Technology is not a Four Letter Word

‘If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it’ … classic B-School value proposition

The Challenge

Back in 1997 when I first started working and living in San Jose for Mirassou Vineyards as the National Sales Manager, I found myself in Silicon Valley in the middle of a revolution in science and technology based on a platform laid down by a post World War II generation of scientist and engineers. These were frenetic times in the South Bay, and the structure of today’s technological achievements was being built in a series of fits and starts. At the time consumer access to the internet was really only a few years old, and broadband was just a dream in a small lab in Telecom Valley. The Mirassou family had gone down some several dead-ends strategically in the development of their brand. A significant challenge was at hand. I faced a similar challenge years earlier at Walt Disney World when I was assigned the role as the supervisor for all of the food & beverage receiving clerks. Significant waste occurred on a daily basis as a result of over ordering limited shelf life foods. Ordering was based on a minimum/maximum par inventory level. A system that, even in the early days of an open and functioning Magic Kingdom, was already dated. Disney had a top line research department, and we had a monthly calendar of predicted guest counts. Decision on revenue budgets, levels of staffing and even operating hours were based on these forecast which were accurate within .5%. So, I did a 30 day research trial of food, item by item, usage versus actual guest counts. From there a specific relationship between traffic and usage was discovered, and a ratio or factor was assigned to the ordering system and quickly implemented by all food & beverage outlets. Food waste as a percentage of Park food service revenues was reduced from around 2% to .2%. The answer was in the math, and then in getting the system to accept the change. But the challenge at Mirassou was more daunting.

David Mirassou, who had gone to work for Fred Franzia, after College, became a star in Bronco’s chain grocery division. After a few years he returned to the family business, but was relegated to a role selling to and merchandising groceries in Northern California. I shared an office with David, and after implementing some necessary field staff changes, David became the Western Division Manager. At the same time I hired Michael Stedman as our sales analyst. Both David and Michael were very sharp in viewing and conceiving new ways of looking at the sales process. David built a detailed, sophisticated  Access data base, and then gained permission to login to his distributors’ AS400 data files. Importing the data in the form of a .cvs file, he created pivot tables to populate the data, and then used this information to manage his distributors by providing goals and monthly feedback on not only a macro level, but on a micro level, salesperson by salesperson. Michael Stedman built a national key account list for multiple channels, and then implemented a version of this system to target and track performance within this targeted set. A lot of work. The industry took note, and the Gallo Wine Company started tracking our performance. Gallo purchased the Mirassou brand a few years later; and, David is still driving sales leading to the continued dynamic growth for the Mirassou brand. Michael Stedman, after years in New York has returned to California to lead the marketing efforts at Domaine Chandon. Once again the truth was and is in the math.

The Solution

So you can imagine my interest when I read that on Tuesday February 9th, 2010 VinTank and Brixiom Systems announced a new strategic partnership. VinTank is the well known Napa, CA based strategic digital think tank. Brixiom Systems, is an Atlanta, GA based technology company that has developed SaaS (Software as a Service) based customer relationship management (CRM), sales force management (SFM) and warehouse management systems (WMS) designed specifically for the beverage industry. As such Brixiom Systems provides via the cloud, a product that incorporates wine and spirits product and business rules and integrates this unique design with traditional customer management resources. And this actionable CRM product is available anywhere that access to a browser is available – your desktop computer, your laptop, netbook or smartphone.

At the working demo today, Wednesday February 24, 2010 VinTank Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Paul Mabray kicked off the meeting with this on-point statement: “Sales is a science that requires sophisticated management tools, and surprisingly there has been a deep void in trade Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools for wineries. Only now, with the introduction of Brixiom Systems, is there a product that truly understands the nuances of B2B wine sales management.  We are excited about the leaps and bounds this tool will give the wine industry for better visibility and business intelligence in managing the traditional sales channel.”

Mr Mabray introduced and then turned over the meeting to Andrew Suss, Founder and CEO of Brixiom Holdings. Mr. Suss, a Vanderbilt University Chemical Engineering graduate, started his first company The Charter Group while still a student. TCG provided software solutions and strategic IT consulting services for public and private companies and for educational and governmental agencies. Mr Suss went on to found Brixiom Holdings in the Spring of 2008 with the goal of providing online tools to the drinks industry. Mr Suss launched his presentation stating that “We are truly excited to Introduce Brixiom Systems solutions to the Wine and Spirits Community.  Our products allow for an unprecedented level of information visibility, and enable remote users to access corporate data from wherever they are, via the web and smart phone devices” As the demo progressed, I realized that in this seamless sales automation solution developed by Andy Suss, that rather than shoehorn an existing CRM solution to fit your business model, Brixiom Solutions provides a customizable, scalable, affordable and integrated sales relationship package with transactional, engagement and analytical features with a dedicated beverage industry interface.

