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The Content Series: Creating a brand and launching an integrated campaign with Sommsation

October 8, 2023 / 20:29 / E41

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How to create a disruptive brand from scratch, but in an industry that spans hundreds of years of tradition? Crystal Langley and Alex Tanck join this bonus episode of the new Content Series to share how they did just that for wine startup Sommsation. Learn how they used data-driven approaches to create a new brand, how they built out the brand's first integrated campaign, how they pulled all of that through the brand's digital channels - and advice they have for other creative teams.

Check out the Sommsation campaign assets discussed in the episode!


02:20 What is Sommsation?
03:20 Creating a data-driven brand identity for a brand bridging tradition with innovation
06:26 Brand guidelines and training the business
09:45 The process of developing the brand's first integrated campaign
12:28 Key considerations in pulling creative campaigns through the digital experience
14:38 Why templates are crucial
15:57 How brand & company values can inform digital strategy
19:05 The importance of transparency in decision making in digital

Varia: [00:00:00] Hey, it's your producer Varia here. Welcome to a special mini-series of People Changing Enterprises. We're calling it the content series. I'm a brand strategist and as we talked to our guests about changing their businesses over the past year, I often found myself with many questions. How did you create your content strategy around the transformation? How did your brand identity evolve? How do you decide how to structure, migrate, manage, and create content at all? And I know you guys, our listeners, are curious too. I decided to ask some of our guests to connect me with their content [00:01:00] people. And they said yes. And today, our first episode, wine tech, yes, wine, startup Sommsation is here with a brilliant creative duo.
Crystal Langley runs creative and Alex Tanck brings it to life in digital. They shared how they created a brand for a business that bridges tradition with innovation, what they've learned launching the first integrated campaign for the hyper-growth startup, and advice for other creative teams with limited resources and a lot at stake.
I had so much fun talking to these two. Please enjoy this episode with Crystal and Alex from Sommsation.

Crystal: Nice to be here. My name is Crystal Langley. I'm the Vice President of design and creative. Anything we can do to showcase and enhance our winery partners or sommeliers in the most creative way [00:02:00] possible.

Alex: My name is Alex Tanck. I'm the Vice President of Digital Product Management here at Sommsation. We do on digital product, everything on our website. It's everything behind the scenes that help logistics with orders, plugging into digital marketing. Basically, any place a customer could interact with us starts with something that our digital product team has built.

Varia: Do you want to tell us about what is Sommsation?

Alex: Yeah, what we're doing here is building a really cool marketplace to help really bring independent wineries a little bit more of a digital footprint. So a lot of the wineries that we're working with on a day-to-day basis sell most of their wine through their actual tasting rooms in wine country.
So what we're able to do is help bring them to a larger consumer base across the country, people that are more used to buying wine online.

Crystal: We connect consumers, direct to consumers from really small independent producers. They're not really owned by big conglomerates. These are kind of family-owned, family-run wineries. We bring these delicious wines [00:03:00] to the mass markets.

Alex: Plus, we have a lot of really great tie-ins with sommeliers, so we're able to offer some really interesting virtual tasting experiences, kind of bringing together those really great hidden gem wineries, plus some really great sommeliers. Um, it's kind of a really differentiated package that you really can't find anywhere else, that we're really excited to bring to the market.

Varia: You recently created a new brand identity for Sommsation. Can you please tell me more about this data-driven brand identity creation process?

Crystal: Alex, you're the data guy.

Alex: Sure. I mean, what's really cool about the wine market is it's been around for a long time. There's also a lot of really great data out there on it.
So we had, when we started this project, a lot of data to go off of, also spent a lot of time talking to customers, actually talking to the wineries, seeing what they, how they want to grow their business. And so we kind of took all of those different inputs and helped figure out what could Sommsation be.
We had this idea of, okay, we found a niche in the market we want to play in. [00:04:00] We see this really great market opportunity. Let's go figure out what kind of brand would best fit that experience. And then we built it from there.

Crystal: Yeah, we're definitely looking at who's our demographic, right? Who are the types of people who would love these different brands that we're bringing to the table to them that they have not even heard of?
Everybody has their kind of story and little niche to tell and people out there who really love wine probably would resonate really well with their stories and they'd want to support them. So, those are the types of people demographic wise that we're looking at. And then, who are we, Sommsation as a brand?
How do we want to represent ourselves? And how do we want to, you know, represent these wineries too?

