Who turned on the lights?

“Well we’re movin on up,
To the east side
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.”

… ‘The Jeffersons’ … Lyrics by Jeff Barry & Ja’net Dubois

Moving on Up

In a conversation at the recent DBTA symposium at Ferry Plaza, Qupe winegrower Bob Lindquist (and many others) referred to 2009 as “a very tough year.” Well, even if US wine market conditions are still challenging, it seems as though a significant change in the direction in the US wine market has finally occurred, and that the lights in the marketplace have been turned-on. The dynamics of change are complex, and driven by multiple factors, including significant promotional spend and discounting. In addition, this uptick was aided by new wines entering new channels, and new route to market tactics being implemented by winecos who formerly relied on a few traditional channels, such as Tasting Room DTC efforts, and on-premises channel exclusivity. Some of the changes have happened due to innovation, sheer panic, or as a result of the ongoing recognition of wine market trends. But the evidence of a wine bull market is now unmistakeable.

Sometime in mid to late August 2009, an inflection point in the US market had been reached, as domestic wines sales took an upturn in both value and volume. As reported by Rachel Nichols in Wine Business Monthly on January 15, 2010, The Nielsen Company reported that “wine sales for October were up 2.3%” year/year. And in the rolling 52 week report dollar sales were up 3.5%, and for the same period case goods volume was up 1.7%, possibly reflecting higher price point wines entering the US Food & Drug channel tracked by Nielsen, and the concomitant significant promotional across the board spend for this period.

In a November 10th WBM article, Liza B. Zimmerman noted that “retailers, restauranteurs and wholesales” had expressed optimism that wines sales were indeed moving in a positive direction. But the YTD market seemed to be driven by the value segment; and, as noted by Suzanne Gannon in the November 2009 issue of Wines & Vines, by wines in alternative and environmentally friendly alternative packaging, with dynamic growth being shown by wines in Tetra Pak and bag-in-box formats.

The March 2010 Wine Business Monthly Retail Sales Analysis headline on page 56, reads “Retail Wine Sales See 6 Percent Holiday Bump, Signs of Life for $20 Sales,” with sales increasing in value by 6.3% and volume gaining 5.6%, with wine above $20 gaining almost 10% in both value and volume. This represented a dramatic change of events in a market that has been referred to as the toughest in years. A change in the trend line that not even CNBC‘s Jim Cramer or Danny Brager, Vice President of Client Services for The Nielsen Co. had forecasted.

A Sea Change

Consumer and market confidence seem to have returned with sustainable results now, not only possible, but probable for the remainder of 2010. The major sign beyond the US Food & Drug wine sales increase trends tracked by Nielsen, as seen by Think Wine Marketing, was the February 20, 2010 Premiere Napa Valley Barrel-Futures Auction. The Napa Valley Vintners reported that the auction raised $1.9 million, a figure that is a 30% increase over the 2009 results and represents the 3rd best revenue total in the Premiere Napa Valley’s fourteen year history. According to the Napa Vintners, the top-selling lot of the day was from Shafer Vineyards, a five-case offering of Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold to Napa-based Winebid.com for $37,000, or $616 a bottle. In response to the winning bid, Doug Shafer, President of Shafer Vineyards remarked that “It was exciting to see the support and enthusiasm for our wine, but it was just as good to sense the cautious optimism in members of the wine trade that things have turned a corner economically.” The sales at the NVV Premiere event marked a sea change in market sentiment by those close to consumers, the wine trade. Gary Fisch of New Jersey’s Gary’s Wines noted that his customers were “starting to drink more premium wines, and they’re calling for us to bring these kind of wines home.” And, JP Richard of Cache Road Liquors in Oklahoma observed that “you can feel that the energy is springing back.”

