Updated: Oct 12, 2022
The biggest marketing challenge for most winery owners isn’t competition or a lack of consumer demand for their products (the rate of growth has slowed recently, but demand hasn’t declined).
It’s lack of capacity.
Here’s what I mean.
Most marketing decision-makers, whether they are managers, directors, sommeliers, or owners, are so caught up in fulfilling their day-to-day obligations to keep the business running, they can’t find the time to do any actual strategic planning.
Stepping back to get the ten-thousand-foot view in order to set the course is hard work.
Sometimes you really can’t ignore those emails, turn off your phone, and block all meetings from your schedule in order to do strategic marketing work.
I get it.
I’ve been there.
As a decision-maker, it’s easy to feel like everyone and everything is relying on you. You don’t want to let them down. You don’t want to let yourself down. And so, you work longer hours and you try your best, but you still can’t seem to answer all of the urgent emails from your staff or accomplish enough of your daily tasks to step fully into your role as marketer.
Thankfully, you don’t have to.
One of the first things students of economics learn is called the Pareto Efficiency. Pareto was an Italian engineer and economist in the 1800s, and his idea changed the world forever.
Put simply, it’s the idea that businesses flourish when resources are allocated in a way where everyone does what they are best at relative to everyone else.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
If your chief skillset is marketing, then you need to figure out a way to have someone else answer most emails and direct day-to-day operations. But if you’re really a sommelier at heart, or a chief winemaker, or even a business operations person, it is probably in your best interest to let someone else not only pick up the slack, but also help you take your business to the next level.
This can be done by outsourcing your marketing.
Now, you might be wondering how that might work. In this post, I'm going to outline which tasks can easily be outsourced to a third party, the pros and cons of working with an agency to scale your marketing efforts, and how you might get started.
Let's dive in.
Which Marketing Tasks Are Best to Outsource?
Some tasks, no matter how undesirable to perform, are impossible to outsource successfully.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: You should outsource anything you don’t have the skills, time, or bandwidth to do, unless it’s a core competency or is unnecessary to accomplish your strategic goals (in the latter case, you shouldn’t be doing it at all!).
For most wineries, the types of marketing activities you should consider having someone outside your company manage include lead generation, SEO, pay per click (PPC), social media, promotions for upcoming events, content strategy and content distribution.
When you work with an advertising agency or marketing firm, they will not only increase your efficiency through their economies of scale, they can also add value to your brand. Unless you have a huge internal team, your blog posts are probably intermittent, your visual art may be utilizing a few too many stock images, and your social media is often unmonitored (do you know if people are talking about your wine online? What are they saying? Is your online presence performing better this week than last week?).
SEO and PPC aren’t rocket science once you have mastered the basic skillset, but best practices are always being updated. Are you on top of the changes?
All of these digital activities are extremely important, but also very time-consuming. The good news is that they probably aren’t a part of your core competency as a winery and therefore can be shipped off to an external party to be managed and executed while you focus on the things that keep your business going.
But, with all decisions, there are pros and cons to be weighed before choosing a path to follow.
The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Your Marketing
When your business has become successful enough to consider inviting a third-party vendor to come in and take over parts of your marketing strategy (and I’ll go over what that looks like in a little bit), you have a couple of options to consider.
You can hire an agency or marketing firm, a freelancer, or even a consultant. Which option you choose to go with will depend on a number of variables which we can get into at some other time, but for the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on working with an agency.
Regardless of who you choose to go with, the following advice still applies.
Benefits Of Outsourcing Your Wine Marketing Strategy
Pro #1: Expertise
The most obvious benefit of hiring an outside marketing agency is that you are paying someone to be laser focused at what they are already good at.
You need to get your story out, and that’s exactly what a marketing agency is there for. They will already be familiar with the tactics you need to succeed. If you hired someone internally to do the marketing, there’s a good chance they would experience the same scope creep that you are already feeling, but an outside agency will have stronger boundaries and be able to deliver on the marketing needs you currently struggle with.
How will you know that you’re getting the most bang for your buck? Invest upfront in vetting several different options, choose a partner you trust, and make sure you understand what you are paying for before you sign any contracts.
Good marketing agencies have to be good because the current level of competition in the market drives underperforming agencies out of business. Not only that, the work they do for their clients is a direct reflection on their own performance.
When you win, they win. It is in their best interest to help you succeed.
Pro #2: Better Research And Analysis
Most small to medium-sized business owners have an understanding of their industry based on personal experience, plus a little formal education. But these can only get you so far in a competitive market space.
In order to decide where to play and how to win (the building blocks of a successful marketing strategy), you have to know your competitors inside and out. This includes not only direct competitors, like other wineries, breweries and distilleries, but also indirect competitors—what other categories of products and activities are competing for your customers?
A few things come to mind right away, including an afternoon of golf, a weekend visit to Yosemite, or a concert in the Bay Area. In one way or another, these types of activities are competing for the same dollars that you are.
Do you know the ins-and-outs of these markets and their business cycles?
A high-quality marketing agency will either have this knowledge already, or will include it in their scope of work. This information is a gold mine – having access to it can give you a competitive advantage over both direct and indirect competitors.
Pro #3: Objectivity
If you are the type of person I am describing in this article, who is passionate about making your winery thrive, then objectivity is something you might be a little short on.
This is not necessarily negative—entrepreneurs and business owners need to have a sense of optimism and a willingness to take risks, that’s why you’re so good at what you do. But sometimes it’s helpful to have someone who is on your side, who wants to see you succeed, but doesn’t have the same emotional ties to the business that you have.
A good partner will be a voice of objectivity that can help prevent mistakes and shortcomings (yes, shortcomings, we all have them).
