At BevAlc Insights, we’re dedicated to helping retailers optimize their businesses. So recently, we reached out to several independent shops to ask the following: If a $10,000 marketing budget was to magically appear in your bank account, what activities would you spend it on? 

The responses shone a light on how retailers around the country value different types of marketing, and which channels may yield the highest return on investment. At the top of the wishlist were high-functioning websites, which have become more important during the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers have increasingly placed their beverage alcohol orders online. 

Other retailers sought out physical branding opportunities to drive awareness and consideration, and said they’d pursue more in-person tastings and events once it is safe to do so. The key unifier of retailers’ responses was that they chose to invest the $10,000 on longer-term branding plays or marketing activities with measurable, trackable ROI, instead of one-time activations like print advertisements. 

Investing in a High-Functioning Website

As online ordering, curbside pick up, and delivery service have rapidly become business as usual, the need for a high-functioning ecommerce site has become increasingly important. A website is an independent shop’s most important marketing tool and — done right — can drive awareness, purchase conversion, and repurchase activity. It can also be one of a retailer’s biggest expenses. Thus, website development was the top choice for marketing investment.

Given her store’s surge in online orders during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sarah Pierre, owner of 3 Parks Wine Shop in Atlanta, is already in the midst of refreshing her shop’s website. “We are adding the bells and whistles that will make our site more user friendly and speaks to all the services that we offer.” Pierre’s goals for the site update are to integrate more seamlessly with her point of sale system, improve the customer ordering experience, and drive purchase conversion through better merchandising. 

Pierre notes that as a tool to drive awareness, “A fresh, sharp chic site that communicates our brand is a bonus.” Another bonus: A website with the capability to accept discount codes makes it easy to track the return on investment of the marketing programs and ideas below. 

Retailers who are not in a position to invest dollars or time into setting up and optimizing their own site can look to ecommerce platforms like a Drizly for a solution that will allow them to reach new customers and sell online without the upfront resource requirements.

Driving Awareness Through Physical Advertising Efforts

In the digital age, a direct mail piece may seem old-fashioned, but in the right situation, it can be a cost-effective way to drive awareness and purchase conversion. A well-designed physical marketing piece can communicate your store’s location, its philosophy, and — if you include a discount code — drive purchase conversion in a way that can be easily tracked. The USPS offers tools through its Every Day Direct Mail program that make it easy to target a specific mail route or zip code so you can focus on specific neighbourhoods, or even buildings. 

As an example of a strategic use case, if a bill to legalize wine delivery in Georgia becomes law, 3 Park’s Pierre is considering direct mail as an option to announce that her store will start delivering orders.

Talitha Whidbee of Vine Wine in Brooklyn used a similar strategy to drive awareness of her shop within several large residential buildings that were located nearby. She dropped off splits of sparkling wine and asked the buildings’ doormen to hand them out to new residents. Each bottle included a card, color-coded by building, to bring into the shop for a first-purchase discount. 

Another version of this program is to work with local real estate agents who often put together congratulatory gifts for clients who sign a lease or buy an apartment. Supplying these agents with a few cases of wine — tagged with coded cards displaying first-purchase discount codes — to distribute to their clients, you can drive awareness of your shop to consumers who are moving in nearby. 

If your state allows deliveries, a branded delivery vehicle may be a way to quite literally drive awareness. Eric White, manager of The Winery in Harlem, New York, has a logoed van on his wish list. While $10,000 isn’t enough for a full van, a more affordable magnetic car sign can deliver some branding and attract attention at street level.

One notable exclusion from this category was traditional print advertising. For an independent shop, the frequency a print advertising requires to drive awareness and purchase conversion is unlikely to warrant the relatively high cost, according to Christy Frank, a partner at Copake Wine Works in New York’s Hudson Valley. The potential exception might be small local newspapers or local radio advertising that have community benefits over and above their marketing value, but only if the shop has an ecommerce site ready and waiting to capture and track any sales activity, she says.

Developing In-Store Tastings and Events

While they may not be allowed during the Covid-affected period, retailers nonetheless cited in store tastings a highly effective way to drive customers to purchase specific wines. When they are allowed again, retailers said they plan to resume such marketing activities. 

Frank, of Copake Wine Works, describes her shop’s low tech process. “For each tasting, we log the wines opened and the number of bottles sold during that night onto a simple tracking sheet. We also use a VacuVin pump system to extend the life of our samples and maximize the return per bottle.” 

White, of The Winery, says he would devote some of his windfall budget to additional printed materials to promote the shop’s tastings within its community. By treating in-store tastings as a regular events program, he is able to build his shop’s appeal, creating a sense of community and awareness and helping drive repurchase activity. Putting together a series of tastings built around a specific theme makes it easier to produce materials — and leverage social media activity. 

It’s worth noting that distributors in some states may be able to provide samples for tastings, which can defray the cost of hosting tastings. Even if that’s not the case in your state, opening a bottle is still an efficient way to drive purchase conversion. 

As these examples indicate, retailers are prioritizing digital and physical marketing activations that yield measurable results. Whether you’re investing $10,000 or $500, the ability to understand the ROI of a campaign is the key to maximizing marketing spend.