New Routes to Market

Nielsen trend analysis and auction results alone are not the whole story. A recent Think Wine Marketing survey of wine e-commerce sites revealed vigorous market activity and enviable revenue accretion in 2009. In response to my inquiry Shaun Bishop co-founder and President of wine e-commerce pioneer WineCommune and JJBuckley.com stated that “at JJ Buckley, revenues grew 19% in 2009 vs 2008. We focused on product selection, pricing and service – and customers responded. People are spending, but they want to be smarter about how they spend and are focusing their purchases with retailers they trust. We tried to make it easy for them to save money and get the wines they wanted.”

George Studdert of wine.woot! remarked that “my controller tells me that 4th Qtr numbers aren’t quite in yet, but conservative numbers indicate a 50% increase again this year over last making it three consecutive years of 50% or greater growth.  We can also say that we shipped out in excess of 75,000 packages on behalf of wineries direct to the consumer.”

While both of these businesses are wine e-commerce sites, their individual models are significantly differentiated from one another. Of the two businesses, JJ Buckley is the longer standing e-commerce site (as WineCommune founded in 1999) with an established and recurring revenue base offering a dynamic selection of products on a daily basis, while functioning as a virtual bricks & mortar retailer. While wine.woot! is a newer business launching in 2006 offering 3 individual wines per week from selected wineries, allowing the featured winery to interact directly with clients, and functions as a marketing agent for each offer. Interaction seems to be the key to the success of both companies. The idea that relationships with customer and clients is paramount and that customer service is the driver that builds trust and sales. These are but two of the more than 250+ wine e-commerce sites available to US winecos, albeit two of the more successful operators in the space. In the long-tail, fast product cycle wine industry, and in this saturated market JJ Buckley and wine.woot! offer winecos a voice that seems to transform the “noise to signal” (<– term via VinTank’s Paul Mabray).

Wine e-commerce is a solution that many wineries have discovered, and one, that as broadband infrastructure buildout occurs, will become more popular with wine consumers. In the recent survey results of ‘Affluents,’ households with more than $100,000 net income, Ipsos Mendelsohn revealed that 98% of these households have a broadband connection and frequently shop online. However, e-commerce availability doesn’t appear to be the lone motivator, but selection, service and relationship development are the prime movers of purchase behaviors. With a 72% growth in worldwide mobile broadband data bandwidth usage in H2 of 2009, and the announcement by the FCC that “the goal is to bring super-fast broadband to every corner of the U.S. over the next 10 years, giving the country the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation,” the trend of adoption of the wine e-commerce channel by a wide segment of US consumers will tend to accelerate.

The Aspirational Consumer

The idea of aspiration and the American consumer is a long discussed concept by psychologists, organizational sociologists, and economists, and defined as “being ambitious” and/or “desiring success.” And the idea of aspirational consumer behavior as defined in the ‘Business Dictionary‘ is that ”Consumer motives or goals can be represented by the values they hold. Values are people’s broad life goals that symbolize a preferred mode of behaving (e.g., independent, compassionate, honest) or a preferred end-state of being (e.g., sense of accomplishment, love and affection, social recognition). Consumers buy products that will help them achieve desired values; they see product attributes as a means to an end.”

Susan Hader in a MarketingProfs article notes that ‘aspirational consumers – (are) affluent and middle income consumers willing to pay more for high-end goods and services.” Purchasing these brands “provides aspirationals with feelings of success and status.”

Dr. Issac Mostovicz, a consulting academic with insights into drivers of human behavior in practical business situations, reports in the current issue of ‘Janus Thinking’ that he sees that the US is seeing the return of the ‘aspirational consumer.” “Trends happening in places such as Silicon Valley suggest that American’s with expendable income are regaining the confidence to spend it.” This conclusion is based on January 2010 retail sales figures. “The monthly sales numbers offered further indications of returning demand for prestige and luxury goods, with Saks and Neiman Marcus, the luxury fashion department stores, reporting increases of 6.8 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.”

