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The Best Marketing Advice For Your Wine Brand To Enter the U.S. Market

One of the big themes of the recent USATT 2017 event, which took place May 16-17 in New York City, was that wine and spirits producers need to become better at telling their brand stories.


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They need to stand out in a very competitive environment and find a way to resonate in the minds of potential buyers.

On Day 2 of the event, an interactive Q&A panel featuring Steve Raye, President of Bevology; Martin Sinkoff, VP and Director of Marketing at Frederick Wildman; Rob Bradshaw, CEO of Cape Classics; Michael P. Votto, President & CEO of Votto Vines; and Michael Yurch, President of Bluest Sky Group (and ex-owner of Sherry-Lehmann), fielded questions from an audience of foreign winemakers and spirits producers looking for insights into how to get picked up by prospective U.S. importers and distributors.

As panelist Rob Bradshaw explained, it’s really a matter of understanding the differences between “pull” and “push” marketing. “The days of push are over,” he said. “I’m tired of push…. I’m exhausted by push…” In today’s crowded marketplace, brands need to be smarter about how to “pull” in potential importers and distributors.

“You want to get someone’s attention on why you should be in someone’s portfolio?” he asked rhetorically. “Tell me in Paris or Milan, you’ve gained 300 on-premise placements and your Facebook fan base has quadrupled.”

The reality, said Bradshaw, is that many importers are working on a “1 in, 1 out” basis. They aren’t looking for more SKUs. Instead, they are looking for the perfect fit to round out a portfolio. When brands contact importers, then, they have to be very clear on how their offerings would complement the overall portfolio.

After the Q&A panel, Bradshaw compared the process of finding the perfect wine to the process of finding something to watch on Netflix. There’s just so much noise, and people are looking for something reaches out and touches them. Just as someone might pick a Netflix movie based on a tiny thumbnail image of the movie poster, someone might be willing to pick a wine based on the appearance of the packaging. Quality materials matter. And the packaging of the wine has to make it immediately clear that it’s perfect for a certain type of consumer.

That’s why the brand story is so important – people are drinking wines not just for the way that it tastes, but also for how it makes them feel. Being a quality wine is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to enter the U.S. marketplace. That was a theme that was brought up again and again by USATT speakers on both Day 1 and Day 2. Brands need a “hook” – a reason for people to buy them.

Simply saying that you’re a “family winery” isn’t enough. As panelist Michael Votto said after the event, he gets hundreds of “family winery” pitches a week. So he’s always looking for wine brands that go the extra step to explain why they are special and how they fit into the broader wine marketplace.

The good news for emerging brands is that there has never been a better time to reach American wine drinkers. There’s so much dynamism in the market today, and wine drinkers are willing to try and experiment with new products. And the proof was in the USATT 2017 Grand Tasting Hall, as 138 exhibitors from over 20 countries displayed their products to importers and distributors.

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