Selling Experiences: Over the past several years a growing number of wineries, microbreweries and distilleries have been springing up across the Chippewa Valley. It’s a trend that is mirrored in other states around the country as entrepreneurs seek to address a growing market not simply for alcoholic beverages but for local destination experiences.

Consumers have long been able to buy wine, beer or spirits at local liquor stores with no discernable lack of brand options available at varying price points. Why, then, are these relatively small players having such a big impact on the economy?

Experiences.

We would argue that local establishments like Autumn Harvest, River Bend Vineyard & Winery, Munson Bridge Winery, Chippewa River Distillery, Infinity Beverages Winery and Distillery, Lazy Monk Brewing, and others aren’t just selling a product—they’re selling experiences.

This is not a new, or unique, concept. In fact, as far back as 1979, Victor Kiam, who had purchased Remington Products, famously focused not on selling the company’s razors, but on selling a “smooth shave.” The experience. Restaurateurs widely know that, while food is obviously important, diners are often seeking an experience that goes beyond what’s on their plates.

Beyond their beverages, experiences are what our local wineries, microbreweries and distilleries are selling.

In our area, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company could be pointed to as starting this trend. Established in 1867, the brewery has been around for 150 years, even surviving Prohibition. Tours and tastings were a mainstay of the brewery, at least as far back as my memory serves. In 2003, Leinie Lodge was built and has become a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Yes, beer is sold and consumed at Leinie Lodge. But, it’s not necessarily just the beer that brings visitors in the door—it’s the experience. Leinenkugel’s has since expanded that experience to other locales—such as Concourse D at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport.

Marketers refer to selling experiences as “experiential marketing.” Larry Alton, writing for allBusiness, said: “Experiential marketing, as defined by those in the industry, is a form of advertising that focuses on helping consumers experience a brand. Instead of being sold a product or service based on features, they’re directly involved and engaged.”

It’s the kind of marketing that allows hometown breweries like Leinenkugel’s to compete with (and, sometimes be bought by) larger breweries. The kind of marketing that draws visitors to local wineries and distilleries for tastings—even though the products sold are readily available elsewhere.

It’s also the kind of marketing that can help position small local retailers effectively against behemoths like Walmart. Walmart doesn’t really provide much of an “experience” — it competes based on price. The opportunity for small businesses that sell the same types of products that Walmart sells is to consider what kinds of experiences could boost the perceived value of their products to effectively position them as a go-to destination.

Local wineries, distilleries and microbreweries are doing it. You could too. In fact, as brick and mortar retailers increasingly find themselves facing access and price competition from online retailers, creating exceptional experiences may be the only route available to them to remain viable.

How could you put experiential marketing to work for your organization?

Linda Pophal of Chippewa Falls is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls. She is also the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement.” Contact her at linda@stratcommunications.com or 715-723-2395.

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