The  Long View

In his article ‘Wine in a Downturn,’ Vic Motto, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Global Wine Partners tracks the wine market through it’s ups & downs from 1973 on. An article worthy of review. Mr. Motto has on several occasions referred to the aspirational American wine consumer. Wondering if this observation has changed, I asked the following:

TWM: You’ve often said that the American wine consumer is aspirational; so, in light of the challenges facing the US wine market in the last year what’s your current view?

VM: “Hit by the shock of the recession, we all feel and are a little poorer, so our spending patterns reflect that.  But, we don’t give up. As we recover financially, we always revert to our normal spending patterns. Old habits are hard to break. There are centuries of history that demonstrates this – including the post-recovery of the great depression, which went from the lowest low in U.S. history to the highest high. There are many reasons that premium wine sales will recover, including very important and ongoing long-term drivers of industry growth and premium trends with over 25 years of momentum behind them.  But the core reason that premium sales are already beginning to recover is that we humans are aspirational. We always seek to improve our lives and quality of life, and we don’t give up on that – no matter what our status. People really do want quality, and they appreciate the difference. So, I wouldn’t bet against the American consumer, or the U.S. economy. I just don’t think that’s a good bet.  The time for hunkering down is passing. It’s a good time to go long.  I’m already buying better wine than last year.  How about you?”

Insights and Recommendations

The just released qualitative and quantitative research study on today’s American consumer By Ogilvy & Mather Chicago in partnership with consumer insight company Communispace has revealed the emergence of a radically individualistic consumer who is re-imagining a more sustainable future for themselves. This post-recession consumer wants fewer, but still high quality consumables. “We are finding (that) consumers make very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives into balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of,” As discussed in ‘world tea news,’ the concept of ‘affordable luxury’ seems to be well applied to wine: “It seems that the next big buzz word for consumables is affordable luxury. The trends of consumers trading down their purchases due to the economy while staying at-home to re-connect and enjoy the finer things in life are fueling a new perspective in Americana. Add the fact that consumers are demanding higher quality products, faster without added cost or complexities; affordable luxuries seem to have found the perfect storm in the late 2000’s.” Another key attribute of the new consumer exacerbated by recent economics is the idea of ‘cocooning’ introduced in the 1990’s by trend forecaster/marketing consultant Faith Popcorn. Consumer cocooning is being redefined and actualized by this new consumer, who is eating out less, and socializing more at home, necessitating new route to market strategies by wine companies. The forecast by Ms Popcorn that cocooning would lead to stay at home electronic shopping, has in fact come true. So, as wine marketers, it is our job to identify consumer movement and consumer keys and develop a plan to create commerce.

Please note the following suggested steps to enact as part of your post recession marketing action plan:

Ramp-up your customer service: Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Digital Strategic Services at Nielsen Online, in his 2009 WITS keynote address said it all – “Service is the new marketing. It’s the most important activity.”

Route to market: Consider a diversification of your channel strategy and consider multiple market touchpoints, to include e-commerce. Note that single channel marketing strategies are no longer viable.

Talk to your customers: The idea of customer relationship management (CRM) may have morphed into the concept of “Social CRM.” But regardless of platform, understand that every consumer touchpoint matters. Develop, nurture and build a relationship with each and every customer. Make your customers your clients.

Ask your customers to talk to you: Today with so many ways to connect to your customers via social media (which you should monitor via Cruvee), don’t forget the basics, like the ‘contact us’ button on your web site, the basic 1-800 #, and those one-on-one conversations (remember talking to your customers) that you can have in person. And don’t forget those capture/feedback forms in your tasting rooms or at tasting events. Oh, and hand out a lot of business cards with your contact info.

Reevaluate your promotional spend: According to Olgivy’s Graceann Bennett “The consumer is moving forward, but many marketers are projecting the stresses of the economy in their marketing and are not connecting with the new consumer mindset…” “It’s time for marketers to reflect the new positive self reliance of today’s consumer and to tap into building relationships with more one-on-one marketing efforts” … “it is important for marketers to tread carefully into the discount space, because brands that are associated with deprivation and the recession may conjure up less than positive associations once consumers have a bit more cash to spend.”

