Wine.com Uncorks New Digital Marketing Opportunities

Unlike wine, marketing strategies don’t necessarily get finer with age. So, marketers should continually ferment and test new ones. That’s the approach 16-year-old online retailer Wine.com is taking as it infuses digital into its full-bodied marketing mix. The goal is to simplify the shopping process and remain at the top of customers’ minds.

A site for the senses

Wine.com’s target audience consists of wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs who typically consume higher-priced wines, often several times per week. These wine lovers tend to search for more regionally diverse selections than what’s typically available at the grocery store, says Peter Elarde, CMO of Wine.com. The e-tailer responds to this in part by providing content about its wines and winemaking.

Indeed, the art of making and tasting wine is complex and vast, which Wine.com uses to its advantage, Elarde says. The wine seller provides content to educate and engage customers and prospects about its various products and regions. Elarde explains that while this content is a rich resource for customers, it also made Wine.com feel “utilitarian.” So when Elarde joined the company this past December to help with its six-month site redesign, he set out to transform a purely perfunctory experience to a more inspirational one. He was also tasked with streamlining the shopping process and creating a design that better represents the brand’s image.

The transformation began with Wine.com reducing the amount of text on the site and enhancing the visual elements on its homepage and product pages. Elarde says this gave Wine.com more room to highlight the brand’s key messages, such as its vast offerings of wines and its shipping destinations. The imagery also helped Wine.com convey sensations associated with wine drinking, which can be difficult to portray through text alone, he adds.

Besides enriching the visual flavor, Wine.com improved its site navigation by organizing its products and offerings into three main tabs: Wine, Gifts, and Discover. The Discover tab includes Wine.com’s shopping tools, which educate customers and help them uncover new wines. For instance, customers can click to chat with wine experts or try the “Recommended for You” tool, which, although isn’t a new tool, tracks shoppers’ browsing histories, past purchases, and community trends to make product suggestions. Elarde sees “strong” conversions from these recommendations.

Many of the website’s transformations derived from customer feedback, which Wine.com acquires through customer surveys, usability testing, call centers, and customer advisory boards. “We want to get out there and let people who may have seen us in the past retake a visit at Wine.com,” Elarde says. “And for existing customers, [we want] to let them know that we’re listening to the feedback that they’re giving us and continuing to improve the service.”

Perfect pairings

If Wine.com wants customers to visit its site, it has to drive them there first. Organic and paid search help, but Wine.com also relies on social, display, and affiliate marketing to keep customers coming back for more.

Wine is already inherently social. When people think of wine, they often associate it with social occasions—like travel, enjoying meals with friends, and celebrations, Elarde says. Wine.com wanted to take part in its customers’ social conversations about wine by serving as a resource and carrying over the sense of inspiration found on its site. To help with these endeavors, Wine.com hired wine connoisseur Wilfred Wong to be its “chief storyteller” and share behind-the-scenes tales of wineries and product lines on the company’s blog. The company then promotes these posts, along with its products, on its social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

For its display and affiliate marketing, Wine.com uses tools from Rakuten Marketing to track customers’ browsing history and then serve more relevant messages. Wine.com began testing different display ads last year, Elarde says, and as a result, focused on using it as a retargeting vehicle in 2014. Display is more effective at generating top-of-mind awareness for existing customers, Elarde says, because the company knows more about their histories, such as what pages and wines they’ve browsed. The e-tailer relies on search to learn what prospects are in market for.

Personalization isn’t just for the e-tailer’s customers. Wine.com tailors content, such as newsletters, to better suit affiliate partners like RetailMeNot and leverages wine bloggers ‘content. With these changes, Wine.com has experienced 17% year-over-year growth in its affiliate channels.

Of course, Wine.com hasn’t abandoned traditional channels. The e-tailer uses email to notify existing customers of new wine releases and special offers. It also segments customers based on their wine interests, lifecycles, and geographic locations to provided targeted messages. Wine.com stores all of its transactional and cross-channel information in a data warehouse, which allows the company to view customers holistically.

If customers haven’t visited Wine.com in a while, the company may attempt to reengage them through direct mail. The company also includes printed package inserts with customers’ orders that provide more information about the company.

Wine.com also uses traditional and digital channels to educate customers on the benefits of its stewardship program, which provides unlimited shipping for an annual fee. Marketing for that program encourages people to sign up for free trials, and then aims to convert them. Today, the program has about 30,000 members.

Future flavors

As for future plans, Elarde says he wants Wine.com to build on customers’ collective experiences and broaden the variety of touchpoints, such as expanding Wine.com’s mobile content, recommendations, and purchase capabilities. “We want to provide more and more functionality in mobile that enables us to be relevant and help engage our customers,” he says, “[plus] support our customers in a broader range of content.”

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