When you connect with a brand, it becomes a relationship. Over time, you gauge whether that relationship is working or not. And when it does, you talk about it socially, share its values and you genuinely care about it. Just like any relationship.

-Tim Martin, Guage Branding


Tim makes it sound so obvious...because it is. When a customer connects with your brand, it happens through an experience. Experiences can be events customers pay for, just like they pay for your wine, or planned moments of serendipity that make you stand out. Wineries that can't make the jump from selling commodities to selling experiences will have a hard time making meaningful connections with their customers. Businesses sell products. Brands sell experiences.

If you've flown Southwest airlines, you may have experienced one of their hilarious pre-flight announcements. It is a great example of taking information that is typically ignored by customers and turning it into an entertaining (and educational) experience that is worth remembering. Customers will talk about it and remember it next time they need to purchase a plane ticket. The experiences you offer don't have to be complicated. They can be integrated into the winery or provided as an add-on.

Take some time to look outside the wine industry for examples of effective brand experiences. Below is a shortlist of popular ideas wineries are using -- you have likely heard of some of them. Think about the benefits to the customer and the winery, then ask yourself how you can use these ideas and create your own experiences that work for your business.

Digital serendipity: Live-stream a wine tasting

Today, it is easy and inexpensive to live-stream a wine tasting event. Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube have live stream services. Invite customers through your communication channels to watch and participate. Set up in a quiet area with indirect natural light. Use a mobile device with a built-in, high-quality camera, and you're ready to go. The nice thing about a live-stream is that you can make them entertaining and educational just by being yourself. Provide the ability for customers to ask questions, it then becomes interactive. No professional actors are required. This allows your customers to have a better understanding of the wine so they can talk about it to their friends. You also have the opportunity to upsell to attendees of the live stream with real-time offers. Check out this Ridge Vineyards 2019 Spring Release live stream as a good example.

Creative pairings: from web to table

Jeremy Carter at Tarpon cellars is extending the concept of wine pairings beyond food recommendations. Not only from food to music, but also from the vineyard, to the web, and then to the dinner table. He is pairing music with wine. Music is a big part of their lives. While picking grapes, racking barrels, or bottling, there is always music threading it all together. Jeremy wants to extend the winemaking experience to their customers by having them listen to playlists while the wine is consumed. Additionally, every summer Tarpon Cellars has an event where music, food, and wine are all collectively balanced over five courses. Customers taste unreleased wines while building a relationship with Jermey, the host and winemaker for $150 per person. Even super-small producers can get creative and deliver memorable experiences.

The gift of wine: unboxing

Providing opportunities for your customers to connect with your brand doesn't stop after you've made a sale. Your experiences should extend to every customer touchpoint. What happens when your customers open the box of wine you shipped to them? If you're a winery only focused on your products, then the only thing your customer will experience is holding the wine bottles. If you're focused on your brand, the wine is only one piece of a larger experience. Our friends at Empathy Wines have invested in upgrading their packaging to improve their unboxing experience. Empathy Wine's logo and brand statements are on the outside of the box, so customers know what is in the box before they open it, immediately standing out and building anticipation. After opening, the customer is hit with color and more messaging that brings everything together. Thanks to Amazon, your customers open bland boxes full of products all the time. Make your wine unboxing experience memorable.

Pairing every interest: wine yoga

There's goat yoga, baby yoga, and karaoke yoga. Why not wine yoga? Our friends at Elsom Cellars here, in Seattle, want to send a message that drinking wine can not only be fun, but also healthy. Over the course of two hours, the winery clears out their tasting room and invites customers to release some stress by mixing yoga with wine tasting. Elsom is building a small community around something the winery cares about -- staying healthy. When wine tasting is added to the experience, it is hard to forget, and at $20 a session, the cost-of-entry is low. Customers are making lasting connections with the brand that they will talk about with their friends. FYI, they also have paint night!

Crafting & teaching: wine blending

Immerse yourself in the art of craft blending at Northstar's wine blending experience located in Walla Walla, WA. Yes, another Washington winery, but hey, there's some awesome stuff happening up here. At Northstar, the customer starts with tasting a flight of Northstar’s world-class Merlots, while learning about where the fruit is grown. Using beakers to measure the wines, customers mix the Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot to create a blend that matches their preferences. Customers even design a label and leave with, not only with a bottle of wine they created, but also leave with a unique memory they won’t soon forget. Northstar charges $85 per person, and club members get a $20 discount. There is a saying, "You are what you charge for", and Northstar is known for their exceptional Merlot blends.

Teaming up with the community: photography sessions

Almost every city and town has a community college with photography classes. Ask if they'd want to take photos at the winery as part of their curriculum. Don't ask just one college, but all photography classrooms in the area. We know based on experience that wineries pose a lot of challenges for photographers. Glass and the shape of bottles and wine glasses are hard to photograph, yet allow a student to get very creative with light. Once the photos are complete, have a gallery night, where the photographers can show and sell their art at your tasting room. Get permission to use the photos for your website, social media, and other marketing. The photographers, who may have never heard of your winery, are now intimately connected with your wine, and their work can be used to promote your brand.

Authentic brand connections

If you're ready to transition from selling bottles to selling experiences, first look inward. Besides winemaking, what is important to you and your employees? What does your brand stand for? Take those core values and interests, and consider how to simply share them with your customers through creative experiences. You'll be surprised at the new growth of your customer base, and how loyal your customers will become.

Photography by Mara Dillinger. Wine blending by our friends at Eye of the Needle in Woodinville, WA.