Creating engaging wine content for Russia

If you think that wine communications in Russia are a hard thing to do, you’re probably not right. There are some obstacles, but understanding them means better work in this volatile, but attractive market.

Oh yes, there’s a language barrier. When I start thinking of it, it turns out to be a huge problem. Wineries have no idea what their importers write about them, nevermind the auto-generated translations by Facebook and Google, they really work poorly with Russian language.

There’s another problem with communications in Russian: generally our companies don’t invest in professional writers and copy. Marketing communications is so poor, that reposting international scores is the most common way of communications. Other things include: boring Facebook posts, web-site publications that lack style and proper grammar (obviously good Russian gets harder and harder for people to learn), terrible connotations and attitude to consumers as to stupid kids. Forget depth, forget interesting questions in the interviews. The search for quality writing is nonexistent.

Importer’s web-sites in general are full of useless information put in boring Wikipedia writing with fake emotions of a 19 year old TV-star. Besides, you will discover that many importers don’t even run decent web-sites, stuck in development for years, not able to convince the business owners that it’s something of a necessity. 95% of wine import owners think that communications is simply not important. Exceptions are 1-2 companies of 40-60.

Wineries are left with little choice: you work in Russia, you leave this to the importer. You can’t even advertise your winery with proper journalists — since 2013 alcohol advertising ban, most magazines became too scared to write about wine and, especially, brands.

So, what is left for wineries who need better exposure in the market? Let me lay out your options

  1. Bigger wineries. It makes perfect sense to create their own content and communications in Russian language, connected to wine importer, but independent in its management and content generation. Some might see it as micro-managing things, but if you consider for a moment that Russian language is spoken in much wider territories than Russia itself — Ukraine, Baltics, Kazakhstan, etc — you will rethink. It’s not a bad idea at all to have your web-site’s Russian version to be the first thing seen by Russian consumers looking for your wines on the Internet. Search engines (like Yandex.ru) crawl international web-sites and are the major source of search traffic here. For importers it’s also nice to have an independent source of official information in Russian language. Controlled by the winery, this content is easily adjustable, updatable and can be shared across the world. I’m not even mentioning work like wines’ techsheets translation, ready to roll to importer and everybody who might be interested in them. Social media is another crucial thing for bigger wineries — importers are too busy and (as mentioned earlier) don’t have professional people to commit to such projects.
  2. Medium-size wineries. Of course, it all depends on the importer and the focus you want to have on the Russian market. Experience clearly shows: wineries who work in Russia, have extensive communications and come to visit the market often, 2-3 times a year. For these wineries it’s important to do things like promotional articles, winemaker/owner interviews, etc.
  3. Small and boutique wineries. Crucial to tell interesting stories and mostly do the same as medium-sized wineries. It will probably not increase the sales due to already limited quotas for Russia, but will generate important interest from the target audience.

Advertising and promotion options for everybody:

Wine importers have abilities to promote the wines via professional channels (tastings, trips to wineries), but, as one can imagine, those are limited by number of people that can be invited to such events and by the focus of wine importer, who has many brands to manage. What are the options then, to promote better and increase brand recognition?

  1. Creative independent content: articles, interviews, localised videos — all of this is possible with people like me. Honestly, not so many independent people share interesting and original content these days. Most people are stuck in their Facebooks and Instagrams, avoiding interesting thoughtful texts that conveys the image of wineries, their people and wines.
  2. Sommeliers in social via events. This normally works when importers bring you a group of their clients. But even here, the communication is normally limited to standard selfies with winemakers and bottle shots, fast decaying in the social media content roll.
  3. Opinion leaders in social media. It takes time to work out a program for such people: fist, you have to identify them. True, they can bring a lot of value to the brand, but the program has to be very carefully managed.
  4. Wine exhibitions. Arguably more important for those who are looking for importers than for those present in the market. There aren’t so many of them: Vinitaly, Gambero Rosso, SoloItaliano, Prodexpo, MetroExpo (only for Metro Cash and Carry clients), Guia Penin tasting, Spanish Wine Salon, Wines of Portugal and Wines of Germany yearly tastings (from 2018 and 2019 respectively). There are some smaller events too, for regional appelations.

The wine writing landscape is quite limited with some reference web-sites and wine magazines including:

  1. ByTheGlass (Independent). My web-site that I have been running for the past several years. Targeted at pros and trade across Russia and CIS, but also at people who likes entertaining wine texts and videos.
  2. ItsMyWine. Belongs to an important wine trader MBG Impex and used mostly as its marketing and PR arm. Still, has some reach.
  3. Simple Wine News. Probably the oldest wine magazine in Russia. Has a lot of limitations and interest conflicts due to the ownership by a wine importer. Has a print magazine.
  4. Invisible. A very interesting project targeted at selling wine, but with some quite engaging articles, design and a strong social media following.
  5. SpazioVino and VinoItaliano (Independent). Both focus on Italian wines, a lot of information, but the overall quality is quite poor in terms of journalism. Both share terrible outdated designs as a feature.
  6. Wine Report Russia. This is my web-site where I put up only my English language articles.

So how is it possible to set up a communications plan?

  1. Do it yourself. Study the market. Get to know the key people, meet and discuss even before you start working here.
  2. Work closely with your importer. Demand very certain things in terms of communications. Demand an annual plan. Work to propose some activities to gather more following in Russia.
  3. Outsource. The importer is busy? Unresponsive? Not focused on your brand? Outsource your communications work. Work with local people. Do your own tastings and social media. Work with journalists directly.

There are endless possibilities to control the winery’s communications and reaching out to winder audiences — they require a good knowledge of the market to

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