Jeremy Benson is the president of Benson Marketing Group, a leading marketing agency to makers and sellers of wine and spirits around the globe, with offices in Napa Valley, New York, and Paris. Jeremy is also the executive director of Free the Grapes!, a national grassroots coalition of wine lovers, wineries, and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.
For our most recent Expert Series interview, our own team sat down with Jeremy to talk about wine marketing and the future of DTC wine sales.
CPL: Great speaking with you today, Jeremy. As a way of introducing yourself to our readers, why don’t you say a little more about how you got into wine marketing, and what you do.
Jeremy: Great to be here. I got my start with an agency in LA. I also received my MBA at the time and met my wife Susan. We picked up and move to Napa Valley in 1993. It was in 2000 that we formed the Benson Marketing Group. I guess all along I’ve been involved in brand marketing and brand management, doing it for the corporate banking industry, LVMH (a.k.a. Louis Vuitton), and the Napa Valley Vintners Association. Now we have a blue chip roster of wine and spirits clients.
CPL: So what makes you different from other marketing firms in the wine and spirits industry?
Jeremy: We are one company that happens to have three offices, and so new clients automatically “plug in” to a team of specialists and a network of contacts spanning Napa Valley, New York City, and Lyon. Not coincidentally, these are three trend-setting markets for food, wine, and spirits. They’re also great places to visit!
CPL: Agreed, they are great places to visit. I’m wondering, though, what is the benefit of having physical offices in these locations. Why New York and Lyon? What do these locations do, and why did you open locations there?
Jeremy: Our strategy is to be the leading wine and spirits marketing agency, so we expand geographically rather than by adding new practice areas, such as hotel or restaurant marketing. As I mentioned, we operate as one company, one team, in one industry, that happens to have three offices. There’s no HQ or field office; that idea seems so quaint now. We’re on a staff meeting call every Friday with everyone on the line, discussing the following week’s priorities for each client. It’s a fast-paced, international work environment that often feels like a graduate-level course in brand marketing.
Benson is in New York City because it’s the media capital of the U.S. We’re in Lyon because it’s the gastronomic capital of France. We’re in Northern California because it’s, arguably, the wine capital of the U.S. Proximity helps us keep a finger on the pulse.
CPL: I have read several of your case studies, and your action plans are amazing. Can you say something about what the number of “impressions” means, and specifically why they would be important to a winery in their marketing efforts?
Jeremy: Because we are a “full stack” agency that provides a wide range of services—PR, digital advertising, social media, etc.—we need a way to track results and determine costs over all these services to get the right “marketing mix.”
One way to determine the marketing mix in a campaign is to compare the costs of these services. A shortcut is to use a CPM, or cost per one thousand impressions. So we might have a campaign that is costing our client $8 CPM for PR coverage, and $20 for digital advertising. Not all impressions are created equal, of course, but CPM provides a means of comparing the cost of consumer reach across different services.
CPL: So how do you quantify impressions and ROI from your services for a winery?
Jeremy: Impressions are drawn from third-party data sources that provide these figures for press coverage, for example. [One nice thing about third-party measurements is that they are objective.] ROI measurements for PR are often focused on gaining coverage in target media—a big, hairy audacious goal by itself—plus CPM (cost per thousand impressions) figures. For digital, metrics might focus on CPM, CPC (cost per click), follower growth, etc. A lot of our work is broad-based, B2C marketing with the goal of creating demand and driving awareness, which is a little trickier to measure than website conversion, for example.
CPL: I’ve also seen or heard you mention other digital tools, like Asana, Slack, Cision, and Sprout. Many of the winery owners and staff reading this might not be familiar with these new technologies. What can you say about them?
Jeremy: Well, these days, many of these tools are ones that many of our clients use already. Asana, for example, is a project management platform, Slack is a popular collaboration hub, Cision is a media communications platform, and Sprout is a social media tool. So right off the bat we’re speaking our clients’ language and conveying that our work style is fast-paced and agile.
But the important thing about technology is how you use it to connect with the consumer. For example, your can create “bridges” with wine brands by looking for influencers and champions. And not just wine-space influencers and champions, but one with “audience adjacency.” The ide is to create a larger digital footprint and create demand. Plus, digital marketing is traceable and much easier to prove ROI.
CPL: It’s obvious that you are up on all the technology. But I’m wondering about the other stuff too, like strategy and people. For example, can you tell us a little more about advocacy marketing? What is it? And what can a winery expect from this approach?
Jeremy: For some campaigns, our end goal is to create trade and/or consumer champions for our client’s brands. Advocacy marketing encompasses trade-facing projects, such as private sommelier events co-hosted with clients in order to educate and engage sommeliers.
CPL: So what would the right kind of client for you look like? Who is the best fit for your kinds of services?