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

Reflections of a Wine Business Blogger

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’”

Charles M. Schultz

The Decision to Write

As my eyes opened on the morning of January 1, 2010, I realized that I had survived what Time Magazine described as ‘The Decade from Hell.’ Oh, a bit beaten-up and feeling a little like one of John Stewart’s Black Pig Meats salumis at the end of the sausage making process. Yes, the economic events of the past 10 years have put most of us through the grinder, but here we are at the other end, having survived to make, market and sell wine another day. A little more than 9 months ago, I started writing the Think Wine Marketing blog. My timing coincided with the bottom of the business cycle. In short order the US stock market had lost more than half it’s value, ending March ’09 with a Dow Jones Market index below 6,500. Housing values, the base of asset wealth for most consumers continued to decline in all but a handful of smaller SMSA’s. Credit to small businesses had been so severely constricted as to be non-existent, especially for wineries with slow moving, devalued inventories. Times were tough for the wine industry. Before this recession, now called ‘The Great Recession,’ the wine industry has always been considered to be recession proof; but, this time at best our industry has proven to be recession resilient. Several cultural and structural changes were accelerated by the difficult economic times that had direct effects on wine sales. As consumers rushed to reduce credit card debit and increase their rate of savings , a significant downward segment shift hit wine pricing almost overnight. The pressures on pricing and the shift from fine dining to a more casual food experience with an emphasis on value, led to a rapid change in channel strategy for many wineries. The rapid movement from an on-premise focus to retail distribution had eviscerated any pricing leverage that formerly not sold at retail wineries had displayed, squeezing profits and/or creating negative margin sales. In light of the current times I decided to write a blog focused on wine marketing. A blog that in part told stories that would be of some help to smaller family wineries in these difficult times. I took a Socratic approach of creating a central narrative and then providing a workbook like ending. As I look back over the last 3 quarters of 2009, and look forward to 2010, I hope that I’ve helped provide some positive mentoring to at least a few family winecos out there in the ether.

The Metric System

While never concerned about gross numbers as the sole metric of success, as an experienced marketer I do track the number of hits and reads that the Think Wine Marketing blog receives. However, my primary concern is/and has been just who is it that reads my blog. It is specifically wine industry marketing centric. My readers for the most part, based on comments and emails are winery principals, GMs, CMOs, PR directors and brand managers. Based on blog originated emails, which have outpaced blog comments by a factor of 10, the TWM blog also has a demonstrable following in finance and in tech. I’ve written 33 blog post in nine months, that have received 149,117 hits of which 56,321 (37.8%) were a result of search engine crawlers, resulting in a net of 92,796 reads, numbers easily exceeded by experienced wine writer/bloggers like Tom Wark, Alder Yarrow and Steve Heimhoff in just a few months – with the following think pieces being the top 10 posts – re. close of business on 1/6/2010.

2009 Top Ten TWM Posts

  1. Nov 17            7,475   — Doctor Pinot’s Thanksgiving
  2. Oct 7               7,434   — Revisiting Marketing 101
  3. Nov 4              7,126   — A Conversation about marketing wine online w/Paul Mabray
  4. Sep 17             6,956  — Marketing by Pulling Corks
  5. Oct 20            6,334  — The Conversation
  6. Sep 24            6,165   — Does your winery have an effective OND plan?
  7. Aug 26           4,534   — Dispatches from Wine Country
  8. Dec 23           4,430   — Y2K10: Part Two: late 90’s tech effect on wine ecommerce
  9. Jul 27             4,259   — Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference
  10. Sep 9              3,860  — Wine Brand Building Focus

Beyond noting that I have loyal readers, who have provided significant support, input and feed back, the fact that the Think Wine Marketing blog has received recognition from the wine industry and in the wine press is gratifying.

