Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wineries Need to Get With the Program and Engage Their Customers!

The rants about wineries needing to get on the social media bandwagon come fast & furious these days. Adding in the related rants about the need for wineries to improve web sites, setup Facebook pages and respond to contacts through all the online channels out there, and you could get the impression that the state of the industry is poor and declining rapidly. By only this measure that may not be a stretch.

I’ve picked one particular thread in the conversation because my experience with at least one of the actors in the story proves the point being made in clear and simple terms. But I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t have at least a little something to say to expand the argument a bit.

Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude, wrote a post on January 25th entitled “Where Can Wineries Really Innovate? In Engaging The People WhoActually Drink The Stuff!” where he lays out his ideas on what wineries can and should be doing to engage their customers. (Sorry Joe I’m going to pick on you a bit, but in the end your position will be the winning proposition.)  In that post the main point is that wineries suck at innovation in customer engagement and are losing out on brand positioning that is going on everyday using social media. The points were stated well but there wasn’t example provided, and no consideration of the dollars and cents based at stake.

That post got an opposing response Steve Heimoff in “HeyJoe, lighten up on the social media thing”. Steve took the approach that winery owners and winemakers are up to their eyeballs in the work to make the product and run their businesses that the “free” time to curate their social media presence and engage the customers waiting online is easier said than done. He also states that he thinks the sharp edge of statements in Joe’s original post ignore the realities of what the producers ARE doing to engage and run their businesses. I personally ride the line between both voices. Any business, not just wineries, needs to invest more time as they grow to manage their brand and engage customers. That is nothing new. There is plenty of technology out there to do this, but that is not the problem. Changing how businesses allocate time and resources is, and that has everything to do with money and a return for investments made. Even so, the adoption of such technologies is an evolution that takes time.

Joe responded to Steve today in “This Is Me Totally NOTLightening Up On Wine And Social Media” where he refines the argument to be more about engagement than social media, and provides some engagement examples. As one commenter (Richard Auffrey, aka The Passionate Foodie) has already pointed out, the examples aren’t about social media and the article title and points made seem to revolve around that. Maybe the premise of the post was titled a bit off point, but Joe is human and is trying to be a thought leader for an industry he loves and wants help be even more successful.  I’ll let other people jump on that specific point if they wish.

In the most recent post Joe says “I’m not lightening up. If anything, I think we all should be making more of a fuss over this stuff, not less.” and  “Ignoring social media entirely makes you a Muppet” to get the reader’s attention.

Joe’s bottom line is this: “if you are producing wine, and in this day and age you are letting someone like me (or any critic) dictate the majority of your brand message to current and potential customers in online engagement channels (twitter, Facebook, etc.), then you need to audition for a Jim Henson Company project, because you’re acting like a Muppet…”

If you want to read all the opinions, comments and put your own stamp on the conversation use the links above. I encourage anyone who loves wine, works in the wine industry or is thinking about launching a winery to get involved. Joe is out there ahead of the indsutry coalescing his experiences into a set of guiding principles that in time will be the way things are done in the wine business. It’s just going to take time.

As a technologist by trade I’ve seen this situation before, it was called the Dot Com boom.  During that period every company in every industry was being told they had to get online because everything was going that way. I ran an IT consulting firm from shortly before the boom and was along for the ride during and after the crash. I saw all manner of stupefying business plans and VC money flying fast and furious at anything with an “e” or “dotcom” in the text of said plans. Most of it was crap. I turned down jobs because the business had no real plan and most of those evaporated before I would have gotten paid. That era was exciting but we all lost because of stock market roller coaster that resulted from it. More than 10 years later we have seen the shake out from that era come full circle and many of the current darlings of the IT world are those companies that either benefited from what followed the insanity or had the fine timing to come later.

We are seeing a social media boom now. The drums beating about companies needing to be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc., etc. sounds the same to me. But it is different this time. Social media is about innovation in marketing, customer engagement and brand communication. Those aren’t new concepts and a little change will be good for all of us.

