Sonoma Valley Wine gets new look
SVVGA’S “THE ROOTS RUN DEEP” campaign creative is being led by The Idea Cooperative.
If you want to get farmers excited about something, just give them free hats. It’s a time-honored marketing tradition. But these particular lids, while snazzy, are meant to do much more than keep the rain off.
Right now, the hats in question represent the first round, and currently the most concrete element, in the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance (SVVGA) campaign to rebrand and promote Sonoma Valley and its wines. The new branding and campaign, on which SVVGA has spent more than an estimated $100,000 to date, was unveiled last week at the group’s annual State of the Alliance meeting at the Lodge at Sonoma.
Judging by the mud on the boots of many of the more than 200 in attendance, the growers portion of the membership was well represented (SVVGA counts 140 growers and 100 wineries among its more than 600 members).
“This campaign is also hugely dependent on you and a sense of advocacy. The advocacy program also starts today,” Maureen Cottingham, executive director of SVVGA, told the assembled members toward the end of the meeting, after the new logo and plan had been unveiled. And then she told everyone they could collect their hats featuring the new brand mark – a bear and a sliver of moon – at the back of the room. “You can put your hat on immediately and immediately become an advocate of Sonoma Valley,” she (half) joked to laughs and applause.
The SVVGA campaign, tied significantly to both grape growing and tourism, represents a considerable shift for the group and a step forward for the promotion of Sonoma Valley as a wine region.
Paul J. Hoffman, of Hoffman Family Cellars, SVVGA’s newly elected president, rallied the crowd at the start of the meeting, referring to Sonoma Valley’s momentum and outlining the region’s achievements in the last year (Sunset magazine’s selection of Sonoma over Napa as a destination got one of the biggest rounds of applause). Many in the crowd echoed Hoffman’s obvious exuberance for the new plan throughout his introduction and unveiling.
The program began two years ago, Hoffman said, after a survey of SVVGA membership. “The No. 1 thing that came back,” he said, was people asking, “How can we market Sonoma Valley wine and Sonoma Valley grapes, the way other regions have, and increase awareness of the region?”
Since this is very much the mission of the SVVGA, itself, it wasn’t a great leap.
However, that mission now has a plan, for which Hoffman largely credited Cottingham as the architect. Cottingham and the SVVGA board began by engaging San Francisco-based BHC Consulting, which recently completed a similar project for the Sonoma County Grapegrowers, Vintners and Tourism. That BHC effort resulted in the “We Are Sonoma” campaign to create a brand strategy.
“We started with Sonoma County as the master brand,” said Trini Amador, a partner at BHC Consulting. “There are specific perceptions about Sonoma Valley within the context of Sonoma County.” BCH added to its research and brand development for Sonoma County and conducted workshops with SVVGA’s strategic leadership team of about 30 people, comprising growers, vintners, hoteliers, restaurateurs and more.
Aligning the messages of Sonoma County and the Valley as a starting point, and then fine-tuning the differences, makes ultimate sense according to Amador. “They are so inextricably linked. And they should be.”
The SVVGA is focusing on Sonoma Valley as the birthplace of winemaking in Northern California (in fact, it was one of the first regions to be recognized as an American Viticultural Area, gaining AVA status in 1982), but is also emphasizing the diversity of other agriculture in the region.
“We know that we have heritage and history, but there is low awareness of the Sonoma Valley brand and poor consumer positioning,” Cottingham said.
The Sonoma Valley AVA consists of 161 square miles of branding dilemma. Stretching from Santa Rosa to San Pablo Bay and from the Napa Valley side of the Mayacamas to Sonoma Mountain, it is overlapped by the confusing mega-AVA, Sonoma Coast.
“Sonoma Valley has very distinct appellations, but there is confusion with the title. Is it a coast? Is it a valley? Is it a town? A county? Or all of these?” Cottingham said at the meeting, acknowledging one of the specific identity problems the Valley faces.
A 2007 survey of 622 people across the U.S., from which BHC drew data, revealed Sonoma County’s wine growing regions were recalled variously, by those aware of it, as simply Sonoma (49 percent), Sonoma Valley (6 percent), Sonoma County (4 percent) and Sonoma Coast (less than 1 percent).Russian River, at 11 percent, was the most recalled single Sonoma County region, with much better recognition among the survey group than Sonoma Valley. Alexander Valley, with 8 percent of the survey group mentioning it, also had better awareness than Sonoma Valley.
Building on the strategy and branding brief created by BCH, Petaluma and Marin-based The Idea Cooperative has been tasked with creative executions for Sonoma Valley Wine’s “Roots Run Deep” campaign.
Swig Studio created Sonoma Valley Wine logo, the first step in the new visual identity. “This is about the most distinctive mark I’ve seen in the wine industry,” said Tom Kavanaugh, of Idea Cooperative. “It’s very much out of the context of traditional wine look and feel, and yet so true to the spirit of what Sonoma Valley is all about.”
Like the logo, the visual feel of the campaign is a step away from the traditional visual cues – deep reds and burgundy tones, curly gold fonts, prosaic vineyard scenes – of much wine marketing. Of the collaborations Kavanaugh said, “The one thing we all agreed on was, let’s get outside of the category.”
“We don’t want to use traditional wine marketing methods, because Sonoma Valley is not that kind of brand,” said Cottingham. “We’re different.”
“We’re not telling the story, we’re sharing it,” she told the crowd. ‘“Stories’ has become a marketing buzzword,” she acknowledged, “But for a good reason.”
The rebrand should be firmly entrenched by this spring when the new Sonomawines.com goes live. Currently the website serves as a hub for SVVGA members, and, while it will have a password protected section for members in the future, the main site will be much more consumer focused.
In the marketing materials, Idea Cooperative has embraced an almost editorial approach, arranging photos in quadrant designs to create visual narratives.
“It’s not trying to sell you something. It’s just telling you stories,” said Kavanaugh.
The campaign will first be rolled out to and through SVVGA’s members in what Cottingham termed an “inside-out” launch. She estimated the organic audience reach of the membership (through social media such as Facebook and Twitter and email lists) at a combined 1,300,000. Those members will begin to use the new logo and visuals in their own materials.
For the time being, “We have a teeny, itty, bitty budget,” Cottingham added. But she hopes that will change by next year. SVVGA has submitted a proposal through the United States Department of Agriculture and California Department of Food and Agriculture for a Specialty Crop Block Grant. According to CDFA, the grant is meant to provide funds “for projects that solely enhance the competitiveness of California specialty crops.” SVVGA will find out next month if its proposal has been accepted for consideration, and in October if it will indeed receive the $350,000 it has requested.
Until then, as Cottingham said in closing her remarks to the SVVGA members, “It all starts here. … the enthusiasm will spread.”
If the reception the hats got is any indication, there certainly is enthusiasm.
Hoffman to lead SVVGA board
Paul J. Hoffman, of Hoffman Family Cellars, has been elected to lead the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance (SVVGA), a nonprofit trade association representing more than 100 wineries and 140 grape growers, as board president for 2013.
“I am excited to be the president of the SVVGA board,” Hoffman said. “We have a great board in place and a committed membership and staff.As a team, we cover a cross-section of growers, vintners and different aspects of our business, and we look forward to a very exciting year in 2013.”
Other newly elected board officers include Vice President Squire Fridell of GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery, Treasurer Cathleen Gorham of Rabobank, N.A., and Secretary Becky Jenkins of Madrone Vineyard Management. New additions in 2013 to the board of directors include Rick Corcoran of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, Danny Fay of Envolve Winery; and Bill Hooper of Kenwood Investments and COO of Sonoma Media Investments (owner of the Index-Tribune).