Introduction to The6000Project

On February 23, 2020, Sfriso Winery, a micro-winery located in the small village of Chiarano, Italy, in the countryside of the Province of Treviso in Veneto, learned that it was no longer able to operate as usual. All in-person business operations were shut-down immediately, and indefinitely, including the prohibition of tourists visiting the winery for tastings. The winery had been thrust into an official lockdown as the novel Coronavirus swept over the entire province, henceforth designated as a COVID-19 Red Zone. These were the highest restrictions in practice, and were initiated across the province a full two weeks before the rest of Italy. This sudden and unexpected quarantining within the North of Italy led to a strict national lockdown on March 9, 2020. The impact left Sfriso owners, Réka Háros and Pier Sfriso, stunned, and reeling at the prospect of having no avenue to sell their wine.

This video captures the Sfrisos’ reaction the day the directive was enforced in their region (https://youtu.be/MXL1gebeRyM). Clearly, the imposition of commercial restrictions was yet to hit the Sfrisos. Worse was to arrive in the coming weeks as there was no clear guidance or support offered for businesses affected by this crisis. Italy was the first country in Europe to shut down operations and, therefore, it was not only seen by other countries as a regional pariah but in the absence of another European country’s experience on which to draw insight, there was no guidance on how to manage the crisis. The Sfrisos thus found themselves facing a crisis. They were unprepared and had no backup plan for preventing a commercial disaster.

Life at quarantined Sfriso Winery - Day 1 - Trying to stay positive

The Crisis Facing Sfriso Winery

As COVID-19 spread across the world, the Sfrisos began shoring-up sales commitments in order to take stock of their wine inventory. This pandemic posed an initial challenge by narrowing the range of distribution channels in which wine could be sold. However, even before the Sfrisos could even contemplate a solution to this challenge, a pending business crisis arrived via a force majeure refusal by a distributor to purchase a 6,000 bottle commitment of Prosecco. As any financial expert will tell you, maintaining cash-flow for small businesses is an essential prerequisite to remaining commercially solvent. Therefore, with this annulment in the accounts receivable following the added uncertainty of future sales due to the pandemic, the potential financial deficit represented a huge threat to the viability of the company.

The Sfrisos were looking to the coming summer with great uncertainty. The predicted loss of tourism and cellar door visitors would only exacerbate the financial challenge of the immediate impact of the pandemic. Thus, in the absence of finding any viable solution to this potential loss of business, the forecast potential loss was at least 70% when compared to typical sales between the March and September period.

Planning ahead was also impossible as the Coronavirus pandemic impacted commerce across the world. Government support was not forthcoming, and would not be a solution to any business in the long-term. To make matters even worse, there were no clear deadlines as to when things would get back to normal. Réka recalled:

Everything was uncertain and the rules of operation kept changing. But, there were two things we could be sure of: harvest was coming and we also had this 6000 bottles of Sparkling Prosecco DOC unlabeled, in inventory. Those were the only guarantees we had, and we needed to find a way to sell some of these unlabeled bottles to sustain ourselves economically.

The Sfrisos brainstormed the potential alternatives available to them for recovering the immediate loss of sales they faced.

The Decision that Saved the Business

The Sfrisos knew they would not be able to sell enough of these extra bottles to their current client base, no matter how loyal these clients were. New customers, and fast, were required to recover the potential loss of revenue. Sharp (2019) illustrated that brands grow by a net acquisition of new customers. Réka wondered: “How can a small winery with no marketing budget acquire new customers under the circumstances of this crisis?” Then she remembered:

After the stunning impact of the pandemic led to a feeling of numbness in not being able to execute our 2020 plans, it wore off as reality hit. We realized that we needed to act intentionally to acquire new customers. We decided to shift our attention to stable and concrete decision-making. We needed to have something tangible we could hold onto and not be overly subjected to the influence of unexpected changes in business conditions. We decided to throw away our previously planned marketing and business playbooks for 2020 and to do something different to respond and adapt to the new crisis situation. We launched The6000Project.

Naidoo (2010) explains the application of this initiative through research findings that SMEs exercising a marketing orientation hold a competitive advantage based on value-proposition, or cost leadership strategies. The evidence also supports research findings that small businesses with competitive advantages in export markets recover more effectively from economic crises than businesses with a domestic market focus (Medrano & Olarte-Pascual, 2016). Further, competitor-oriented SMEs that had good inter-functional capabilities were better performers than those that lacked such organizational features. A winemaking husband in conjunction with a marketing executive wife fit these criteria perfectly.

