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wine marketing

Building a Brand: What Makes You Unique?

You work in wine right? Ok.

Pop Quiz

Pop quiz, hotshotWhat makes your brand unique?

Seriously. Think about it.

Have your answer?


Is your answer “our wines”?

You just failed.

Is your answer a variation on “our hands-on approach/small lot fermentation/unique vineyard location/new French oak/anti-mechanical pumpovers/hand harvesting/etc.”?


Is your answer a variation on your “passion for winemaking/wine”?

Not good enough, people.

What makes my brand unique? This is the first question you’ll want to ask yourself when you are re-working or creating a brand. It’s the foundation upon which all of your marketing and pr work will sit.

Ok, so let’s take a look at these three answers.

Though the middle answer would work for the question “what makes your wines special,” it has nothing to do with your BRAND.

The last answer is entirely NOT unique, being that most people get into wine/winemaking because of their passion for it (as evidenced in the old chestnut: Q: How do you make a little money in the wine business? A: Start out with a lot).

And now for my favorite answer. When I ask winery folk (including marketing-types, btw) what makes their brand unique, the overwhelming response is “our wines.” There is a special place in Branding Hell for this answer.

It’s not that your wines aren’t unique or a part of your brand, it’s just that it’s a terrible answer. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but it’s true. It’s as if you were to ask me what makes ME unique and I answer with “my fingerprints.” TECHNICALLY I’m not wrong, but by choosing this boring and obvious answer I’m missing the opportunity to tell you:

That I almost became a Hollywood agent


That I started a guerilla film production company in NYC when I was 20


That I name my pets after action movie characters


That I once dyed a teeny part of my hair purple in high school because my parents told me I couldn’t, but then wore a baseball hat everyday until it turned back to its normal color.


Basically anything.

But no. I told you that my fingerprints make me unique, so you don’t know anything about me except that I apparently am boring and like to state the obvious. Every winery has wines, and every wine is unique. Kind of like finger prints. Your wines might be incredible – I bet they are – but hundreds or thousands of wineries claiming that they are entirely unique because of the same reason is counter-productive for all of those businesses. At the moment, I can’t think of another industry that gets away with this approach.

Think about it. Imagine that I just started a soda company and you asked me what makes me special and my answer is “My soda is really good.” Are you getting your checkbook out? I don’t think so.

When you are creating or recreating your brand, focus on what REALLY makes you unique.  There are probably lots of reasons. Now pick the most interesting (and appropriate). This will most likely take a while. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. It’s worth it.

Building a Brand is a new series on Millennier where Leah breaks down today’s process and pitfalls for brands in the wine industry.


WTF? Millennier Walks the Walk

Hello wine industry – it’s been a little while. I missed you. I would be lying if I said you hadn’t been on my mind these past few weeks.

I’ve been both excited and nervous to write this post. Here’s why:

I’ve been writing on Millennier for a little over a year now, discussing many different facets of the buying power and influence of millennials for the wine industry. There’s been theory, there’s been practical applications, and there’s been examples of companies trying/succeeding/failing to reach this demographic group. So, one could say I’ve been “talking the talk.”

What many people don’t know is that during this time I’ve also been walking the walk. Last year, I started a wine tasting event group called WTFLA aka Wine Tasting For Los Angeles. As the name (and my professional focus) suggests, it’s a group that was created to target young wine drinkers in LA and connect them with wineries. We did a few smaller-scale events (50-60 people or so) in 2009 and gained a core following of awesome young people in LA that love wine.

This Spring, I reformatted the group to work with both small and large wineries, and to provide larger-scale events that are free to attend. Byron and Cambria wineries were the first to partner with me for WTFLA’s new events.

This is what happened:

WTFLA Venice Event Crowd

Line back to the elevator of the rooftop wine tasting event. Only part of the crowd shown. Photo courtesy the illustrious Stan Lee at

and this:

WTFLA Thrillist LA feature

WTFLA on ThrillistLA, a 150,000 email list and blog targeted to trendsetters in Los Angeles.

and this:

WTFLA Mailing List inbox

Screenshot of my inbox full of new WTFLA mailing list signups between the minutes of 10:46am and 11:01am

Yep, you could say it was a success.

