Building Brand Equity Through Social Networking

Jonathan Winters“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” …Jonathan Winters

Does the static, the noise, the 60 hertz hum of the social web seem meaningless and nonsensical to you? At least that’s what I’m hearing on the street from a significant number of winery principals and brand marketers. This not an unschooled group, but in these times oShopping for Winef economic malaise, this group of neo-luddites seems to be wedded to traditional, conservative brand marketing plans, even as the wine market continues to flatten, in fact contracting for the competitive frame of wines with bottles priced above $10. We can all observe with a degree of chagrin the increase in wine club resignations, the slowing of sales of cult Napa Valley Cabernets , the downward shift of pricing segments , and margins that being are squeezed, if not in fact evaporating. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate one’s options. Stand idly by and let your neighbors seize the moment, or join the conversation and add to your brand awareness, value and equity.

While to some degree, it is understandable that the popularization of social networking is viewed in some quarters with a jaundiced eye; however, if used as Biz Stonea method to initiate a conversation with and to engage your customers and clients, then social networking is and will be an effective tool to add to your marketing kit. Seeing where you are is nice, but seeing where you’re going is key to your business success. Utilizing all the new media tools now available will help you to be transparent and real, and to facilitate the interaction with your customers in a human way, and to demonstrably build brand loyalty.

Case Study: The Retailer

Wine Library TVBring on the Thunder! The game changed on 2/21/2006 as the very first episode of Wine Library TV premiered as a video wine blog from a then moderately successful liquor store in Springfield, New Jersey. The originator and star of the show was Gary Vaynerchuk. The setting was reminiscent of so many public access TV shows from the early days of cable, but Garyvee had an ‘it’ factor. He didn’t fit the mold of the self-important, elitist wine critic. Instead of a suit in a halo of hubris pontificating about a wine known only to the cognescenti, Garyvee was one oGaryVeef us. He made wine accessible. He wasn’t talking to us, he was conversing with us. Oh, he knows his wine, but he wants to share this knowledge, as demonstrated by his commitment to a production schedule for WLTV segments that most of us would find onerous.

From this modest beginning, Gary has engaged just about every social network and web 2.0, wine 2.0 community to build his brand. WLTV was the first video wine blog podcast on the then new iTunes. He has a presence on facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and has crossed over to traditional media with one best seller 101 Wines, with a new book deal just inked.GaryVee on Late Night with conan O'Brien Gary has appeared on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Ellen Degeneres Show. Gary has established credibility for both his store and personal brands, by honestly displaying his passion, and by being real. I was on Twitter one night involved in a lively conversation with New Zealand wine writer/sommelier Jules van Cruysen on just which retailer in the States was Gary Vaynerchuk Presentsthe biggest supporter of New Zealand wines when Gary Vanyerchuk entered into the discussion and sent a couple of links to support Jules’ argument. It was past midnight in New Jersey, and I’m just 1 of 301,831 of his Twitter followers. This is not only hustle, but passion personified; and, this is being at the very top of your game. I’m sure that the money is nice, but Gary is genuinely motivated by the conversation, and in the conversation has found success.

Case Study: The Vintner

Jeff StaiJeff Stai is an imposing figure online, and in person. Standing head and shoulders above the Crushpad tasting crowd, he was easy to spot, even back in the corner. From an organoleptic point-of-view he was pouring the best and most distinctive wines at the tasting, It was apparent from the start that based on the Twisted Oak buzz on Twitter, that this was a wine that I needed to taste, and Jeff was someone that I had to meet. The first meeting happened at the February 19th Jeff Stai at the bottlenotes TastingbottlenotesAround the World in 80 Sips’ tasting at Crushpad SF. Twisted Oak Winery was founded by Cal Poly Ponoma grad, and experienced computer industry electrical engineer, Jeff Stai and his wife Mary in 2001. I became aware of Jeff Stai, proprietor, and chief marketing guru at Twisted Oak Winery located in Calaveras County, California just above Angels Camp on Highway 4, shortly after signing onto Twitter in late December, 2008.

Twisted Oak Warning SignThe conversation among my wine industry friends centered on the wacky premise of “Take your Rubber Chicken to Work Week”. Intrigued and motivated to do a little research I added Jeff as one of my tweeps, which he quickly accepted and reciprocated. I clicked onto the Twisted Oak web site, and then onto his El Blaggo Torcido and got the rest of the story. I ran into Jeff again at the Wine 2.0 Expo 2009 tasting at Crushpad, in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. It was as if Jeff had camped out for this April 2nd event. Same corner, and still easy to recognize, and still pouring some of the most distinctive selection of wines at the tasting. Appropriate to the tenure of Wine 2.0 , Cece Salmon-Lee posted a to-the-point short video interview of Jeff and his social networking Jeff Stai in the Tasting Rppmphilosophy . Of course Jeff, who is one of the hardest working marketeers in the wine business, was busy either at the winery or on the road pouring his mediterranean varietals for old and new fans His whereabouts, his promotions, his appearances all promoted and discussed by Twisted Oak fans and friends on the social web.

