Episode #003: Carla Cruz, Trichero Family Estates
The best marketers know one speed: fast. And you can say the same thing about professional motorcycle racers too. So what happens when you combine the two? You have a kickass digital marketer who literally has her foot on the gas in all aspects of her life.
In this episode, we chat with Carla Cruz, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Trinchero Family Estates, the fourth-largest winery in the world. From being part of the team that created the 19 Crimes native mobile app to spearheading the launch of an app for Joel Gott that utilizes the latest mobile technology, Carla is on the leading edge of marketing for wine and CPG brands.
During her three years at the winery, Carla has brought the more than 70-year-old brand into the digital age with a steadfast focus on the modern customer experience. Carla channels expertise from her time at Treasury Wine Estates, Jelly Belly Candy Company, and Cycle Gear to inspire her team to reach today’s consumer throughout their constantly evolving customer journey.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL MARKETERS where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely ao bullsh*t allowed here. And I'm your host Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I'm pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford Comma. I love Coca-Cola have exceptionally high standards, and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show my guests and I will push boundaries, share the real truth about marketing, and empower you to become a REAL marketer.
This show is all about talking to marketers who move fast. Now some of us learned to move fast because of the situations were put into in our life and in our career. And then there's the rest of us. Well, let's just say we're both born to move fast and keep our pedal-to-the-metal at all times and that perfectly describes today's guest. During the week, she's a digital marketer for the fourth largest winery in the world; on the weekends, she's a motorcycle racer. Carla Cruz is a senior digital marketing manager at Trinchero Family Estates, the home of brands such as Joel Gott, Sutter Homes, Ménage à Trois. She's been pushing the boundaries with engaging consumer experiences throughout her career, starting with launching the 19 Crimes native mobile app, to helping Joel Gott launch an app that uses the latest and hottest mobile technology. We're talking all about how racing has influenced her career, the impact COVID's had on the wine industry, the importance of testing, and so much more.
So I've known you if I think for over a year now, and I think you have one of the coolest jobs in the world. You're a digital marketer for one of the top wine companies. So tell me a little bit about how you knew you wanted to be a marketer and how you got where you are today.
Carla Cruz: Yeah, I mean so, it's been an interesting journey out of college. I went straight into web design for an e-commerce site, which also included email marketing and introduced me to front-end development and what I liked about working in UX design and development was that it was a balance of creativity, but also had a level of like analytical and a constant evolution of test, learn, and optimize. After a few years of being in the creation and execution side of things, I realized I could take that experience and use it in a different way through digital marketing strategy, which uses those same components that I liked from previous work, you know, a level of creativity mixed with analytics testing learning optimizing but in a product or a brand that people are passionate about and for me that is wine.
Stephanie Cox: I am also passionate about wine, but I think maybe for different use-cases. Okay. So one of the things that I know about you that others may not, is there's this little app called 19 Crimes that came out a few years ago now and you were part of the team that helped really bring that to life which I think disrupted a lot of the wine industry and just how even brands think about engaging with consumers on mobile. So, can you tell me a little bit about like, how did that idea come up? Like, what's the story behind that?
Carla Cruz: Yeah, so we worked with a creative agency on this project. But what we were trying to achieve originally was going to be just a VR experience that was meant to bring the personalities of the prison on the labels and their stories to life and really immerse the user into that world, but in thinking about how and where people could engage with the experience, we had to consider the fact that most people didn't necessarily have a VR set at home. And that's actually where the thought of using AR or something like that could be activated through your smartphone that you know most need to have came to be.
Stephanie Cox: And one of the things I want to point out about that is we're talking about like you guys think about using VR before anyone else is really thinking about this right? It's not like today were people like VR and AR are things that marketers talk about, this was what years ago when that was a new, novel concept.
