What Wineries Can Learn From The Democratic Primary


Twenty candidates will walk out on stage this week, but only one will win the 2020 nomination. The path to the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States will be won with clear messaging, a large financial war chest, a grassroots effort, and a clear plan. However, as we saw in 2016, all of these factors can be trumped by simply having an X-factor. 

 Over the next seventeen months, candidates will need to define themselves and show how they stand out in an overcrowded field. Already, the field is dividing into clear lanes. Candidates like Former Vice President Joe Biden are being portrayed as an “electable” insider. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been consistently preaching her message of a broken financial system for decades, but is only recently breaking into the lime light. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a younger option who is fresh, hip, and impressively came out of nowhere. Senator Bernie Sanders, the champion of the “little guy” wants to completely overhaul the country with his “political revolution.”  

When you closely study each candidate’s policy proposals, they are more alike than not. So, the question is, how does a candidate truly stand apart and emerge victoriously? 

The wine industry is facing a similar reality: an overcrowded field with new entrants entering all the time. Some do it for personal vanity, others because they feel they offer a fresh voice. No matter the motivation, wineries and political candidates need to create a strong identity that resonates with new followers.


Identity and Differentiation

The United States is home to 9,997 wineries as reported in the 2019 ShipCompliant DTC Report As the founder of a marketing and sales consulting agency for the wine industry, I am fortunate to meet many passionate owners and winemakers and I always ask “what sets you apart from other wineries and why are you different?” Not surprisingly, I hear the same answers over and over again. Most tell me they “make the best wine!” Being the best and brightest in the field isn’t enough to win these days, just ask any candidate who lost their race. Voters and wine buyers aren’t looking for “best,” they are looking for a brand or story they can connect with. Winning candidates excel at connecting with voters.  Winning wines connect with their consumers. 

The wine industry is tough! It takes lots of commitment, know-how, and money to succeed; however, the hurdles in the wine industry can all be overcome with a strong identity. As I look around the industry, the most successful brands are the ones that are carving a niche for themselves and unapologetically embracing it. These wineries have developed their own language, style, and fanatic following. Consumers want to feel a part of a movement and the more they can connect with it physically, digitally, and emotionally, the more they will embrace it. 

Come 2022, Generation X is forecasted to be the largest wine buying cohort and by 2027 that distinction will fall to Millennials accordingly to Silicon Valley Bank’s 2019 State of the Industry report. These generations crave authenticity and identity. 

As wineries contemplate how they are going to tackle the changing demographic, they need to think beyond quality as a differentiator.Just like a political candidate, you need to develop a strong story that exposes your true self and connects with people.


Grassroots Movements

Each election cycle, many Americans become so connected to a political candidate that many feel compelled to give their time to knock on doors and spread the message. Contemplate for a moment what would it be like to have consumers feel so connected to a movement that they become its best marketing tool. What is your winery doing today to create this culture?

When wine drinkers go canvasing, they don’t simply knock on a door and leave a pamphlet. Instead, they knock on the door, are invited in for a dinner party, and bring along their favorite bottle of wine to share. They insist on opening the bottle right away and telling everyone the story of meeting the winemaker or how that bottle was part of a special moment in their life. The best part of this type of marketing is, wineries don’t have to pay a dime for it! 

If your brand identity can compel consumers to feel connected enough to share your wine door to door, then you are going to thrive.

In some situations, it may be necessary for the brand itself to blitz an area and lead their own grassroots movement. These market blitzes can be in the form of vintner dinners at restaurants, in-home tastings, or attending wine tasting festivals and auctions. Think how much more of an impact it makes when candidates knock on voters’ door themselves. Same goes for deploying your owner or winemaker to an event. 


Digital Acquisition

Have you seen any political ads on Social Media targeting you to donate or join an email list? A few weeks ago, I visited a candidate’s website to learn more and was quickly served numerous digital ads from their campaign no matter where I went on the Web. 