With coverage in a dozen hyper-local online outlets (including ThrillistLA and LA Weekly) and around 300 guests served (more than 50 turned away due to capacity) at a WINE TASTING, WTFLA has exploded all over the place. Well, all over the place in LA. We LITERALLY cannot launch events fast enough.

This. Is. Big.

If it sounds like I’m bragging, that’s because I am. And this is why I was nervous about this post.

I never really wrote about my adventures with WTFLA before because it seemed to me to be simple shameless self-promotion. While plenty of blogs are created for this very purpose, that is not what is about. The Millennier blog was created to educate professionals in the wine industry and beyond on how and why to reach out to millennials. I strongly believe this approach is one of the main reasons why in such a short time I’ve been able to organically grow a successful marketing and strategy consultation business in an incredibly specialized field – almost all through readers of this blog.

So… why talk about WTFLA? Good question.

I find that I am constantly using my experiences with WTFLA as examples to clients and other marketing folks in the wine industry and beyond. And though there is no denying the element of self-promotion, I find it kind of ridiculous for me to stick to hypotheticals and examples in other industries when I’m putting everything I talk about into practice with WTFLA.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve reached a point where I’m in danger of repeating myself and boring the hell out of anyone reading. It’s one thing to communicate how valuable the millennial generation is to the wine industry, but it’s another issue entirely to just keep repeating it like some French recording on LOST. This doesn’t mean that the content on Millennier will change dramatically.  I WILL continue to provide examples of companies that succeed (or fail) in outreach, I WILL continue to point out important new data, I WILL continue to challenge folks to come up with new ideas. But I will ALSO be documenting my own first-hand attempts – I’ll be telling the awesome, the awful, and the ugly stories of my experience in practicing what I preach. I’m documenting my experience with WTFLA on Millennier in the hopes that you, dear reader, will learn from my successes and my failures and maybe something will even inspire you to start a revolution of your own.

My father is a veteran (I am proud to say) and he has often noted that both in combat and in life, the person leading the charge always seems to be “in the rear with the gear.”  That is not the case with Millennier. I am on the front lines and I hope that you will join me as I document the WTFLA adventures.

Fearless First, Then Leaders: Lesson for the Wine Industry

A little over a month ago, AdAge published an article* on 10 marketing ideas that changed the world – at least in their opinion.  From the 1984 Apple commercial to a certain iconic hosiery packaging, it’s fascinating to see these 10 ideas juxtaposed. For you marketing types, it’s incredibly inspiring. And for the rest of us, there’s an important common theme to notice among all of the companies mentioned. Each idea highlighted in the article resulted in catapulting its company to industry leader status, at times when these companies were only just fighting for their market share.

Apple's 1984 ad

Old meets new: an update to Apple's original 1984 ad.

As nonsensical as it sounds, it seems like that’s the state of wine companies today: everyone’s just competing. There’s no definitive leader. Sure there are the big guys. Sure there are the big brands. But do you see the wine equivalent to the iPhone anywhere? WHY NOT? The brass ring is just hanging there, people.

I highly recommend taking the 5 minutes to read the article. More than one of these campaigns has shaped a generation. While you read, take notice of the one thing (two things?) each of these companies had in common when they made these marketing choices: Balls.

I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s absolutely true. Some of these companies had everything to lose and they STILL made risky choices. AND THEY WORKED. It’s important to note that these Fearless Leaders were fearless BEFORE they were leaders.

There WILL be more underdog upsets in the coming years. There WILL be companies that chang their consumers’ worlds as well as their own industry landscape.

The real question is will wine be a part of it this time? A girl can only hope.

*UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that AdAge has archived this story in the last few days and it is now available only to AdAge subscribers. This is very disappointing. I am in no way supporting or recommending that readers should subscribe to their services through the original link used in this post. The updated link that I have provided will take you to a blog that has reposted the article in its entirety. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Dear Wine Industry no. 3

Dear Wine Industry #3


Dear Wine Industry,

It shouldn’t be this hard to get people excited to buy wine. You’re not marketing a blanket with arms, here. IT’S WINE! One of the most celebrated “products” the world has ever seen. C’mon – wine is fun and delicous and exciting and sexy. Loosen up. Have some fun. See what happens.



