Virtual Vintner™ is an interactive digital experience that engages consumers in a "choose your own adventure"-style winemaking journey, resulting in the first ever crowd sourced La Crema wine. The program unfolded in real time: on August 11, 2014, the microsite went live and participants were asked to vote on whether they wanted to make a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Participants followed the winemaking path, ultimately choosing varietal, growing region, specific vineyard, fermentation style and barrel treatment, as well as the wine name. New decision points were introduced each week.Rather than the typical, stuffy wine education, we offered videos, photos, personality quizzes and quick facts to help inform choices. Popular vote determined the path, and ultimately the finished wine. Virtual Vintner is ongoing, with label design currently up for vote. We'll release the wine in late Fall 2015.
La Crema has one of the most socially-engaged followings of any winery brand. So it made sense to drive the program on social media channels, complemented by paid digital advertising, PR and blogger outreach. We engaged lifestyle bloggers to develop "blended posts," sharing information on both the La Crema blog and the blogger's own property, and we brought an influential blogger to work harvest for five days, documenting her experience for the Virtual Vintner community.
Each of the 11 Virtual Vintner stages provide opportunities for social sharing. Account registration is mandatory to participate in each of the 11 decision points and we opted for social login using Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.
La Crema, with its 35-year history of creating small-batch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, enjoys critical acclaim and base of passionate, loyal consumers. It's currently ranked as the #1 brand above $15 in IRI, and, at 200k+ has among the largest Facebook fan bases in the higher-end segment of the wine industry.
However, the brand plays in a crowded segment, with hundreds of competitors on retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, all vying for consumer attention. In 2012 and 2013 alone, more than 100,000 new labels were submitted to the industry's regulatory agency for approval. In addition, in a category where perceived quality is critical to driving sales, several years of internal research suggested perceptions related to La Crema's quality needed a jump start.
We needed to validate existing consumer excitement for the winery and grow understanding of our quality, as well as attract new wine drinkers to the brand. Education was clearly key, but the traditional, serious wine culture isn't our style. La Crema had to do something fresh.
To understand consumer perspectives about La Crema and the overall wine industry, we reviewed findings from our annual consumer research, as well as secondary studies about the category and key consumer segments. We asked, what drives consumer interest in wine in the U.S.?
Studies of La Crema consumers from 2010-2012 showed a drop in perceptions of quality. In 2013, our annual brand profile study conducted by Millward Brown suggested La Crema's biggest opportunity was to become more meaningful for our consumers. This meant strengthening perceptions of quality for our most loyal fans – Millennials, ages 21-34.
We reviewed extensive industry research to understand wine consumption and glean insights about effective marketing trends. Wine Intelligence's "America's New Wine Drinkers" report (2013) indicated Millennials are driving wine sales, and that they are more interested in wines that educate. Our strategy was also informed by studies on overall Millennial behavior, which suggested that segment is interested in co-creation, dialogue and online programs ("Social Influence: Marketing's New Frontier," IPSOS MediaCT, 2013).
We decided to anchor around Harvest, the time of the year that holds the most romantic mystique, to engage fans in an integrated, educational communications platform.
If the program were a wine, it would fall into the "Grand Cru" category – the best of the best. Virtual Vintner exceeded all expectations, with more than double the anticipated number of users and significant media coverage. Most importantly, the program drove measurable change in attitudes around La Crema's quality.
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According to a survey of Virtual Vintner participants conducted in December 2014:
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