It pays to toot your own horn. Candidates for the U.S. presidency know that. So do savvy business owners.

Fresh research from the wine industry reinforces the fact that telling potential customers about kudos can help drive sales.

"People were willing to pay a lot more just for awards," said Dan McCole, tourism and sustainability researcher at the Michigan State University AgBioResearch Center.

An MSU research team conducted an experiment in Leelanau County last summer. They randomly selected 143 visitors to the tasting room at 45 North Vineyard and Winery and asked them to taste four different out-of-state wines. They asked how much they'd be willing to pay for a bottle of each. Then the researchers told the tasters about awards each wine had won and asked them a second time how much they'd pay. The mere knowledge that a particular wine had won an award bumped the theoretical willing-to-pay price up by an average of $1.58 per bottle.

The wine tasted and smelled the same, but since it had won an award, it was instantly worth more to the participants.

Shakespeare wrote that Juliet told Romeo (her sweetheart with the wrong last name):

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet"

Wine names certainly help customers make choices, but may not add actual value to a bottle.

An award appears to make wine taste a buck and a half sweeter.

The lesson is clear — if a product has won an award, tell potential clients about it. Toot your own horn.

The same lesson holds true for beer, cheese or anything manufactured, crafted, packaged or processed. If a product wins an award, tell customers about it — loudly.

That added perceived value is why car manufacturers love to shout when a magazine names one of their vehicles Car of the Year. It's why authors love it when a book wins an honor. It's why fifth graders beam when they come home with a gold star affixed to a project.

Recognition by a third party — journalists, librarians, teachers or connoisseurs of the grape — lends perceived value to work.

Awards help sell cars. Awards earn authors extra royalty payments. Awards increase the perceived value of wine.

In the case of wineries, entering a competition can be costly in terms of both money and time. But an award that can be printed on a label and on the wine list can return that investment in the form of added income.

"The takeaway is that people really do value awards," McCole said. "Entering a competition seems like it would pay off."

Another important aspect of tooting your own horn is creating a memorable showroom atmosphere.

McCole and another MSU team conducted a separate survey back in 2012 of 1,500 visitors to Leelanau Peninsula wine tasting rooms.

"We found pretty clearly in Michigan that leisure, socializing or having a unique experience were much more important to visitors than learning more about or obtaining wine," said McCole.

That is no surprise to the people who run wineries or brew pubs. Local tasting rooms and pubs absolutely ooze atmosphere.

Tasting room designers always have expended great effort to include vineyard views. If a sliver of water is visible, so much the better. They've frequently opted for muted lighting and dark tones that make visitors want to linger and soak up both the atmosphere and the alcohol. Wooden barrels, textured floors and framed cork mosaics add to the warm charm of many tasting rooms.

Craft brewers put their own spin on ambiance. High ceilings, modern art and game tables help get visitors in the mood to relax and enjoy.

Vintners and craft brewers both understand the importance of experience.

They attempt to provide their customers with that elusive "something" — spirit, style, zeitgeist. They try to immerse their clientele in an experience. They provide their customers with the equivalent of a Disneyland ride — but skewed more toward authenticity than plastic reproduction.

Visitors to tasting rooms and brew pubs seek memories just as keenly as they seek a drink. They yearn to visit someplace special, someplace out of the ordinary, that they can remember with fondness long after the vacation ends.

Yearning for an authentic someplace-special is exactly what pulls tourists to Traverse City. They soak up the atmosphere of our downtown, beaches, forests, small towns, art galleries, restaurants, hiking trails, museums, natural areas, brewpubs and tasting rooms.

Many visitors carry home a bottle of wine that helps them taste northern Michigan's mystique after they've returned home. But their memories of good times in an authentic town will last long after the bottle is empty.

Traverse City's good fortune to land in a string of top-10 lists certainly has helped build the area's tourist traffic. That national exposure acts like a gold star on Traverse City's label.

Maybe all those accolades have done more than simply attract visitors. Perhaps they also make the Traverse City vacation experience taste even sweeter.

Contact Business Editor Dan Nielsen at 231-933-1467 or

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