Carla Cruz: Yeah. Yeah, and like I said, you know the VR experience did get created as well. And I think we were really trying to think about okay, yes, we want to be creative and and ideally, you know, any marketer wants to disrupt right you want to disrupt the market and come out with something innovative. But, I wouldn't say that that was the number one objective in the project. I think it was very much, you know, okay, we want to create this VR experience, but then we also want people to be able to use it at home or you know the majority of people to be able to experience this not just people with VR headsets. So that really, you know, sometimes constrains limitations, drive more creativity. And I think this was one of those times when having, knowing that VR headsets were a bit of a constraint, how can we make this experience come to life but also make it available at scale and so, you know a kind of just evolved into that, which you know, it turned out to be really great and Innovative for the market and yeah, it was a great experience.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking about that in there obviously was a ton of buzz in the industry as well as amoung consumers right with using it a parties. I think that's when I first saw it was at a party, but how did you...you know, what did you learn from that and how did that really start to change how you think about engage consumers on digital just in general?
Carla Cruz: Well, we had a lot of learnings needless to say throughout the whole process. You know, I think there was the question of vetting through whether we want to create the experience through a third party app that people already had on their phones like Shazam or something that offers a narrow platform or create our own proprietary app. And then there's also cost implications and size implications. The technology needed to 3D render and animate the prisoners made the initial launch of the app extremely heavy and used a lot of storage on your device. And another job, you know thing that we had to consider or learned I should say, and is definitely in consideration now for me is since it was the first of its kind and the wine industry down in-aisle of the store, how do you create a you know, small, you know piece of paper or point-of-sale that communicates how to activate and the value proposition or incentive to download in a efficient but clear way. So I think those considerations, size of storage value prop to the consumer and how it can clearly and efficiently and in an exciting way be conveyed to the consumer in aisle, all of those things...definitely I've taken with me since that experience.
Stephanie Cox: So kind of thinking about that now, when you start any new initiative that's digital, you know, what are the things that you're trying to accomplish and the goals that you're setting for yourself now especially knowing consumers are not just on one device, they're on multiple devices, there not just on one channel, the ability to get my just attention is even harder. So how do you know what to tackle the right channels and the right mix of all of it?
Carla Cruz: Yeah, that's really great question. And I think you know, as you have said everyone has multiple devices and but expects, like the the consumer expectation from a brand has elevated so much that way, you know, they want that seamless experience and you really need to tailor what you're offering to to the consumer in that context or in that environment. So in thinking about let's say app development, or you know something where it's more of a an experience. I think it's critical to think about the benefit to the consumer which sounds obvious but you know in today's world where people have too many apps on their devices and don't necessarily want to add something else to their phone. Why would they take the time to download or activate your experience? What value are you giving them and not just short-term but long-term values that they want to keep coming back? So an example of this recently actually at Trinchero, we launched a smart phone activated mobile experience for one of our brands, Joel Gott wines and this concept was a key factor for consideration in developing the experience which is why instead of creating another app that users have to download and use more storage on their phone, we actually decided to create a web app experience so that it was lightweight, no need to download, but you could still activate it through the camera on your device and be saved to your device so people can revisit and re-engage as we will continually be adding new recipes, pairings, and content updated throughout the experience.
Stephanie Cox: That's an interesting great way to engage with consumers, right? It kind of feels like an app, but it's not an app and you called it a mobile experience indicating is designed to be consumed on the mobile device. So thinking about you know that use case, how did you start to think about what channels that you really bring that out into and what's the channels that are most appropriate?
Carla Cruz: Yeah, I think you know again taking that 19 Crimes project and everything that I learned, we wanted to think about, how can we engage someone in the aisle, in the store? Right, but also may not have to have them download something that's heavy and go to the app store to do, you know we want we wanted to have someone be able to engage with the bottle in aisle, but also be able to bring it home and engage with it in a different way at home, right? So when you're in the aisle, you can scan this QR code with your camera. It automatically brings up this customized experience talking about that specific varietal of Joel Gott wines. When you're at home, if you want to re-engage with the experience, you can simply open up that same web app and then look at different recipes or pairings that you might want to want to enjoy with the wine. So I think it's about again going back to the context and the environment of the consumer and thinking about when they're in that particular environment, how do you want to engage with them? And what do you, what's the value prop that you're giving them in that moment?