Last week it was reported that the Trump campaign has spent more on Facebook ads than all the Democratic Candidates combined. Many pundits credit his digital ads in 2016 for handing him the White House. There is a massive land grab taking place on Facebook and only the well-funded campaigns will win. The Obama campaign revolutionized digital campaigning, but Trump has perfected it.

Facebook prices ads based on an auction model and more bidding drives up the price. In the four weeks prior to the 2018 election, the CPM (cost per one thousand impressions) rose 25% according to the Tech for Campaigns 2018 Digital Advertising Summary. 

 As I look around the wine industry, few brands have seriously jumped into digital advertising. When we ask why not, many cite price, lack of expertise, or general lack of interest. Consumers in the digital world are being target by many other DTC industries. For diverse reasons, the wine industry is falling behind. At our agency Highway 29 Creative, we push clients into digital marketing and the timing could not be better. 

Just like the final four weeks before election day, the wine industry will get to a point where the majority of brands are fighting for limited digital space and the price rises. Why wait for the cost of entry to be higher? Wineries and political candidates need to quickly jump head first into digital ads in order to win.  Digital advertising has become table stakes for anyone who wants their brand to be taken seriously.



The media loves to paint Biden as a gaffe machine. Every time a political candidate sticks a foot in the mouth, it distractsfrom their main message. Instead of talking about Biden’s policies, the past week has been full of negative headlines around his comments touting good relationships with segregationist Senators.

Wineries usually don’t have 24/7 press pools waiting to capture their every word like political candidates, but they sure can go off script and create business gaffs. Once you define your brand’s identity, think about how that translates to a business plan. 

If you are an exclusive high-end brand trying to develop a cult status, then you should not be discounting your wine ever. If you are trying to be hip and cool and appeal to Millennials, don’t plan wine dinners at fancy steakhouse chains. Every time you develop a new initiative, step back and ask how does it relate to your identity and core message. 

Discipline might mean turning down an invitation to a wine festival that you are sure would result in sales. Wineries need to ask themselves what other brands will be at the festival and do they want to be associated with them. Wineries and political candidates cannot be everything to everyone, so they must have the discipline to not take low hanging fruit that could compromise their overall brand. 



Once your brand has cultivated its identity, created a plan for a grassroots movement, jumped into digital advertising, and developed strong discipline, it must put its head down and persevere.

Not all movements take off right away, just ask Jr. Illinois Senator Barack Obama. His campaign was a longshot at first, but see where it took him. Looking at the current Democratic primary, Elizabeth Warren has arguably done the best job persevering. When she announced her candidacy, she polled very low for the first few months. Many wondered if she would ever resonate with voters and some quickly wrote her off. The Warren campaign built their identity around “having a plan for that” and she has slowly grown a grassroots movement. Her campaign is targeting voters online and she has been one of the most disciplined candidates on the trail. 

With Warren’s slow start, she could have easily pivoted and tried to adopt a new identity, but it would have been inauthentic and a sure path to failure. Instead, she persevered with her message and within the last two months taken off in the polls. Regardless of your view of Warren and the Democratic Party, her campaign is showing that when you combine all of these principles, you can rise to the top. 


Join the Movement

Political office may not be in your future, but the lessons we can learn from this Democratic primary can radically change your business. Quality is not enough to define your brand and stand apart. Instead, define your brand’s identity by creating a narrative, develop a following, and persevere. I predict that the wine industry is about to undergo a radical shift and many will be left behind. It’s time to think about the future and how you can lead the way.  


Simon Solis-Cohen is the founder of Highway 29 Creative, a leading digital and creative agency serving the wine industry. He challenges clients to think about the future and constantly innovate. The agency chases data, not fads, and provides one-stop shopping for wineries looking to enter or jolt their direct to consumer sales. Their approach starts by designing and building a website focused on conversion (wine sales, club sign ups & tasting room reservations) and then dives into each digital channel with consistent and effective content and messaging. What to learn more or looking for advice? Shoot Simon a message at simon@hwy29creative.com.