Without objectivity, some businesses turn into an echo chamber where the boss’s ideas are never challenged. This does not bode well for your business. If you are surrounded by “Yes men” and “Yes women,” it’s probably time to hire an outside voice.
Some Reasons Not To Outsource
Con #1: Agencies Require Management And Regular Communication
While even your own employees require some amount of management, what I am getting at here is that an external agency won’t have the kind of insider knowledge your in-house team has. While your own employees can participate in water cooler conversations and impromptu meetings that lead to innovation and help set the strategy for your winery’s brand, an agency requires much more intentionality to keep them up to speed.
Some managers excel at working with outside firms, while others will struggle with this “removed” relationship. Make sure you know your own team’s strengths and weaknesses before you hire an external marketing agency.
If you won’t be able to stay on top of communication with outside team, it might be better to hire someone internally for your marketing needs, keeping in mind that hiring in-house has its own set of benefits and limitations.
Con #2: Agencies Require Planning
Unless you hire an agency specifically to help you with your strategy (in more of a business consulting role), they will be looking to you for direction.
Where are you taking your brand?
What are the goals you are reaching for, and the metrics by which you measure success?
An agency will be able to help you fine-tune your answers to these questions, but they will still require some planning on your end.
In most cases, it’s best to take some time and create a clear and high level one-page business strategy that your agency can use to guide the marketing decisions they bring to you.
Con #3: Agencies Give You Less Control
Anytime you outsource your marketing there is an inherent amount of risk.
For example, let’s say you hire a firm to manage your social media. Because they don’t have as much insider information, they might accidentally interact with a disgruntled former employee who is tweeting about you and unintentionally create a PR nightmare (if this sounds oddly specific, it’s because I’ve seen it happen).
Because the agency is external, it takes a little longer to catch and communicate gaffs like this, which can result in potentially costly errors.
Now that you know some of the benefits and drawbacks, you may be wondering if outsourcing is right for your wine brand. As promised, here are some signs that outsourcing might the best decision for you.
4 Signs You Should Outsource Your Wine Marketing Strategy:
1. Your Digital Channels (Email Newsletter, Website, Social Media Followers, Etc) Are Supposed To Be Growing, But They Are Stagnant.
Digital channels shouldn’t be hard to grow.
If they are stagnant, there are a number of best practices you could implement that would kickstart growth, like offering a discount or freebie, engaging in paid advertising, or simply posting more and interacting with current followers.
These can all be easily outsourced.
2. Your Website Hasn’t Been Updated In More Than A Month, Despite Great Content Ideas That Keep Occurring To You.
Your website should be a lead generator for you, but without fresh content, your search ranking will drop in the Google algorithm. Writing articles, creating gated content downloads, posting photos, and managing your SEO is time consuming, but it’s not hard.
3. You Want To Increase Your Online Wine Sales, But You’re Clueless Where To Start.
Some states don’t allow wine to be sold and shipped online. Do you know which ones? Do you have a store set up on your website? What other products could be sold to increase your revenue with minimal effort on your part?
Your agency should know the answer to these questions and will be able to help you rapidly increase your online revenue.
4. You And Your Team Are Stressed And Overworked. Constantly.
Wait, am I saying that you can outsource your stress? Yes. By outsourcing everything that is eating up your time and isn’t a core competency of your winery!
If these statements apply to your company in its current state, read on to find out how to take the next step toward hiring an agency to take over some (or all) of your winery’s marketing.
Steps to Take Before Hiring a Wine Marketing Agency:
As a responsible businessperson, you don’t want to jump into a relationship with a vendor before you’re ready. So even if you show all four signs that I just listed, let’s make sure you’re equipped with the proper information before you begin your search.
Questions To Ask Before Hiring Outside Help
Define Your Goals
First, have you clearly defined your marketing goals?
I’m sure you have some ideas already, but have you formally put them down and articulated them to your team?
Take a few hours (or a few days) and jot down what it means to win—will you be the most visited winery? The bestselling? The destination of choice for business retreats? And also, where you want to play—in what markets? With what customer base?
Once you do this, you’ll be able to give clear direction to your agency.
Define Your Budget
Second, what’s your budget?
This is not a time to fly by the seat of your pants. You might be tempted to assume you can afford it, or assume that it’s more cost efficient than hiring someone internally, but assumptions can kill a business.
Crunch the numbers, do some basic growth projections (and ask the agencies you are interested in working with if they have any basic projections for their work), and then decide what to do based on the facts.
Choose Based On Trust And Experience
Finally, before hiring an agency, make sure it’s the right agency!
Ask if they have any experience in your industry. Make sure they have the bandwidth needed to accomplish your goals. Ask them for case studies and examples of what they intend to do for you.
And perhaps most important of all, ask your team if they would work with the agency. There’s the odd chance that team personalities won’t hit it off, and you will struggle to get in stride with the agency. Trust your gut - if something feels amiss after you've met with the agency to discuss your needs, don't pull the trigger.
Trust is a key component to making the partnership work.
To Outsource or Not to Outsource: That is the Question
As you have probably gathered by now, the decision to hire an agency versus keeping all of the work in-house is an important one. There are a lot of variables to weigh and a lot of potential outcomes.
Whether you choose to outsource your marketing depends on your goals, your strengths, your budget, your culture…
At the end of the day, this article is meant to provide you with a starting point and some ideas to consider, especially if you haven’t thought about it before. But only you will be able to decide if it is the right move your business.
And if you've determined that it is, we'd love to help remove some of that burden so you can grow your brand, reach new audiences, and drive more revenue than ever before.
This article first appeared at Hearst Bay