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The Tasting Room: Branding or Marketing

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In selling wine, especially in the tasting room, there is a difference between marketing and branding. Yes, the two are often co-mingled, but they must be interpreted and managed differently. Without a brand identity it is hard to market wine. We do not want to take this discussion into an esoteric direction, however, tasting rooms are an opportunity to go far beyond just selling wine, the real bonus lies in creating a tasting room to sell wine and reinforce a brand identity, i.e. branding.

Maybe it would help to look at branding this way: “Branding is to a company (winery) as personality is to a person. Branding is as much inward as outward-facing. If you have a strong, trustworthy brand, your employees are happier, more motivated, and more loyal,” says Mr. Russel Cooke, A Customer Relationship Manager professional. “Branding is the allocation of resources to promote awareness of your brand, products and services. The purpose of marketing, in a nutshell, is to communicate your brand’s value to potential customers.”

Branding is a process that happens over time; like how our personalities evolve over time, but at some point, the personality becomes defined for people to recognize. Marketing will use advertising (print, radio, TV), designs, collateral materials to build awareness for a brand and hopefully call the consumer to action.

Is a tasting room only for sales? I would submit the answer to be, “a tasting room is a terrible asset to waste solely on sales”. A brand is a legacy asset in perpetuity and sales is fleeting. Wine sales is an effort that must be created anew each season; a brand lives on to be destroyed or strengthened, so chose you brand identity wisely!

In any marketing or branding experience the complexities of successfully executing these tasks are mindboggling; truly. In the wine industry the task can be exponentially more complex because of ancillary issues such as: Federal regulations, outside issues that influence product (weather), and local government constraints, et al. Selling coffee mugs should be a bit less complex. In the direct-to-consumer marketing arena, the tasting room is the only place where the winery can control and execute their plans in branding and selling/marketing their product in real time. Here, a visitor comes to you and says, tell me about your product and by-the-way, I want to buy. Wow, what an advantage in marketing!

The tasting room is truly the only face-to-face time a winery has to impact all the human senses that will influence a sale and hopefully a repeat sale. I submit therefore, the visitors interface experience with employees is the most important; why else do companies send representatives to visit the customer? Airlines at one time felt that e-mail and video conference calls would negatively impact their business; facts proved that wrong. Nothing can replace the impact of people looking directly at, communicating with, and feeling the persona of face-to-face interactions.

Maybe you are still doubtful of this line of thought, well consider the successes of reality TV. Shows like American Pickers and Fixer Uppers are shows about people, experiences and their lives. American Pickers or Dirty Jobs are shows that now spend most of time focused on real people and their stories. A tasting room experience is communicating with people who love wine and want to be sold and want to learn about the brand story. Yes, taste the wine, but tell the visitor the story of the brand.

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