How Wine Brands Chase Women With Wit, Crowdsourcing, Facebook

middlesisterYou can crowdsource a logo or a new ad, but in the traditional, prestige-bound industry of boutique winemaking – would you dare crowdsource a wine?

In its quest to snag female wine buyers, Middle Sister Wines is doing just that. Online conversations with fans of its 74,000-strong Wine Sisterhood Facebook page guided the creation of its new Middle Sister Sweetie Pie, a red table wine. Back in 2008 it used the same method to launch Middle Sister Sweet & Sassy Moscato, which is now one of its top sellers.

Much wine marketing has focused on the men who purchase fine vintages and the storied winemakers who craft them. But that ship is slowly turning toward the other 60 to 80 percent of buyers – women who enjoy drinking affordable wine. Brands such as Middle Sister, owned by Canopy Management in Napa, CA, and Mad Housewife, owned by Rainier Wine in Seattle, are learning how to mix social media, blogs, retail and event marketing to win over those female consumers. Biggest lesson: participation trumps prestige.

Middle Sister depends on a playful cast of characters to embody each product, including Rebel Red and Drama Queen Pinot Grigio. The characters post online with distinctive voices to attract a range of fans. For instance, when Facebook unveiled its News Feed upgrade, Rebel Red told her followers, “It’s free. Stop your whining.” Users seem to discuss the foibles of their sisters and daughters as much as they talk about drinking wine.

Visitors to the brand’s blog and Facebook page are guided to the Wine Sisterhood Facebook page where they can join and talk with each other about food, family, movies, and wine trends. Working with Zoomerang, Middle Sister researchers listen and then survey members to uncover how they want their wine to taste. The company works with a custom winery to create blends and varietal styles that match that taste profile, says Mary Ann Vangrin, partner and social media director. “These women are highly opinionated and like the idea of creating a new wine,” she says.

The company has had steady growth since the sisterhood started and produces about 100,000 cases a year, distributing in Target stores and grocery chains nationwide. Currently, it’s revamping its Wine Sisterhood website to include more social media bells and whistles, such as mobile apps, says Vangrin.

Mad Housewife Wine, inspired by the 1970 movie “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” uses a retro personality with a witty, irreverent voice. Photos of the Mad Housewife appear on the bottle and in all marketing, including mobile app Instagram and the brand’s Facebook page, where she tells 9,400 fans about promotions, contests, tastings, and other events.

Through social media the company signs up lookalikes who dress up like the Mad Housewife (in reality Monica Albert, a Florida caterer) and visit grocery stores as brand ambassadors. At the stores the ambassadors give free T-shirts to Facebook fans who buy three bottles of Housewife wine, says company spokesman Keenan Sanders. “The idea [of store ambassadors] bubbled up when the company saw that people were constantly sending in pictures of themselves dressed as the “Mad Housewife,” he says.

On the crowdsourcing front, Mad Housewife has been more cautious than Middle Sister. Its Facebook fans competed to write the slogans on the wine corks with winners getting a case of wine. From thousands of entries worldwide, a few were selected, including “This IS what’s for dinner, honey” and “Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance.” Its most popular online promo was a Mother’s Day deal on Gilt’s, which attracted scores of first-time buyers.

In 2010, the company reported sales had doubled each of the four previous years. It now produces about 100,000 cases per year, which are distributed in 44 states. It also has a tasting room at Delicato, the Manteca, CA winery that bottles its wine.

In an industry known for snob appeal, execs at both brands admit they’re blown away by the intense communal fervor of women who buy $10 to $15 bottles of wine. “We were surprised at how rich the conversation is, how freely people talk,” says Middle Sister’s Vangrin. “And y’know, they don’t get much in return – just the experience, a fun moment in their day.”

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