Accordingly, Réka recognized the need to draw on her professional experience in advertising and working with creatives as an opportunity to innovate during this crisis. She realized that the winery would need to go online to reach a new audience, and they needed to do it fast. Réka recalled her mindset at the time:

I thought, why not offer creative designers who like Prosecco the opportunity to "do what they want’’ with the label? Because these bottles didn’t have a front label, there was an opportunity to do something innovative, online and through social media. We could start a creative competition to design a new limited-edition label for the 2020 Prosecco release and host it entirely online and leverage social media to promote it. A label that represented the hardness and harshness of 2020 but also the joy of kissing it goodbye.

It was evident that the business solution to the pandemic was digital, encompassing everything from a concept, platform, to virtual tools.

Execution of The6000Project

Having just endured the 100-day mark of lockdown, Réka and Pier were increasingly worried about how the pandemic was spreading. The world was not going back to normal any time soon. Tourists would not be coming back to the area, and on top of the canceled order, the reality dawned on them of further losses in revenue due to an absence of sales at the winery. The only elements of stability were inventory and the internet. This realization led to creation of The 6000 Project, a project launched to try to get the Sfrisos through 2020 while creating space for creativity to shine. Because the bottles from this canceled order did not have a front label, the owners saw an opportunity to do something different and start a creative competition to design a new limited-edition label specifically for 2020; a label that represented the hardness and harshness of 2020 but also the joys of kissing it goodbye. Here is a video of Réka and Pier talking about the launch of The6000Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f2JwFTwWDY&t=14s).

Designer, artist, creative? Here’s a design competition for you, The 6000 Project!

As Exhibit 1 illustrates, the The6000Project ran in five stages between June 8, 2020 until August 30th, 2020 when the project closed. The only aspect of the Project that ran throughout the life of the project was the Crowdfunding process so that sales goals had the best chance of being achieved. Their revenue objective was to sell at least 900 bottles of the unlabeled Prosecco before August 30, 2020 to new customers.

Exhibit 1.The Five Stages of The6000Project’s Design Competition

Source: Sfriso Winery, Business records.

Implementation

1) New website for the new audiences

Sfriso Winery, like most Italian small wineries, was not ready in March and April 2020 to move all sales online—it didn’t have an ecommerce platform integrated with its winery website. Adapting the old, and outdated Sfriso Winery website would have required a bigger and more time-consuming effort. Therefore, The6000Project needed to be hosted on a different platform that was quick to set-up, efficient to use, did not require coding expertise, and could be further developed in subsequent stages.

The6000Project thus launched as a creative wine label design competition hosted on this www.the6000project.com website, managed by the Sfrisos. Hosting the Project on a Shopify ecommerce platform gave the Sfrisos an opportunity to not only launch fast but also to reach out to new customers with a distinct story. As shown in Exhibit 2, the decision to host the Project on a different website also allowed for more focused Project storytelling for the designer and Prosecco lover audiences.

Exhibit 2.The6000Project Website Homepage on June 8, 2020

Source: www.the6000project.com website on the day of launch

The use of social media was with the aim to entice consumers via entertainment initially, before being recognized as a source of information, a key application of the medium as espoused by research findings (Hassan et al., 2015). The platform of appeal needs to be evaluated against metrics that help determine the best means for attracting, then conscripting consumers to a producer’s options for sale. Social media can be used to implement this strategy by using a mixture of entertaining posts, coupled with informative and convincing posts at a time where the consumer is most receptive to messages encouraging purchase.

The Sfrisos considered conducting A/B testing to assess priorities in this means of messaging, but the pandemic did not allow time.

2) Crowdsource and Crowdfund

A crucial aspect of the project was to engage with a new audience (Sharp, 2019), and to do so the Sfrisos crowdsourced the new label design by reaching out to the creative designers of the world and crowdfunded the project by reaching out to attract new Prosecco lovers of Europe and the United States.

The Project’s success depended on the successful outcome of these two elements. That is, the need to generate enough design proposals to help reach new audiences, and to leverage the interest in these to pre-sell at least 900 bottles by Aug 30, 2020. If less than 900 bottles were pre-ordered during the Project’s lifetime, Sfriso Winery would have been compelled to call off the project, as specified by the crowdfunding platform used for this purpose.

Pre-sales were opened from the day the project launched until Aug 30, 2020, and the evolution of the sales was tracked as shown in Exhibit 3, while there was a constant call-toaction (CTA) for Prosecco lovers to buy the wine both on the homepage of the website as well as through Social Media posts (see Exhibit 4).