That Was the Year That Was

  1. The March 2009 acquisition of Scrugy by Cruvee in early March 2009 by CEO/Founder, Evan Cover. Scrugy Founder and Chief Technology Officer, James Jory joins Cruvee as V.P. of Technology.
  2. The Think Wine Marketing Blog is launched on March 26, 2009 with the post ‘Viral Marketing Strategies for Wine Businesses.’
  3. The State of the Wine Industry Social Media’, by VinTank, Derek Bromley and Tom Wark published 5/6/2009 and available for download on the VinTank web site. IMHO this is and will be considered the foundation document of the wine industry’s involvement in the social media movement.
  4. American Canyon based wine shipping and fulfillment company New Vine Logistics suspended business operations on May 29th, 2009. The story was broken on Twitter by Larry Chandler, aka LarrytheWineGuy.
  5. The 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, CA the last week of July, 2009. This was not only a well planned and executed conference, but the opportunity to meet so many wicked, smart citizen bloggers was amazing. Kudos to Joel Vincent and the Open Wine Consortium.
  6. The August 13th appointment of Think Wine Marketing founder John Corcoran (that’s me) to the Board of Advisors at Cruvee.com, a wine business intelligence platform.
  7. On August 25th, Des Moines Iowa environmental attorney Charles Becker publishes ‘Wine and Global Warming: An open letter to the President.’
  8. RJ’s Wine Blog names the TWM blog of the Month for September 2009. If you’re not reading the frequent posts from Avenue A/Razorfish alum, R.J. Hilgers, please click on the link to check this A-List wine blog.
  9. On September 11th The Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Laube reports that cult Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne sells for a reported $40 million.
  10. On September 28, Williams-Sonoma Founder Chuck Williams speaks on the lessons of customer service at Sonoma’s Maysonnave House.
  11. On September 29th, Wine Business Monthly publishes, as a cover lead, TWM author John Corcoran’s CRM, sales force automation article.
  12. On October 5th, the online wine magazine Palate Press published Paul Mabray’s article ‘New VinTank Research Analyses Wine iPhone Apps‘, winning praise for both wine consumers and the wine/tech segment of the wine industry.
  13. On October 25th Amazon suspends their on again off agin wine sales efforts. The demise of the Amazon.com wine store was laid at the feet of the arcane and balkinized labyrinth of state wine laws. Wine writer, W. Blake Gray wrote in the December 3rd post on his blog the Gray Market Report that Amazon withdrew because of taxation issues, “not just on wine but on everything.”
  14. On October 28th Cruvee & Vinfolio announce a partnership in which user generated reviews incorporated into Cruvee’s social media management platform. On November 24th Cruvee and Cellertracker announce a partnership giving Cruvee clients direct access to over 1.1 million wine reviews. This series of appointments/partnerships along with the subsequent December 3rd launch of The OwnIT movement helped to consolidate wine data and give wineries control over their brand communication. This innovative and free service from Cruvee.com was created to provide a platform “giving you control over how your wine is represented online.”
  15. On December 23rd the TWM blog received recognition from Dale Cruse and the Drinks Are On Me blog as one of the top new food and drink blogs of 2009. Bob Dwyer wrote a very nice review, which is not surprising given the quality of  writing on his blog, the Wellesley Wine Press.
  16. On December 28th Eric LeVine released a sneak peak demo of the new CellarTracker redesign.
  17. The TWM blog landed the #5 spot for the 10/7/09 post ‘Think Wine Marketing: Revisiting Wine Marketing 101’ on the 2009 Most Visited Blog Postings List on Winebusiness.com.

Observable Lessons

Dear Reader, I hope that my blog posts helped you to imagine ways to develop not only a sustainable wine business model but to envision more innovative route to market strategies and branding initiatives for 2010 and beyond. 2009 was a year that presented significant challenges to wine businesses regardless of size or location. It is my experience that out of chaos comes innovation. Observations that I’ve made over time that the Great Recession tended to reconfirm are: Identify your strengths and outsource functional areas in which you don’t do well; Hire and retain talent; Understand, even in an age of social media, that you own and are responsible for your brand(s) reputation; Understand that wine marketing is more than price reductions and promotions; Diversify your channel strategies; Rethink three tier distribution and investigate DTC (as more than tasting room sales) and DTT solutions to include digital distribution; Incorporate the appropriate sales and marketing focused technologies such as CRMs; Convert your wine business from a production centric culture to a sales and marketing focused culture. It’s now time to roll up your sleeves, and to focus efforts on driving your wine businesses to success in the new year, and in the new decade.