Stephanie Cox: Well, I love that you talked about in-aisle because I don't think so many people realize how hard it is to get a consumer's attention in-aisle right. I'm not paying attention and like you know, how many times you walk down the grocery store..maybe not as much now with COVID-19 and I'm on my phone, my kids are asking me questions and I'm really just like get in and get out. So being, finding creative ways to be disruptive and catch my attention, it's really hard and it takes a lot of creativity and a lot of thought into what that's going off like to stand out from all the other competitors in the space.
Carla Cruz: Yeah, and I would say that's particularly true in the wine aisle as there are so many brands so many regions so many varietals. It's almost overwhelming and for people, you know, who aren't maybe highly engaged or you know, really into wine, but they want to get you know, something good, right? How did you get their attention when there's so many other brands and so many other brands trying to capitalize on the AR experience as well. I think that's a challenge that that may continue to see and we continue to you know, try to get creative in how we're executing and the different programs and experiences that we develop.
Stephanie Cox: So I've talked about a couple, I would say really like disruptive, innovative things that you've been able to do. How do you balance that while also trying to build a foundation to make sure that you know what you're doing from a digital perspective, you have something like your table stakes done. You have the right technology in place the right, you know reporting mechanisms. How do you think about balancing those two really different concepts that you need both to really be successful long-term?
Carla Cruz: Yeah, you know, it's funny this I think is very relevant today and I think cross-functional alignment and support at a higher level with the leaders within a company is critical because digital strategy at least for a wine or CPG brand effects retail brick-and-mortar, online marketplaces, and your direct-to-consumer business because again to a consumer, a brand is that same brand across all channels and that should be seamless and consistent at every point of engagement. And I would say also educating in collaborating with stakeholders so you can get alignment and buy-in is critical. That's what will allow you to test different opportunities or further invest in digital marketing programs. In my experience, the only way of being able to push the boundaries is by gaining trust from stakeholders through testing, learning, and optimizing and then from there starting to evolve or push the boundaries or present ideas that would have otherwise maybe been a little too risky before.
Stephanie Cox: I love what she said there because I think sometimes people underestimate how important small tests are to prove out a concept and to get more budget and more buy-in for bigger ideas. Everyone wants to just like...I joke and say that's like I want to just hit the viral button just have to go viral right, like I mean, I wish it could it be, right? Like that would solve so many marketers problems, but you know this idea of like taking a concept that maybe is pushing the boundaries testing it in a really small way and you know proving out that it can work is a really great way to get buy-in within the organization, Especiallyy, if your organization doesn't like to move fast or you know is happy and feels like the results you're getting with the status quo or good.
Carla Cruz: Yeah, like I said, I think you know for me at least in my experience, it's a lot about gaining trust with your internal stakeholders and like what you said, you know exactly to test and learn and getting small proofs of concept to then say, okay, you know that we are making these, you know tests and programs and maybe not all of them are successful but the ones that are, you know, you're able to show that here's what we were able to do on the small scale and it allows you to then lay the foundation to pitch even larger or even more, you know, progressive ideas.
Stephanie Cox: So one of the things that is I think every month has just been like let me just throw my marketing plan out the window this year is due to COVID-19 and the unexpected pandemic, we're all facing, what have you done specifically to rethink your digital strategy over the last four months and how do you see that continuing to evolve over the next year as we work, you know as the entire world deals with something that hasn't dealt with in over a hundred years.
Carla Cruz: Yeah. It's definitely been a whirlwind and will continue to be it to your point, you know longer than we expected, I'm sure. Since March, we've definitely had a pivot our strategy in a number of ways, right? We have multiple brands and from a visual content on our social channels, you know, we don't want to encourage groups or gatherings, especially for some of our brands that have wineries in the Napa Valley and we also you know in that early March time saw a very rapid shift and how people were shopping for groceries and alcohol in line. Almost overnight e-commerce in the alcohol space grew double to triple digits and this was across retailers, market places in our own direct-to-consumer business, brick-and-mortar sales were also very strong, but the online business was accelerating at a much faster pace. And because of this quick shift, we changed our paid media strategy to bring awareness and drive purchase in those online spaces vs. focusing on brick-and-mortar, which we had heavily done, you know previous to this period. You know we knew but it was definitely confirmed COVID-19 brought this to light that there was a huge lack of awareness from consumers on the consumers' end as to if and how they can buy alcohol online. So we were able to use this opportunity to educate even our own customers or loyal customers of the different ways that they can purchase wine online whether it be through a traditional e-com or same-day delivery and since pivoting our ad spend and mix we've seen a great return and continue to see increased sales in the e-comm space and I would say this is one of the biggest benefits to digital marketing versus traditional is the ability to continually change and evolve as circumstances or environments change. And you know until we are through this I suspect you know, we're going to keep wanting to have a good media mix to drive awareness and drive, you know purchase not only in-store, but you know that people shopping online or same-day delivery or curbside pickup. I think, you know one thing that COVID-19 was kind of shortened that time gap that might have happened to increase consumers that are shopping in those ways if that makes sense.