Alex: With a lot of these winery partners, we are able to look at all of their brands to see, okay, like, what was really resonating well. And we can understand, okay, these are the pieces that are common across all of them that we can then bring in as a part of our brand.
We needed to build a brand that helps support them. We're not competing with them, right? Something that was very [00:05:00] complementary to what they're already doing. So it was finding the right middle themes to build into our proof points like Crystal mentioned.

Crystal: How are you introduced to wine? Usually, it's visual, right?
You're seeing everything on the screen. You see all of these kind of beautiful bottles, different brands on screen. How can you elevate and highlight them without taking away from them, but also still understanding that this is Sommsation, that you're on our platform, that you're, that you're shopping with us.
And I think a lot of that comes more through storytelling, honestly. We are the wine experience company. Everything you do with us is an experience with wine some way.

Alex: Yeah, I think a lot of it too is we're trying to hook into the psychology of the shopper. So part of that is trying to transport you to the winery.
Pictures of the winery itself, the actual vineyards where the wine was grown. Pictures of the partners that we work with working in their fields, things that really take you to the place where this is grown, because again, that's a lot of the experience you're trying to proxy, but then there's [00:06:00] also a lot of imagery that we'll use that tries to put you in the mindset of enjoying this wine. So around friends or at dinner.

Crystal: I like to say, what is it? Insert wine here. Right if you are in a space, reading a book, at home, watching TV, you can insert wine anywhere.
Varia: When it comes to actually documenting the new brand, how are you documenting all of that and how are you sharing it out?

Crystal: We do have a brand guidelines. I think it's it's probably 50 pages right now. We're probably going to up it to about 100 pages just because it's not just about brand, right?
We're, we're talking about Sommsation, but we're talking about our winery partners, we're talking about our sommeliers because all of that really is the ecosystem of our brand. We took three months to finesse words because words is they're really important to us. And then once we got words on paper that we all really resonated with and felt comfortable with, then we went to the visuals and we really elevated the current visuals that [00:07:00] we had.

Alex:Those brand guidelines is more of like a brand Bible or honestly like an identity Bible. It's not just branding it's really everything Sommsation and maybe you could say the brand is everything, but you know, it's really about who we are, why we're doing what we're doing. It's really a pretty comprehensive list.
We need everyone to be singing the same tune. I mean, we're a distributed team. We're all remote and we like to make sure people can be empowered to do their daily tasks they need to and because the brand is so important to us, we needed to make sure we had a rock solid way to train and get that information out.
So while it was a smaller team that really put together the brand guidelines, we had a lot of extensive training on them to roll out this document and have it in a place that everyone can reference. But we also have like individual training sessions where you had to do a mock pitch of if you met someone and if you had to explain Sommsation to them, could you do that and make sure you're using the right language?
And all of that, even engineers on our team that wouldn't be doing [00:08:00] like a sales call, we still want them to really understand who we are, why it is what we're doing, and how we want to do those things because it filters out into everything you do.

Crystal: I would say like every week we reference a brand-proof point, probably in something that we're doing or just saying within a meeting.
It's just in our ingrained in our brains. We're doing this because of this. And where everybody understands, okay, yep, that's right, we should be doing this because of this proof point and it just makes sense.

Varia: One of the reasons I wanted to speak with Crystal and Alex now is because they've just launched Sommsation's first integrated evergreen brand campaign.
I really encourage you to find Somsation on social media and check out the beautiful ads they've created. The campaign centers around the brand theme of independence. And this word has many meanings in the campaign, just as it does in everyday language. The ads themselves highlight independent [00:09:00] winemakers with their incredibly unique stories.
But the bigger message of the campaign is that Sommsation offers independence of choice to its customers. Instead of shopping from the grocery or liquor store aisles and depending on whatever they have on offer, customers can choose the winemaker whose story resonates with them. Supported by the expertise of Sommsation's in house sommeliers.
Brilliant. I wanted to dive deeper into the conception and production of this campaign with Crystal. And later on with Alex about how exactly it got pulled through the entire customer journey, which of course is Sommsation's differentiator, bringing this experience of independent winemakers to the mass market.
Here's Crystal.

