It's no big secret that startup businesses look to differentiate themselves during major conferences, industry gatherings, and even cross-industry think tanks. It's prime reputation-building time, when impressions are made on new customers, colleagues and competitors alike.

The secret sauce of success, however, isn't so obvious. How can we design an experience that creates a memory that still adds value to our brand? How do we strike the right chord of energetic, enthusiastic presentation without being perceived as too gimmicky?

It's a path I've been mindful of walking these past few months, as we've accepted invitations for our startup to participate in various conferences and programs. What I've noticed within the wine industry, our "home base," is a desire for add-on events that, while they are related to wine and are certainly geared toward industry professionals, also offer a supplementary benefit beyond more education or networking opportunities.

These adjacent events are often under-the-radar things, that we learn about from a friend of a friend, that aren't usually included on any official program. There's often no formal "sign up," and the sentiment is far more grass roots and far less publicity stunt.

Here are three successful examples from within the wine industry that I've experienced or witnessed recently, along with tips for any entrepreneur with an eye toward designing a similar under-the-radar brand-building program.

Post-Conference Yoga for Volunteers

At the Wonder Women of Wine conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month, yoga teacher, wine professional and entrepreneur Morgan Perry offered a "Vino Vinyasa" class for conference volunteers once the conference was over and it was time to dial back the adrenaline. Perry, who was named a 40 Under 40 Tastemaker in 2018 by Wine Enthusiast magazine, founded Yoga Unwined as a way to combine her two passions of wine and yoga.

"Vino Vinyasa" is an hour-long educational yoga class that ends with a comparative wine tasting. The goal is to mindfully taste what's in the glass while applying the learnings from the sequence of poses.

Do you normally associate wine with yogis? No. But that's a big reason why this works, and it's worth keeping in mind when brainstorming program ideas: it colors outside the lines, while giving attendees the perfect transition between high-voltage conference production and post-event decompression. It brought the sweet spot to life.

Sommelier Retreat at TEXSOM International Wine Awards (IWA)

As I headed into judging the TEXSOM International Wine Awards in Dallas for the first time last month, I thought that the main action would be at the four-judge tables as we tasted through thousands of wines from around the world that had been submitted for consideration.

I was wrong. Intriguing as it was to judge - particularly given TEXSOM's reputation for rigorous standards, awarding a smaller proportion of gold medals than other competitions - I was perhaps more intrigued by what was going on at the Sommelier Retreat in another area of the venue. Only 50 top sommeliers are invited to participate, and they can taste any wine that's been entered in the competition. They attend training seminars led by a faculty that includes Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, and their writing skills are coached and honed by top writers and mentors.

It's a massive effort of logistics and education, which is the main reason TEXSOM does it. The takeaway applies for entrepreneurs more broadly speaking, in three ways: it's unique in relation to other competitions, it fulfills the organization's mission of wine education, and it keeps the pipeline filled with a high caliber of enthusiastic participants for the next year and the next generation of professionals.

"Fermati e Respira" at Vinitaly International

It means "Stop and breathe," and it's the name of an hour-long mindfulness and meditation session coordinated by Rebecca Hopkins, founder of A Balanced Glass, a community dedicated to maintaining wellness in the wine industry.

It happens next month in Verona, Italy, with space allotted by Vinitaly's Managing Director, Stevie Kim. Any attendee at the fair is welcome to join. No experience is required, only a willingness to pause and explore the interior space of calm among the storm outside.

For a wellness community to organize a mindfulness session is natural enough; the twist is doing it in the middle of one of the most chaotic and hectic events on the industry's non-stop calendar of international trade fairs and conferences. The twist is why this works: injecting something unexpected -- but on point -- into an otherwise de rigeur program.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019
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