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The famous Wine Marketing Plan – lots of wineries speak about it, but what should it be, and do you, as a small(ish) winery have one??

Well a wine marketing plan in my eyes is the same as any business marketing plan – ie it is a written document that details the specific actions needed to achieve one or more marketing objectives. The essence of the process is that it moves from the general to the specific – it translates the vision into the mission, mission into specific objectives, and formulates individual action plans for each of these objectives.

To be be effective it’s crucial that the results of the action plans are measurable and reviewed on a regular (generally monthly) basis, as this allows the company to review their objectives and make the necessary changes to the individual action plans to ensure the objectives are met. In other words, marketing planning is an INTERACTIVE process.

Now most small to medium sized wineries I have dealt with have a vision, a mission and some vague objectives. Not that many of them actually have taken the time to create individual action plans to meet their objectives, and still fewer review their objectives on a regular basis and make changes to the action plans. The reason here is that they are so busy trying to run a winery, produce grapes, make wine that they have not a lot of time to focus on a sales and marketing plan, and most are happy as long as some wine is sold every month.

But actually the investment in a wine marketing plan is not really as big an effort as is often thought. What is needed is to define the objectives in a precise way and most wineries already do this for their financial planning. The only thing that they need to add is a little detail.
E.g. in your financial plan it say that you will sell 20,000 cases of wine next year, of which there are 5,000 sold at home and the rest is exported to several markets. You generally already have the breakdown of the export sales – eg 5000 cases to China, 5000 cases to the UK and 5000 cases to the USA.

What is needed now is to add a more detailed forecast per market, split up per month and per variety sold to the specific market in that month. Eg for the UK, in January 250 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, 500 cases of Chardonnay and 250 cases of Merlot, In February nothing, in March 250 cases of Merlot, in April, 250 cases of Cabernet and 500 cases of Chardonnay etc etc

Once you have the detailed forecast for the year, you should extend this forecast for the next 4 years, the next 2 years you split up the sales forecasts by market by variety in 3 months periods, and for the last 2 years you give a yearly forecast per variety per market. This will give you your long term sales strategy – it will also bring home exactly how much wine you should expect to go out every month/3 months and allow you to better plan bottling, storage and market visits.

Once you have your monthly forecasts per market per variety, its now important to include checks. A first check should be introduced at time of forecasting and it should compare your forecasted values against the actual sales you had in that market the same time last year – again split up by variety and by month. This will allow you to evaluate your situation and submit your expectations to a reality check and if large sales increases are expected it will enable you to focus on these increases and define tools and resources needed to meet the objectives. Eg you would like to grow in the UK from 200 cases of Cabernet in January last year to 500 cases this year. How will you achieve this – has your UK distributor the means to grow the Cabernet sales in a short period of time? How are you supporting him to achieve this growth (eg larger volume deals, better pricing, in market representation, trophy awarded recently to the Cabernet…)

The second check is to compare the forecasted sales in a month to the actual sales in that same month. E.g. you forecasted 500 cases of Cabernet to go to the UK in January , but instead only 100 went. So you know that your forecast is out by 400 cases – this allows you to come up with a plan to distribute these 400 cases of Cabernet that did not go to the UK in January over other markets and other months. Alternatively, you won the Decanter trophy for your Cabernet in December and in January your sold 1000 cases into the UK rather than 500. What impact will this have on the rest of the markets you had Cabernet allocated to and have you communicated the change in allocation to them?

In short the second check will allow you to realize exactly where you stand in comparison with the forecast and will force you to acknowledge the changes needed to the individual market plans in order to meet the overall objectives.

So adding a little detail to figures most wineries have readily available, has introduced a wealth of knowledge about your exact current situation which now allows you to take control and make the changes which are needed to meet your overall sales targets and to realize your vision!

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Making great wine often remains the sole focus point for many winery owners and wine makers. Whilst aiming to make the best wine you possibly can definitely is worthwhile and noble goal, I feel at least as much focus should be on where, how and when you are going to sell this wee miracle in a bottle. Awesome wine that doesn’t really make it into a (paying) consumers glass, may be a bit of a waist of time – unless you are a filthy rich filantrope making exclusive wine for your own consumption…

Unfortunately most of the winemakers and winery owners I have ever don’t really fit into that category, which means they are dependent on wine sales to pay the wine making bills… So what is the best way to go about this?

In my opinion, to be a great sales person it’s essential to know and understand your product, your potential customer base and your market. In other words, what are the characteristics of your wines, who is your target audience, and what other similar wines are out there and how are they influencing the way your target audience may perceive your products ?

An example: a small winery in Marlborough makes Sauvignon Blanc, wants to export this wine into the UK.  Marlborough Sauvignon blanc is a fruit driven fresh and zesty wine with great acidity. This acidity and fruitiness is what made this particular style of Sauvignon Blanc popular all over the world. In the UK this wine retails around 4-6 pounds in the supermarket and 6-8 pounds in the independent trade. Our small winery however, in order to make profit, will need to sell the wine at around 4 pounds FOB per bottle, resulting in the wine hitting the shelves between 14-16 pounds. As its pretty difficult for the untrained palate to pick out the subtle nuances in the Marlborough Sauvignon category its going to be hard going to sell this wine next to rest of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc section.  However this wine could prosper in the on-premise sector, in a trendy restaurant for instance. Consumers know what to expect from a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they also know they will pay a little more being out in a trendy spot, so the barrier to purchase will be a lot lower than when they see that same wine on the shelf in an independent retailer. The restaurant owner or F & B manager also sees benefits in having a less known wines from a well known regions on his list as it will better mask his mark up. By knowing his product, his customers expectation and the market the small winery owner will aim the on-premise sector when trying to sell his wines in the UK.

My next post will be about direct sales as they still hold the highest ROI for the winery owner – but its pretty hard to export and sell directly at the same time…

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