Email marketing, as we all know, can be challenging. Most of us have had the experience of not being able to think of content ideas, but, recognizing the importance of email as a tool for staying in touch with our audience, many are tempted to send out the old standby: a $1 shipping offer. Here’s how to change that forever.

Knowing the importance of staying in contact with your winery’s audience, I would like you to consider the following question. Which is worse: not sending regular emails to your subscribers, or sending emails on a regular basis even if you know some of them will annoy the recipients?


Of course, neither of these approaches is the optimal way of treating your valuable readers, but this dilemma can be solved with some forward planning in what can be called a content strategy.


What is an Email Marketing Content Strategy?

In contrast to sending out scattershot emails simply to maintain a presence in your readers’ in-boxes, a content strategy describes what you aim to achieve through the complete picture of all your content (which can also include Instagram posts, Linked-In updates, web content, and printed materials, which are described in another article) and carries a certain expectation for business impact.


A content strategy for your winery’s email subscribers would be designed to move your audience towards higher levels of engagement, whether that means becoming a first-time customer for someone who hasn’t purchased before, or a second-time customer for someone who has purchased just once, or, for someone who’s been with your winery for months or years, becoming a more-loyal wine club member. The goal is not to push sales, but to build strong relationships with your followers, (who will then develop into more loyal customers).



Wineries in 2020 that are still thinking in terms of just getting the word out, need to be transitioning over to a content strategy for their emails, or risk losing their audience and damaging their brand.


If you track your winery’s email marketing metrics, you have probably noticed a certain number of unsubscribes each time you send something out. Depending on the nature of your winery’s particular flavor of emails, you may notice higher unsubscribe rates in response to longer emails, lower open rates for sales promotions, and higher click-through rates for member-only events at the winery. You may also notice that your subscribers become less engaged over time, opening fewer emails regardless of how entertaining your animated GIFs are, how engaging your copy, and how compelling your offers.


Implementing a content strategy for your winery’s communications will help solve these issues, but — and perhaps more importantly, because it appeases the egg-headed folks in the business office — it will also help drive sales. As Elon Musk tweeted after his fat-bodied SpaceX Starship SN8 prototype crash landed with a spectacular explosion in what is being called a rapid unscheduled disassembly, “Hell Yeah!” This is precisely the kind of senseless optimism that winery marketing teams need!


Why a content strategy works

Have you ever gotten caught up in a TV series and just binge-watched an entire season, only to go back for the next season? This kind of content perfectly illustrates how a content strategy works. Let’s take the series The Flash, which began airing on The CW back in 2014, as an example.


There is an over-arching arc to the series that spans many seasons: Barry Allen is a crime-fighter with super-human speed. Each series contains its own over-arching plot; a villain who appears from another dimension, who is generally defeated by the end of the series, but leaving a cliff hanger in the last episode to make sure you return for the next season to see what happens. Meanwhile, each episode contains two or three mini-plots of its own to keep things moving at a fast pace; Barry Allen’s near-thwarted romance with Iris West, tension between the folks at STAR Labs, and the introduction of one or two fresh disasters that they just barely manage to evade before the episode ends.


Designing a successful content strategy

A successful content strategy for any business takes a similar approach. A blog post is rich with detailed information which is relevant to the business’s overarching brand and their audience, and it follows a previous blog post with related content, and links to other articles on the site that tackle similarly related content. These articles are introduced in email newsletters that subscribers receive, and they follow some kind of arc.


For target audiences that are not yet subscribers, or who are outside of the sales funnel, they can discover the article from social media posts that link to it, or via a web search. If everything is buttoned up nice and tidy, any readers who are not subscribers will see a prompt to subscribe to the newsletter so they can continue to receive related content, but anyone who is already a subscriber will not see those messages.


What is the goal of your winery’s content strategy?

With many content strategies, the goal is to convert someone who is at the edge of the sales funnel, into a customer, and once that is done, the strategy is more-or-less complete. With these types of content strategy, the content is designed to educate the potential customers about the benefits of their product, and then convince them to become customers.


For wineries, it’s a little different. Your content strategy needs to be designed for a long-term relationship. Your subscribers didn’t join your email list because they were volunteering to get marketed to; they joined because they like who you are and they want to be included as insiders. With this in mind, your content needs to treat your readers as insiders; part of the gang; someone you’d happily share a glass of wine with (I mean, they’d get their own glass — you wouldn’t have to share your glass with them).


So let’s look at the main types of emails wineries send out. They generally fall into the following categories:

  • Events: pick-up parties, winemaker dinners, virtual tastings …
  • Awards/Accolades/Write-ups
  • What’s happening in the vineyard/winery
  • Book a Tasting emails
  • Recipes / Food Pairing Suggestions
  • Sales Promotions: flash sales, seasonal Promotions (eg. Merlot Month, Grenache Day), shipping promotions

Plus another category that wineries give very little attention to,

  • Evergreen content (such as “Should you Decant Your Wine?” or “Does the Type of Wine Glass Matter?)


Looking at these types of emails within the context of plots and mini-plots that were described above, we can imagine how these different types of emails can weave together to form arcs with different cadences. For example, food pairings and recipes could go out every week for three weeks in the Spring, and then for another three weeks in the Summer (I’m thinking barbecue season, right?) and Fall. They can showcase a particular wine, but the email doesn’t need to be a sales email. Emails about what’s happening in the vineyard, the cellar, or the lab bench (oak trials and such) can go out maybe once a month, and emails about events can be sent quarterly. Flash sales can happen occasionally, interspersed throughout this calendar, but should be segmented for your audiences.


Remember: your content strategy needs to move the needle somehow, so however you plan out your content, it needs to be tied to business goals and you should be able to demonstrate how your strategy will move your winery towards meeting those goals.


How to align your winery’s content with your strategic goals

The first step in developing content to align with your goals is to … (ready for this?) … define your goals. A successful content strategy for a winery considers two dimensions: the needs of your winery, and the needs of your audience. And in defining your goals, you will have over-arching goals such as “increase sales by 3%” or “reduce wine club attrition by 5%” and you will have more micro-level goals, such as goals for new visitors, and goals for your most-engaged or least-engaged wine club members. These different goals come into play when segmenting your email audiences and writing content specifically for those segments.


I recommend to clients that they think about their winery email marketing as relationship-building first, and sales-building last. And strong relationships are built on giving and receiving. If all of your emails are based on Buy This! Buy This! Buy This! (in other words, take-take-take), you’re not doing your share of giving.


To swing the balance so that your relationship is more in equilibrium, you should strive to provide more value in your emails. Send emails that make your readers’ lives better somehow (without wasting their time): ask your readers for their opinion; find out what they would like to see improved; send useful articles about how long wines can be stored or where wine began, which don’t have a call to action, or send the occasional individual, personalized email saying, “We hope you enjoyed the Zinfandel we sent you. If it was for a special occasion, or just a simple moment you enjoyed, we’d love if you’d share your story with us.”


I know that not including a call-to-action in every email you send out might seem like crazy talk, but by doing this, you are building a relationship that is more mutual, more compassionate, and more rewarding.


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