Varia: How did you develop the campaign and how was it rooted in the brand guidelines?

Crystal: So independence was a huge brand viewpoint. It's one of our major viewpoints. We sought out to rep just a few of our winery partners, all of our winery partners, have a really different independent story to [00:10:00] tell.
What are the, I'm not going to say the most interesting, but different across the board? So, you know, sleight of hand, there have been Walla Walla Washington. They were one of the winery partners that we wanted to highlight. They were actually one of our first winery partners as well. And Trey Bush, he actually is a huge music nerd. So he started off in music. He loves wine and music and wine put together is a thing for them. So you as a wine person, maybe not know that and you find that really interesting. We also decided to highlight a partner in Calistoga who owns a horse ranch and the husband and wife that own the property, they do like endurance horse racing. It's like days at a time to do a horse racing like that. That's how wine is also made, right? It's, it's a long process. It takes time. When we thought about independence, we said, yep. Picking out these different partners, going out, filming them. I think I filmed six partners and[00:11:00] in a week of time. So going up to Washington, down to California, and then telling their story, saying, you as a consumer, imagine yourself in this place with beautiful wine, with your friends at a dinner table, delivering wine to your doorstep, because that's what we do as Sommsation. We connect you to these partners, and we're just highlighting all of that in independence in an evergreen campaign that we just launched in August. So we shot all of that probably within a month, cut that all together with an amazing creative production team, and then pushed it out to the world. We have a couple of different cuts of commercials out nationally. It's on broadcast channels and then we have a great marketing team internally who know how to target. They know how to put all that beautiful messaging out there and we package it all up together and we say, yep, this is our first campaign. I'm pretty proud of it. To be honest, I think it's a great campaign and I can't wait to [00:12:00] grow and expand on it with additional partners.
A bottle or a vineyard or a grape always has some kind of story. It's kind of amazing after working with winery partners and hearing their stories and what they do. It's, for me, it's fascinating, and that's what we're trying to bring out. Like, what is that connection that you could have with either the wine itself, the winery, or just you with other people, and wine happens to be there that you guys can share a connection around.

Varia: So then came the time to pull that beautiful creative through to digital touchpoints. Alex, what does that actually look like?

Alex: It's actually quite an interesting challenge sometimes. So what's really important is that we're creating a cohesive customer journey, no matter where someone encounters us.
Obviously, we have our site, and that's our main transaction mechanism. But we also do a lot of other omni-channel activations, right? We do a lot of live events across the country. We do a lot of email marketing. We do paid media. We do PR events. There's a [00:13:00] lot of other ways people interact with our brand.
And one of the core things we know is... It will take a couple times, a couple touch points for us to be in front of a customer before they really are ready to transact. Not always, but we think that's going to be more of the average, right? There's just a normal kind of hesitancy to buying wine online.
Some people do it all the time. It's new for some people. So we're kind of getting over that hurdle. And because we know we are really having such an omnichannel approach, those different touch points could be in different ways, and we really need to make sure that they all look, feel, taste the same, both because we want them to have a sense of who we are and make sure that's consistent, but it's also a way that we can build trust if we appear the same across all those channels that helps people really trust the message. To do that, one obviously requires a lot of collaboration across the teams. There's a lot of central management of assets, but it all really starts with our platform and our site. That's our main transaction engine that's our way main way that we're helping drive revenue to the [00:14:00] company.
We're really setting the tone in a single place, and then we're using shared assets across a lot of places. So when Crystal was putting it together, obviously a lot of that made it to the site in terms of like what images we're using and things like that. But we also structured a lot of those ads around how we were already building pages on the site and how we're already talking about wine and language we're already using, how we're writing blog posts about similar topics, obviously distilled down to a video ad, but we wanted to still use a lot of the same themes and ethos, almost, if you will, to make sure it's all very cohesive.

Varia: And do you have guidelines for web or some way that you document that translation?

