Connecting with the Consumer: An Interview with Bronwyn Ney, Expert in Customer Relationship Marketing
06.29.2021  |  by Milton Cornwell

Bronwyn Dickson Ney is the founder of Bronwyn Ney Consulting, a marketing consulting firm focused on helping clients in wine, luxury, food, and hospitality. She is an expert in customer relationship marketing and has helped wineries drive significant growth over the years. We spoke with Bronwyn recently about luxury brands, stories, and connecting with the customer. Oh, and bacon.

Listen to the full interview here or read along below: 


Milton Cornwell: I’m excited to share another installment in our expert series for the wine industry. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Bronwyn Ney, who has a fabulous background starting in luxury goods marketing with Sephora. She spent time with Clorox and ultimately held the Director of Marketing position with Hall Winery, and VP of Marketing and Direct with Knights Bridge. She now has her own consulting firm appropriately named Bronwyn Ney Marketing, which helps clients navigate the current marketing landscape. Her core focus on wine, food, hospitality, and luxury goods gives her a unique perspective that we will learn more about today.

So, hello Bronwyn. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you’ve gotten to where you are.

Bronwyn Ney: Hi, thanks so much for having me today!

I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked for great companies and in really great industries. I grew up in Napa as a fourth-generation “Napan.” But when I started my career, I couldn’t wait to get out of Napa. I wanted to live in a big city and do big things.

My career started right at the dawn of e-commerce. Literally no one had any experience in e-commerce, so it wasn’t a disadvantage to be new in my career. I absolutely love the quote: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That sums it up perfectly for me. I had spent the previous year getting my master’s degree in database marketing, which was renamed database direct and e-commerce while I was there. E-commerce was just taking off.

It was so much more technical than traditional marketing, which was exciting. It was more about systems and software to enable your marketing strategy. And then I got the opportunity to work for the pure play internet retailer called eLuxury, which was part of LVMH (owned by Louis Vuitton, Moet, and Hennessy).

It’s really hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of e-commerce, people didn’t think luxury brands should be on the internet. Brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton had really cool flash websites that were basically just digital versions of their glossy ads, but they felt it was tacky to sell anything. They thought it was way too accessible and that people shouldn’t be able to order luxury goods at midnight in their pajamas. They partnered with eLuxury, which had a website to handle those “dirty” transactions. The brands could stay pure and not have to get down in the weeds to sell their products.

Milton Cornwell: That’s fascinating. What do you think luxury goods marketers have to do really well today? And is there something you would suggest they think about more?

Bronwyn Ney: Luxury brands have always understood the importance of clear branding and clear messaging, and they’ve never been shy about spending money on advertising and marketing. I think that’s where the wine industry differs from classic luxury brands. Most wineries spend a ridiculously low amount of money on their marketing efforts and their messaging. They spare no expense producing the best grapes, buy the best barrels, and hire the most sought-after wine makers. They have the best labels all the way through to the heavy glass to prove how valuable and luxurious their wine is. But then they expect the wine to sell itself. They spend virtually nothing on marketing and marketing talent.

[N.B. Copper Peak Logistics has written a bit on marketing luxury brands in the past, and how it relates to marketing wine. See our most comprehensive article here. —Milton]

Milton Cornwell: Luxury goods is a unique niche, and you’ve had such a rich history in it. What do you like the most about it?

Bronwyn Ney: One of the things I love about luxury marketing is that it’s rarely just about the product. Luxury goods are often about the place, the people, the “artists in pursuit.” At the luxury level, people really want to understand that. There are really rich details, craftsmanship, time, skill, patience, and personalities. The stories are just as important as the product—and marketing always relies on a good story. The “artists in pursuit” is always a very compelling narrative.

Milton Cornwell: You work with quite a few wineries now with your consulting group. Is there any common thread you see that they are dealing with today, other than the obvious things related to COVID, our droughts, and climate change? Or is there anything along marketing lines that they’re all facing and trying to solve?

Bronwyn Ney: In a weird way, the pandemic has really helped wineries be more customer-centric. They’ve had to put themselves in their customers’ shoes to understand what their wants and needs are in order to be relevant during this difficult time. Historically, brands haven’t been great about being customer-centric, but I feel like that’s changing…

Milton Cornwell: Do you have any suggestions for established wine brands that are trying to reach this high-end demographic market?

Bronwyn Ney: Being relevant to your consumers’ lives is a great way to reach the high-end demographic. I also think that referrals and word-of-mouth marketing are really important in wine marketing. Partnerships can be a really powerful way to connect with high-end customers. And again, connecting themselves in the context of the consumers’ lives, versus just your singular message. It’s more about how your product enhances and makes their lives better.

Milton Cornwell: I guess a good example of that was when we saw the emergence of virtual tastings. Many of those tried to partner with a celebrity chef or having wine shipments matched up with cheese products or food-related products or cooking demonstrations. Is that the kind of thinking outside the box you mean?

Bronwyn Ney: Yes. Partnering and making a brand a virtual experience, like we had to do this past year. And I think that movement will continue even as tasting rooms open up. I think you’ll see these partnerships and collaborations expand to tasting experiences in person. But also, I think the virtual thing will continue too. People will continue to want to connect remotely with the places where they’re buying their products.

Milton Cornwell: Do you have any suggestions for listeners about how to actually reach the high-end customers through digital marketing?

