As much as B.R. Cohn’s estate looks like laid-back California lifestyle, it is thoroughly committed … [+]
The American wine industry tries to maintain a genteel image of friendly competition rather than a cutthroat style. Yet like every industry, it is about market shares, supply and demand and getting the message out. Keeping ahead of one’s competitors means keeping up with the newest technologies, even with an agricultural product like wine.
As Chief Growth and Experience Officer for Vintage Wine Estates (WVE) Jessica Kogan is one of a handful of women in charge of branding in an industry not quite as glamorous as her former positions at Donna Karan, Hill+Knowlton, Razorfish, Elizabeth Arden, Urban Decay, and Giorgio Armani. In 2004, she co-founded and launched digital native company Cameron Hughes Wine to critical acclaim, then joined the team of Vintage Wine Estates with their acquisition of Cameron Hughes in 2017, Under her direct leadership DTC more than tripled, from $30 million to just over $90 million in revenue. Other breakthrough feats include the development of a competitive omnichannel strategy bringing the Vintage brand beyond brick-and-mortar retail by pivoting DTC and e-grocery as well as programs like “refer-a-friend,” shareholder passports, virtual wine tastings, and a digitally enhanced estate tasting room. She has been nominated by Wine Enthusiast for Innovator of the Year and making the prestigious 2021 Wine Business Industry Leaders list.
I interviewed Kogan earlier this month.
Jessica Kogan has gone from marketing positions at Donna Karan, Hill+Knowlton, Razorfish, Elizabeth … [+]
What exactly does your title “Chief Growth & Experience Officer” mean?
The Chief Growth & Experience Officer pursues growth across sales channels and within the organization with a specific focus on creating frictionless customer experiences. For example, identifying new growth channels like eGrocery and third party wholesale eCommerce that support channel agnostic customer journeys that connect brand loyalty. The deployment of customer facing systems drive revenue and growth and at the same time achieve organizational digital fluency. So in short, it is being a great marketer who can predict major consumer shifts, provide solutions around those shifts, and can drive agreement and implementation of solutions with a unwavering focus on the improvement of customer experience for all.
How many brands do you oversee?
For eCommerce and digital brands around 25 unique brands.
You’ve worked on projects as diverse as Donna Karan, Hill+Knowlton, Razorfish, Elizabeth Arden, Urban Decay, and Giorgio Armani. What are the similarities among them and, now, Vintage Wine Estates to which you bring your expertise and history.
The similarities between the fashion and beauty brands that I have worked are that they are all as genuine, aspirational and trying to solve real consumer problems. For Donna Karan, “How can I make her feel like the titan in the boardroom?”; or for Urban Decay, “How can I help them express their real selves?”; or Elizabeth Arden, “How can I make you feel ageless?” Working at Hill & Knowlton and Razorfish I was lucky enough to be part of the teams that not only communicated the solutions but defined and solved the problem. For Schwab it was, “How do we enable safe and secure retail trading online?” Before Schwab, we all had to call our broker by phone to place a trade. For The Southern Poverty Law Center, “How do we use the internet to teach tolerance?” and for Boo.com, “How do we enable access to fashion streetwear from anywhere using the internet?” My expertise is my mindset. I am brand and channel agnostic and focus wholeheartedly on solving the customer problem. At VWE my focus is solving the problem of “how I feel excited and delighted by wine choice.”
In 2004, you co-founded and launched digital native company Cameron Hughes Wine, which had never really been done before. Can you explain what it was and did?
Cameron Hughes Wine was founded because we wanted to solve a problem of how to make incredible wine more accessible, and the idea came when we had a terrible bottle of wine that cost $20. It was humiliating to the extent that , wow, we spent $20 on wine that is garbage, and eye opening to the extent that apparently we were not the first or the last to feel totally ripped off by the wine we bought. And so, CHW was born with the idea that amazing wine can be bought at a fair value ,and that if ever you feel like our wines rip you off you did not have to live in a zone of frustration: you have direct access because you bought directly from us, and this was the revelation unique the wine industry – accessibility and transparency.
You officially joined the team of Vintage Wine Estates with their acquisition of Cameron Hughes in 2017, serving as their Chief Digital Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. What were your responsibilities in that position?
My primary role was to oversee the entire DTC portfolio which included Estate tasting rooms, wine clubs, and eCommerce, lifestyle eCommerce, third party marketplaces like QVC and HSN, Cameron Hughes Wine, Vinesse, The Sommelier Co. and any provide insight/support on growth opportunities connecting wine directly to customers. In my role we grew the DTC business from $30M to $100M, accounting for a third of VWE revenue, which has been helped really diversify the business.
What were your innovations?
I know this will sound very simple but it is the absolute truth – customer first strategy. All decisions made, be it CapEx to software investments, and done through the lens of how do we excite and delight our customers. The concept of the customer above the retailer, the wholesaler, the distributor was truly a foreign concept, much having to do with the majority of product delivery on a 3-tiered path. The sale begins and ends with a handful of buyers, not the hundreds of thousands of individuals who consume the wine. Coming from DTC where revenue is dependent on every single customer, experience really changes perspective and culture.
Viansa in Sonoma Valley promotes its image of California wine country chic.
Has the wine industry generally dragged its feet with new digital technologies?
Absolutely yes when it comes to digital consumer technology. Digital technology related to wine production is state of the art, it is the software that enables relationships, connection, purchase and consumption that have lagged for many reasons.
How does VWE work insofar as dealing with so many of the strong personalities in the wine world?
I would say that VWE is the mediator among the strong personalities in the wine world. We have acquired companies from larger-than-life personalities who have joined hands with us and have gone toe to toe with fierce competitors who want us on the bottom shelf but somehow find room for us at the top. I would say nothing phases our team, and it really always comes down to a basic truth – we all really love the wine business and attuned to its complexity and beauty.
It appears everyone is working towards sustainability. Had VWE an overall program to combat climate change?
We have certified all our California Estate wineries and vineyards through the California Certified Winegrowers Alliance, with one vineyard (Laetitia Estate Vineyards) certified through Sustainability in Practice (SIP). Certified Sustainable vineyards and wineries produce high quality grapes and wine, adhering to sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable.
Are there plans to acquire more estates in 2023 and 2024?
We are always looking!
Are there still a number of innovations you are seeking to put into place?
Definitely. Much of it is software related and designed to enable the best customer experiences and interactions either in the tasting room, online, within our organization and to our trade.
How do you personally keep up with the technology?
I try to read as many briefs and reports as possible on the ever evolving definition of digital transformation, but mostly, I watch and learn from other industries and how they implement certain technologies to guide my understanding and reveal the potential opportunities for our business.
What’s your best guess as to wine sales to American consumers in the next five years?
We will see more enthusiastic wine adoption by Gen Z then Millennial cohort, $10 Billion in wine sales transacted in online grocery, and gamification.