Firstly, we would like to express our most sincere gratitude to our thesis adviser Prof. Haiyan SONG for his continuous guidance and support on our study. His inspiring and creative way of teaching and immense knowledge have guided us through the whole journey of composing the report. We could not imagine half of the success of the report without his precious help.
We would also like to show our deepest appreciation to Dr. Markus SCHUCKERT for his insightful comments and generous knowledge sharing during our study of Brand Communication and Management course. The branding tools he shared with us contribute a lot for the research we conduct here.
Last but not the least, special thanks to Dr. Ksenia KIRILLOVA and Dr. Hengyun LI for teaching us Research Methodology, which helped us tremendously to build the solid foundation for being qualified researchers. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them for broadening our minds in the academic world.
With the constant development and involvement of technology, the way that people access information, make purchase, communicate and interact with others are transforming from the traditional way to a more digitalized way. The global online population was around 4.1 billion by the end of 2017, with the amount of internet user projected to hit 4.2 billion in 2018 around the world (Internet World Stats, 2017). With regards to the wine industry, there are increasing number of wineries attempting to approach their target customers by using different social media platforms so as to realize the retaining of existing customers and attracting of potential customers. As survey result showed that 94% of U.S. wineries have social media portals1. Based on the increasing use of social media platforms for wineries and the benefits that it can bring to a company, it seems Web 2.0 tools has become more and more important and popularized as a tool for wineries as one important component of their digital marketing strategies.
According to Gehrke and Turban2, home website serves as an important interface which in many cases determines the users’ willingness of buying a product or service. There are various ways to promote the home websites and encourage visitors to learn more about the brands such as “create pages for each product or service; include URL on stationary, business cards, brochures; include URL for advertisements” etc.3. As put forward by De Chernatony4, brand strategy needs to develop a new mental model to push the in-targeted brand in digital age. Compared to off-line management, on-line brand communication can generate more interaction among the brand communities with a looser degree of control5. Being increasingly recognized as a cost-effective marketing tool to communicate brand image with existed and potential consumers, email marketing offers various advantages such as shorter turnaround, high response rate and customizable campaign6. Study also shows that for every dollar spent on email marketing, nearly $46 return can be expected7. Tailored information to the interests of consumers on an individual level plays an important role in building customer loyalty8. Meanwhile Consumers’ perception and beliefs about a brand form the brand image, thus it is important for a brand to have the congruence between the brand image and brand identity9. With a consistent image, internet can deliver various benefits to improve the brand visibility and awareness among consumers. A survey conducted by Nielsen10 has illustrated that 70% of participants trust the assessments and comments on social media. Social media has positioned itself as a broad information distribution channel. According to Miller’s11 research, 75% of people use social media in the U.S. Social media has a strong capacity to reach to the public in terms of information diffusion. Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., are gradually replacing some functions of traditional off-line media on brand communication with unlimited marketing promotion opportunities12. Consumers are the best source of information for a company, social media provides a platform to gather people together and converting consumers into fans, which plays an essential role in brand success. A brand community can collect a group of people who have the same interest in a brand and form a platform to let followers engage in the brand activities, where the company will guide the consumer behavior13.