Exhibit 3.The Crowdfunding counting

Source: www.the6000project.com website a day before reaching the goal.

Exhibit 4.The Call to Action on Website for Prosecco Lovers to Pre-Order Wine

Source: www.the6000project.com website during the month of July 2020.

3) Engaging with the new audiences

To ensure the success of the crowdfunding and crowdsourcing elements of the Project, the Sfrisos utilized a motivation loop into the Project to make sure everyone involved, the designers, the buyers, and the Sfrisos, were committed to making this project a success. The appeal of a utilitarian benefit for all involved, as much as conveying empathy for the winery’s plight being a consistent motivational factor in consumer conviction (Lee et al., 2008). For designers, there were also motivations in the financial rewards for the winner, 2nd, and 3rd runners-up designs in the project’s competition. Their reward also increased based on how many bottles were pre-ordered. The more bottles were sold, the higher was the designers’ financial reward. The6000Project also offered a great opportunity for designers to expand their design portfolios; a helpful means of extending their personal branding reach (Barwise & Ehrenberg, 1984). The buyer’s motivation was linked to the empathic desire to help a small winery reach its goal by buying the limited edition Prosecco 2020 release, as well as having the chance to vote for the winner’s design. For Sfriso Winery the motivation was to sell more of these unlabeled bottles to new customers.

Creating this motivation loop not only engaged new audiences but also got them involved to take action in the Project.

4) Content Strategy to reach new customers and designers

The Sfrisos’ story and the reason they launched The6000Project was the main driver and focus of their storytelling and content strategy. The content used to extend the brand’s reach was never product-focused. Nowhere was any product attribute mentioned in communications, instead, the focus was always on creating an emotional connection with the potential audience. While different content was specifically prepared for various audiences throughout the duration of the project, each message linked back to the original story of why The6000Project was launched in the first place. This consistency and authenticity of messaging were key components in extending the reach and commitment of those supporting the campaign (Pucci et al., 2019; Quinton & Wilson, 2016; Unknown, 2020).

As mentioned previously, The6000Project had two different audiences 1) Designers and 2) Buyers. As shown in Table 1, the timing and the objectives of each Project phase varied, therefore, it was important to adjust communications on all channels as the Project progressed. This required clear communication catered to the audiences’ interests.

Table 1.The6000Project Content Strategy by Phases
Launch Phase Subscription Phase Vote Phase Pre-Order Phase
Audience: Designers Designers & Buyers Designers & Buyers Designers & Buyers
Timing: June 8 - July 19 July 1 - Aug 5 July 27-Aug 11 June 8 - Aug 30
Objective: Build Awareness & get Design Submissions Increase # of email Subscribers for the voting phase Public to vote for the top 10 designs, Buyers to vote the winners Sell a minimum of 900 bottles before August 30, 2020
Channels: Earned Media: trade and consumer press

Owned Media:
Social Media
(Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook),
Website, Email

Paid Media:
One Minute Briefs campaign, Facebook
Earned Media: Designer generated content, electronic word-of-mouth (EWOM)

Owned Media:
Social Media
(Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook),
Website, Email

Paid Media: none
Earned Media: Designer generated content, EWOM

Owned Media:
Social Media
(Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook),
Website, Email

Paid Media: none
Earned Media: Designer generated content, EWOM

Owned Media:
Social Media
(Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook),
Website, Email

Paid Media: none

Source: Sfriso Winery, Business records

Given the short timeframe of the project, the lack of budget to test content, and the importance of making the project a success, it was crucial to create appealing and valuable content that would move the two new audiences from awareness of the The6000Project to action fast. For this, Sfriso Winery relied on The Elements of Value[1] by Bain and Company that identifies 30 “elements of value” in a pyramid. This heuristic model traces its conceptual roots to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” and broadens these insights by describing consumers’ behaviors around products and services. The elements of value are shown in a pyramid according to four kinds of consumer needs: “functional,” “emotional,” “life changing,” and “social impact”. The 30 elements are divided into these four categories as shown in Exhibit 5.

Exhibit 5.Elements of Value Pyramid Template for The6000Project

The Elements of Value Pyramid framed The6000Project content based on the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) motivation for the two audiences; consistent with the findings of De Silva et al. (2018) in identifying that successful value can be created when businesses collaborate with their own clients. Using The Elements of Value pyramid helped Réka write content based on the two audience’s values (functional, emotional, life-changing, and social impact) without losing focus on the objectives of each Project phase. Here is Réka explaining how The6000Project worked (https://youtu.be/gQI0Trb-ju8). Exhibit 5 shows which elements of value were identified by Réka to be pertinent to the The6000Project. The most prominent elements are highlighted in blue boxes. Réka wrote Social Media content purely based on these chosen elements of value.

