Episode 9:

Using the Power of Story to Sell Your Wine Online

Back in November of 2019, I was talking with my friend Rachel, who is the winemaker and owner of Say When Wine. We were chatting all about the trials and tribulations of owning one’s own wine brand as I cooked dinner for her. She was telling me about how a recent email she sent her list about her newest wine releases wasn’t performing as well as previous emails had. 

I asked her a few questions about this email and then asked her to tell me about what she would consider her most successful email to date.

She explained that her highest-performing email to date was a story about how she named her rosé. When I asked her why she thought it was the most successful email, aside from how many clicks it got or sales it produced, she told me the following story:

“Well, I was at this wine event and this guy came up to me and told me how the email had affected him. Then the whole night after that he kept bringing people up to the table being like, ‘You need to meet this winemaker, you need to see her husband’s tattoo.’ And then would go on to tell the story we told in the email: of how I thought my boyfriend had my initials tattooed on his arm but really they were the initials of his grandmother. We sold so much wine because of that email.”

I’ve thought often about this story since and why that email Rachel sent had such an effect on her email subscribers.

The long and short of it is that humans are drawn to stories naturally.  

There is actual science behind this: The oxytocin hormone (the one that makes us happy) increases when we hear a story that resonates with us. According to a Medium article entitled The Science of Storytelling, an increase in the oxytocin hormone “boosts our feelings of trust, compassion, and empathy… because of this, stories have the unique ability to build connections.”

By telling a heartwarming (and entertaining) story of how her rosé got its name from her future husband’s grandmother, Rachel tapped into the trust and connection her audience was craving. She turned an email originally intended to sell into an entire experience for her audience; she invited them into her story and they responded by supporting her with their purchases.  

When I look back at the blog posts, emails, and social media posts that have performed the best for me and for my clients, in every single one of them we are telling a story and I can almost guarantee that the same is true for you.

On Instagram in particular, storytelling is especially powerful because it is no longer simply a photo-sharing app; it’s a storytelling platform, and the brands who can tell stories well in their digital marketing often outperform those who can’t.

Beyond activating the oxytocin hormone in the brain, good stories also activate the sensory areas including visual, auditory, and olfactory senses. Since wine is an experienced good, we here in the wine industry are at an even greater advantage than some other industries, as when we talk about wine we are often transported back to an experience we had surrounding that wine.

Have you ever thought about how people talk about their favorite wine they’ve ever had? 

They don’t just talk about how the wine tasted, they will talk about what they were doing when they had that wine, who they were with, and how they felt while enjoying that wine. 

I love asking people about their stand-out wines just to hear these stories and watch their eyes go out of focus as they describe what was going on at that time.

My friend Riley recently described the best wine she’s ever had. She told me it was a 2008 Corton-Charlemagne but interestingly, didn’t tell me anything about how it smelled or tasted. She instead told me what she was doing. 

“It was during a VERY long workday. I remember being in complete awe of how simple and delicious it was. I finished my glass while watching the press pan outside, while it was raining. Or maybe it was just cold? Or maybe I was cleaning the press… but I do remember wet weather gear was involved and I was talking with one of the assistant winemakers. I wonder... if I had it again, would it be as good?”

Recounting that story of her all-time favorite wine not only transported Riley to a different place and time, she also brought me along with her. I’ve never been to New Zealand and I’ve never had a Corton-Charlemagne, but I was able to stand there with her, in wet-weather gear, marveling over the simply delicious wine in my hand while hearing rain, or a hose, or a press dripping in the background. I HEARD it, I SMELLed it, I FELT it. It made me want to experience that wine in real life. I wanted to buy that wine.

That is what a good story can do.

Take Action/Implementation 

So how can you learn to tell a good story that transports your audience to a different time and place and converts them into buyers?  

First, I recommend reading the book Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. In this book, Donald describes a framework he has come up with based on the book The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker.

The StoryBrand 7-Part Framework or SB7 goes like this:

A Hero has a problem and meets a guide who shows empathy and authority for the hero’s problem, gives them a plan, and calls them to action, which results in success, and helps them avoid failure

In the case of trying to sell something, the hero of the story is your customer or audience and YOU are their guide. I won’t get into examples of the framework here, or else this episode will be several hours long, but I really do recommend you recommend that you read Building a StoryBrand so you can learn how to communicate using this framework.

Once you understand this framework, here some other tips that will help you when you finally sit down to write your post or email:

  1. First, think about the purpose of the post or email.  What do you want your audience to do?  Do you want them to buy something specific? Visit you at your tasting room? Join your wine club? What will the call-to-action be?
  2. Second, think about an instance involving that thing you are trying to sell.
  3. Third, write down the sights, smells, and most importantly, the feelings that that instance evoked in you. Happiness? Pride? Exhaustion? Satisfaction?
  4. Fourth, Follow the SB7 Framework: Identify a problem your audience has related to the thing you are trying to sell and weave that into the instance you thought of above.  How does this story you are telling and how does that thing you are selling help make your audience’s life better?
  5. Finally, Read the post out loud and edit to make it flow better. People prefer reading something that sounds like someone is speaking it in their ear.

Here are a few prompts to help get you started in thinking about good stories you can tell to sell your wine:

  1. Write about harvest: What are the feelings it evokes in you? What are the sights, sounds, and smells associated with harvest? Find an image or video that supports those feelings.
  2. What is the best tasting experience you’ve ever had outside of your own wine brand? What were the sights, sounds, and smells associated with that experience? What are the feelings it evoked in you?  
  3. Why did you start your wine brand? Who did you want to help and why? What was the instance that made you want to start your brand?

Take 30 minutes to an hour this week (put it on your schedule!) and write out your answers to these questions. Then follow the tips above and create a few posts, emails, and even Instagram stories that answer those questions. 

I also want you to take some time to think about how your audience is communicating about your wine or the experience you gave them at your tasting room. 

This is a good practice in any case, as I’m sure you are wanting to ensure you are giving them a valuable experience regardless, but it can often help you in positioning them as the hero when you are using words that they use to describe you in your communications. Because the number one thing you always want to remember is that people identify more deeply with stories where they can see themselves as the hero.

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