California North Coast marketers reveal how they engage consumers in local tourism, wine, cheese, hospitality, clean energy

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See presentations from Marketing X Creative Summit.

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Leaders from industries including tourism, wine, hospitality and food operations were among those represented at the Business Journal’s Marketing X Creative Summit, held Dec. 12.

Todd O’Leary, vice president of marketing and communications at Sonoma County Tourism, kicked off the conference presenting the tourism agency’s approach to promoting visitation to the county and encouraging overnight stays.

“Our best estimate is about 90% of our visitors are domestic, so we’re really focusing primarily, from a marketing standpoint, on the nonstop flights to STS (Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport),” O’Leary told the audience at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa. “We have an increasingly great story to tell there. … We’re going to be seeing increased air service into our airport, more cities, more frequency and bigger airplanes.”

Marketing efforts to international travelers are targeted to Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Mexico and Asia, he said.

Tourism’s impact on the county amounted to more than $2 billion in 2018, he said, adding that tourism-facing businesses represent one in 10 jobs in the county.

“This isn’t just a tourism brand,” O’Leary said. “It’s a Sonoma County brand.”

The tourism group’s ad agency conducted extensive research a couple of years ago that included input from 75 stakeholders, including local residents, business owners, chambers of commerce and government officials. The end result involved more focus sustainability and responsible stewardship to protect the county’s future.

“A good brand is like art,” he said. “It makes you feel something.”

Paul Dolan, CEO at Truett Hurst Winery, spoke about the winery’s rich history, focus on sustainability and the importance of customer loyalty and partner relationships.

Branding, he said, “is not about being different. It’s really about what is the difference I can make? What is unique and valuable?”

Dolan said the development of a brand is an opportunity to listen.

“Listen for what it is that you can’t see now because the responsibility you have is to speak of something that you haven’t identified yet,” he said. “Speak of the personality. It could be you, your organization or it could be your product—however you want to define it and it will show up for you.”

The conference included a panel of five marketing and business executives, discussing how to build a brand and deliver on promises made. Telling customers and the world who you are is central to a strong brand, and listening is key, they said.

“Your customers and people who interact with your brand, they will tell you what your brand is,” said Kate Kelly, director of public relations and marketing at Sonoma Clean Power.

According to its website, it is a local public electricity provider that sources energy from renewables including geothermal, water, wind, solar, and biomass, and delivering it to residents and businesses in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Having recently gone through a brand refresh, the agency’s brand pillars center around its practical, innovative and inclusive nature, Kelly said.

“You don’t have to give up your car and live in a yurt,” she said.

That was one of the ideas the organization sought to communicate to potential new customers after doing research that told her company many people wanted to use clean power in Sonoma and Mendocino counties but assumed it would be expensive and require big lifestyle changes.

See presentations from Marketing X Creative Summit.

Download presentations from other Business Journal events:

For Jill Giacomini Basch, co-owner and chief marketing officer at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, communicating the multigenerational family roots of her company was essential during a recent brand overhaul.

“We built the brand on our family,” Basch said. “Not just the brand but name of the company was a sense of place.”

In 1959, her parents bought the farm that would become the cheese company started by the two sisters in August of 2000. Even as their first batch of cheese was aging, they were able to sell their brand to outlets like Whole Foods based solely on the strength of their story.

With a new facility in Petaluma, she said it was important to change the logo but retain the milk bottle and its connection to Point Reyes, a nationally recognized place on the Marin County coastline.

Kristel Corson, vice president of sales and marketing at Clover Sonoma, said the challenge in building that brand rested in answering the question, “How do you honor what has been built, which was and is a very successful brand, but also get it ready for the future?”

“You need to listen first and foremost,” Corson said. “You really need to get out and talk with consumers.”

She said with a family-owned business there are plenty of voices and stakeholders but that working with a design firm to create Clover Sonoma the company was able to distill four key brand elements. Those are centered around the unique locale of Sonoma County, the cows and their humane treatment, the story of the 30 farms they work with, and the identity of being a conscious company.

Joe Bartolomei, managing partner and owner of the Farmhouse Inn: Sonoma-Napa Wine Country, also focused on his family’s identity farming the same land in the county for decades.

“We rely on national press and third party validation to let consumers know who we are,” he said.

That strategy has played out. His operation was named No. 5 hotel in North America by Condé Nast.

He said his family are farmers first and foremost and want to connect people to the experience of the place and its products, living as many of us do in a disconnected urban setting.

“We want it to feel like you’re staying in our home,” Bartolomei said.

Also on the panel at the conference was Doug Van Dyke, president of E.R. Sawyer Jewelers, which has Santa Rosa and Napa Valley locations. He said his company is based around the concepts of love and trust, as well as having been in operation for almost 150 years.

After the Tubbs Fire, customers brought buckets of salvaged jewelry to his store for future refurbishment, trusting him to hold family heirlooms until the storm passed, Van Dyke said.

“We ended up with almost 6,000 pieces of jewelry that got recovered,” he said.

E.R. Sawyer saved and restored over 60% of them, and two years after the fire it is just now moving on to the final 600 pieces. Jeweler and survivor reunited during the conference panel's question-and-answer session.

“I was one of those buckets,” said a man in the audience, fighting back tears. He thanked Van Dyke for taking care of items that meant so much to his family.

The conference was underwritten by Tri Counties Bank and The Engine is Red.

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