At the first stage, desk research has been chosen to collect secondary data through Internet (i.e. wineries’ corporate websites, on-line news) and previous studies so as to know the current situation of digital marketing practices of wineries in the U.S. and the diversified brand profile. In this study, wineries from Napa Valley area have been chosen as samples for case study because of the prestigious status and reputation of wines from this area as well as the availability of online data source. Five American wineries have been chosen purposively at Napa Valley with the consideration of their activity and dynamics online, evaluated by monitoring their web marketing strategies from 14th November 2018 to 14th February, 2019. In order to have a more comprehensive understanding of digital marketing stages of Napa Valley wineries, focus is not just given to the Cult wines which Napa Valley is famous for, but also wineries with different positions and styles. In this research, Stag’s Leap, Opus One and Chateau Montelena are the representatives of highly premium cult wineries, while Robert Mondavi are more towards a high quality but valued position. As a pioneer of Californian wine industry, Robert Mondavi engages actively on various events and wine tourism. Castello di Amorosa is a family winery which advocates the more approachable Italian wine and life style. These three types are expected to provide us the insights of Napa Valley wineries, and understanding of the trends of their digital marketing stage to some extent. Information was obtained from their corporate website, search engine, different social media platforms used by the wineries such as Facebook, twitter and Instagram etc. A web-marketing behavior model proposed by Capitello14 has been used in this study and the revision and adjustment have been made to its parameters and evaluation criteria so as to better fit for the existing study in consideration the usefulness and appropriateness. The Initiatives has been created to replace the original evaluation criteria creativity in this study. The parameter Email marketing and the evaluation criteria Customization and Updating frequency have been coined and added in this study to evaluate the web marketing practices and strategies of wineries. The details of the model used in this study are shown in the graph below:
The web marketing analysis was synthesized through an analysis and assessment of target market, website’s features, email marketing, social media marketing and based on it to analyze its own brand image and communication strategy. The parameter “Website’s feature” was evaluated its website typology and website usefulness by observing and using the corporate websites. The parameter “Email marketing” was evaluated the “Customization” and “Updating frequency” by personally joining wineries email list and analyzing the content of emails and the frequency of email. The parameter “Social media” was described through the criteria “Analysis of social media profile”, which was assessed and analyzed their openness towards Web 2.0 interactivity by analyzing its social media profile based on Capitello15 defined in his paper, including what social media platforms they are using, the updating frequency, and the content of posting. The analysis of the wineries “Brand image” has been conducted by analyzing the “Brand visibility”, “Consistency”, “Initiative” and “WOM” (Word of mouth). The WOM was investigated by using the website Social Mention (http://socialmention.com) to track and measure the content and volume of what people are discussing about their brand across web’s social media platforms. The “Sentiment” is the “ratio of mentions that are generally positive of the content across all web social medias to those that are generally negative” (socialmention.com, n.d.). The ratio of sentiment was used in this study as a measure to evaluate the electronic WOM of wineries. “Customization” was considered to be high when the individual information was added and the questions from the consumers were answered. It was low when the wineries only contact the consumers with group sending emails. “Updating frequency” was high when emails were sent at least twice a week. “Visibility” refers to consumers’ interpretation towards a brand identity and the translation of it into the perceived brand image16. The “Visibility” was high when the social media updated at least once a week to share the products and events. The authors also defined the visibility by checking the Google search engine while using the key words “Napa Valley Wine”. The visibility was also regarded as high when the winery appeared in the first search page. It was low when the information of the designated winery was missing from the first two pages. The “Consistency”, as mentioned in the literature review, refers to the consistency of content display and communication across different online platforms. The “Consistency” was high as long as the winery present similar contents or with common ways of interaction. The “Initiatives” was high when the wineries reached the potential consumers more actively by providing additional information based on their understanding of the consumers. It was low if the limited information was sent based on the request or even no answer was made.
With all wineries presenting chateaus, vineyards and products on their home websites to communicate with the users, Opus One and Montelena are the only two wineries which have more than one language available, while the other three wineries only have English version. Opus One’s backstage data processing can read the location of web visitors. Chinese website pops out as the authors log on it from Hong Kong. However, for Montelena, there are seven different languages including German, French, Italian, and Japanese etc. Chinese version is excluded with only English version showing while logging on. Concerning website design, all samples in this study provide clear direction to all functions and are easy to navigate. Stag’s Leap stresses on its history with timeline showing pictures of important people or symbolic views that present their milestones over 144 years (from 1872 to 2016). Castello di Amorosa focus on their Italian origin and demonstrates that on the photos, videos and stories displaying on the website.
