Bring Back That Spark —
Re-engaging your winery's email subscribers

Bradley Squires
published on
October 31, 2020
Email Marketing

They won't feel that Zing, if you give them the same old thing. That's how it is with your winery's email subscribers. Over time, they naturally become less engaged, less clickety-clicky, and a lot more unsubscribey. Here's how to bring back that spark.

Are your winery's subscribers exuberently happy to be unsubscribing from your winery's emails?
Your winery's email subscribers will naturally become less clickety-clicky over time, and a lot more unsubscribey.

I once worked at a winery that didn’t have a marketing content strategy, didn’t have a writer, didn’t source imagery, and had used everything in their existing image libraries 100 times over, yet still sent out marketing emails multiple times a week. I winced whenever I saw these off-brand emails go out with poor messaging and weak appeals to buy wine, each time inflicting damage on this winery's treasured reputation and brand equity.

I also once headed the Creative Department at a bank, and we had fun with our emails. We used lively imagery and animations, while always following strict brand guidelines, and a well-planned email marketing strategy, which actually made it easier to craft messages. We received comments from people in the field telling us they loved that last email, or that a particular email made them laugh their ass off. The CEO one time said of our work "Even my wife thinks this is cool, and she thinks most of the stuff I do is pretty stupid."

The thing is, while developing your winery's email marketing might not be considered by everyone to be fun, it should at least feel like a creative pursuit, lifting both the author, and the reader. I see it as an opportunity to contribute something positive to the recipient's inbox and, more loftily, the world. Sure, sure, the over-arching goal of email marketing is to increase business, but isn't business all about relationships?

I think it's ok for subscribers to become less-engaged over time if we're just sending the same old stuff. A friend would do the same, and it would be an indication that we need to be a better friend.

For marketing professionals in the wine industry, email marketing grants the author license to write about a subject they love (wine, remember?) and to encourage others to share, at least momentarily, in that love. And since wine is such a joyous topic, we can have fun with our writing, using humor, over-the-top superlatives, flowery descriptions, and even talk about other things we love which go well with wine, which includes almost everything.

Yes, sure, treat your winery's subscribers like friends, but they still gotta wipe their own damn face!

The current state of email marketing for wineries

This article offers nine suggestions for keeping your winery email subscribers highly engaged, but first, let's sum up the current situation for most winery emails.

Winery email marketing, from what I can tell, can be categorized into Sales Promotions, Event Promotions, Wine Club Deals (which are also sales promotions), and "what's happening (in the vineyard, in the winery, with the harvest)" updates. At least, these are the email folders that I use to sort the dozens of emails I receive from wineries everyday, and this system seems to capture everything.

Not surprisingly, Sales Promotions are by far, the most frequently sent emails from wineries, and a-day-in-the-life emails, the emails that most winery subscribers are most interested in reading, are the rarest. This might be why winery marketing departments aren't having as much fun as they could be.

Before you stop reading, I'm not saying that wineries should stop trying to sell wines via email. What I am suggesting is, if you have the responsibility for your winery’s email marketing, don't allow yourself to be easily satisfied by simply meeting your quota of getting a sales pitch out every week. Aim higher, and before you sign-off on an email, ask yourself "Am I being a good friend to my email readers?"

Ok then ... moving on.

Nine Ways to Keep Your Winery Email Subscribers Highly Engaged

  1. For right now at least, stop thinking about selling. Think only about your readers. Who are they? And, why did they sign up? Visualize one of your readers seeing your email in their inbox — are they eager to open it? Or do they already know it's just going to be an annoying offer? Try to imagine what they would find interesting, I mean actually worth reading, and share it with their spouse or social bubble.
  2. Be a friend. It's easy, and tempting, to hide behind your brand. But people who sign up to receive a winery’s marketing emails generally want to hear from a person  — a connection they have with someone on the inside — and as the person who is communicating with them most often, that connection is largely going to be you. So be a friend, be sincere, be vulnerable if that fits, but be a person.
  3. Be authentic. Yes, you need to write in a way that is consistent with the brand voice, but you can still share what you love about being in wine country, and if you do this with authenticity, your passion will come through to the reader. Do you love the smell in late September when we're in the thick of crush? Do you wait behind grape trucks every morning at a particular intersection on your way to the winery? Do you notice how the vineyards smell during bloom in May? Talk about it — all of it — in your emails to your subscribers. Make them wish they were here!
  4. Be a wine industry expert. You live and work in wine country. You probably say hello to the wine maker at least a couple of times a week, and you've maybe even waited in line behind the lab manager in the break room for a piece of pizza occasionally. You have the kind of first-hand knowledge of the behind-the-scenes winery action that your readers are thirsty for. So share some fun knowledge about your winery and invite your readers to participate. Did you just get a fresh load of oak barrels in at the loading dock? Talk about your oak program. Is the cellar crew topping barrels today? You could mention why that's necessary. Maybe you stopped being curious about that kind of stuff a decade ago, but your readers sure didn't, so give it to them!
  5. Be a wine country inside-connection. Share some news occasionally. It doesn't all have to be about your winery — after not too long, that starts to sound like the friend who only talks about themselves, which gets pretty tiring. If the Botanical Gardens in your town has a special guest speaker this weekend, let people know about it! If your local, awesome nursery will be having a sale on fruit trees this week, tell your readers about it and suggest they try out the new taco truck that's just around the corner. It's what friends would do!
  6. Offer some REAL deals. Sure, you don’t want to give away the farm to just any old schmo, but that’s what segmenting your audience is for. Create a segment for your most loyal fans and offer them a deal that NOBODY else can get. Let them know they are part of a very small group that is receiving the offer. And while you’re segmenting your audience, create a segment of people who have left your wine club in the last few months and offer them a deal as a thank you for having been a part of your family. Find those people who have only purchased one time, and offer them something to persuade them to make a second purchase.
  7. Personalize, personalize, personalize! Get super creative with your mail merge fields and add personalized touches to your emails. Create smaller and smaller segments and be more relevant to each segment. And don’t just leave it to email blasts — follow up with off-campaign personal messages to readers that you have met in person and continue the conversation. Remember, you want your winery’s email subscribers to feel that they have a friend on the inside.
  8. Ask your subscribers to re-engage. Sending an email asking your subscribers to update their email preferences is a surprisingly effective way of re-engaging your audience. It provides subscribers the opportunity to change their email address if they prefer, or to change the frequency that they receive emails (it's a good practice, if your winery has the marketing bandwidth, to segment your readers into weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly emails), or even to unsubscribe.
  9. And Finally, announce to your subscribers that things are going to be a little different around here. They have, after all, become accustomed to just hitting delete when your emails come in, so send out an announcement. Use a strong subject line, apologize for being a crummy friend who's been a little selfish lately, and promise to be more giving from now on.

Before we part ways, I’d like to share one last thought:

Limitations create the environment for greater creativity.

Ask any teenager — limitations don’t prevent you from doing things, they just make you get creative about how you're going to do them. If you give yourself the limitation that you’re only allowed to send a sales promotion if you’re simultaneously doing something to build the relationship, then that will make you dig deeper into your content strategy and brainstorm more ideas.

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