Scott, do you have a short list of things you want to do or places you want to visit? Are stickers or shot glasses a necessity every vacation? Are you driven to take a selfie in front of the world’s largest yoyo or the 31-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan?
Why do we create checklists for novelty items like these?
Checking items off a list gives us a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe it prompts someone to vacation with purpose. Then there’s the personal motivation, like tracing life steps of a loved one or learning more about your ancestry. Checklists can also take the guesswork out of choosing the next social setting for gathering your crew. Recently a friend gave me an MLB Stadium Map: a handmade, decorative map for tracking visits to professional baseball stadiums across the country. He knew that I was trying to get to each of the 30 ballparks at some point. Whatever the reasoning for keeping a list, whether quirky or logical, the inner drive to complete the list is no joke for some people.
Are you on anyone’s bucket list?
The other day we met a client at a local brewery in Denver. We knew we were in for good-not-great beers, but wanted to support local and we hadn’t been there in a while. We rolled up to a nearly full parking lot and no fewer than 100 people drinking in the tasting room and on the patio. And it was 2:30PM on a Tuesday! Why were there so many people there?
This Denver brewery has reached destination status. They’re highlighted on lists, like reviews of local hot spots or hitchhiker guides for visiting an area. They’ve got local and regional journalists looking to them for breaking news on the craft beer scene. The setting is picturesque, there’s always food available, it’s family- and dog-friendly and the beertenders are knowledgeable and friendly. The merchandise is on point and flies off the shelves.
All that, and the beer is decent.
This is a not-so-subtle reminder to all brewery, winery and distillery owners and managers: the liquid only plays a small part in filling your tasting rooms. Sure, you sell amazing beverages. Maybe even award-winning. However, that alone isn’t enough to achieve destination status. We’ve seen plenty of empty tasting rooms for highly-rated and -decorated craft beverage producers. As well as packed, standing room only spaces serving average drinks. Somewhere in-between there’s a sweet spot for your brand to offer delicious, true-to-style concoctions in a memorable, unique environment.
Below we review high-performance areas of a brand experience that make it a destination for drinkers, and how new customers become aware such a gem exists in your area.
help new customers find you
Reaching destination status starts with making yourself easy to find. We’re not talking the physical location of your facility (though a high-traffic area certainly helps), but moreso the marketing best practices that aid in the discovery of your brand. You need to clear the pathway for newcomers to find you using THEIR search criteria, not yours. For example, rather than a “tasting room near me” general search in Google, drinkers looking for a destination will be more specific about their queries, asking if dogs and kids are welcome; whether you’re near a hiking/biking path; what private space is available to reserve; etc. Below are best practices for any craft tasting room. but they’re essential for reaching destination status:
Ensure you’re searchable
Design webpages with visuals and copy that describes your amenities. On the bike path. Near the stadium. Off the bus/train line. Outside, heated patio. 20 TVs with NFL Sunday Ticket. Dog- and kid-friendly. Overlooking the water. Private meeting space. Historical building. Music venue. The more detail you provide about your amenities, the more you will help search engines index you for that offering. Use a search engine marketing tool like Yoast for WordPress that structures the meta data (keywords and short descriptions) in a way that helps search engines crawling your site for content find you.
Build out your events calendar. Clients are often surprised when their tasting room event listing shows up HIGHER in search engine results than the food truck, musician or other activity they’re promoting! But how is that possible? Plugins like The Events Calendar help structure your calendar entries so they’re easily indexed by Google and others. Basic information like description, date, time, location, organizer and event website when combined with a feature photo check all the boxes for search engine indexing. So, take full advantage of your calendar’s ability to attract new customers looking for a particular style of food; an up-and-coming musician; or a trending event series.
Refresh your homepage
Show drinkers having fun in your space. Drinkers don’t want to waste time trying a new tasting room, only to be disappointed with the experience. The most effective way to overcome disappointment is to help them see themselves in the photos you display on your website BEFORE they visit. Groups laughing over a game of cornhole. People dancing to a local musician. A heated trivia game with bragging rights at stake. The homepage is the ideal place to deliver those visuals, so we recommend a rotating banner or video clip within one scroll of the top of the page. An Instagram or other social feed is a less polished, more organic way to accomplish the same thing with the benefit of being near real-time, attracting new drinkers at the literal point of decision.
Front-load the most valuable content. You want to make it easy for a new customer to say Yes! to visiting your facility for the first time. Imagine a scenario where someone new browses your website and spends exactly 7 seconds making a decision whether to visit your tasting room. It’s not uncommon, and most don’t make it past the homepage. Tell your brand story prominently upfront, even directly beneath your photo carousel or video banner. Display the current beverage list available for on-site consumption or take-away. Show a snapshot of the upcoming events. Share a map to your location if you’re difficult to find, and a contact form for any questions. Update your business hours and please, please make sure the site looks spectacular on mobile!
For more ideas on designing a welcoming website, read the article titled, Welcoming Out of Town Guests, published 3/7/22.
create a memorable space
Being a destination is heavily dependent on your physical space: from your outdoor setting to the arrangement of your furniture and everything in-between. Again, we’re not talking about how accessible you are – though it certainly helps – because we know that once a customer has decided to visit a destination, they will travel any distance to check it off their list. Like the tour of Major League Baseball stadiums that compels some people 😉 It’s for this reason that we look at “staging” your tasting room for the sale, much like you would staging a house in real estate:
Work on your curb appeal. How does the outside look? Could a fresh coat of paint or wall mural represent visually the personality of the brand? If there’s landscaping, is it well-maintained? Is there designated space for bike parking? Is a patio full of happy customers buzzing with energy? Imagine a new customer just outside of your facility. What is their first impression of the place? In this case, the little things ARE the big things, so spend time making sure the outside is a positive reflection of what they will find inside.
