What DtC Wine Sales Can Learn From Cruise Lines and Casinos

January 2018
by Mary Loftness and Paul Wagner

Given the importance of direct-to-consumer (DtC) sales in the wine industry, one might assume we have found the holy grail of customer relationship management. But compared to other hospitality industries such as cruise lines and casino gaming, we fall far short of best practices. Sure, we have strong wine clubs with members that respond to our email offers (at least some of them do), but there is so much more we could be doing.

We have the tools, and we have the data. The building blocks are well in place. But we fail to use the existing data to better understand, segment and personalize our marketing programs. In the end, we could grow profits much further and create far more enthusiastic ambassadors for our brands.

Let’s begin with a few basic assumptions. Do you think your top-tier wine club members are synonymous with your best customers? Are they the most satisfied with their tasting room experience? Is their event experience exemplary enough that they bring more of their friends to each new event? Within your competitive set, is your wine club better than other clubs or lists to which your best clients belong? Are your top customers more satisfied with your product? Are they buying more frequently than before? Are they visiting more frequently than before, or has their profitability declined because they continue to taste and attend events without incremental purchases? Do you even know the answer to that last question?

Best customer definition
Other industries, including the gaming industry, offer tiered club programs, but they are typically enhanced with revenue metrics to ensure that the best customer is truly the most profitable to the company and, therefore, should receive the most club benefits. It’s a complex management system that allows companies to fine-tune their customer relationship management well beyond what most wineries attempt. 

Wine club attrition is a major issue in the industry, with the average wine club member leaving after 18-30 months. And most wineries accept this as fate or the cost of doing business. But linking purchases over time to customer value can provide helpful insights into those members that increase or decrease spending over time. By identifying the declining best customer and implementing personalized programs to avoid defection, you can make a measureable difference in your wine club profitability.

In the wine industry, our top customers typically “self-select” into our top-level program through their case commitment. In many cases, this is a good enough measure of who is our best customer, but let’s take that a step further: A more robust measurement would include overall revenue, club referrals and affiliate purchases, email responsiveness and event participation. Do you measure and track all of these activities? Because if you did, you’d have a 360° view of the most important customers in your DtC program. 

In the gaming industry, many top customers are clearly identified by their overall interaction with the company, and the top-level customers are treated to complimentary gifts, suites and gaming discounts on a regular basis. The gaming industry understands how valuable these top customers are, and they treat them as such. We need to learn from that example and improve our unique value proposition and treatment program for most the profitable and “growable” members. 

Member benefits for guests
Hospitality companies often offer voucher programs in which members can extend their offer benefits to others. This encourages customers to bring their friends along—an important element in marketing to the key demographic ages of 45-65. That group loves to travel together. When a member arrives with a group of friends, you can bet the casino is going to lay out the red carpet for them all, because they understand the enormous opportunity to build their customer base inside a highly desirable, pre-selected group of clients. I don’t see wineries extending member benefits to guests. They seem to think you should join the club to receive those benefits, and that’s a very short-sighted approach. 

Casinos and hotel companies understand and market to the concept of both most valuable and most growable purchasers. In successful hospitality companies, complete profitability and purchase trends are understood and utilized as the basis to whom special offers are extended. They want to know who spends the most now, but they also want to track who is spending more each time they visit. 

For a major event in Las Vegas, be it a boxing match or a headline show, the best suites at any casino are going to be allocated to the most valuable, or the most growable players—and their friends. In the wine business, this might determine who gets access to the last 10 cases of your best wine. It shouldn’t be a mass mailing to your entire list. It should first be offered as a special perk to those who are most likely to continue to grow their relationship with you. Those are not just “good customers;” they are the absolute cream of the crop—the customers who are most likely to continue to grow their role with the you. Wineries don’t ever seem to measure or estimate that.

The ancillary purchases of best customers are a great opportunity to promote new releases in a warm and friendly way rather than the standard mass email to all members. If some of your top customers bought two cases of the Sauvignon Blanc last summer, and it sold out, shouldn’t “first crack” at the new vintage go to them this year? If they consistently bring new members, new buyers, new “promoters,” aren’t they more valuable than other members? How do you recognize these trends and use them to create real loyalty and enthusiasm? 

The argument is always, “They’re here all the time,” “They’ve been members for life,” “They’re local” and “They’re friends of ______________.” All of that to imply that we don’t need to do anything more for these customers, they’re already sold. That’s the wrong attitude. 

At the highest level of revenue value, the organization can do so much more, and those actions will have a substantial, positive impact on profits. 

How can you do this? By treating your top-level customers with a degree of personalized service that goes beyond the standard emails and newsletters. By creating private experiences and communication to our top wine club members based upon overall contribution rather than just club level. Through their high-level purchases and continued support, they have shown that they are more than just good customers. It should be our job to let them know that we recognize them for this and offer them a level of personalized service and offers that others cannot expect. 

Mary Loftness is a 30-year veteran marketing strategist with extensive experience in customer relationship management. Her company, Profitable Customers, has been providing customer relationship management consulting to the hospitality industry for more than 17 years.  She teaches casino marketing courses in the University of Nevada-Reno Extended Studies program and frequently speaks at industry conferences including the annual Casino Marketing Conference in Las Vegas.

Paul Wagner is president emeritus of Balzac Communications & Marketing and has been an instructor at Napa Valley College for 22 years. With Rick Kushman of Capital Public Radio, Wagner hosts “Bottle Talk,” a weekly conversation about wine, at


Currently no comments posted for this article.