for dispensing good, honest and practical advice that often runs in stark contrast to what is dispensed by many within the industry.  We’re proud of that… so here are twelve of our “greatest hits”:

Consider your customer’s journey

First impressions count… but is your website the thing that’s making that first impression?  Many would have you believe it is, which is why I have seen countless wineries suckered into spending tens of thousands of dollars on websites that do all these weird and wonderful things when in reality, the majority of customers want it to do one thing - really well - because it’s the fourth step in their journey rather than the first.  You need to find out what that one thing is and optimise for it.

Use Analytics

You won’t know what that one thing is without analytics installed on your website.  There are plenty of free tools available (eg. Google Analytics) that can help you understand the Who, What, When, Where, Why and Hows of your customer’s behaviour online.  Make it someone’s job to log into the analytics every day and get an understanding of what your customers are hoping to achieve by visiting your website.  You cannot improve what you cannot measure, so start measuring.

Make your customer’s life easy

Once you know what your customers are there to do, help them do it.  If you know people come to your cellar door because they want to taste some wines, you put a sign in the carpark highlighting “Wine Tastings This Way”.  Do the same on your website.  If they’re there to buy wine, make it easy for them to do that.  If they’re there to update their wine club details, make it easy for them to do that.  If their desired outcomes match your own and you make it easy for them to achieve those outcomes, you’re winning.

Keep things simple

I’m always amazed how many times I go to a winery’s website to buy wine and I’m forced to click Our Wines, then select what range the wine is in (which I don’t know), then click on the wine, then click on a Visit Our Store, then find the wine all over again, then click Add to Cart.  Every click you force a customer to make before they can get to their desired outcome is risking that outcome never being achieved.  Think back to Apple’s iPod: even though it could store 1000 songs in your pocket, you could always get to the exact song you wanted within 3 taps.  Your website needs to be just as simple.

Get rid of the distractions

Distractions risk sales from occurring on your website.  Get rid of them.  Common examples of noisy distractions are “Join our mailing list” pop-ups, Instagram widgets and (I bet you haven’t heard this one before…) non-wine products in your eCommerce store.  Don’t risk a $200 wine sale by also offering a selection of jams and marmalades - it’s a choice I might not have been expecting/prepared to make, which means I can’t make it quickly… and the phone just rang and… lost sale.

Invest in good photography

Sex sells.  If you want to convey that you’re a premium brand selling premium wines at a premium destination, invest in premium photography to emphasise that fact.  Photos taken by your son on his iPhone don’t cut the mustard and try to avoid the standard vineyard photos taken at midday that every other winery has.  Aim for photos that will make me feel warm and fuzzy right before I take the action you want me to take.  You want those feelings anchored to that action and reenforced at every opportunity.

…but not for your socials

While on the topic of photography, these wonderful pro photos should 1000% be taken for and reside on your website but I don’t like seeing them on socials like Instagram - it’s too “scripted”.  Reserve your socials for photos that were taken with your iPhone in the spur of the moment without much thought because you liked it and you wanted to share it because you thought I might like it too.  Keep it real.

Get creative

I love - and am so proud - of how creative our clients have become in response to their cellar doors being closed.  I have never seen so many innovative sales and marketing campaigns designed to surprise and delight customers - it’s awesome!  The ones that have impressed us the most though, have been those that don’t involve the upfront offer of wine.  

Try being a little indirect and don’t always be going straight for the jugular.  I know you want customers to buy wine, but it can pay to not be so obvious about it.  Softly softly catchy monkey.  While I’m stuck in isolation, there are other things I’m doing while also drinking your wine… cooking a meal perhaps.  Can you help me with that and then work your wine into the conversation?  Have a think around what those things are and how you can compliment them with your wine.  These subtle gestures of care and consideration will turbocharge loyalty within your customer base for years to come.

Get a great web designer

“A good designer finds an elegant way to put everything you need on a page.  A great designer convinces you that half that s*** is unnecessary.”

At some stage, you’ll likely need to engage a web designer and my advice here is to choose wisely.  Web designers can often be like hairdressers: when you ask “Do I need a haircut?” - the answer is always yes.  You need to remember that web designers are incentivised to stuff more bells and whistles into your website, which - as we’ve just covered - is often not in the best interest of your desired outcomes, or your customers’.  Look for a designer who tries to talk you out of spending more money.  If you don’t know one, call me and I can point you in the direction of a few people.  

Put a chat widget on your website

Practically every software company has a chat widget on their website - we sure as hell do and we recommend you do the same… and make sure there’s a human on the other end of it.  Chat with your customers.  Help them.  Hold their hand.  When I’ve suggested this to people their main response has been “but then I’ll have to spend all my time responding.”  Yes, you will, but everyone has more spare time now (or a few staff with more spare time) so use it to help the customers that need helping.  If it contributes toward a more human touch and helps close sales, it’s time (and money) well spent.

Know what your most valuable competitive advantage is

It’s not the wine you make, the region you’re from or the service you provide.  If you make a great shiraz, you’re competing with thousands of other wineries that make great shiraz.  If your wine comes from Margaret River, you’re competing with one hundred other wineries whose wines also come from Margaret River.  If you offer great service, you’re competing with everyone else that also offer great service.  But if you have John or Jane Smith in your customer list… there will only be a handful of other wineries who also have them in theirs.  Look at John and Jane and work out how you can extract value from them beyond the dollars in their wallet.

Remember the best is yet to come

Worrying is like a rocking chair - it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.  I don’t want things to go back to normal and you shouldn’t either.  “Normal” was not good for our industry and despite the challenges that lay ahead, ultimately I’m of the opinion that most will come out the other side of this crisis stronger and more confident than they were going in.  If you look for doom and gloom, you will find it; but if you seek out the opportunities to grow, improve, learn and provide a stronger value proposition for your customers, you will find more of them than you can poke a stick at.

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