MIND THE GAP: "Phase 2" Proves Elusive For Wine Industry & Millennials

About a BILLION years ago (well, more like 6 months), Gary Moore, author of Vinotrip: A Maryland Wine Blog, put into type-written the words what EVERYONE looking to reach out to Millennials should hear. Everyone in the wine industry, anyway.

In a short and sweet post about the increasingly big deal being made about wine companies reaching the millennial consumer, he finished with the following invaluable question:

“You sell alcohol. How hard can it be to sell alcohol to college graduates in their mid-twenties?”

LISTEN TO THE MAN. He certainly has a point.

His words have been echoing through my busy little head ever since he wrote them. At first, I lol’d. A lot. Then I started thinking more and more about this. Why on EARTH does the wine industry need me to say all this stuff? It really should be simple. I shouldn’t have to constantly reverse engineer the needs, wants, desires, dislikes, etc. of myself, my friends, and others in my generation in order to re-format these things into easily digestible somewhat sporadic how-tos for the world to read (though I do enjoy it quite a bit).  So, really. Why?

Look familiar?

In the time I’ve had to clarify my thoughts on the matter, I’ve come up with an answer to Gary’s question: it’s HARD. And here’s why: Survival. (Tough love is incoming, people. Fair warning.) To clarify, it’s difficult because of the the attitude and image that the wine industry in the United States has carefully cultivated in order to emerge, survive, and thrive over the last 40 years. The inability for the wine industry to change the marketing tactics that it has been using for the last almost-half -century accounts for the failure to appeal to millennial consumers.

In the mid 1970’s, when US wine became an international contender on the wine scene, both wine producers and wine drinkers embraced their (well-deserved) status with evangelical enthusiasm. And as evangelicals do, they sought to prove that Americans could be just as knowledgeable, critical, and refined in taste as their European counterparts. And though I was not around for this incredible time, I believe this image and attitude is exactly what the US wine industry needed to survive.

This is the foundation upon which current wine culture in America is based. Throughout the decades, the industry has not lost the evangelical zeal to display its knowledge and refinement. Marketing campaigns embrace it, wine publications tout it, and wine drinkers from this era flaunt it.

It was effective to market wine in this way to generations 40 years ago – even 20 years ago – but it’s NOT WORKING NOW. For the next generation of wine drinkers, this attitude tends to turn us off. Some people are annoyed by it, some people are intimidated, some people don’t identify with it, the list goes on.

RANDOM STORY THAT THIS REMINDS ME OF: The story of my friend’s grandmother. This woman lived through the great depression as a child with a large family and went through unthinkable hardships: poverty, starvation, the death of young siblings. Though she didn’t speak of this much with my friend, this time weighed heavily on her throughout her long life. When she passed away, my friend and her father went to clean out her home to sell it. When they went into the basement, they found over 20 boxes of canned goods – some recent to some almost 50 years old. Because of her formative years in need, this woman had been buying and hoarding thousands of cans her entire life because she felt that she would someday need them; in reality, however, she had been spending her family’s hard earned money on a misappropriated sense of safety.

I find this very similar to what is happening with the wine industry today. Today’s attitude was created in a time of need – it helped the wine industry emerge, survive, and thrive for years. However, that’s not what it takes to survive today and certainly not tomorrow. Attempting to create new “brand ambassadors” using the same old tactics is proving to be a failure.

EXAMPLE: How many new brand ambassadors from the target millennial demographic did your company’s last full-page, full-color ad in Fill In The Blank Glossy Wine Publication get you?

Too far? Ok, my apologies. Snarkiness aside, clinging to the safety of what has worked in the past is exactly what will torpedo efforts now and in the future. By no means am I encouraging companies big or small to do away with what has gained them their current following. There is value to that approach, but only to one’s current customer base. In other words, to maintenance – not to growth. This is why I’m not suggesting  companies completely amputate this approach.

I do, however, highly recommend that if any company wants a NEW consumer group, that you create a NEW marketing plan for them – separate from your existing plan. This means a new attitude and image for this group. Put in the effort to find the aligned interests of the demographic and of your brand and work from there. If you personally don’t know what I’m talking about, find someone that does. This kind of work won’t be easy at first, but it WILL be worth it.