Some examples of how the Sfrisos framed the Elements of Value to communicate with their audiences are as follows:

For Buyers

Functional Value Elements (Bharadwaj et al., 2013)

  • “An unconventional Prosecco that I can buy directly from a small family-owned producer in Italy, to share with my friends and family for when we will have reasons to celebrate.”
  • “A Prosecco to share with my friends when we will be able to reconnect and celebrate together.”

Emotional Value Elements (Barber & Taylor, 2011; Orth et al., 2012)

  • “The6000Project gives me access to buy wine directly from Italy, from a small producer that I would never be able to otherwise buy in stores.”

  • “The6000Project is fun and entertaining because I can participate in choosing the label I like the most.”

Life-Changing AND Social Impact Value Elements (Fernandes & Inverneiro, 2020; Paniagua & Sapena, 2014)

  • “I like the idea that by buying this Prosecco I am helping designers and the wine producer financially make it through this crisis.” (motivation & self-transcendence)

For Designers

Functional Value Elements:

  • “The6000Project gives me the opportunity to make more money and navigate through this year a little better on top of getting bonus wine I love”

Emotional Value Elements:

  • “If I win The6000Project I will get rewarded and recognized for my artwork.” - “The6000Project allows me to express my creativity and designing talent by creating a new label for a product I love.”

  • “The6000Project is fun and entertaining because normal people will vote what labels they prefer – not some unknown judges.”

Life-Changing Value Elements:

  • “I want to participate in The6000Project because if I win (hope), I can finally afford to buy…”

  • “If I win The6000Project I will get paid, and if enough people buy the wine, I will get more money.”

  • “Winning this 6000 Project would make me feel proud and maybe more accepted within the designers’ community.”

Working out these Value Elements helped the Sfrisos maintain focus on creating valuedriven content for the new audiences as seen in Exhibits 6, 7, and 8. It is important to note that given the lack of time to test the above sentences, Réka wrote them based on anecdotes from friends and clients. After each post, they analyzed the outcome, whether there was an increase in design submissions, an increase in pre-sales, an increase in subscriptions to vote, what sort of engagement these contents would receive. The content was posted at least three times a week on the different social media channels adjusting the length of text and images to each platform accordingly.

Exhibit 6.Example of Social Media Post to Encourage Design Submission

Source: One Minute Briefs Twitter feed.

Exhibit 7.Example of Social Media Post to Encourage Subscriptions

Source: Sfriso Winery’s Twitter feed

Exhibit 8.Example of Social Media Post to Encourage Pre-Orders

Source: Sfriso Winery’s Twitter feed

To reach beyond Sfriso Winery’s audience, they researched the most used hashtags for designers and Prosecco lovers. These hashtags played a major role in building awareness and tracking the online traction of the Project. #The6000Project hashtag was distinctive and unique to the Project, which was important to not confuse it with other projects or other content not pertinent to the competition.

#The6000Project hashtag also played an important role in tracking immediate social reach results following the launch of the project. As Exhibit 9 and Exhibit 10 demonstrate, tracking performance through the hashtag gave the Sfrisos an important indicator of the success of the social reach right after launch.

Exhibit 9.Twitter Analytics after the first week of the launch

Source: Sfriso Winery’s Twitter Analytics on June 15, 2020.

Exhibit 10.#The6000Project hashtag performance during the first week of launch

Source: Mentionlytics.com tracking of #The6000Project hashtag across social media between June 6th and 12th, 2020.

5) Value Pricing

One crucial piece of The6000Project was the development of the pricing strategy. In fact, while the Sfrisos had 6000 bottles of unlabeled Prosecco to sell, what they really wanted to achieve was not to sell all 6000 bottles with this Project, but to stop losing revenue due to a lack of tourism-driven DTC sales at the cellar door during the months of June, July, and August.

A careful calculation of COGS and other costs such as shipping to the US and within Europe, order fulfillment, payment processing fees, and promotion was only the starting point to determine the financial breakeven point of the Project. What they did next was to consider the emotional value the Project would communicate and transfer to its audience and proceeded with financial calculations based on value pricing as opposed to cost plus pricing (Raja et al., 2020).