Stephanie Cox: No, it completely does. Do you think that you know, and this is like a hypothesis right or asking you to look into a crystal ball and make a prediction but I mean do you think this is going to fundamentally shift how consumers buy and interact with brands moving forward or you know, are we all going to go back to kind of our more typical buying behaviors once this is all over?
Carla Cruz: Yeah, you know it is definitely like a crystal ball where we're not quite sure but I I do think that because the level of awareness is now raised about the different ways people can buy groceries and alcohol online, I just see that percentage of business growing quicker than it would have let's say if you know this pandemic hadn't happened right? I think that gap was continuing to close although, you know, it is significantly, you know retailers, brick-and-mortar stores. That's the majority of our sales. But again, I just think this has really ignited more people to shopping online and I think once it becomes a habit which you know, now that we've been in this for months now and continue to work through it together, you know, it's easy to keep those habits. So like I said, I think I do think that online shopping, same-day delivery, curbside pickup will just continue to to grow.
Stephanie Cox: I know I can't imagine like a couple of things. One having to wear like jeans again, because I've been living in yoga pants for like four months right? And then I can't imagine too, really not having curbside pickup and how easy it's been night and I even find myself today judging other companies based on like how long I wait for curbside pickup. Like, I can't say enough wonderful things about like Walmart and Target, they have it nailed down. And then there's some other brands where I'm like I should not have to sit here for twenty minutes and wait for you.
Carla Cruz: Yeah, it's pretty amazing how quickly our expectations are elevated right and that, you know, you figure this, like I said has happened for the past four months now and just four months to your point, you know, you're critiquing, you know different retailers off their efficiency on things like curbside pick-up where I think just six months ago, there was that that bar was not necessarily as high.
Stephanie Cox: And they probably didn't even have it and it's funny because I found myself doing that this weekend and I kind of caught it...caught myself a little bit because I was like their signage is literally a piece, like a stick, in a concrete bucket with like something laminated on it. It's not even its permanent signage yet and I'm critiquing how long it's taking them to do it but other places who didn't have before or not to the same extent have so quickly elevated their game. It stands out.
Carla Cruz: Yes, and I think that's where you know, sometimes the older retail or business retailers that have you know, kind of that may be older and more traditional mentality are a little slower into adopting this new mindset and I think wine is one of those categories, right? We've, there's been you know, a lot of brands that have always been for example consumer-centric for digital-first and I think wine has been a little later to that game and we're getting there and I think this experience with you know, COVID-19 consumers behaviors have changed and how they interact with our brands and purchase our brands has forced us to accelerate how we're thinking and how we want to do business.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking about just you know, your career, one of the things that I know about you that other people likely don't is you have a really fun side hobby.
Carla Cruz: I do and it definitely is a side hobby. I love to ride and race motorcycles in all of my spare time.
Stephanie Cox: Which I just absolutely love. So how has that like really influenced your willingness, you know and your career to want to take risks or to look at things differently.
Carla Cruz: Yeah. That's a really great question. I think having a hobby that maybe is a little less traditional or less mainstream or a little more on the eccentric side, I maybe might say, it kind of does give you a different lens or a different approach to things. I think it gives you, or maybe this is just the people that gravitate towards these types of hobbies, tend to want to push the boundaries a little more and that's you know with their own personal life. But also, you know, maybe in their career. You know, I know that there's been concepts and programs and technology that I've pitched that it just sounds you know, a little wacky or a little crazier. Why would we do that? But we don't know if it'll work unless we or how effective it will be unless we test and learn and so I think you know, I think to your point it definitely gives me a different lens in like wanting to push that boundary.