VinTank Partner, in charge of Business Development & Operations, Clay Wallin, a Vanderbilt MBA who in early 1999 co-founded eSkye Solutions, discussed working on a similar product in the formative days of eSkye, but ran into a wall at the enduser level. Under Clay and Smoke Wallin’s leadership, eSkye developed market dominant eMarket Channel applications and sold to Orion Wine Software In 2008. Mr. Wallin noted that “Brixiom Systems is a unique tool for wineries, importers, and distributors to collaborate like never before. It enhances sales productivity, and the reporting is robust and customizable”

The Message

In October of 2009 Wine Business Monthly published my CRM product review, that focused on specific functional CRM solutions for sales force automation. While these are all superior products with specific applications within the Sales, Marketing and Operations departments of wineries, none have the level of integration that Brixiom Solutions offers to contemporary winecos. The beverage industry reporting functions (compliance, taxation, samples, bill-backs) alone will allow a level of efficiency and savings that will more than justify the modest cost.

I’ve often observed that the recommendation of the adoption of new technological solutions in the consumer facing segments of the beverage industry business is often met with the look of someone who would much rather be someplace else. The investment in new technologies is often avoided by wine companies who view their current non-integrated systems as adequate to their needs. Is that really working for you anymore in this saturated and hyper competitive market? If I was either an enterprise wineco, or a small family winery, I would want to grab the competitive advantage that Brixiom Solutions provides by improving information flow and program execution. Become the supplier of choice to your distributor partners by increasing channel communications and collaboration. Differentiate your wineco from the competition by being seen in your marketplace as technologically advanced. If you do, you will see improved trade and sales efficiencies resulting in reduced cost of sales (COS) reduced points of friction and improved targeted distribution.

Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing Blog® All rights reserved.

Managing your wine brand message in a wired world

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” … Mitchell Kapor

One of the strategic issues currently under discussion in wine marketing meetings is how to address the fact that winery CMOs and brand managers face significant points of friction in our wired world. A wired world where a winery’s brand message is often modified by users across the universe of sites including mobile apps, marketing agents, ecommerce portals, bricks & mortar retailers with an ecommerce presence, blogs, forums and social networks. The same passion that you put into the production of your wines is mirrored in the story inherent in your wine brand. However, user-generated content often retells this story in a way that obfuscates your unique, value added proposition that differentiates your wine products in a crowded and increasingly difficult market. This all too common outcome is not unlike the results achieved in the traditional dinner party game of ‘Telephone’, where a short story is whispered into the ear of the person next to you, and repeated through a chain of individuals until the final person in the chain is asked to then tell the story, often to the laughs of all involved. The facts have been so modified, having passed through the filter of each person, that the final story bears no resemblance to the original tale. But the act of having your winery’s product information modified in this manner is no laughing matter and tends to diminish brand identity, and will effectively, over time, erode brand image and value. But just how can a winery effectively standardize their brand message and brand image across this vast, fragmented information cloud without imposing an onerous work load and cumbersome time management restraints on staff?

The unintended consequences of Moore’s Law

The simple idea, in the late 1960’s, of migrating from germanium, or the by then the more common germanium/silicon mix as the primary material for solid state electronics, to silicon as the base material for integrated circuit design was the genesis of a movement that had significant unintended outcomes. By 1965 Gordon E. Moore at the time head of research at Fairchild Semiconductor and later co-founder in 1968 of Intel, predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. This was likely based not only on his own observations but on earlier predictions including the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart the co-inventor of the computer mouse. Moore’s paper was the foundation document used by the semiconductor industry as the targeting platform for future planning, research and business development. Caltech professor, Carver Mead coined the term ‘Moore’s Law‘ in the early 1970’s. Moore’s Law has driven innovation in ways never foreseen by these early Silicon Valley bootstrappers, from the exponential development of processing speed and memory capacity to new miniaturization technologies, impacting the development and the worldwide use of digital tools by both businesses and consumers. This rapid development of technology made possible by the research of the post WW II generation of scientist has led to the development of tools and products that reach and impact our lives daily, and not only in obvious ways. Integrated circuits are in our cars, our toasters our washing machines and refrigerators. Integrated circuits enable the technology that heat our home or allow municipalities to efficiently deliver utilities to end users. So many ways, that we now accept these developments without much fanfare or notice. They just are.