Jeremy: So, many of our prospects know what their goals are. They just don’t know how to get there. They don’t know all the tactics and how to execute on them. That’s where we come in.
But we don’t work with just anyone who walks in the door and wants to build a brand. It may sound immodest, but we’re quite selective about who we work with. We’re looking for three things: First, a professionally run organization. Second, a willingness to create a partnership rather than a vendor relationship. Third, a commitment to the success of their brand.
Any client can fire us at any time; we don’t have a penalty clause. But our average client engagement exceeds four years. So “fit” is incredibly important.
CPL: That sounds like part of your “Upward Spiral” philosophy. Can you elaborate on the Upward Spiral philosophy for our readers?
Jeremy: Sure. Simply put: Great people produce great results, which leads to more referrals and new business. That’s true of our clients, but it’s especially true of us. Hiring the right people—from both inside and outside the industry—is key to growth.
CPL: So I want to turn to the industry more generally now. This is a question I ask everyone I interview: Where do you see the DTC landscape going?
Jeremy: With 45 legal winery DTC states, the sales channel now drives $3B in revenue, but we should still see organic growth in newly opened markets, such as Pennsylvania. If we can remove the capacity caps in New Jersey and Ohio, that will allow more consumers to purchase directly from more multi-brand wineries. So, I’m bullish on the growth of the market, as well as on the industry’s improving ability to meet consumer demands for service.
CPL: There is a lot of data supporting a slowdown for our industry. Boomers are spending less or leaving the market completely, Gen X and Millennials are being courted by other purchasing decisions, and then on top of that it seems more and more importers are trying to enter the DTC space. What suggestions do you have to help wineries reduce their churn and increase membership/sales with these pressures in mind?
Jeremy: This may sound self-serving, but heightened competition requires more investment in brand awareness and demand creation. The wine business is traditionally production-driven rather than market-driven. We need to amp up the latter to drive sales.
CPL: I believe you have been putting on the DTC Wine Symposium event since it started. Can you speak to where it was, where it is now, and what you see for this event in the future?
Jeremy: The mission of the event hasn’t changed in 12 years: To create a national industry summit on DTC sales and marketing, and to raise funds for Free the Grapes! The first event was one-and-a-half days. While it is now a two-day event, the main changes have really focused on creating more, and more useful, content for winery DTC managers.
CPL: You mentioned funding for Free the Grapes! Can you help our readers understand the relationship experienced between Benson Marketing, the Wine Institute and the Free the Grapes! organization?
Jeremy: The Wine Institute is on the Board of Directors of Free the Grapes!, which was founded in 1998 by WI as well as other board members, including Napa Valley Vintners, WineAmerica, Family Winemakers of California, and the now-retired Coalition for Free Trade. Free the Grapes! is not a lobbying group; it’s a consumer marketing arm and grassroots coalition that coordinates messaging with the Wine Institute State Relations team
My company, Benson Marketing, has Free the Grapes! as a client to help them manage some of their campaigns.
CPL: So, do you see doing events like the DTC Wine Symposium internationally?
Jeremy: I wouldn’t rule it out, but right now there are no plans.
CPL: I ask in part because I receive an immense number of inquiries from international wineries trying to get into the DTC market here in the U.S. It seems that most are not prepared for the amount of work involved to be in the DTC market in the U.S. Is there something specific you can advise an importer trying to get into the U.S. DTC market?
Jeremy: (chuckles) Yes, I also get these calls. My first recommendation is typically for them to contact a beverage attorney to really understand the marketplace.
Based on Jeremy’s insights and discussion, here are 10 takeaways for wineries to face today’s growth challenges:
- Invest in your organization with the right talent, so that you can create better marketing that shows your brand in its most successful light. Good marketing has to start with the right team, in a place that cares about its brand’s success.
- Marketing efforts for a winery can take many forms and should be a mix of PR, brand awareness, social outreach, and more.
- If you do use a varied “marketing mix,” though, it helps to have some single metric or metrics that can be applied across each. This will help you find the most effective use of your marketing dollars.
- Many of the modern digital tools used for wine marketing have been out for some time, and many people are using them (Asana, Slack, Sprout Social, etc.).
- But…the best synergy comes from having a marketing agency (or team) that uses the same tools you do.
- When marketing, don’t just speak to consumers. Educate your advocates (sommeliers, for instance) and make them excited about your product!
- There is still plenty of room for DTC to grow, even with the signs of industry slowdown.
- However, wineries that want to win the DTC game will need to focus their efforts on brand awareness and demand creation.
- International importers should speak to a beverage attorney first to get a sense of the complexities of selling and shipping wine, DTC in the U.S.
- Finally, the biggest takeaway: Great people produce great results, which leads to more referrals and new business!
If you want to work with some great people who produce great results when it comes to your wine shipping, and logistics, please us a call or use Copper Peak’s contact form.