The five samples have very different ways and styles towards email marketing. Among all the wineries, Robert Mondavi, Stag’s Leap and Castello di Amorosa were most active on email responding, with around 2 emails sent each week. But two of them were regarded low on customization as most of the emails were group sending ones on products promotion and discount offer. Robert Mondavi demonstrate the highest level on customization among the group, with 3 emails sent by the Wine Club manager in the first two weeks, offering the special personalized choice for products and club to the recipient. Both Opus One and Chateau Montelena contact the author once by only one email sent in November. The general results of study are shown as below:
Performance among the five wineries, Robert Mondavi takes full advantage of online community, shaping the conversation and response to the consumer promptly. Castello di Amorosma also shows the positive reaction with “Likes” to the consumer who leaves a message praising the brand. As for the performance on Instagram, all the wineries post the similar contents as what they put on the Facebook with the same frequency, whereas, they could use more hashtags to raise a topic and appeal to users to join the campaign. Among the wineries, the Chateau Montelena keeps the highest consistency on all of the social media platforms, while other wineries can maintain their brand exposure to the online public within a certain interval. What is worth to mention is that the Castello di Amorosa is the unique one to appear in TripAdvisor among the five wineries, getting a score of 4.5 out of 5 from travelers, which may relate to the strategy of the winery, introducing winemaking history of Italian style and developing wine tourism to the castle-like winery. While searching on “Napa Valley Wine” in Google, Opus One and Stag’s Leap rank the highest among the group, showing both on the first search page. This may be caused by their highly premium market positioning and renowned reputation among the wine world. A study showed that this rule applies in different industries, for instance, more well-known and famous universities ranked higher on the search engine, as suggested by Vaughan and Romero‐Frías17. These two wineries were both considered to be high on visibility. With regards to WOM, most of the wineries have achieved the pleasant results on the ratio of sentiment of Social Mention, all wineries’ ratio of positive content to that of negative are distributed quite similar except for Robert Mondavi and Opus One, the former achieved a quite remarkable results in terms of WOM (23:0), while the later achieved relative low results when compared with the results of other wineries. The results that retrieved from Social Mention were recorded as the table below:
Table 2 : SocialMention results on WOM
|Winery||Ratio of Sentiment on Social Mention|
|Castello di Amorosa||11:0|
According to the results that attained from the interaction and observation with five wineries online and the information retrieved from its corporate websites, the major findings of the analysis can be summarized as follows:
- The wineries’ digital marketing strategies are mainly shown on its corporate website, the communication strategy adopted by wineries is not always consistent with the content they have posted on its different social media platforms, and sometimes the daily postings do not contribute to the realization of communication strategies as the contents are standardized;
- For the content and method that wineries chose to communicate and interact with their consumers, not many wineries customize their email and provide personalized reply to their customers on social media platforms, instead, the contents usually seemed like mass email without special attention paid to different preferences of market segmentation and customer profile;
- The brand visibility is not consistent among different social media platforms. The original amount of social media platforms that adopted by wineries were three on average, the number of adopted social media platforms were gradually decreased with the time went by. Facebook serves as the main and the most frequently used platforms, followed by Twitter as a complementary platform to communicate and interact with their audience. Instagram is the least used social media by the five wineries now. Some of them has retreated from the platform, which is in line with the survey results (Comscore, 2016).
To conclude, the positive brand image and high visibility begin from choosing and implementing a right communication strategy, and using the most appropriate social media platforms to approach their consumers with high updating frequency as well as friendly and initiative communication styles. Followed by it, it is vital to ensure that the wineries need to be always highly responsive to consumers’ inquiries by replying comments and emails online positively. Besides, the contents that posted on social media platform should achieve: 1) the brand’s own communication strategy and communication goal; 2) creating discussion among their target audience so that can strengthen the wineries brand image and can create electronic WOM. The contents of email for their consumers should be personalized in consideration of consumer preferences and their different profile. The website needs to be designed with user-friendly features and easy to navigate and rich in useful information for wine consumers.