We’re just back from a whirlwind few days at the WSWA in Orlando where we inaugurated the link up of USDC with WSWA.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America is the big daddy of wine and spirit trade conventions in the U.S.

After four years of flying solo with the U.S. Drinks Conference, we were thrilled to be asked to provide the educational sessions for this year’s WSWA, with plans to co-locate the two conferences in full next year in Las Vegas.

We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance and were kind of worried since we didn’t have that much advance time to promote it.  But we were blown away by the response.  The crowd started pouring in for the first session on Social Media, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly we were a bit conservative….Cindy Nachman-Senders and the folks from WSWA did some fancy footwork and found a fast extra 50 seats. We ended up with a standing room only crowd and had to turn people away at the door.  The next three sessions were also packed filling up the extra seats.

We led off with a focus on Social Media Marketing with me as moderator and a panel of Alyssa Rapp of Bottlenotes, Kit Codik of Liquor.com, Vincenza Kelly from the Italian Trade Commission and Camper English of Alcademics.

(l to r) Kid Codik of Liquor.com, Vincenz Kelly of ITC, Alyssa Rapp of Bottlenotes, Steve Raye of Brand Action Team and Camper English of Alcademics

They did a great job of putting into context what this whole SMM beast is all about.

The key takeaway was the importance of engagement, transparency, authenticity and commitment…not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

Jeff Grindrod moderated the Brand Builders session with Chris Catterton of Bogle Vineyards, Norm Bonchick of Van Gogh Vodka and Dave Stringfellow of Beacon Beverage Imports.  The big advice there was for small brands…start small, stay focused and don’t expand too quickly.  Distributors have their eyes on what’s going on and they’ll recognize a successful brand. It’ll be much easier to expand when you’ve proved the concept, and then can leverage the middle tier for growth. For larger companies there’s no silver bullet.  Just as each brand has a unique USP, each has to determine the right strategy whether it be flavor extensions galore, or sticking to a core set of skus.

MHW Ltd. prexy John Beaudette piloted the “Navigating Brand Entry:  Understanding the Three-Tier System” session with panelists Bill Earle of NABI, Charlie Merinoff of Charmer Sunbelt, Vince O’Brien of Nixon Peabody and Jim Squeo of NABCA.  They pointed out the critical need for offshore suppliers to have an experienced pilot to guide  them through the apparently Byzantine rules and regulations that comprise the American drinks market.

Mike Ginley of Next Level Marketing played solo cleanup with a deep dive on maximizing the value of a Brand Ambassador team.  Brand Ambassadors (aka Market Managers) are a critical component to a new brand launch.  They can help prime the pump and supply the account-level time and attention that can results in real brand traction.