But how do we evaluate what is really going on in the wine industry and figure out what to expect for technology adoption, and specifically engagement technologies, from the industry at large? Because we are looking at this from a technology slant we should dance with the Technology Adoption Lifecycle for a few songs. The Technology Adoption Lifecycle (or Diffusion of Innovation) is a model of technology adoption based on research done of farmers in the 1950’s. Why should this matter today when so much has changed? Because it applies and holds up to this day, that’s why!

The graphic below will show you what the progression of technology adoption looks like in any community of actors whose primary business isn’t technology (farming, retail, wine, etc). I am making the distinction about adoption of technology in tech focused industries because that is a whole other animal in itself. Trust me, I deal with that every freaking day!

( graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Clearly you can see that knowing where in progression of an adoption we are will help anyone understand exactly where the business in their focus industry might be in their own adoptions.

For the wine business and social media I don’t think we have moved to the Early Majority phase yet. That means at most 16% of wineries have adopted the technologies and have been able to successfully integrate them into operations. How does this do for context for everyone? Anyone want to disagree? I don’t have research to back up my assertion, I’m using a general perception from my own experience and people like Joe who report on what they see from the field. It fits for me, but take a shot at it if you wish. I’ll have that conversation because it only helps refine the argument and make the case stronger.

I stated above that I think this model holds up. A web strategy post from 2010 entitled “Matrix: Social Technology Adoption CurveBenefits –and Downsides“ explains this curve in terms of social technologies. The benefits and downsides around adoption are discussed and that detail is an essential read for anyone who takes up the position Joe asserts.

Wineries need to listen in here, but in the end what they really need to do reflect on their day to day operations and figure out where they are spending their time and money. Once they know how they currently spend they need to be brutally honest and determine the return they are getting for that spend. I know for a fact that they will find places to move money and time from to where it can be better spent.  That’s when they can seriously entertain the suggestion that they can do a better job of engaging customers by adopting social media. Clearly some companies might need help with that, they aren’t technologists after all, and the loud voices in this conversation should consider what role they might play there.

The wine business isn’t a new industry and is littered with so many control and anti-competitive facets that in themselves add another barrier to moving along the curve. Those areas must be attacked in parallel if we want to speed the story along.

How did this whole experience prove the point Joe was making for me? Joe’s engagement with me. His blazing turnaround to my comments and handling of a technology issue I had in replying to a comment made it clear he wanted to engage me as a consumer of his brand. And it made me feel good. There is no better proof than that.




1winedude said...


Jason, I think the lifecylce overlay is relevant, but the DotCom boom/bust comparison I don't think is anywhere near as relevant. More appropriate might be the Gartner Hypecycle, which includes the early/late adopters, as well as the over-hype and following trough of disillusionment phases that are inevitable with this sort of stuff. But the hypecycle also has aspects of the timeline in which real value gets culled from the tool/tech/approach and the over-hyped aspects are discarded. I guess that's a long way of saying that we've learned from the DotCom bust (hopefully, anyway!).


Jason Phelps said...


Thanks for the comment. We agree on plenty here.

You aren't an average wine consumer and you are also more knowledgeable about IT than the average person as well. Try to forget what you know from inside the industry, shed some of the tech info, and then the Dot Com boom analogy applies more than you think. Most people are using SM because it is novel. They aren't thinking about why, just investing tons of time on Facebook and Twitter because its neat. That is as boomish as it comes for me.


Paul Mabray said...

Solid post Jason but I also have to echo Joe's comments. The more difficult problem comes from our industry's years of continual dependance on the three tier system, our inability to morph to customer centric strategies to mirror the new reality, and our lack of desire to participate in almost anything digital. The wineries that are adapting early are already demonstrating major competitive advantages. Digital + customer centric strategies will help wineries better spend their resources (time and money) and gain the efficiencies these strategies provide.