In order to engage his customers in conversation, Jeff started his blog in May 2006. He has established an account on Twitter, a fan page on facebook, and iReuben's Blends an active participant in wine forums. He conducts with his social networking friends his annual TYCTWW in early February, and then posts photos on the winery blog. Next is an annual contest consisting of customer, friends and fans submitting backside copy for the ‘Ruben’s Blend. Fans in the know, know Reuben quite well. In fact Reben is the guest of honor at The Rubber Chicken Roast at the winery in Vallecito. Jeff has been having a lot of conversations with a lot of people. The Winery, while in a gorgeous place, it’s definitely not on Hwy 29 in Napa.  Jeff, in response to my question on how an electrical engineer landed at a winery in  Calaveras County,  answered “mostly, I fell face first into it…”


I was recently in St Helena for a client meeting. On the way south, I stopped at an iconic Hwy 29 winery to say hello to some old friends. It was 3 PM on Welcome to Napa Valleya Friday afternoon, usually a busy time for Napa Valley wineries, even in the off-season, but only 10 cars were in the parking lot, and the tasting room was empty. This winery has little or no social web presence. Perhaps a case of resting on their laurels, but they just aren’t engaging in the conversation with their guests, customers, clients or fans. Which is too bad, because they’re producing really nice wines across all price points. The folks at the winery were bemoaning the economy, the bleed from their wine club, and the resulting diminished revenues. Perhaps by focusing on the goal of customer retention and build in part through social media interaction,  positive results will be the likely outcome. If only my friends got it.

Target PaintingGaryvee and Jeff get it. The current economy is at best stagnant, and the effects on  wine businesses are now well documented. Yes, you’re going to have to work harder than ever to succeed today. You’re going to have to shake  a lot of hands, and talk with a lot of people, either digitally or in-person. If you don’t get it now, I hope you get it soon. Isn’t this the perfect time to connect with  your targeted customers, and to start engaging others in conversations about your brands?

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Building Brand Equity Through Social Networking

  1. Hello John,

    Absolutely – social media and the ‘web 2.0’ is an arena wineries need to focus on leveraging as a component from this point forward.

    One area I stress to many is the need for a cohesive strategy. As you have pointed out above, its imperative that a winery utilize the social media space as a channel within their overall plan. As wineries experience slowdown in their traditional channels, they need to be looking to revisit their overall brand strategies and shift accordingly.

    Sound Marketing Strategies –> Proper Execution (traditional and digital) –> Solid Feedback Mechanisms = Greater Brand Recognition/Loyalty ($$)

    I look forward to watching and participating in the changes that are slowly taking place in the industry. Those that are ahead of the curve (as you have noted) are/will be positioned very well to take advantage of (as they are already) the next generation of wine drinkers and the future of marketing communications.



    • Geoff: Thanks for contributing to the conversation. My view of wine marketing is that it a set of integrated actionable tactics, based on strategic thinking. There is not just one answer to any question, or an easy way to achieve success in what may be the most arcane class within the CPG category. In my series of post, which may not be fully connected until their completion… whenever that occurs, I hope to address various issues as we move forward. We are in transformative times, and, not as some believe, just due to a new generation reinventing the cultural paradigm; but, primarily due to the economic storm that may in fact be the major force reconfiguring channel, purchasing cues, and points of price sensitivity that drive consumer purchasing. The idea of consumer originated content, as you noted, is but part of the new brandscape.

  2. Great article. So true in all sectors. It’s sales, at the end of the day, and sales need face time, either in person or digitally. Sales backed by someone who believes and delivers is very compelling, even in a down market. And the beauty of social media is that if you have the goods and the drive, you can reach a lot of people right on their computers. Many thanks. Delighted I found your blog.

    • Courtney: Thanks for the heads-up re your article on Jeff. Great piece in AppellationAmerica, and timely with the Silicon Valley Bank ‘state of the wine industry’ analysis out today, and a major analysis covered in the vintank white paper on social media, due this week. Hopefully more and more wineries will dedicate resources to their social media and DTC efforts.

  3. Pingback: Another wine Blog » Blog Archive » The Boxed Wine Trail : Trellis2Trellis

  4. Pingback: Is your winery having FUN? Then Blog/Tweet/Facebook it! |

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