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

CRUVEE Names Think Wine Marketing Founder to BOA

The Appointment

cruvee logoHaving written and proposed the adoption of a number of available useful technological advances for wine business marketing departments seeking to optimize their efficacy, I have an announcement to make concerning my recent involvement with one new wine business technology company. On August 13, 2009 I accepted an appointment  to the Board of Advisors at Cruvee. In this past week, Cruvee.com CEO Evan Cover named Michael Wangbickler and John Corcoran, Think Wine Marketing Founder and Chief Marketing Officer to the Cruvee BOA. As a wine industry participant, I have been a tireless supporter of the wine industry’s adoption of technology under the mantras of  ‘best practices’ and ‘utilize every tool available.’ I look forward to working with Evan, Michael and the BOA at Cruvee in an effort to increase the adoption of this timely and critical wine marketing intelligence platform.

As a note to new and regular readers

John Corcoran Think Wine MarketingAlso, having previously written about Social Media with occasional Cruvee mentions as part of the story line, I felt that I should update my readers regarding my new appointment to the Cruvee BOA. This seems important to me, and hopefully to you, the reader, within my personal ethos of transparency. Please also note that this is a quick post and that my regular weekly Think Piece article will be posted this Thursday Evening 8/20. So, staMargie Tosch (OTL), Russ Beebe (California Wine Hikes), Randy Hall (Wine Biz Radio)y tuned! The intent of any Think Piece post is an effort to create  a discussion revolving around identifiable current wine marketing issues. Your involvement and comments are a critical part of the process. This is meant to be a conversation and not a lecture. I’m gratified that to date I’ve received more than 250 comments in my first series of Think Pieces. Many of my post have been the result of ‘what-if’ questions from friends and contacts in the wine business, sometimes on the phone but often over a glass of wine, or possibly a local craft brew. Hopefully the content has been helpful to some, and of value to many, but that determination will be made by you, the reader. Please feel free to contact me by commenting on this blog, or please click on the blog contact page to call or email me directly. Looking forward to a robust discussion on the topics over the next  six months

The Cruvee PR Release

Pioneer in social media intelligence for the wine industry, announced today the appointment of two wine business experts to their Board of Advisors

08.13.2009 – Napa, CA, August 12, 2009 – Cruvee, the pioneer in social media intelligence for the wine industry, announced today the appointment of two wine business experts to their Board of Advisors (BOA) selected to assist and advise the company in strategic developments, marketing and outreach within the wine community.

Cruvee’s BOA will thoughtfully work to advance Cruvee as the leader in social media monitoring and information aggregation for all online conversations surrounding wine and wine brands. And in order to do so, Cruvee will look to these two recognized leaders and innovators in the wine industry to draw from their experience bolstering Cruvee’s mission and aspirations.

Founder and Chief Executive officer, Evan Cover, asserted, “It is an honor and absolute privilege to have these forward thinking wine business leaders as part of Cruvee. They bring so much passion and knowledge to our company that will undoubtedly aide in our success.”

The two initial appointees to the BOA are:

Michael Wangbickler is the Executive Director of the Academy of Wine Communications and currently holds the position of PR manager at Balzac Communications and Marketing in Napa, California. Prior to that he was at Franciscan Estates (part of Constellations Wines U.S.) where he was a wine educator/program specialist with responsibilities for trade relations and special events. His credentials include the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, Sommelier Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and is a Certified Wine Educator. He has been a judge for various wine competitions, and has taught courses on wine and wine marketing.

