As if we needed any more evidence that consumer perception of wine isn’t all that materially different than how they interact with every other produce available in the market today, the results of a study titled In Vino Veritas? Social Influence on ‘Private’ Wine Evaluations at a Wine Social Networking Site published by Wine-Economics.org provides more proof that wine is not immune from the same type of crowd-sourced review influences that have become the norm of on-line product searching.
The study was conducted by staff from Seton Hall, Oxford and the University of Exeter, from their departments of Diplomacy and International Relation, Experimental Psychology, and Psychology departments, respectively (if you want to go up against their level of smarties, be my guest; I know when I see a battle not worth fighting). Their subject was an analysis of Cellertracker.com reviews, which makes sense since it’s currently the largest such repository on planet Earth.
To the tape (emphasis mine):
“We conducted analyses based on 6,157 notes about 106 wines posted by wine drinkers at a wine social networking site. Our findings suggest that social influence on private wine evaluations occurred by communicating a descriptive norm via written information. We provide empirical evidence that there is social influence on private wine evaluations that is greater than the effect of experts’ ratings and prices combined. This influence comes mainly from the first few group members, and increases as a function of source uniformity. “
Hmmmm. Science and data deal uninformed, incumbent opinions a blow yet again…
The findings of the cross-the-pond study suggest that how we view wine as a product – and what influences our buying decisions – is really not all that materially different than how customer reviews impact conversion rates on Amazon.com, if we take the review itself to be a form of conversion and accept that information influences what other people will buy (and, importantly, how much they’re willing to pay).
The study pulls no punches in its conclusions, stating that social is not only a more powerful influencer than expert reviews when it comes to wine, but that the crowd-sourced/social reviews behave differently, as well (again, emphasis is mine):
“…our findings suggest, social influence is more important than experts’ views, and social influence is not informational but normative… it would be wise for communicators to utilize appropriate channels for their persuasive appeal to wine drinkers.”
My personal reaction to this study borders on the “well… no f*cking duh!!!” side of things, but it’s nice to have some real data that back up the notion that wine is not somehow special and a world apart from social influences. There are some important take-aways here, not the least of which is that social channels are highly influential, and good first impressions there can have a normative effect on how newcomers to the products perceive those wines (based on how early influencers perceive them).
I fully realize that we’re a long way of from big buyers and distributors and the like not having their purchasing decisions influenced by traditional wine scores. But do we expect that position to hold forevermore? Personally, I see the fact that studies like this one are even conducted as evidence to the contrary,
I know that many in the wine business continue to preach that wine is somehow unique as a product, and therefore that we’ll always require ivory tower expert reviews to make sense of it, and that crowd-sourced reviews have little place in that scenario. But when a popular mantra doesn’t stand up to common sense, isn’t supported by empirical data, and flies in the face of trends impacting a majority of similar circumstances, then we have a word to describe that mantra.
That word is “wrong.”
Which I suppose is another way of saying that wine behaves in social media the same way that pretty much all other products behave.
Gee… what a surprise…