Why Wineries Should Not Cut Their Marketing Budgets During a Pandemic

Marketers and Marketing Managers, I know you have been tempted to pull out your big scissors and cut your marketing budgets because, let’s face it, times are tough and wine buyers are few during the third prohibition. You probably have a CFO on your back about your 2021/2 marketing budget and now, more than ever, you need to be extremely critical with an already-tight marketing budget.

We are inclined to cut on advertising budget immediately, because so many publication houses crumbled in 2021. We are inclined to cut our influencer marketing budget, because we are unable to host events at our premises due to fear of contracting the virus and, well, it is the right thing to do.

But what if I told you that NOT curbing your marketing expenses is now more important than ever before? Because, dear marketer, this is what will happen to your beloved wine brand if you cut your budget:

  1. When all is said and done, your competition would have won and you would have lost the race. They are the ones who will not lose shelf space. They are the ones who will have kept their relationships going with sommeliers, restaurateurs, consumers, and brand ambassadors. This is survival of the fittest, as ugly as it may seem. And if you have not exercised your marketing budget muscles, you will not finish the race. What you need to do right now is look critically at your marketing budget and think what can I invest in right now that will make me relevant and keep me top of mind with consumers? We all have a long-term strategy, and that is good. But where will you spend today that your future self will thank you for?
  2. You will lose market share. This is the one thing you cannot afford because (a) restaurants are closing by the day so there is one less sales funnel for your wine brand, (b) with the prohibition your wine is probably gathering dust in TOPS and Liquor City, and (c) if you are a very small family-owned winery who rely only on local sales rather than a mix of local sales and exports, your wine sales revenue is basically non-existent during this time, and you need to remain relevant and in the public eye to not lose your private consumers to other brands.
  3. Your customer experience will be watered down tremendously. If you don’t invest in content creation, YouTube videos, professional photography, virtual events and tastings, social media, product drops and advertising, how will the consumer experience your brand if they cannot visit your cellar door? How else will you reach those same consumers you have been working hard at gaining over the years? Remember: retaining an existing customer is much cheaper than acquiring a new one. Those touch points where the consumer connects with your brand is super important.
  4. Your brand will look desperate and insecure. Slashing your marketing budget with those big scissors of yours will only send out one message – insecurity and desperation. And what do we as consumers do with brands who look insecure and desperate? We avoid them like the plague. Positive attracts positive, and negative does exactly the opposite. Let’s face it – not all of us will weather this storm. Some will sink and some will swim. I say chances are greater that you’ll be able to make it out alive by giving this your best shot right now, instead of drifting aimlessly in dark waters. Throw your business a lifeline, because you have worked too hard to see it all go down the whirlpool simply because you were too afraid to invest in its survival. You may think, ‘but what if I fail?’, to which I respond, ‘oh but what if you fly, my dear?’. I guess you will never know unless you Just Do It.


If you are a big brand powerhouse, chances are very good that you’ll be cutting your marketing expense. So, if the big brand powerhouse can do it, why can’t winery X from Putsonderwater do it? Well, because the big brand powerhouse already has a huge market share, and Winery X from Putsonderwater does not. It is as simple as that. So please do not compare your business to those of your competitors. Yes, environmental and competitor analysis are good, but you should be doing what is right for YOUR survival, not because everyone else is doing it. The concrete cold fact is, the big brand powerhouse will probably still enjoy shelf space in a year or two from now, but Winery X from Putsonderwater might not.

Here are five ways wineries can adapt their marketing budgets to remain relevant and top-of-mind:

