The fact that I had previously been an amateur sommelier came up at a recent convention of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. I was there speaking about marketing and building websites that get gigs, and more than a few people were fascinated about what on earth got me from there to here.
I started my wine career in retail. I managed several wine stores for a major Niagara, Ontario winery. I taught sales training and product knowledge and helped train managers and sales reps alike. I fell in love with flavour and started taking courses and really refining my palette. How food and wine interact, how even subtle differences can drastically effect flavours were fascinating to me. It was a magical time. It was also over 20 years ago and that passion has never faded.
Where a Seed was Sown…
During my tenure, the company bought another winery, and I had my first taste of re-branding. The original company was not known back then for exceptionally high-quality products. It was an average winery producing Ontario table wines, and we were taught to sell by comparing our products to wines from other countries (remember, this was over 20 years ago – and the Ontario wine industry did not have the great reputation it does now). For instance, “You like French wine? You will love this one…” It was a decent product, but it did not stand out from the competition. It had no ‘product image’ or brand reputation of its own on which to stand.
When that company bought a winery with a reputation for producing amazing, Ontario award winners, the whole culture shifted. Now we talked (and learned) about the grape variety, the palette feel and finish. This new product line has a reputation and a following. It was a brand to be proud of. It was a huge change. The retail stores changed their look and feel. We received new signage and we revamped the way the stores looked, but it was so much more than that. Their pitch completely changed. Their body language changed. They stood taller handled ALL of the products with reverence, not only those from the new winery.
Now my staff recommended food to go with their customer’s purchase, they added on high ticket items like ice wine because they were so proud of the product they were selling. We attracted a different clientele. We were still the same people, technically still the same company- but now our customers perceived us as having higher quality wines overall because we now carried products from this well known higher end winery. It was an amazing real-life lesson that offered me a glimpse into creating a customer perception (a brand) that I experienced from the inside out. I wanted to know HOW that worked. I was fascinated.
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When I left the winery, I spent five amazing years working in the advertising world for a very large firm in downtown Toronto, and I believe I learned more in those years than I ever did in school. I worked with some brilliant men and women and soaked up their knowledge like a sponge. I worked on new business pitches for several large and Fortune 500 companies, and was able to participate in the strategy sessions that occurred long before the graphic artists were given a brand brief to form a concept. I learned the power of brands, of words and images, and of how they all work together to create a sexy package.
So that’s it. My journey from wine to marketing in a nutshell.