A wine trade association does a post-Covid rebrand

Like many in the world of face-to-face gatherings, 2023 was the first time in a few years that Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) held its previously annual convention. Given the free time the WSWA team had, the association chose 2023 as the year to introduce a rebrand and additional changes to its event. To realize their vision, they partnered with Design Studio by Maritz.

An excited 2,449 attendees took to Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando over four days, a 5% increase in attendance from 2019, according to the association. “It was great to see everyone, but also really exciting for me to see everyone experience the redesigned show,” says Kari Langerman, WSWA’s senior vice president of meetings and events, who has been with the association for more than 18 years.

man performing on stage in front of crowd

“The energy at our first show back was more than I have ever seen before. People all really enjoyed getting to see their industry peers and friends that they hadn’t seen in a while. Attendees enjoyed the new elements of our show and the closing night party with Nelly as our performer was amazing. I actually had to extend the party because everyone was enjoying it so much!”

The WSWA Rebrand

The Maritz Design Studio and WSWA teams decided to remove the term “convention” from its annual event’s name, formerly called “WSWA’s Convention & Exposition,” deeming the term “old-fashioned” and in need of something more modern and memorable. The event’s name was redubbed “Access Live,” an extension of the association’s WSWA Access, a program that connects wine and spirits producers with wholesalers via education and mentorship.

The event reinvented itself in numerous ways:

  • A new multidimensional show floor highlighted “neighborhoods” of segmented displays, creating a better experience for buyers.
  • A new digital appointment system better allowed wholesalers to create important connections.
  • Redesigned education sessions were experienced as short 20-30-minute bursts, many of which were on the show floor, helping maintain energy and traffic (more on that below).
  • Attendees used a meeting app to drive the on-site experience through interactive maps, an agenda builder, matchmaking, meeting scheduling and social media integration.
  • The event used Maritz’s Eight Phases of the Guest Experience (announcing, attracting, anticipation, arriving, entering, engaging, exiting and extending) during the entire process to help drive consistency.

Although the rebrand and event that followed turned out to be a success, Langerman says she found difficulty selling the rebrand to WSWA’s members. “While most of our member companies attended, many sent fewer people to see how the rebranded experience was,” she says. “I definitely expected our members and sponsors to be more excited to participate at the first show back post-Covid. We had over 1/3 of our attendees register in the last month leading up to the show. I was extremely pleased with the final turnout and feedback from attendees that they felt it was more energized and exciting than it had been in many years.”

Before this rebranded show, WSWA didn’t have much education, rather, the event had daily general sessions and 30-minute programming sessions specific to its three industry tiers: supplier, wholesaler and retailer. Langerman says that while during their previous events the opening general session drew a large audience, in general the event’s education was not highly attended. “We changed [the education] to create more 20-30-minute impactful talks on hot topics in the industry. These talks take place in the exhibit hall throughout the day. The talks help drive traffic in the exhibit hall, but also provide value to the various industry tiers.”

Lessons Learned

Langerman says the team looked at the 2023 show as the first in a five-year process to get it where they finally want it. After this “first show,” the team has seen more places where changes need to be made, like tweaking and adding more content around trends and forecasting, not having a lunch general session and instead having lunch in the exhibit hall, removing the event’s 5K and adding quiet zones and noise-cancelling pods.

“We will continue to review surveys and have conversations with exhibitors and attendees to ensure what we create is valuable for all tiers of the industry,” Langerman says. “I also have a task force that provides feedback and guidance to help ensure we develop a great show.”