How wine marketers can win as consumers’ new online habits likely won’t go away with the pandemic

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at

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As businesses begin to reopen in the North Bay, there’s a sense that we may be able to look at returning to “normal.” Even though the idea of ‘normal” may be a comfort to some, it is unlikely to happen — at least in the way we think.

Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble: We aren’t going back to the same world we had pre-pandemic. We are heading for a new normal because consumer behavior has changed over the past year.

From buying groceries online to working from home on video conference calls while the kids are in the next room learning, people are spending their money differently, more intentionally, and more mindful.

The pandemic has changed consumers’ behaviors. But one thing to note: we are not heading in a different direction from where we were already destined to go. Consumers and businesses have simply been forced to accelerate existing business trends based on the need to stay home and stay safe.

Take any digital marketing or consumer trend, and fast-forward 10 years:


E-commerce was already advancing at around 1% per year and was at 18% share of all retail in March 2020; within eight weeks of the pandemic beginning, this figure jumped to 28% (eMarketer).

Wineries and traditional food producers that used to largely supply restaurants, hotels, and retailers had to look at direct-to-consumer (DTC) methods of selling their consumer goods.

In the early days of the pandemic, Wise Acre Farm in Windsor created a new website to sell directly to consumers who wanted to purchase eggs.

Ensuring your business’s website makes it as easy as possible to purchase online and get up-to-date information about retail hours and expectations will be important as we reopen.

But at the end of the day, many people who had never purchased online pre-COVID have now realized the ease of online ordering, and this trend will continue to grow.

And even for those who don’t want to make their final purchases online, they are still using websites, social media, and articles on Google to find relevant information about products.

Jennifer Reichardt, owner of Liberty Ducks and Raft Wines in Petaluma, has spent this past year pivoting her duck business to educate consumers about eating duck at home.

“We have loved getting to know our consumers on a more personal level. We're also really enjoying the educational part of teaching people that duck isn't just for special occasions or when you're eating out at a restaurant. It is possible and fun to cook at home too.”

Delivery and curbside pickup

In addition to buying online, the emergence of grocery, restaurant and winery curbside pickup has become the norm for many consumers looking to stay safe. Research from Aki Technologies and TapResearch found that 68% of new grocery e-commerce shoppers said they would continue to shop online in the future.

In addition to expanding on delivery services, retailers have also begun to incorporate digital technologies to make in-store shopping more streamlined (and safe). Digital signage, Apple Pay and other contactless payments, QR codes to order food, and WiFi are just some of the ways businesses can make the in-person shopping experience more convenient for their customers.


If you run a hotel business or property in the North Bay, you may have found that one of the biggest changes to your customers is where they’re visiting from. With the CDC still not recommending travel within the United States, consumers are looking closer to home to stay safe while simultaneously feeling like they are “getting away” from their everyday lives.

TripAdvisor conducted a consumer opinion survey for an analysis of travel behavioral trends over the course of 2020. They noted the growth of traveling close to home: “Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents said they expected to travel domestically within the next six months, and one in six (16%) were planning to travel domestically in the next four weeks.”

When it comes to connecting with your target audience, businesses should be looking at who is coming to visit them right now -- and pivot some marketing efforts (like social media ads) to that group in the short term.


Even before the pandemic, the push for wineries to create more experiences was already trending. Visitors were spending more time at each winery they visited and less time jumping from tasting room to tasting room. Appointments and experiences—like food and wine tastings and vineyard tours — moved online, and once Wine Country opens back up, experiences will be even more important as fewer guests are allowed in the tasting room at the same time.

But that does not mean that virtual experiences will go away. Winery marketers have realized that they can connect with a whole new audience, and not just people who are visiting Wine Country.

And many, like Beaulieu Vineyard in St. Helena, have created digital experiences for their guests.

“Our hospitality team began offering personalized virtual tastings. Whether it is an online toast with friends, or a company happy hour, the Beaulieu Vineyard team was able to curate a tasting kit and digital tasting experience for any occasion,” says Steph Moore-Cohen, digital marketing specialist of Treasury Wine Estates.

Importance of connections online

As businesses moved to produce virtual wine tastings, cooking classes, and the like, the same concept had to be applied to marketers’ strategies for creating in-person relationships.

Social media became a greater tool for not only posting content, but for connecting with potential customers.

“As a family-owned winery, connecting with people is at the heart and soul of what we do and why we do it. Once the pandemic began, we didn’t want to lose our connection to our loyal club members, customers, retailers, or restaurant accounts, just because we could no longer travel to see them in person. Utilizing daily stories and virtual tastings opened up opportunities for us to engage with those who we would normally only see once or twice per year,” said Sara Rathbun, director of Marketing and Communications at Dry Creek Vineyards in Healdsburg.

Now that we are starting to open back up, it will be up to businesses to continue these business trends and expand on them.

“For the past year, we've been operating on ‘high alert mode’ and going outside of the home has been seen as a threat. As things are improving with COVID, it will take some time for our brains to downshift and recognize that it's safe for us to carry on living our life beyond our four walls. As a business owner, it's important that you support your customers efforts to make that adjustment by showing them what operations look like for you now, and giving them a sense of what it would feel like to show up at your front door,” says Kaitlin Soule, LMFT and anxiety specialist based in Petaluma.

Quick tips as we open back up

Humanize your communication with users. Continue to tell stories about how your business is being safe, and remember to share over and over again because it is likely people won’t see it the first time. Keep sharing short-form videos and pictures of your staff.

Build trust. When customers feel a connection with a brand, this builds trust, not only for temporary sales but also long-term loyalty.

Update your address and hours. Make sure to hit up Google My Business Profile, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Instagram, and Facebook Pages to update your hours and add a note on how you want guests to make a reservation. Clearly set your expectations for customers.

Conduct social media and internet audits of your brand. Before opening back up, businesses should spend extra time or money to outsource having an expert take a look at their current social media and Google search results and provide quick tips for creating content for socials and for their website.

Digital signage. Look into how you can incorporate contactless payments, reservations, and QR Codes into your locations. These tools can help streamline your connections with customers, and many have the option for gathering email addresses.

Be human! Focus on creating engaging emails and social media posts (not just billboards!). Make people care about more than your products, but about your stories and your team. Show behind-the-scenes of opening back up.

Your website is just as important as your brick and mortar. Focus on SEO for your website and create a few types of free offers to encourage potential customers to sign up for your newsletters (e.g., a food and wine pairing e-cookbook, free shipping, etc.).

Connect, connect, connect. Be available to your customers for any additional questions, suggestions, and needs if they ask online. Also share reviews and positive experiences from other customers on your own social media accounts.

These digital trends were already starting to take shape pre-pandemic, and now that consumers have become accustomed to the ease of shopping and connecting online, brands that continue to evolve will become leaders in their space in the post-pandemic world.

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at

Read past columns:

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