Bronwyn Ney: Making connections with consumers is really an art and a science. It’s that combination of finding them in a place where they’re comfortable and interacting. Then crafting the message that is authentic to your brand, but also resonates with the customer. A lot of things happen via recommendation and word of mouth. I’ve found some interesting success working within affinity groups, where people are talking and discussing wines and sharing ideas and their favorite wines. That’s been valuable. It’s not just the winery saying, “Hey, we’re here and we’ve made great wine.” It’s also your consumers literally sharing your message for you. And when that happens, it’s magic!

Milton Cornwell: Let me ask you about something that is very near and dear to my heart. I understand you are working with a high-end bacon company. Tell us about how this came to be, because who doesn’t like bacon?!

Bronwyn Ney: Baker’s Bacon, is an artisan product and made from heritage breed pork from sustainably raised pigs. It was created by chef Tony Baker when he couldn’t find the quality cuts of bacon that he was looking for to use in his restaurant, Montrio Bistro in Monterey. He started making bacon for his own restaurant. Soon he was making it for friends and their restaurants. During the pandemic, he pivoted to develop an e-commerce store and a bacon club. It was really fun applying the wine club model to bacon. I loved that energy of starting something new and creating something that hasn’t been done before!

Milton Cornwell: What are some other fun, unique things that they’re going to be doing this year?

Bronwyn Ney: Right now, Tony Baker is on The Great Bacon Road Trip. It’s a 90-day road trip that started in Monterey, California. Tony, his wife Tara, and their dog Porky are visiting as many customers as they can. They’re meeting their distributors and sales reps. They’re doing ride-alongs, bacon pop-ups where they invite chefs to sample the bacon and do side-by-side cuttings to see the difference in quality.

In 2019, Tony went to over 20 food shows, where he met all of his new accounts. With no food shows last year, this is an innovative way to get out there.

While they’re at it, they’re hitting the national parks and off-roading in his specially outfitted van with 100 pounds of bacon in the back! It’s hilarious and a really fun trip. And it seems to be working.

Milton Cornwell: That sounds like a lot of fun. How are you bringing this alive in the digital world?

Bronwyn Ney: There is a strong digital presence. We have a hashtag on Instagram, #baconbago (a play on Winnebago), where we’re tracking them. The dog Porky has his own Instagram account too. It’s fun to get Tony’s and Porky’s perspectives of what’s going on with the trip. But our main objective is connecting with the distributors and sales reps, and restaurants, and sharing the story. We’re here to welcome everyone back, and bacon makes everything better!

Milton Cornwell: I’m hearing so many parallels between what Baker’s Bacon is doing and the wine industry. Both of them seem like they’re striving to put an artisanal product out there, available to a certain type of customer demographic. And you’re bringing the entire digital side of the marketing world to the forefront, which obviously our wineries and entire industry did a very quick pivot to last year. 

Bronwyn Ney: Exactly.

Milton Cornwell: So Bronwyn, as you look into your crystal ball for the next few years, are there any things you think people in the wine industry and wineries in particular should be focused on as they put together their strategic plans?

Bronwyn Ney: Well, certainly the big challenge right now is how to open back up. How do we hire great talent to get us back to where we were before? The tasting rooms are expecting all that great traffic that’s going to come back and reopen the economy. So investing in the right people to tell the right stories and connect and build those relationships with our consumers. Rebuilding that part of the business is probably what’s number one on everyone’s mind right now.

Another thing that should carry over from the pandemic is this customer-centric mindset. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we need to look ahead to what our next disaster could be. The last several years it’s just been one disaster after another with the fires and then the pandemic. Getting ourselves ready and prepared with a disaster plan and ways to be bulletproof. No matter what comes our way, we need a strong strategy in place to deal with any challenges.

Milton Cornwell: I think in a small way, we’ve seen that with many of the craft beverage companies that are looking for new unique ways to put products out there that have more broader appeal. Do you see a future for that as well?

Bronwyn Ney: Absolutely. I’m working with this really cool beer brand in San Diego called Duck Foot. They have a lot of line extensions that include collaborations or limited releases. They work with musicians and just did a collaboration with the Frank Zappa family and one with Los Lobos. We’re working on a strategy to expand their artists and collaborations, so if anybody out there listening is interested in doing a beer collab, hit me up with some ideas!

Milton Cornwell: Since Copper Peak is in the shipping business, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on that. We all saw that big increase in e-commerce activity last year and it’s continuing to be very strong. What are some of the challenges of shipping something like high-end bacon?

Bronwyn Ney: I always thought that wine was the hardest thing to ship, but bacon is even harder. You don’t have to get an adult signature for bacon, though, so that’s something we have going for us. But, it’s obviously highly perishable, so it has to go overnight in ice packs. It’s been challenging to figure out a shipping strategy to get bacon to people easily in one day. It’s absurdly expensive to ship to the East cCoast. We’re working to find a fulfillment house to bring that pricing down. I really wish you’d rethink your strategy, Milton! I’d love to work with you to ship our bacon!

Milton Cornwell: For any of our audience, listeners, or readers: If you want a rock star marketing professional, Bronwyn is your person! Thank you for giving us your time today. Your insights are very valuable and certainly the wine industry benefits from that type of knowledge. I look forward to being able to do this again sometime in the future.

Bronwyn Ney: Thank you. That’s so nice. I appreciate that.