John Corcoran is the Owner & Chief Marketing Officer of Think Wine Marketing where he works to assist wine businesses maximize market awareness through market modeling, strategic planning, promotions and digital strategic initiatives. John has been in the wine industry for over 25 years focusing on marketing and sales. He is an active voice online through his blog and social media participation, extending his reach as a well-respected resource for insights into wine business.

Cruvee’s BOA will consists of four total members. They will be announcing two additional members comprised of thought leaders and veterans within the technology industry soon.

About Cruvee

Cruvee is a customer acquisition vehicle that is designed for wineries to connect with consumers through social media monitoring services. It aggregates all the conversations and tasting notes from around the web including:

• Over 19 Million blog posts with over 1,000 dedicated wine bloggers

• Over 15,000 forums – both wine related and non-wine related

• Over 3 million tweets a day

• 100’s of social networking sites and wine groups

• Major wine related tasting note sites

This tool helps to promote and protect a wineries brand by effectively monitoring, measuring and interpreting the online chatter, clutter and its inherent viral effect. They help their clients leverage this consumer-generated media as a competitive advantage in today’s online marketplace. Cruvee not only gives wineries a unique view of their brands public perception in near real-time, but they also enable wineries to engage consumers to continue brand loyalty and sales efforts.

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

Is The Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything. It’s just the beginning.”
… Marshall McLuhan

The opening talk by Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications at the recent kickoff meeting at the St. Helena based CIA’s Rudd Center of the reenergized Academy of Wine Communications was filled with promise.Academy of Wine Communications Promise tempered by concern. Concern that the world of winery public relations was changing, and it was changing fast. How we all communicate our messages and to whom is in a state of flux. Our own local major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to wine coverage. While the articles and reviews are still top flight, the once dedicated wine section no longer makes economic sense in a world where news, reviews and information availability is ubiquitous anywhere where there is an internet connection. Having been around for awhile, I’ve discovered that change is good for the soul. It’s adapt or perish. Old dogs can and must learn new tricks.

aka Bistro, St HelenaToday at lunch in St. Helena, I couldn’t help but notice the number of smart phones, netbooks and laptops that were visible and in use. The discussion of the decay of manners in American society is a topic for another’s blog, but the use of technology is here and it’s how we now talk with each other. Technology enables how we get and filter our daily information. My invitation to lunch was in the form of a text message sent from a client’s Blackberry to my iPhone, and my response was in kind. We both knew several people in the crowded room, so after the check was paid, we took the opportunity to network. Networking in the old school sense by shaking hands and swapping stories. My host became involved in a longer conversation, so I thought I would do some market research. Alaptop keyboard couple from South Africa was teleconferencing with their winery staff on their MacBook Air laptop. The honeymooners from Florida were posting pictures of their lunch on Facebook for their friends and family back home. The young women from the New York distributor, on an educational trip to the Napa Valley, were documenting lunch and the local wine choices on their company blog. The local vineyard owners were texting details of their luncheon deal back to their CFO. The room was abuzz, and the restaurant was mentioned to countless contacts around the States and around the world.

Reading the NewspaperIt is an incontrovertible fact that we are in an age of permission marketing. Consumers choose what message or marketing centric handshake to accept. We have to ask and answer the question as to what now works, and how do we track the metrics of Public Relations success in this new, new world. How can we still control the substance and intent of our brand messages? Do the number of mentions and the old circulations numbers still function as the measure of success? And, if now, what about tomorrow? The rise of social media and the conversations of wine bloggers, wine forums and the active wine community on Facebook and Twitter are in fact being tracked by Cruvee. Batchbook, a small company contact manager CRM has developed a social media interface that allows registered users to read what their clients are saying on social media networks about their brand(s). Salesforce.com, the cloud CRM application has added a module offering clients the abilitytwittering to listen and interface with their customers on Twitter. So, it is now possible to initiate communications initiatives within specific targeted communities and then track and document the specific resultant metrics via Cruvee, or the appropriate hosted CRM. I happen to think this is more accurate and more effective than a review or a story in a classic metropolitan newspaper, where the accepted metrics were, in my opinion, perhaps more nebulous, by tracking insertions and assuming circulation numbers equaled reads. Of course the numbers won’t look as good, but we are now actually narrowcasting to an identified set of wine consumers rather than broadcasting. If we do this in a limited set of markets, then an ROI can be established by tracking the effect on wine sales within the defined geographies over a 30 day followup period.

