Kicking and Screaming

Close up Portrait of Angry Man

It’s time to get back on the horse and start writing again. I took a little time off…for no good reason except I was not feeling inspired. Looking at why, I had a real empathy moment with you, my clients and readers: there were just too many things demanding my attention, and even though I knew I should be writing each week, there was no more me left to go around.

Until this week, when Damien Wilson tweeted this:

Tweet by Damien Wilson how do we drag wine business into digital age?

Hmmm, there is a reason my wine2wine bio reads:

Polly Hammond wine2wine bio

So, what’s the deal? Why is it so hard for wine to get down with digital? How can we drag y’all there? Well, I have some thoughts, based on hundreds of conversations with owners, marketers, brand managers, analysts, and winemakers. Let’s chat about those today.

When we work with wineries to formulate digital marketing strategy, we start with a framework of Goals, Capabilities, and Constraints:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What are you actually able to do?
  • What will hold you back?


The goals tend to fall into two main categories: sell more wine, build brand awareness. Data and anecdata tell us that digital transformation can be a powerful driver of both of these goals, so it seems a no-brainer that wineries would want to get onboard with it. But, as we see, this isn’t the reality.

Capabilities, or lack thereof

Now, before anyone starts shouting “we’re on social” or “we have an ecommerce site” or even “we’ve paid for influencers”, let me pause and refer you to this week’s article by my friend, Reka Haros.

“The main issue with this is that focusing on tactics and short-term results do not help build a long-term or sustainable business.”

Bingo. So far (in our experience, at least), wine hears digital and thinks tactics. People are often surprised when 5forests talks about digital marketing strategy as a fundamental expression of a proper marketing strategy.

The first barrier to successful digital strategy is that many wine marketers are not trained or encouraged to undertake proper marketing research. We notice this often happens because:

  • There are too few people trying to do too many things. Such is certainly the case of many small independent wineries where there isn’t even a marketer!
  • Marketers come from sales. It’s common to take someone who has been excellent in the field and hire them as a marketer.
  • Marketing is conflated with promotion, often with marketing roles filled by family members, whose job is to rep the brand at public-facing engagements.

I know it’s hard to admit, but these practices limit internal capabilities. If you don’t have anyone who is trained in undertaking proper marketing research, how will you even know if/how a digital marketing strategy can grow sales or awareness?

Next up is simple digital know-how. Lack of skills to create, implement, and measure effective digital is a top barrier in every single survey on the subject. What we hear from wineries is that it’s impossible for them to keep up with the rate of change of technology, from websites to social media algorithms. This lack of knowledge leads to these common laments:

  • “My nephew built our site.” Super common. A winery decided they needed a site, so they asked around and a mate or family member built it for them. It’s looked the same for years and nobody really knows what to do with it.
  • “We hired a website designer, but they cost us a fortune and we saw no returns.” Yeah, we know because we get called in to clean up those messes all the time. It’s not really your fault! You don’t know about digital, which is why you called in an agency to begin with! But because you don’t know digital, it’s easy to invest in something that drives no strategic goals. (Fwiw, this is why we refuse to accept a new client who won’t undertake a proper discovery workshop, because every time we have, the results have been less than we hoped for.)
  • “We’ve spent a ton of money on social media advertising and it didn’t work.” Again, not your fault. Oftentimes, advertising on social media can be like playing cards against the house. Without someone who understands how to make social media advertising work, how are you supposed to know that easy advertising (ie, boosting posts) is your worst possible choice.

The result of each of these is an unprofitable digital spend that leaves the team feeling like digital is a waste of time, money, and effort…and less likely to invest in digital in the future.


You still with me? Because it’s about to get worse.

When we do workshops with wine marketers, the number one challenge to digital marketing is always — always! — leadership buy-in. And unfortunately, that is often a generational thing. The people holding the purse strings are not themselves digital adopters, they came up through an era when wine sales relied exclusively on a traditional distribution model, and they may not be looking at any kind of long-term strategy. (But don’t feel bad, wine isn’t alone. This is true across all industries.)

To speak specifically to the Americans in the room, another common barrier to effective digital is a lack of incentive. No good reason to do it. If you have a pricing model that is founded on the three tier system, it’s hard to justify (and the margins probably don’t support) investment in digital marketing. For instance, we’ve talked to numerous wineries, distributors, and importers who, none of them, can figure out who should be responsible for that spend. That’s tough when we are now faced with new wine businesses who are entering the market with models that allow them to focus entirely on digital marketing. (If you haven’t yet seen Paul Mabray’s presentation on wine and the digitally native vertical model, be sure to check that out.)

And, of course, there’s the biggest practical constraint: money. When you haven’t the research, the know-how, the buy-in, or the margins, it’s hard to front up with the dollars to invest in a proper digital marketing campaign.

Which brings me to the answer to Damien’s question: how do we drag wine into digital?

We’ve been thinking about this a lot at 5f, and the here are a few of the answers we’ve come up with:

We need to stop circling the wagons and firing inward every time a winery or wine business tries something new and different. Give them high-fives! Talk to them and ask why they did it and learn from them!

We need to look at the hard data about consumer behaviour, FMCG brands, and our place in the world.

We need to attend conferences like MUST and participate in organizations like Areni, so that we get a bigger, broader picture of the future of our industry.

We need the risk takers and the innovators to talk about what they’ve done, what’s worked, what’s failed. We need agencies like 5f to have permission to write case studies with real numbers. We need brands who have adopted digital to be standing in the marketing workshops, leader to leader, telling their stories.

We need brand marketers to do the research, write the plan, make the case to help your leadership understand why digital strategy is a must-do.

We need leaders to hire well and trust your team.

But mostly, we need wine businesses to start with a plan. Because strategy is cheaper than failure.

You’ve got this. See you next week.

Portrait of Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond is the Founder and CEO of 5forests, which means every buck stops with her. As the public face of 5forests, she splits her time between Barcelona, Auckland, and California, consulting, writing, and speaking about the trends that impact today’s lifestyle businesses.