Old school goes new school

When I was in college in Morgantown, the campus was wired to an IBM 360 computer. As a student who wanted to make use of the computers, I had to take courses in the then evolving computer coding languages of BASIC, Fortran and COBOL. The WVU Computer Center’s IBM 360 was in a building a block square and 6 stories high. I now can hold that computing capacity in my hand, no longer waiting 24 hours for a 10 lb report printed on a daisy wheel printer. I’m now able to receive instant feedback to any inquiry or search. I can go down the wine aisle at JV’s in Napa and using an iPhone wine app take a picture of the UPC or the label, and get immediate information on that specific wine, 1-2-3, just like that. Smaller, faster, better seems to be the mantra driven by robust competition between large and emerging technology companies. We’ve been climbing this graph of technological development that has colored and shaped the current wine marketing landscape. One of the developments that has come on the scene is the introduction of user generated content into the brand conversation. Starting out with FTPs then BBSs which evolved into forums, then migrating to usenet, and then through a variety of ISP pipes such as Netscape, AOL, MSN and Yahoo. A movement that gained traction with the development of broadband availability and use, was topic specific blogging using services such as Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr. In 2006 Twitter introduced microblogging to the world, basically taking old school instant messaging meant to be used within a small group of friends or utilized as a business communications tool in lieu of e-mail and making it available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Facebook emerged as a college based IM service that allowed friends to communicate on a closed circuit basis. That was your dad’s Facebook. Facebook is now a marketing powerhouse platform for individuals and brands.

Modern wine communication modalities

As an example of how brand communications have evolved, on January 28, 2010, I took part in an online multi-media wine tasting experience featuring Walter Bressia who is a winemaker of note in Mendoza, Argentina. The tasting was a live, real-time online event with feeds on Twitter, USTREAM, and GoToMeeting. Invitations were initiated through the Vines of Mendoza Facebook Fan Page. The event included a number of wine and wine business bloggers who actively participated in the tasting of three of Walter Bressia’s wines. Conversations occurred between the tasters and the winemaker, and between each other. It was fun, informative, and a best practices use of technology. But, this wasn’t my first online interaction with winemakers. On Earth Day 2009, I was engaged in a beta test with Lisa Mattson and Wilson Daniels with Nigel Greening of Felton Road who was in his home office in Wanaka, NZ and Bernard Lacroute of WillaKenzie who was in his winery office in Yamhill, OR. So an online connection and conversation on sustainable faming practices occurred between St. Helena, Sonoma, Wanaka, NZ and Yamhill, OR, and a personal connection was forged between the winemakers and a wine business writer halfway around the world from each other.

The Wine Directory

A constant comment that I get from winery clients or winery friends is the amount of misinformation concerning their brands that they find in online searches. The old saying of garbage-in – garbage-out has never been truer. Incomplete or misconstrued information plagues the wine industry. And this has been exacerbated with the proliferation of consumer and ecommerce generated input. Real and false information alike is replicated in the blink of an eye. The methods of communication between brand owners and brand users has changed. Consumers now have access to tools that empower their input, and help create and influence brand discourse. The idea of brand while still evolving is essentially based on a set of attributes promised by you the brand owner to the end user. This is a basic concept that may be lost in an age of instant consumer input. But the fact remains that you are the brand owner, and an inherent attribute of ownership is your responsibility to factually shape the conversation concerning base information, also known as data, for you brand and products. This has been addressed by the team at Cruvee with OwnIt, changing the way your wine is viewed online. And now, 9 weeks into the launch and adoption cycle, of OwnIt,  as a member of the Cruvee Board of Advisors I had a chance last week to sit with the Cruvee team to do a dry run through the release of the Wine Directory. In explaining the Wine Directory, Cruvee CEO Evan Cover said “ the directory is intended to show you how your products and your winery are visually represented online. If your information is accurate here it will be accurate across all of our partner sites and applications. This means controlling your brand’s image with millions of customers visiting the biggest social networks, tons of mobile applications, online retailers and more.”

In conclusion

A first step in  regaining control of your brand message is registering your brand and inputing information into the OwnIt database, which is free other than the allocation of time to correctly input your wine brand and brand product data. James Jory, Cruvee VP of Technology sees OwnIt and the Wine Directory as “the chance to eliminate the Balkinization of your wine brand data within the online community.This is a solution with a low barrier to entry that enables you the brand owner to control your winery’s product information facts.” The idea of passively sitting by and letting others define any brand is a notion that is anathema to me, and it should also be unacceptable to you the brand owner. So, step up, sign-in and take control of your wineco’s brand information, and OwnIt!

Note: Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved