Guilt Marketing – A Vintner's Secret Weapon

I've got wine on my mind. Not literally, mind you. As I write this, it's not even 10:00 a.m., for heaven's sake. No. I'm thinking about wine thanks to an article I just read, which will interest anyone serious about marketing or copywriting success.

See, here in the Paris office where I sometimes set up shop, there works winemaking royalty – the daughter of California vintner Manfred Esser.

Recently, she brought each of us a bottle of her father's wine. My wife and I drank ours with dinner that night. Good stuff. After sampling the wine, I looked up the wine master on the Web.

It turns out Esser's talent is not just in making a good wine, which he does. It's also in applying "new" marketing principles that we could all benefit from studying – as a copywriter and as an entrepreneur.

Esser, who's a Harvard grad, took over the Cuvaison Winery in Napa Valley in 1986. The vineyard was headed south faster than a goose in February.

Yet, within two years, Esser had turned it around. Not only was Cuvaison suddenly breaking even, they had cornered 25 percent of the export market. And they were selling as many as 70,000 cases of their top-end wine every year.

Twelve years later, Esser sold his partnership in Cuvaison and launched his own label. Esser Vineyards is now one of California's newest hot contenders, despite competition with, as Esser puts it, "about 80,000 different competitors."

How does he do it? Esser calls it "guilt marketing."

"You treat your customers SO well," says Esser, "that you create a sense of obligation to come back to your product or service. And, even more than that, to become ambassadors for your company. They actually feel guilty if they forget about you."

He's not recommending tricks or jingles or cleverness or high-pressure selling to turn a buck. He's recommending a quality product. And quality service. At a good price.

It's relationship building. In other words, the same marketing secret it took so many new Web businesses a few years to "discover" … sells wine, too. And it happens to work extremely well in selling other things as well – like your copywriting services.

Esser's done this before. In his early career, he took a Chicago wine-importing firm from nothing to a multimillion-dollar business by providing high-quality products and exceptional, high-quality service.

Is this strategy new or reckless or revolutionary? No, quite the opposite. It's old school, time-tested, and one of the safest business plans anyone could imagine.

What's this mean to you as a copywriter?

Well, the starting place is producing a high-quality product – which, in this case, is your copy. But unlike selling wine, the relationship building isn't just with the client. The first and most important relationship you need to build is with your reader.

How do you do that? The same way Esser does. No hype. No high pressure. No tricks or jingles or cleverness. Just honest, specific copy that doesn't make unsubstantiated claims. Copy that gets to the point quickly … that builds excitement … and that treats your reader with respect.

Build this type of quality-based relationships with your reader and you will be a great copywriter.

The other side to this relationship building – with your client – is where "guilt marketing" will take you from being a great copywriter to being a successful, great copywriter.

Always give your client a little bit extra.

During harvest, Esser goes into the vineyard, cuts bunches of grapes, and tissue-wraps them. He sends them to people important to his business – by overnight FedEx overnight – with a note saying, "We thought you might be interested in the new vintage." Relationship building. Guilt marketing.

Treat your clients the same way. If you run across news that's relevant to their business – especially when you're NOT writing for them – send it to them. By email or FedEx. They'll appreciate your doing it. And they'll remember you.

And when you are writing for them, throw in a few extra services, things you'd probably do anyway. But don't charge for them. Or charge a ridiculously low fee. That lets them know you like working for them and that it's not just about the money.

Because it's never really "just about the money."

[Ed Note: John Forde is an AWAI board member. To get his sharp insights into the world of copywriting, sign up for his free weekly e-zine Copywriter's Roundtable at]

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Published: February 26, 2007

3 Responses to “Guilt Marketing – A Vintner's Secret Weapon”

  1. The underlying message in this article was the opposite of what I expected: "You treat your customers SO well," says Esser, "that you create a sense of obligation to come back to your product or service."

    While on the other hand, many charities and nonprofits use literal guilt marketing tactics.

    Guest (Ben)

  2. Ranking algorithms that seacrh engines like Google use are getting very sophisticated, so a SEO rules of thumb like the one that you should put your keyword in every 100 words of text isn't good enough any more.Not a form, content is a King.I strongly suggest you to write for your readers and not for seacrh engines. In a long term this type of content will be a winner.

    Guest (Gerardo)

  3. Do not place your clients into a category of guilt marketing. In this century, spiritual energy is a lot more prominent in business, and if you think 'Guilt', you will attract guilt.
    Think of your clients as unique or special and your services as unique or special to match their needs. By using positive words for your clients you are also affirming your relationship to them as you also are unique and special. Positive thoughts, create positive relationships.

    Dimitri Solakofski

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