Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The 2011 Charlottesville (VA) Wine Bloggers Conference: A study in effective marketing promotion

One of the key areas of focus of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (VWBMO) is increasing regional and national awareness of Virginia wines and one of its most significant actions to date in that regard was co-sponsoring (along with Virginia Tourism) the 4th annual Wine Bloggers' Conference (WBC4) held in Charlottesville (VA) from July 21 to 24, 2011.  I discussed this promotional effort, its implementation, and the realized benefits, with Ms. Annette Ringwood Boyd, Director of VWBMO,  as part of our larger conversation on marketing and the VA wine industry.

According to Ms. Boyd, the intent in co-sponsoring WBC4 was to (i) raise awareness of VA wine and (ii) to increase the awareness of the VA wine region as a whole as a tourist destination.  The sponsors saw wine bloggers as influencers and perceived the conference as providing a vehicle within which to influence these influencers.

There had been three WBCs held prior to the Charlottesville edition (Sonoma 2008, Napa & Sonoma 2009, and Walla Walla 2010) and 80% of the attendees at those conferences hailed from California.  Virginia wine country was one of three wine regions asked to submit proposals to host the fourth installment of the conference and VWBMO partnered with Virginia Tourism to prepare and submit what turned out to be the winning proposal.  The location of the next year's conference is normally made on the last day of the current conference and when the announcement was made at the Walla Walla conference that Charlottesville had been selected to host in 2011, the predominantly west-coast-based bloggers were not enamored at the prospect of traveling "all the way to the east coast."  It was at this time, according to Ms. Boyd, that many of the east coast bloggers -- who had not thought twice about traveling out to the west coast to support past conferences -- came to the defense of the selection.  Ms. Boyd specifically mentioned the VA wine blogging community and Lenn Thompson of New York Cork Report (the first time that I have heard anyone publicly admitting to knowing that guy) as being very supportive of the selection and making that fact known loudly.

The VWBMO took a comprehensive approach to exploiting the opportunity presented by the conference.  Rather than waiting for the bloggers to arrive in the Commonwealth and then inundating them with literature and wines at the conference, VWBMO arranged a series of pre-conference Twitter tastings which would serve as on-ramps to both the conference and VA wines for "high-value" wine bloggers.  These pre-conference tastings were kicked-off with a tasting of wines from the Monticello AVA in the October prior to the conference and was then followed by a December tasting of Loudon AVA wines, a May tasting of VA whites, and, two weeks prior to the conference, a VA Viognier tasting.  The organization of the tasting called for 12-18 bloggers on Twitter (or in a central location in VA), the presence of one or more winemakers to assist in responding to questions raised from the ether, and a VA wine blogger as the moderator.  Information packages and wines were sent to the participants in advance of the tastings.

Results from these tastings showed increasing engagement of participants when the beginning and ending stats are compared.  The first tasting generated 521 tweets, 31,000 followers, and 1.2 million potential impressions.  By the time the Viognier tasting was completed, its numbers were 1200 tweets, 86,000 followers, and 2.8 million potential impressions.

The conference itself had a few challenges but, overall, it was a huge success and a win-win for Virginia and the conference organizers.  First, the biggest challenge.  It was hot and humid in Charlottesville and this negatively impacted attendee comfort levels, especially at the signature tent affair on the Monticello grounds.

The wins for the conference organizers were (i) the conference sold out and (ii) they uncovered a huge new audience for the conference.  Remember that the conference was 80% west-coast-resident attendees prior to the Charlottesville conference?  Well, the attendees at the Charlottesville conference were more broadly distributed: 23% from VA; 35% west coast, 9% MD, 2% Canada, 2% Oregon, 17% NY, and 9% from other southern states.

For VA wine the win was that all of these attendees were exposed to VA wines and that VA wines gained broader exposure than the wines at previous WBC conferences thanks to the attendee makeup.  Some of the conference-related statistics collected by VWBMO follow:

  • 335 conference participants from 4 countries and 21 states
  • 47 VA wineries featured
  • 78 VA wineries represented
  • 7 bus loads of bloggers visited 17 wineries
  • 15, 206 tweets using the conference hashtag
  • 43.5 million potential impressions
  • 125 blog posts written by the October following the conference with the reviews being overwhelmingly positive.

Additional benefits that have accrued as a result of co-sponsoring the conference include: (i) increases in relevant web and twitter traffic and (ii) articles in the national press to include Huffington Post, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle.  The awareness, on a national level, of VA wines, and VA as a tourist destination, is much higher now than it was prior to the conference.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. The weather at WBC 2011 was beyond anyone's control, and it gave attendees something to talk about besides wine. But I can't believe that anyone who made it to Walla Walla -- just as close to the end of the earth as Charlottesville -- would have any complaints about getting to WBC 2011!

    1. I am not sure that Walla Walla and Charlottesville would appreciate being labeled as close to the ends of the earth but I get your drift.