Stephanie Cox: I just think that's what a lot of people don't realize is how much our outside life as marketers especially can influence what I do whether it's the risk, we're willing to take, how we think about something creatively because you can find inspiration and honestly anything today, even if it's outside your industry or even outside your functional area.
Carla Cruz: Totally. Totally and I think that there's so many you know great things that brands are doing outside of your own industry that you know spark that creativity and and make you think about how can that be applied to what we're doing or whatever our goal is, goals are which I think is just great and that's kind of where you know, you're you're not always working but at the same time and the back of your head, you're always kind of on in that way at least with me and that's what I've found.
Stephanie Cox: No, I'm the same way. I have a hard time of turning my brain off and not you know, seeing one thing and then having it build and like the wheels start returning, and then I have like twelve or twenty ideas.
Carla Cruz: Well, get on a motorcycle and that'll focus you right up.
Stephanie Cox: Real quick! It's been a while since I've been on a motorcycle. I used to when I was younger, a lot younger, was big into like dirt bikes and motorcycles and stuff.
Carla Cruz: Awesome. So, you know.
Stephanie Cox: It's been a while. Yeah, I know. Well, my mom jokes. She's like, you have like one speed on that stuff. It's like pedal all the way up.
Carla Cruz: So you have that in you see no wonder you like to take risks. It's in your blood.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking back just to like overall strategy, how do you deal when you do like, let's say you tested something it went well, you invest more in it, and then for some reason right if flops, which is I feel like happens to every marketer more than we want to admit. Not everything works. How do you handle that and think about you know, what that means you need to do to regain some of the trust within the organization or just help them understand like listen, we can't have all like everything isn't going to be a winner and that's okay.
Carla Cruz: Yeah. I mean, I've definitely had that experience. I think one time in particular that comes to mind or one kind of scenario is when it comes to online or social sweepstakes, you know, that that's still pretty hot and a pretty large marketing play for a lot of brands. And so there have been times where you know, you're trying to appease all stakeholders, right the consumer, your internal stakeholders, potential partners, brand...outside brand partners and you end up making this program that's extremely complex right, with multiple ways to enter, multiple ways of being promoted and you know in theory, it sounds great because you have all these different touchpoints but from a resource and ROI perspective as far as time spent, energy spent, you know agency hours spent, it's just not worth, you know, the ROI doesn't really net out. So sometimes the more straightforward approach, you know, as far as like, let's say online sweepstakes goes, you know, we'll have a larger return so I think we've definitely had some tests and learned that we now know what not to do in the online and sweepstakes and social sweepstakes space.
But you know, I think I'm fortunate to where you know at Trinchero, our internal stakeholders do understand that not every test is necessarily, you know a win, right? But what we can do is the next year when we're running that marketing program, take those learnings and we streamlined it and now we have an extremely efficient way of running a similar program this year that so far is, you know, netting a much higher ROI. So I think it's about, you know, just like anything else. It's about taking those mistakes, where did they go wrong? What do you think went wrong? How can we improve on them and just keeping in mind moving forward. Right? Don't just set and repeat. It's about really critically thinking about what you did and how it can be improved in every other iteration or campaign.
Stephanie Cox: In my conversation was Carla, we talked a ton about testing and how you can use testing as a mechanism for really getting out those crazy ideas that you have. So that's what I want you to do this week. Take a few minutes, and maybe you know, it's 20 to 30 and think about a crazy idea that you could easily test right now. Like I'm talking tomorrow, or maybe even better yet today. So think about that, how can you do something that you know that's crazy that you don't need to get permission to do right? Because we're going to ask forgiveness not permission. Launch it and test it and see what happens. This is so important because one it's going to rip off the Band-Aid and get you to think more about testing more and more of those crazy ideas. But two, it's also going to start to give you data, data that you can use to continue to invest in these crazy ideas and really moving your organization forward regardless of what the organizational culture is. So what are you waiting for? Let's get to testing. You've been listening to REAL MARKETERS. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate, and our podcast. And don't forget to tell a friend. All of his marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.