Allegrini 2018

Communication, promotion and marketing of Italian wine in the USA: the Colangelo “recipe”

At WineNews the communication expert’s analysis: positive trend, promotion is fundamental, but the future will be digital
Gino Colangelo, at the head of Colangelo & Partners Public Relations

While Italy is coming out of the emergency, trying to regain normality lost for months, in the United States the Covid-19 alert, initially underestimated, continues to bite: the numbers of contagions, after a short period of decline, have started galloping again, and many States have had to back off, postponing the reopening of bars and restaurants. A huge problem for Italian wine, which has its first foreign market overseas, but perhaps the crisis could prove less acute than one might expect, as Gino Colangelo, at the head of Colangelo & Partners Public Relations, one of the reference agencies for the communication and marketing of wine in the United States, tells WineNews. Attention, however, to communicate and promote the reference brands of Italian wine, today, is even more important, so the support of the exhibition and institutional world, from Vinitaly to the Italian Trade Agency, becomes vital. And then, as with every crisis, there are also some positive aspects, such as the relaxation of American laws that limit direct sales from producer to consumer.
“In general, the performance of Italian wine in the United States is quite positive, despite the difficulties posed by Covid-19. While sales have shifted towards off-premises and e-commerce, sales volumes have not changed dramatically. Covid - explains Colangelo - has certainly had a more negative impact on niche wines, which require direct and more careful sales, “vis-à-vis”. In the absence of events that allow tasting, and with the net reduction in consumption in restaurants and bars, traditional sales channels are no longer possible for this segment of wines. In the pre-Covid era, sommeliers were the real forerunners of the so-called boutique wines, but now their role has also changed and this has had a negative impact on newer and niche products. On the other hand, the most recognized and positioned brands are doing very well. This - continues Gino Colangelo - because the attitude of consumers has absolutely changed in recent times: consumers no longer shop but simply buy. A famous retailer in New York told me that his customers enter the store already knowing what they want. They go to the shelf, take the bottles and pay. They don't ask for help or “navigate” between the various options”.
“For producers of prestigious Italian denominations such as Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, it is essential to promote their denomination as a brand that gives confidence to consumers’ choices. Producers of lesser-known denominations in the USA, on the other hand, will be able to focus on the recognition of their region as a brand (for example, Tuscany, for producers of Montecucco, or Sicily, for other lesser-known territories). The category of Italian wine, in general, is going well. Certainly - underlines the communication expert - to help all producers to sell during these difficult times, it is necessary to push the “Italy brand” even further with targeted actions by institutions such as the Italian Trade Commission or Vinitaly. For the boutique wines category, it is very important that they adapt quickly to digital tools and platforms to define their image and position the brand. On the sidelines of all this I would also like to underline that a positive effect of the Covid-19 has certainly been the loosening of American laws that limit direct sales from producer to consumer (Direct-to-Consumer shipping laws). Italian winemakers, both big and small, now have the opportunity to communicate directly with consumers, with the positive effect of increasing brand awareness, as well as starting a sales process by collaborating, for example, with online retailers. By taking advantage of this loosening of the law, it will be easier for niche wine producers to continue selling once local channels begin to reopen”.
A big question mark, in the USA as in many other countries around the world, concerns events, because after months of webinars and tastings on Zoom, now Italian wine can't wait to return to the physical, real, promotional and other events, about which, however, there is still no certainty in terms of timing. “It is impossible to predict when the physical events will start again in the USA and if they will be the same as before: the virus - comments Colangelo - dictates its rules. For now, event organizers (including my company) are planning restricted events in more protected environments. The experience of physical events, moreover, will vary from State to State, depending on the development of local contagions. In our office we have created a special space for small events, for tasting with people who will take turns. The restaurants and wine bars are preparing similar solutions, with real modified spaces to allow wine tasting in a safe way. On the other hand, the organization of large-scale events, such as the Wine Spectator Wine Experience, is going ahead but actually - warns Gino Colangelo - none of us can predict what will happen in the autumn. Despite the measures, precautions and precautions taken, we wonder how much and if people will feel ready to participate in this type of event. The psychological impact of this whole affair is very strong and there are implications that are still too difficult to assess and predict. In general, I think that from now on the events will be structured in a hybrid of digital activations followed by physical tastings”.
Something, however, can be done: Italian wineries have to keep their relationships with distributors and importers strong, but also to establish new and close relationships with the final consumer, exploring new solutions, new channels and new platforms. “Italian producers have to work with their importers, distributors and major retailers - continues Colangelo - to create new opportunities for direct involvement and interaction with consumers. One thing to do to involve the end consumer is to use the email contact list of people who have visited the winery to keep them updated. Or even update the profiles (scores, reviews, photos, videos) of the winery on digital sales platforms such as Wine.com, Vivino, SevenFifty. It is also essential to explore new digital tools to reach the type of consumers most suitable and potentially interested in the brand. There are many new platforms that allow communication with a selected target and tools that make the transition from brand recognition to product purchase faster and more immediate”.
What is certain, or almost certain, is that the pandemic will leave deep changes, which will impact, of course, also on the wine market and its communication, which, according to Gino Colangelo, will hardly return to those of before. The future will pass through hybrid strategies and a rationalization, thus, both of time and resources employed. “I don’t think the world of wine sales will ever be the same again. The most progressive and open-minded wineries and retailers are already exploring new and more efficient methods of communication. Think about the fact that, for example, a one-week trip to the US for a winery member costs $10,000, between flight and stay. Three trips a year is already $30,000. Wouldn’t it be better to allocate these sums to digital communication, to set up a database for newsletters and to communicate directly with the consumer? Or, through partners and importers, to organize virtual tastings with the most strategic buyers? Or even strengthen the profile of a winery on an e-commerce site? The convergence of sales and communication was already happening in the pre-Covid era but now this trend is accelerating. I think that neither the owners nor the marketing directors of the most innovative wineries want to go back to the situation of the past. Rather, hybrid strategies of physical events combined with promotions, sales and brand building processes strictly online will emerge”.

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