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Virtual Experiences (VX) – the newest, 6th DTC Channel


2021 has not started much differently than 2020 with pivot, Pivot, PIVOT! One thing that is becoming clear as we continually adapt is that our guests are engaging in new ways, and teams that are succeeding are becoming more agile. We’ve heard from many wineries that they were able to start or add more Virtual Experiences (VX), dial up the phone channel, and ecommerce exploded in 2020. This begs the question, is VX here to stay? Can this level of phone sales and ecommerce be sustained? Yes, we firmly believe one of the key takeaways from 2020 is that these channels are here to stay! Sustainability will depend on a winery’s willingness to focus and maintain these channels.

WHAT:
VX is Here to Stay. To be fair, most wineries had ecommerce in place, with active digital marketing calendars, but with mixed results. We finally saw the guest becoming more active in those channels, much to the relief of many. Within the first few months of COVID, we had over 150 attendees enroll in classes to sharpen their outbound phone skills. More recently, we launched 4 classes (with 3 more to come) focusing on VX due to overwhelming demand. Many wineries have wanted to play in that space, but did not know where to begin, how to program the experiences, and how to turn VX into sales.
Types of VX:

  • Delivering to one screen (1:1 tastings)
  • Delivering to many screens (for known or unknown groups)
  • Presentation to interactive experiences for large groups (like club member events)
  • Leveraging corporate opportunities

WHO:
Guests Will Be Slow to Return
So how does a WISE DTC leader continue to raise the bar and generate revenue? Well, it is cold and wet in most parts of the country, which brings a whole new set of challenges. Local guests may be slow to return, knowing better weather will be here in a few short months. Out-of-town guests may be even slower to return, if at all, until a vaccine is fully deployed. According to research conducted by Longwood International, ”26% of traveling Americans are still deciding if and when they plan to take a trip. Nearly half of travelers (47%) indicated they are planning to take their first trip in the late Spring or Summer of 2021.” This leads us to believe that lessening the dependency on tasting rooms by growing VX, Phone, and Digital is one strategy worth a deeper look in 2021.

HOW:
1. How do you manage the in-person versus virtual versus outbound calling by the same potential staff member? 

  • Cross-Train. Having agile staff members makes giving hours to team members more viable if they can make outbound calls, host VX, manage website Chat, host in-person experiences, etc. Winery staff members have always had to wear many hats – this is not different, but perhaps more strategic thinking. Let’s leverage our resources accordingly. Then…
  • Meet Our Guests Where They Are. Many wineries have pivoted their tasting room teams to be agile, through changes in thinking and extensive training, they have teams now ready to meet the guest where ever the guest chooses to interact. Then…
  • Let the Calendar Decide. If the tasting room calendar is booking up, they redeploy staff there. If it is a slow period in the tasting room (or it is closed due to local COVID rules, natural disasters like fires, floods, etc.), they focus on outbound phones and/or VX. How does a DTC staff make that change? There is a myriad of backstage challenges to overcome – do we have the technology we need, the training necessary, how do we keep the communication open with our team? These are still uncharted territories without a clear map. Many wineries found a rhythm that worked for them by trial and error. It required leaders to be transparent with their teams, and everyone to be open to new ways of working.

2. How do you make the most out of VX and keep people coming back?
Start: 

  • Create a program for VX by offering 3-bottle packages, wines ‘already in your cellar’, Corvin & PLUM packages and collaboration, smaller bottle sizes… One size does not fit all, so each winery needs to figure out what their strategy will be and execute it well.
  • KISS – (Keep It Simple, Silly!) and make it easy for people to sign up, participate in the experience
  • Don’t be shy to invest in digital – it’s here to stay and it will be worth the ROI

Continue: 

  • Find different things to share with guests – tour the estate, vineyards, gardens, production, etc. Find ways to bring the winery to life.
  • Get creative – keep things interesting by offering different ways to taste wine: verticals, horizontals, blending wines…
  • Keep it relevant, fun, engaging with fresh content or different tasting bundles

Accelerate:

  • Market your VX: Try sharing short clips and screenshots to further promote your VX events (with permissions, of course!)
  • Shipping incentives to upsell from the 3-pack, better member pricing, special offers / access only to members, or other incentives to ‘sweeten’ the deal.
  • Best practice – follow up with guests personally, offer a special with promo code that is time sensitive, send a screen shot to thank the attendees… follow up, make it personal, and invite them back – for another VX or to the winery.
  • Leverage the ‘Ripple Effect’ – invite others to do VX with us, and each time we do a VX, we invite more, and more join us, and more get invited, and it grows. The program may be slow to start, but don’t be afraid; if we’re effective with our ‘invitations’ and marketing, it will grow.

3. How do you know if you’re successful? We firmly believe that this is the new DTC Channel, so creating metrics around these activities are important. If we don’t track it as its own channel, how will we know how successful it is? Otherwise, other channels may look more successful than they actually are.

  • Track results – know your metrics!?! Track your sales (pre- and post) and contacts using specific sales types channels and source codes.
  • If offering a promotion – create a custom promo code that matches the source code so it can be tracked with any follow-up revenue that may come in later. This is especially helpful to see what marketing program is working or which staff is doing an exceptionally great (or poor?) job. You can also use codes to differentiate between pre-tasting packs and one for post-tasting sales.

WHY:
It’s not too late!
The good news is that it is not too late to pivot! If your team has not embraced VX or phones, you can still grow these channels. Or if you haven’t really accelerated these programs, we’re here to tell you the ROI is worth it!

Key reasons for VX (or phone)? It creates a connection, new ways to engage, and makes people feel special. If we have meaningful outreach and engagement, we can generate new business and customers. We can deepen relationships with brand loyalists while increasing their annual spend and increasing winery revenue. Diversity of a business is what keeps it from becoming obsolete… let’s lean into this new potential and see where we can take it. “See” you on Zoom soon!

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