You’ll know it’s working when it’s no longer difficult to sell your alcoholic beverage to a twenty five year-old college graduate.

Small Indulgences in Hard Times: How the R-Word Can Work for Wine

Back in August I was invited to a press tasting here in Los Angeles. Normally, this would not be something to write home about – or in this case, the entire world – but this particular event fascinated me.  It was not at a trendy restaurant during the off-hours of a weekday, it was not during cocktail-hour at one of the dozens of ultra-luxury hotels in the city, and it wasn’t a dreadful luncheon.

Setting for the Press Tasting

Ruffino Wines was holding their press tasting at Voda Spa in West Hollywood – complete with manicures and massages. Upon first glance of the invite, I marveled at the balls-out audacity of securing RSVPs by offering free spa services and thus guaranteeing a completely captive audience of press. And all of this with no obvious connection to wine – especially Chianti.

Upon further inspection of the materials, however, I was absolutely taken.  They had found a simple and luxurious way to work WITH the recession in order to market their wines.


In 2008, the New York Times ran two stories on The Lipstick Index – a term coined by Leonard Lauder of Estée Lauder that described his experience of selling more lipstick in times of economic hardship. The theory behind this term is based on the idea that when times are tough and big luxuries – vacations, cars, even couture clothing – are no longer realistic expenses, people seek small indulgences, like nice lipstick, to see them through the times. Sound like a stretch? Check out the article for yourself.

The brains at NY-based Cornerstone PR, Ruffino’s public relation firm, read the article and decided that wine could be a similar small indulgence. Riffing off this idea, Ruffino soon had a press campaign called “The Chianti Index” and set up tastings at Spas that featured wines in the $8-$25 range, along with Chianti-colored manicures.


So many companies in the wine industry seem to be putting on a brave face and pretending (at least in public) that either there is no recession, or that it’s not affecting them.  In the meantime, behind closed doors these same companies are panicking about dropping prices, decreasing wine club membership, and the uncertainty of sales this holiday season.  For marketing wine, behaving as though nothing has changed DOES NOT WORK.

Marketing a product to the masses as “the ultimate in luxury” will not be effective when the masses are not comfortable spending money on true luxury items right now.  HOWEVER… Being able market that same product as a small indulgence – the flexibility of adapting to the mental state of the times, the idea of The Lipstick Index and Recessionistas – can mean the difference between a rise in sales, or a drop.

Imagine: Let’s say a particular winery has a $50 bottle of wine that is marketed as the absolute top-tier, ultimate in luxury, single vineyard, special lot, 18 months in new French Oak, yaddah-yaddah of it’s class. The current branding says “When you want the absolute best wine, this is the wine you get.”  Now let’s look at a consumer. Doesn’t matter if they are 45 and lost 40% of their kids’ college fund in the stock market, or if they are 25 and making $30k a year, we’re looking at the average consumer that is feeling the pressure to cut back. Think about your own spending. About the conversations you’ve had with friends.  The first cut-backs are on things we don’t need. The Ultimate in Luxuries. The nice-to-haves. The new german cars. The big vacations. The best new gadgets.

By continuing with the branding of “Ultimate in Luxury,” our example wine has placed itself squarely in the Should-Not-Buy category of products. The odds of our consumer purchasing this wine are pretty slim.

HOWEVER.  If that same $50 wine adjusts it’s brand message from “Best of the Best” to “Small Indulgence,” it’s chances increase dramatically. If the message says “This is how you can pamper yourself – no vacation needed,” then that wine no longer resides in the Should-Not-Buy zone for our consumer, but rather the We-Deserve-This zone. The Stay-cation zone. The I-Can-Share-This-With-Friends zone.

What wine needs to do is take a tip from the Lipstick Index. By sticking to traditional branding, companies are making it more difficult for consumers to qualify spending their money.  By adjusting their branding, companies are making it easier for consumers to make the decision to buy. I know it sounds simple. That’s because it is.

Don’t look at this as a magic bullet. Think of it as the bullet that wine companies can save by NOT shooting themselves in the foot.