Plan for the beauty shot. You want drinkers who enjoy themselves to share their experience with others: they are unpaid ambassadors of your brand! The easiest way for them to tell all their friends is to post photos to social and other channels. Give individuals and groups photo opps by deliberately and strategically creating photo-worthy spaces. For example, in front of production equipment or next to a wall of eye-catching decorations. Is your tasting room automobile-themed? Incorporate half of an old-timey car into the space. Nautical-themed? Build your bar top into the hull of a sail boat. You get the idea. It’s about being thoughtful and thematic where possible to give drinkers a unique connection to the brand. And personal photos generally don’t belong here: very few customers care about your Big Fish photo from grade school.
Design for entertaining guests. How will your guests be most comfortable in your space? You may start to question the arrangement of tables, the flow of traffic and how guests place orders. Are things efficient for the wait staff AND enjoyable for the customer? On a busy night, are there obvious logjams that could be avoided by removing exactly one high top from the floorplan? Or designating a single area for walk-up ordering? Why do homeowners who like to entertain spend a disproportionate amount of time and money building out their dream kitchen? Because that’s where guests tend to mix and mingle! A space that’s deliberately designed to entertain is much more enjoyable, which adds to its desirability as a destination for craft beverage drinkers.
Once you’ve created a memorable space, develop a virtual facility tour for your facility. This is often a video walkthrough from entry to exit from the first-person perspective, or a photo album of beauty shots. Highlight areas of interest to the new customer, including seating, entertainment, production equipment, food and other amenities. Display prominently on your website alongside calls-to-action like chat/messenger functionality, reservation systems (if accepted) and private event space rental instructions. Looking for inspiration? Here are some best-in-class examples:
Want to know more about highlighting your space online? Review, 4 Areas of your Website That Attract New Customers, published 9/11/20.
One of the fastest paths to destination status is prompting chatter about your business in the community. Drinkers are more inclined to listen to outside sources singing your praises than paid advertising or marketing efforts. And the effect is cumulative: seeing a social post, reading a news article and receiving a recommendation from a friend all add credibility to the decision to visit your tasting room. Question is, where should you spend your time to maximize your reach? We’ve got a couple ideas below to help spur outside conversation:
Collaborate with like-minded businesses. A quick way to build awareness is to partner with another craft producer on a liquid project. Both brands are exposed to new audiences and your credibility gets a boost. Or look outside the industry to businesses and not-for-profits who align with your brand story, like outdoor retailers, bike manufacturers, Habitat for Humanity and other service organizations, etc.
Join a trail or collective. You want to be listed on as many [credible] craft beverage directories as possible! City or community websites and regional tourism boards offer high-visibility (and often free) listings for visitors exploring your area. A number of producers may also join forces to promote the group as a whole, perhaps led by the local Guild or Association. And it’s not uncommon to have 2-3 enterprising businesses organize a trail in your community, where participating brands offer a discount to passholders, like Pub Pass here in Denver. Time to get involved!
Reach out to clubs and enthusiasts. During an upcoming team meeting, carve out 15 minutes to brainstorm opportunities to rent your private event space. You’ll be surprised at how many creative ideas you generate! Everything from business meetings to family reunions and club quarterlies – the list is endless! Then group and prioritize the ideas, giving your team the tools needed to reach out and start the conversation. Outside parties that enjoy your space are often repeat customers and advocates for your brand.
Write a press release. Get local publications interested in sharing your story with their audiences! If you haven’t already, curate a list of journalists who often write about craft beverage topics in your area. Develop a template and content calendar for upcoming newsworthy events. Draft your release and publish to the appropriate channels. Then follow up with your contact the following week to ensure receipt and to answer any questions. Journalists love when you make it easier for them to generate engaging content!
Enter competitions. Submitting your craft beverage to local, regional and national competitions is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking for your Production Team. There’s a ton of pride in the product you’re offering up to judges to criticize. Plus, the competition is fierce: popular categories could see hundreds of entries! But medaling in a competition has been a launchpad for smaller producers, often securing destination status (at least for a time). Key here is quickly sharing the news and continuing the conversation to get the most mileage out of the win.
Invest in video. It’s no secret that when it comes to content, video wins. Need to fix a leaky sink? Find step-by-step instructions on YouTube. Looking for tips on Spring fashion? Influencers are talking about it on Instagram Reels. Want to find your next favorite tasting room? You got it, there’s a video for that. Though it’s still in it’s infancy (and it’s loosely regulated according to beverage alcohol advertising guidelines), brands are increasingly turning to video to build awareness. Regardless of what you’ve read about Facebook and Instagram being passé, they are still important for timely and topical video posts. Consider livestreaming and TikTok when planning your content calendars for the month. They both take a little more prep work, but content is generally favored by the algorithms that govern what users see at the top of their feeds. And that will help you cut through the clutter. You may not love the idea of video for all the right reasons, but your new and existing customers are asking for it.
After activating your community with the above ideas, only then would we recommend more traditional advertising as a means of helping reach destination status. Radio, magazine, local TV and newspapers still play a role in building awareness for your tasting room, though the spend necessary to achieve the reach (audience and/or geography) may be cost-prohibitive for your business. For more ideas, read the article titled, Are Drinkers Really Aware of Your Brand, published July 13, 2022.