April 27, 2021

Entering the Digital Age of Wine With Justin Noland

By Angela Oemcke

This is Justin Noland, an industry leader from the USA who was recently appointed the role as the Senior Director of DTC Marketing and Ecommerce for Treasury Wine Estates.

What started as an inclination towards an industry dedicated to making the products we associate with the best moments of our life, soon became a passion for Justin. Today, Justin is an expert on all things wine marketing and strategy in the digital era.

With a wealth of knowledge to share, we insist you read on to discover what wineries need to know in the digital age.

Tell us how it started, what got you interested in the world of wine? 

My interest in wine comes more from an appreciation for how the product is associated with or is a part of many of the positive memories people have. I was not a big wine drinker prior to joining the wine industry and learning more about the nuances in wines. However, as a marketer, I have always loved how people connect wine with memorable experiences, celebrations, romance, and friendship. After nearly a decade in the health industry, I wanted to be a part of something that consumers, wine lovers or not, associate so closely with happiness. 

What led you to your role as the Senior Director of DTC Marketing and ecommerce for Treasury?

With no wine experience, Amy Hoopes gave me an opportunity at Wente Family Estates to learn and to start a digital transformation in the organization. With a great team in place, I focused on implementing best practices from other industries across digital marketing, email marketing, CRM, and ecommerce. There were definitely challenges but my team took what we knew to work outside of wine and adapted it with a lot of success. That work created a foundation of what was possible and then the pandemic drove an accelerated adoption of wine ecommerce. 

Today, a great ecommerce experience in wine is no longer a nice to have option. It is a must have channel for consumers. I am thrilled at the opportunity to work on iconic brands with Tracy Sweeny, Carl Evans, and the talented team at Treasury Wine Estates. The digital space in wine is evolving before our eyes and I am truly thankful to be in a position at an incredible organization to help shape the future of wine ecommerce.

Talk to us about the wine marketing space in the USA, what are the main strategies wineries use to engage the market and what actually works?

Wine marketing varies so much from one winery to another, one brand to another, but it mostly boils down to telling stories, engaging consumers, and delivering a quality experience. Very little of the “what” is new or particularly innovative, but the “how” is. Reaching consumers today requires a coordinated omnichannel experience. Today the path to purchase nearly always begins online and we have the opportunity to tell immersive and authentic stories across their devices. Consumers who never cross the threshold of our cellar doors can engage with the brand, meet the winemaker, explore the terroir, and enjoy limited production wines with their friends.

Our industry excels at world class in-person experiences and hospitality. We need to bring these experiences, in an approachable and fun way to a broader group of people online. No digital experience will ever replace the vacations a wine lover spent touring Bordeaux or Napa Valley, but even those experiences don’t need to end when they leave the winery and can start well before they ever decide to make the trip.

What works is when wine marketers begin to think about digital as a channel to enhance the relationship with all your customers and make their enjoyment of wine even better.

What do you think the American wine consumer is looking for in a wine? How can wineries leverage this? 

It depends on the person. Some are looking to dive deep and to engage their senses with fine wines, nuanced bouquets, and notes of flavor. Some are searching for the perfect pairing with that night’s gastronomical delights. Some are browsing for a wine they won’t be embarrassed to bring to a friend’s dinner party. Most are simply looking for a wine they enjoy at a price they can afford so they can kick back and relax with a glass at the end of a long day. The best way for a winery to leverage this spectrum of consumers is to start by identifying who their current customer is and recognizing that not all customers are attracted by the same things.

In what ways is it challenging to engage millennials with wine, and what are some wineries that are successfully doing so (and what are they doing)?

I am a millennial, barely, and even growing up in one of the world’s wine epicenters, I don’t recall a winery ever speaking to me as a consumer. It is part what the message is and part where it is being delivered. You need to be where the people are, and it is only recently that the wine industry as a whole has shifted to some level of digital marketing. Even when you see digital advertisements today, they don’t feel targeted or interesting. They are mostly sales focused. The industry hasn’t done the work to build the digital relationship with younger consumers in the ways that spirits, beer, and even seltzers have. Out of context, wine messaging can also come across as elitist and create an invisible barrier of knowledge needed for enjoyment that doesn’t really exist.

Many wineries have adopted influencer marketing, which works great to reach these audiences if targeted appropriately. Brands like One Brick Wines and CW Intercept are successfully partnering with influencers and delivering their message of approachability and quality to younger wine consumers.

What do you think the next marketing trend will be for the wine industry?

Storytelling beyond people, places, and practices. There is no doubt that these are of fundamental importance to wineries and to the most devoted of wine afficionados, but in the sea of information available online, there are just too many of the same stories out there. Storytelling needs to go beyond the few minute monologue introduction tasting ambassadors reel off without hesitation. Brands will need to rethink what makes them different, special, and how they’ll communicate that to stand out in a crowded digital environment.

How well do you feel wineries are making use of the digital technologies available?

Very few wineries are using basic digital tools available to manage and optimize ecommerce experiences. Tools like Google Analytics or SEM Rush to understand how users are navigating and converting on your website or how well you, or your competitors, are competing on key words and traffic are rarely used. Even if an Analytics pixel is firing on the website, the data isn’t being used to make decisions. Data for the sake of having data is pointless.

Many wineries use agencies for their ad buying or website development, but that often reduces how intimately the marketers understand the experience or how to manipulate it. These are fundamental marketing skills that need to be built and managing agencies isn’t the way to do it. Digital and ecommerce agility takes talent, and the industry has not done a great job developing that talent.

What are some of the emerging technologies in the wine industry that you are excited about?

Treasury has always been ahead of the curve on using technology to enhance the consumer experience. Their pioneering work with AR engaged millions with a unique and immersive storytelling experience and I certainly see AR as an element many other wineries will use to bring their stories to life – on their bottles and on their properties. I also see the adoption of voice as a medium the wine industry will latch onto. We have so many stories to tell, so many conversations to have, such rich content that can be easily delivered through voice. 

Do you think eCommerce and DTC are the future of the wine industry (please elaborate on your answer)? 

They are certainly part of the future. Retail sales are not going away anytime soon. Even if you include last mile delivery apps like Drizly or Instacart in ecommerce/DTC, the vast majority of wine will still be purchased in a retail store for the foreseeable future. 

However, DTC and ecommerce will continue to play larger and larger roles for wineries of all sizes across channels. DTC ecommerce will eventually be the path for products to come to market, allowing for enhanced testing of product quality and messaging. Digitally native brands will strategically gain traction and build demand prior to considering retail distribution. Wineries will make better bets on which brands to scale because they will only bring the digital winners to the retail buyers. 

Wineries will also be able to utilize the efficiency of a strong digital tech stack to launch brands faster for more heavily targeted audiences in a profitable way. Creating 5-10 profitable 10k case ecommerce brands may be easier and faster than building the next 50k case brand.

What is the best experience you have had with a bottle of wine?

I was at Mediterranean Vineyards in the tiny AVA of Fair Play in California’s Sierra Foothills sitting out on the wood deck overlooking the vineyard at sunset. As I sat at the table with Shem Swerkes, the best digital marketer in wine, and Natalie Walling, a fantastic community manager and social media marketer, we were enjoying a bottle of their Amarone Zinfandel. The wine was wonderful and immediately became a favorite of mine, but it was the view and the company that made the evening memorable. We talked for hours about wine and life as the sun dropped over the vineyards in a burst of colors. That’s the thing about wine, it doesn’t need to be the center of attention to be a memorable part of the experience.

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