It’s no secret that virtual tastings are having their moment. Wine is in high demand as consumers hunker down at home, prompting wineries that have never invested in ecommerce to join the ranks.
If you already have a team dedicated to ecommerce, you’ve likely been able to scale your efforts quickly these past few weeks. If, on the other hand, selling wine online is uncharted territory, it’s time to dive in head first. Regardless of where your winery falls on the ecommerce readiness spectrum, the question remains: how do we keep human-to-human connection alive without a physical space? Enter the virtual tasting.
Relationships are the foundation of the wine industry and there’s no reason you can’t continue building them with your customers. It’s just time to reimagine how and where you’re connecting.
Here are some important questions to consider as you develop your virtual tasting experiences.
What are the key elements of a virtual tasting?
Is your goal to reach as large an audience as possible in order to gain brand recognition and hopefully attract new buyers? Or do you want to create an intimate, private setting with a VIP client, with the promise of a high value sale? Maybe you’re aiming for somewhere in the middle — you want to bring together Pinotphiles from your mailing list as you release your 2018 vintage. The good news is, all of these scenarios are achievable.
There are a few key steps to follow no matter which format you choose for your tasting.
Make it easy for customers to join.
You can schedule your virtual tastings the same way you schedule in-person tastings. During Wine Business Monthly’s Virtual Wine Tasting Best Practices webinar, Clos du Val shared that they are scheduling virtual tastings through Tock. Amista is corresponding directly via email to arrange them, and Flambeaux has no barrier to entry, holding public tastings on social media.
Consider your setting thoughtfully.
If you host a virtual tasting from inside your home, tidy up. Do your best to minimize interruptions: put away squeaky dog toys, make others in your home aware you’ll be on camera and don’t schedule your tasting at the same time the neighbors tend to run their leaf blower. If you host outdoors, consider using a mic in case of wind, and have an indoor backup plan in case of unexpected weather.
Always hold practice runs.
Test a few backgrounds to see what works best for lighting and audio. Test at the same time of day that you’ll actually be hosting, to ensure your angle is ideal for natural light sources. Incorporate all of the same technology you’ll be using live. If you’ll be streaming from your iPad, use your iPad during your test. If you’ll have a laptop and two monitors set up live, test with that full setup.
Once you’ve hosted your first successful tasting, the work doesn’t end there! Thank your customers for joining you with an email, as you would if they visited your winery. Consider sharing a link to the recorded tasting. Remind guests which wines were highlighted and make sure to link to those wines in your online store. If non-members joined you, share membership information with them. Or, if your tasting was hosted on social media, remember to share a follow up post. Here's a great example from Sextant:
Which technology should I use?
There are a number of platforms at your disposal that all serve different needs. Again, ask yourself what type of experience you intend to offer, and that will inform next steps.
Free: Facebook Live, Instagram Live & YouTube Live
If your goal is to get as many eyes as possible on your brand, social media streaming tools like Facebook Live and Instagram Live are great for broadcasting to the masses. Social savvy wineries have been using these live streams for quite some time to boost brand exposure and customer engagement.
Share the date and time of the live stream in emails and across social channels, and on the day of, your fans will receive in-app push notifications as soon as you go live. You’ll also get in front of users who may not be familiar with your winery: both channels, especially Instagram, reward video with higher reach.
During your live stream, viewers can publicly type in comments and react to your video with emojis. You can answer their questions live - but remember viewers don’t get audio privileges, so you’re the one speaking the whole time. The same is true with YouTube Live. This is a great platform if you’re planning a series of virtual tastings and want them all recorded and saved in one place. Your winery can then leverage YouTube channel content on your website and social media platforms. Here's an email excerpt from Turnbull, utilizing YouTube:
Free or Paid: Zoom & Google Hangouts
If you prefer to offer a more conversational, face-to face virtual experience, consider tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts is completely free and while the host of the meeting must have a Google account, anyone can join. Note that with Zoom’s free plan, any video chat with more than three participants is limited to 40 minutes. Paid plans start at $15 / month. GoToMeeting is another great platform, but its free version only allows three participants per meeting.
The size of your group may also dictate which platform you use. Google Hangouts accommodates video chats of up to 25 participants — so if you’re planning for more than that, try Zoom. Also consider whether you want all participants to have audio privileges at the same time. Using Zoom’s webinar add-on, you can give multiple host panelists speaking privileges — let’s say your winemaker and your DTC director — and then “call on” guests to speak throughout the webinar as questions and conversation unfold. Depending on guest count and desired conversation flow, choose a format that feels right for you.
You might also consider checking in with customers beforehand to ask which platform is most convenient for them. HALL, for example, offers both Google Hangouts and Zoom. This goes to show you can offer the same superb level of hospitality in your virtual interactions as you do in person.
Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery owner Hardy Wallace recently hosted a virtual tasting for 80 attendees via Zoom with live trumpet and keyboard performances, “including improvisational pieces based on the wine’s aromas and flavors,” as Esther Mobley notes in the San Francisco Chronicle. This works for them because music is one of their core brand tenets and their fans and members know this about them.
Know Your Audience
Clos du Val: Clos du Val’s virtual tasting kits come with more than wine — they include Coravins. This shows Clos du Val is catering virtual tastings to more experienced wine drinkers, who will ideally invest in their portfolio of higher priced wines.
For some, playing to your strengths might even mean a more relaxed, unrehearsed approach. If it’s more authentic for your brand to have pets and family members pop in for impromptu hellos, or give an unplanned cooking demonstration because one of your guests asks about the dish you posted on Instagram yesterday, roll with it!
Can’t think of anything special or unique? You might want to invest in a branding exercise. As a longer term project, you can engage an agency to do this if you have the resources. In the immediate term, start with a free exercise like this one.
It may be too early to tell how virtual tastings are delivering on ROI, but one thing is for sure: they are an excellent way to promote human-to-human connection with your customers right now. As long as tasting rooms remain closed, make it a priority to focus on ecommerce as a means for customer engagement and driving sales in the short term, while setting your winery up for success in the long term. Virtual tastings will surely stick around once we are on the other side of this.
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