The entire project was a story with emotional hooks both for designers and for buyers as shown by the use of Elements of Value (Swani et al., 2014). Buyers were not presented with product features but with benefits of buying a sparkling wine, co-created with them, that was specifically designed and launched to celebrate the end of 2020. The value proposition was that in a year that put everyone to the test, this Prosecco would help people celebrate the end of it. That was the main driving story behind the entire Project. It created an emotional connection to the desired moment of celebration, the one that everyone was looking forward to, the moment of kissing 2020 goodbye. The question was “How much would people be willing to pay for that moment with a Prosecco they helped design?”

However, because the product was a Prosecco, the Sfrisos understood, by looking at market data, that there was a certain perceived price ceiling. Setting the price per bottle too high would have probably limited the success of the project while setting it too low would have been inconsistent with the story of the project. These challenges are consistent with the proposed considerations for producers using a value pricing strategy (Dawes et al., 2020).

Prosecco has a lower value image in key markets like the UK, Germany, Italy, and the USA. Sticking with these average prices (see Exhibit 10) in these markets would have forced the Sfrisos to work with cost-plus pricing and lower margins, making their objectives too difficult to achieve in terms of revenue gain. Furthermore, with lower margins the Sfrisos would have had to set the target volume to at least 2100 bottles to be sold in less than three months online, an effort that would have needed not only further investment that the Sfrisos didn’t have but also a longer timeframe. Lower prices would also position The6000Project Prosecco at the same price level as other Prosecco brands that any consumer could find in stores, leading to a loss of perceived value through the exchange and a loss of distinctiveness and differentiation.

The6000Project Prosecco bottle price of €14,50 (USD ~17 at the time of the Project) was, therefore, set as a premium for its category in all major markets, thus pushing the boundaries of average market prices for Prosecco DOC Extra Dry both in Europe and in the USA.

6) Financial Investment

Launching the Project on a new Shopify website and mostly relying on earned and owned media to communicate about it, the upfront marketing investment in the Project was very limited. The cost of setting up the Shopify website, and paying for the initial promotional activities was €800 in total for the entire Project. This limited investment was only possible because Réka Haros managed the entire project herself. All other costs associated with the Project were automatically paid for by reaching the goal of 900 bottles of pre-sales. These costs included the financial reward for the three winners, the copywriter fee, design support from Outshinery for bottle images, and Sound in Theory for website support. These services were paid once the Project closed.

RESULTS

Awareness Creation

Twitter was the number one social media channel used by the Sfrisos during the first week of the launch of the project. Twitter’s Analytics shows that there were more than 900 profile visits and 540 profile mentions during the week of June 8, 2020. This increase can be attributed to the launch of the campaign coordinated with The Buyer, who published the launching article and shared it on Twitter, and One Minute Briefs that ran the The6000Project brief on Twitter two days after launching the Project to its then over 26,000-member designer community.

The initial publicity generated further online articles by VinoPigro.it, Anne-Wies.nl, WineCouture.it, and TheMarketingSage.com.

Mentionlytics, a social media monitoring platform, showed that during the first week of the Project’s launch, between June 6 and June 12, the Project’s hashtag #The6000Project reached over 500,000 users across all social media platforms.

With the objective to reach as many designers and Prosecco drinkers as possible, the conversion numbers from June 8 until August 11, 2020, were as follows:

Sales and Revenue Goals

The6000Project closed on August 30, 2020, reaching 114% of the required goal, as shown in Exhibit 11. The objective of pre-selling 900 bottles was reached the night before the winners were announced on August 11, 2020. Of these total sales, 85% were to new customers and 15% to existing Sfriso clients. This ratio is roughly consistent with results widely identified in the marketing literature on the importance of focusing on customer acquisition (Sharp, 2019) as a means to grow your brand.

Exhibit 11.The 6000 Project Final Sales On August 30, 2020

Source: The 6000 Project website on August 30, 2020

As shown in Exhibit 12, The6000Project represented 55% of the value of all DTC sales during the months of June, July, and August 2020. As predicted by the Sfrisos, without The6000Project, Sfriso Winery’s sales would have been dramatically reduced due to the lack of visitors at the winery. Therefore, The6000Project not only replaced a loss of revenue due to lack of tourists, but it also increased the overall sales revenue for those three months, exceeding levels of 2019, as shown in Exhibit 13.

Exhibit 12.The 6000 Project’s Impact on DTC Sales Revenue

Source: Sfriso Winery, Business record

Exhibit 13.The 6000 Project’s Impact on DTC Sales Revenue vs 2019

Source: Sfriso Winery, Business records


  1. Explore the B2C Elements of Value. (2016, October 12). Bain. https://www.bain.com/insights/elements-of-value-interactive/