Alex: We have the main brand guidelines, but what we've done on our website is we have a handful of key experiences, right? So we have product detail pages that talk about one in a very specific way that are very much templates.
But more broadly, for all the random pages that people are creating for lots of different use cases, we have a lot of templates they can follow so they all look kind of feel the same. [00:15:00] Now, granted, people have the freedom to then change the individual details, but the overall structure is built in a way that they can just pull and use whatever they need to.
So that helps it keep it consistent. They don't have to think about it quite as much. It reduces time on the team to have to have a design cycle for every page that we're putting up. But honestly, it also helps just with reducing cognitive load. We don't want writers to have to think about, okay, how do I want to build a page out and structure a page?
Having that just done allows them to focus on the real task at hand and get it out really quickly.

Varia: Totally. Yeah, I get a lot of requests for like, we need copy for this web pagte and the first thing I will ask is what's the structure? How many characters do I have to put in here and there and there?

Alex: Is that the right context and the right constraints?

Varia: Exactly. When it comes to pulling creative to digital brand guidelines, strong training, templating, are there any other sort of lessons learned or things you would recommend people do?

Alex: One of the big things we do is anytime we're trying to [00:16:00] think of a new experience or new feature that we're building, we always try to bring it back to the mission and our values as an organization because that really helps us shape how we solve some of those things.
So I think a good example is just even our product details page, which is a very common e-commerce component. Every e-commerce site has a page that shows what you can buy and a way to buy it kind of thing. But when we set off to say, okay, how do we do this? We took a little bit different approach of okay, we have all of these great winery connections, let's go talk to them and figure out how we can make this a little bit different, a little bit better in the marketplace.
So one of the things we knew was we want to tell the story of the wine that can be really complicated through a lot of distribution channels. We go straight to the winery, we can get those stories directly from them. So we were able to build a much richer experience on the site to tell a lot more of a interesting story about every wine, which I think is really cool.
But then we also would take it and say, okay, we want to show this kind of information, that kind of information. And we work with our sommelier partners to say, hey, [00:17:00] how would you explain this? If I were a customer at a restaurant, what language would you use? Or how would you contextualize that answer for a way that I would understand, but it's still true to a sommelier and how you would evaluate something or explain something.
And I think that really gives us a really interesting, authentic edge that you don't necessarily get a lot of places. It allows us to still be very data-driven, be very focused on what problems should we be solving, but when we're actually coming to finding and crafting the solution, we're leveraging all of those kind of interesting contexts we have to make sure it is staying very authentic, very true to who we are and what we want to create.
But also then we have a lot of really great off roads into educational content through a blog and other parts of the site that would help someone that maybe has a little less wine knowledge be able to then learn more about it and dive a little bit deeper. So that's that's what we're trying to create.
Essentially, is that community aspect to bridge all those things. And I think that only works if you start with. Okay, we know the business problem we're trying to solve, but how do we then leverage our brand identity to do it in the [00:18:00] Sommsation way?

Varia: It is such an unlock for you guys that you have sommeliers on staff. I think using internal experts is such a powerful way to drive your brand identity, the customer experience, everything. But a lot of companies don't have that expert to just sit there and be our expert on all these things. But how great would it be if, if other companies did that, to use that voice?

Alex: We're certainly really lucky. Our partners are amazing. We have a really great like digital product team who leverages a lot of insights for doing things like A/B testing and a lot of analytics of user behavior on the site. And we're then able to go then to those partners and say, here's what we're seeing.
Here's what we think we want to do. Help me put the final polish on this to make it really great. It provides this amazing validation layer on the very end of any feature that we're building. One of the things that's also really important to our team using the brand guidelines is It also helps our broader technology team all the way from engineering, design, QA, whoever is a [00:19:00] lot more in tune with how we are bringing these things to market and how we market our features.
And I think that's one of the things that's really cool about Sommsation is everyone is really involved with those decisions. It's very transparent to everyone, but we also have like a level of expectation that people understand that and use that to make day-to-day decisions. It can be a little bit, I'd say, different for some people if they're used to just coming in and being very siloed into just their team.
We're highly collaborated and not that way at all. And I think that's great because it allows us to move really fast, it allows us to, we're still a relatively small team, but we're in a million different places. You can see us a lot of different places. And that's just because we are so equipped to handle things individually as a team, but still in the know.
So I think that's a really important aspect and very purposeful, built part of our culture.

Thanks for listening to People Changing Enterprises. This show is brought to you by Contentstack, [00:20:00] the leading composable digital experience platform for enterprises got a question or suggestion? Email us at
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