  1. Polish your website. Consumers cannot visit your cellar door to purchase wine during prohibition, so what is your shop front? Right now, your website is your shop front, your display window where consumers come to peek inside and see what is on offer. All too often I see websites that are not mobile optimised, outdated and stale. Make sure you have created a seamless customer experience on your website, that it is easy to navigate and find information, to ensure you have a proper e-commerce online shop where consumers can browse your products and buy online. The importance of this cannot be overstressed. A website is not a static piece of marketing material. It should be dynamic; changing, evolving and simplified all the time with fresh copy and images. Dust off your website and put it under the magnifying lamp – I bet there are elements of it that can be improved. Give us a call if you need an unbiased website audit.
  2. Wine club experiences are key right now. They are your loyal buyers and your ambassadors, and you will most certainly need their loyalty and purchases in future. Invest in them. Not only are they your key word-of-mouth advertisers, but you also get the best profit margin from direct sales as you probably do not have any intermediaries in this channel. Offer them virtual tastings; send them samples of new wines or vintages to try out coupled with a hand-written note from your winemaker; offer them exclusive deals not available to anyone else; send them wine tasting vouchers to visit your cellar door once the ban has been lifted. Not only will they appreciate the gesture of a gift and your validation, but you are going to need all the footfall once we are able to move around again.
  3. Invest in influencer marketing. A lot can be said and written about the validity and influence of this target segment, but they are a target segment nonetheless. Offering an online educational with your winemaker is a great way to strengthen influencer relationships and to remind them about your incredible wines, the experiences you offer, and the facilities on your premises. Remind them about your accommodation offering, your restaurant or eatery, your family market, your wine promotions… Allocate budget for samples to be delivered to them so that they can try the wine, write about it, do an Instagram unboxing, or reveal, and promote it to their followers and audiences. Invite them to stay a night at your premises or have dinner at your restaurant. Perhaps I am just incredibly lucky, but during the pandemic I have had countless requests from influencers and bloggers about my clients’ current offers because they are willing to talk about it, promote the industry and do everything in their power to help #saveSAwines. I feel honoured and privileged that so many of them reached out to me, but it proves to me that my clients and the brands I represent are top-of-mind with these influencers because I have gained their trust by investing in them over the years through strengthening the relationship between my business, my clients and the influencers. A little bit of effort goes a long way, and the potential future rewards are worth it.
  4. Sort out your tangible marketing materials. I know how it usually goes – you are flooded with admin, training your sales team, entering wine competitions and ordering collateral, flying cross-country to attend consumer and trade shows, complete the documentation for your next export, calling on restaurants and retailers, and the list goes on. A marketer’s job is just never done. But right now, I believe we have the luxury of a little bit more time. Marketers don’t have to travel anywhere because all trade and consumer wine shows have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. You don’t need to pay the trade any visits with your sales teams because restaurants aren’t listing any new wines right now and retailers are closed. Thus, we have a little more time on our hands to pay attention to the things we ‘never have time for’. Are your brochures outdated? Have them redesigned with a fresh eye and new strategy in mind. Do you lack professional photography of your venue and wines? Make a point of getting it done right now because you are going to need those images for social media, your website, traditional media, brochure design and digital marketing once this pandemic is over and your business can fully reopen. When you can welcome consumers back to your establishment, you want to invite them with beautiful content and attractive visuals.
  5. Improve your social channels or create them if you haven’t yet. With the death of so many publishing houses in 2020, no winery can afford to be without social media channels. No, the one does not replace the other at all, but if you have only ever focused on traditional media, then your strategy needs to change as soon as possible to include social and digital media. If you have always wanted to create a YouTube channel with interesting content, you now have the time and opportunity to do so. All it takes is a good cell phone and a lapel mic and a winemaker who can string a few sentences together to be able to create a video. You can also have them professionally done by industry experts such as Danie Nel Photography. (Let me take a step back here – first of all, you need a proper digital and social media manager. Too often I hear that “the secretary creates posts on Facebook for us, because anyone can do it”. No, people. Your secretary is not a marketing expert, she is not a social media expert, and she does not know how to devise a social media strategy. Get this right first, please. Decent social media done correctly with analytics and reporting is a full-time job and totally worth investing in.) Create themed videos for your YouTube channel that you can repurpose across your other social media channels, embed in your website, link into your newsletters, share with your importers. A 3-minute video really does go a long way. My strategy for social media success is to choose your platforms carefully according to your target market. You cannot be everywhere and be everything for everyone. Select your top 3 social media platforms and manage them well. Don’t try to be on Pinterest and YouTube and Facebook and Snapchat and TikTok and Twitter and LinkedIn and Instagram and….Select 3 or 4, and utilise them to the best of your ability.

If you need help devising a new marketing strategy, contact us to find out how we can bring your wine brand to life. But whatever you, just do not mute yourself. Your future self will thank you for it.