Social Media As Wine Retail Sales Weapon? (“Wine Marketing In The Digital Age” Post-Panel Musings)

Vinted on June 22, 2011 binned in going pro, wine 2.0

Can social media be used as tool to drive sales for wine retailers, distributors, and importers?

Yes, I’m seriously asking that question.  Stop laughing, okay?

Despite the fact that even well-attended and publicized retail events don’t seem to be moving umpteen cases of wine, the consensus answer seems to be “Yes – with caveats,” based on a panel discussion I took part in recently in New York.

The title of the thirty-minute sessions was Wine Marketing in the Digital Age – I shared the table with with Jody Rones from (a daily email marketing blast with a ridiculous number of subscribers), Lindsey Johnson from wine PR mavens Lush Life Productions, and Gregory Dal Piaz of (Editor in Chief for the one of the largest wine websites in the world – he chaired the session).  The panel was part of a sponsored event by Wines of Chile, who concurrently put on a pretty kick-ass grand tasting of something like 300 Chilean wines, of which I had time to taste about twelve before having to hoof it to Penn Station to catch a train back to the ol’ dancin’ waters of Philly.

Thirty minutes isn’t a lot of time to cover such a potentially diverse and broad topic, but it won’t surprise 1WD readers that I said “screw it, I’ll try it anyway!”…

A major theme that came out of the discussion (attended mostly be those ITB – in wine sales, distribution & importing) was that treating on-line engagement (via social media) as somehow different or alien to off-line engagement is, of course, the wrong way to go. As in, one-way-towards-the-collapsed-bridge-with-no-breaks wrong, or horror move oh-god-don’t-go-in-the-basement-the-evil-homicidal-maniac-IS-DOWN-THERE-WAITING-FOR-YOU-I-can’t-look-tell-me-when-it’s-over! wrong.

Thinking out loud about this here… I continually find myself surprised by the fact that people are surprised by that fact.

Which isn’t to say that I’m somehow smarter than anyone else, it’s just to say that I don’t understand why engagement with people – which really is the whole point of being on social media tools like facebook or twitter – should be any different on-line than off.  We’re still talking about people on the other end – it’s just that instead of being on the other end of a handshake or telephone call, their on the other end of a tweet, facebook wall post, or email message.  In fact, most of us who are old farts… ahem… more matured than the majority of the Millennial generation have already gotten used to this kind of human-interaction-at-a-distance as done through email.  It’s not like once someone is on twitter they suddenly are monkey alien beings from another galaxy or something.  That more-or-less sums up the gist of what I tell people when I’m asked how I built up a following for the blog around the topic of wine – I didn’t really build up a following, people passionate about wine built up a fun community and 1WD happens to be one of the convergence points.

Get out of the way, facilitate, don’t force it – and let it happen naturally as a result of engaging those passionate peeps.

The caveats, of course, are that work has to be done one-one-one, and the payoffs are longer-term (loyalty and high-quality interactions via an organic, slow growth of a group that might not be extremely large, but wants to engage with you).  And, if you want to stand out among the crowd, you need to get as geeky as possible on the things that really differentiate you, because the on-line world is not kind to generalists.  If you specialize in Hungarian table wines, then you need to be the most kick-ass, geekiest Hungarian wine-lovin’ fool out there to stand out and provide value to the people most interested in what you have to offer.

I’m no Nostradamus either for bringing up these ideas, by the way. Tons of social media and marketing gurus have said this for a few years already. But people always seemed surprised to hear them.

And, I’m find more an more often, relieved.

A example: After the panel, I was approached by a attendee who makes his living in the wine sales world, and over a glass of very decent Chilean wine from the grand tasting, he told fellow panelist Jody Rones and I that our discussion helped him to realize something.  What he said he realized was that the on-line world is just a vehicle for reaching real, off-line people – some of the specific rules of engagement are different on those platforms, which might be why people make the mistake of, at first, treating them as somehow fundamentally different than off-line engagement; but it’s just good old-fashioned one-on-one engagement at the end of the day.  And he was already pretty good at doing that.

“I can do that!” he told us, clearly invigorated (or maybe buzzed… or both!).  Here’s a guy who’s been successful doing that over luncheons, meetings, telephone calls, and email – of course he could adapt those successful tactics to engaging people directly on twitter or facebook, given enough time.

I told him that, to me, he’d hit on the key point, the real takeaway gem of the discussion.  The brief exchange made me happy – it gave me hope and some reassurance that I was earning the paycheck I’d receive for sitting in on the day’s panel.

He then told us about someone he works with for whom various favors were done, such as providing her person’s company booth space at wine industry events, gratis.  She never offered any favors to his company in return, and never said “thank you,” which (rightfully) pissed this guy off.  “We’ll never work with her again,” he said, “neither will anybody that we work with, either.”

“Imagine how fast that negative word would get out about her company on twitter and facebook,” I added – same issue, same violated human expectations of shared benefits and mutuality, just a different (albeit faster) platform for getting the word out (even if the word is negative).  Nobody likes to work with ungrateful people – and if you’re ungrateful, you no longer have the benefit of lag time before people call you out on it; the word is gonna get out about you really, really fast on-line.

When we parted, I just thanked him for his comments and said goodbye – I didn’t need to wish this guy good luck.  I figured, if there’s only so much luck to go around, then I’d better reserve for the people who aren’t (and maybe never were) even close to this guy in terms of “getting” the concept of engagement.







  • @terrychristiani

    The best thing about social media for those who "work it" is the ability to amplify your efforts through fans/followers who like both your product and how you engage. You could have the best product on the planet but have a totally lame engagement strategy and that will reflect poorly on your brand despite the quality of the offering. If your efforts are well, engaging, you will be shared far and wide with recommendations that you could never directly solicit. I always encourage clients to think of it like they are working a cocktail party or a tasting bar; be knowledgeable, be passionate but most important, be yourself.

  • @terrychristiani

    While I believe it may take the distribution channel time to adopt this medium of communication, I think the wineries themselves are embracing it. The three tier distribution system will allow distributors and retailers some form of protection from the erosion of their market share due to social media engagement by the wineries with consumers. In the short term they will even benefit from it. By the time they get around to supporting this medium with full and thoughtful effort I believe only the largest and the most specialized distribution companies will still be standing.

    • 1WineDude

      Great point, Terry. I think you are right, the 3 tier system will provide some temporary protection from these trends, just as it provides some temporary (and I would argue anti-consumer) protection from the free market and other influences. Cheers!


    Agree with the point that it is just a new form of engagement that retailers are already familiar with, and so, why not use it? BUT… where were the retailers, distributors and importers on the panel?? I'm sure you didn't choose your other panelists, but these kinds of insular panels giving advice to people whose shoes they've never been in seems terribly out of balance.

    In terms of well attended retail events not moving wine, that means that social media has either attracted the wrong crowd to the event, or that the retailer in question was not prepared to sell. (or the wines sucked)

    • 1WineDude

      Hey PA – Not sure I can really speak to the thinking behind the panel selection. I agree with you, and can tell you usually the first question I ask when people want me to be on a panel about Millennials is *who are the Millennials on the panel?*.

      A retailer not prepared to sell… that would be really, really, REALLY sad! :)

  • weereeboy

    Yet another world class post. Just keep on rockin on.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, weeree san!

  • Ron Saikowski

    Social media is hitting the youngsters hard and eventually making it up the age groups to we old foggies. This means that the GEN X'ers are getting the Social Media first, but that age group are not wine drinkers on a substantial scale. They are weaning themselves off beer they learned to drink when they snuck around as underage drinkers. You would normally find wine drinkers in that underage group to the same level as beer drinkers. Over time, this demographic statistics will change as the youngster age toward Social Security from Social Media.
    The sharp, professionally well done medias that CATCH your attention must be innovative, well written, and in video situations professionally edited to get the point across. These AHEM ATTENTION GETTERS in Social Media are like the handsome/beautiful Sales Person across from you at the lunch table impressing you with their Sales Spiel!

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Ron – great points. As a Gen Xer, I can tell you that we’re not consumers on a substantial scale for *anything* compared to Boomers and Millennials – our numbers are comparatively puny. Which explains why we’re so uptight about ourselves, I suppose ;-).

  • Brochure Template

    I agree that nobody likes to work with ungrateful people. anyone? WineDude, I hate it whenever they always say their sales spiel! Thanks for sharing this article. I learned a lot from you

  • PhilW

    Now I'm pissed that I missed this event.

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Zoe!

  • Chris Bryant

    Good article. I shared some similar thoughts in a post on my little blog a little while back after attending some of the discussions at the LIWF.
    It's a subtle difference in the way that brands approach people through social media that makes some more effective than others. If the aim is to facilitate a sale through the social media channel you are working in you are setting yourself up to fail. The sale that may follow is contributed to by the interaction and conversation that you have; it can be the result of building brand equity through any medium, and social media is just another opportunity to engage.
    I don't know if you allow links in your comments, but here is the post:

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Chris – feel free to link away!

  • 1WineDude

    Steve – precisely. The trick is not to have too narrow a definition of how the goodwill should be reciprocated (sales targets & social media don't exactly go together in a linear relationship right now! :). Cheers!

  • workathomeguy

    I like the bit about getting out of the way and simply allowing people to find their passion, then let their passion lead them back to you; sort of. As you already know, excellence and quality content in everything will carry its own reward. Social media will definitely speed the process. Letting your integrity shine through allows you to sleep better at nights, even if you annoy a few people in the process.


    • 1WineDude

      Anthony – if we’re not annoying anyone, then we’re probably not really changing anything I suppose…

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