Rutherford GrillTraditional CPG best marketing practice must carry the day without regard to the communications medium utilized. In a conversation at the Rutherford Grill,after the AWC meeting and reception, with two giants in winery PR, Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald it was agreed that times have changed, but that the basics have remained the same. The story to have value and to create interest must be unique,Jim Caudill replicable, visceral and verifiable. There must be an objective beyond just awareness. It has to be about managing your winery and your brand(s) reputation. Specific objectives for your communications program must be established and objective points of achievement must be tracked. Action without accountability is likely devoid of merit. Key communication points must be defined and repeated as part of your winery message throughout all tiers, all channels and all outlets. Listen to the pros, incorporate their ideas, and you’ll be effective in achieving your planned programs.

Inconsistency just doesn’t work in winery PR. In my time in the ether of social media, I have witnessed some egregious breaches Twisted Oak Signof sound public relations communication principles. Making the effort and then bailing seems to be worse than not making the effort at all. To be effective in your social media or traditional media engagement efforts it is important to be interesting, consistent, honest, transparent, and personable. The feedback from those in the know is that the format for conversation has changed, the rules of interface have changed, but the idea of

Jug Shop Pinot Days Promotionbest practices remain.There are many wineries and wine shops that do this job well: Twisted Oak, Hahn, St. Supery, The Jug Shop, Domaine547, Winery Collective, Walla Walla Wine Woman, and of course Bin Ends Wine, founders of Taste Live, to name a few. Hahn and St Supery have established the role of social media management as a key winery functional area. With the advent of the the Really Goode Job promotion, the industry has had the opportunity to identify a number of very talented individuals on Murphy-Goode’s bank. It is my fervent hope that many or most of these individuals, finalist or the overqualified, are offered wine industry PR positions.

In spite of the spate of current conversations and all of our observations of old media hand wringing, traditional print media is not yet dead. Perhaps they’re under the weather with a serious case of where are we now introspection. Each week in my iMac mailbox I receive an update from Wine Opinions listing wine reviews and stories that have been printed in major urban USA newspapers. Wine Opinions has also recently identified key wine bloggers and listed key stories covered in this emerging universe. Anyone in the wine business  who has worked with or talked to a wine distributor sales person in current times understands the functional role of reviews. Good to great reviews raise the awareness of your winery or brand with the first line of gatekeepers, and function as virtual key masters unlocking access to the market. So, don’t throw away or demean this still important point of market information.

Imagine How Others Would Do ItI’ve had the opportunity recently to interface with some real wine industry public relations pros and integrated communication wine marketers: Lisa Adams Walter of Adams Walter Communications; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Victoria Bunch, former HP PR executive, and Tia Butts of Benson Marketing Group. The individuals in this group along with the aforementioned Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald will help you identify and craft your brand message and act as pilots to assist in navigating your winery through the now churned waters of wine business communications. Remember that Marshall McLuhan advised us that “it’s not the medium it’s the message.”

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

Networking Matters More Than Ever

Oscar Wilde“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.” … Oscar Wilde

In a modern computer centric world our Rolodexes have for the most part been replaced by CRMs. We’re wired and connected through our desktops, laptops,Rolodex netbooks and smart phones. We tend to ping each other rather than talk to each other, through connections on Linkedin, Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter. How we identify and track our networks has changed, however it is still clear that the power inherent in networking has never been more important than in today’s product saturated wine market.

This week I received an e-mail from a dedicated reader in my blog network who made the following observation on contemporary interpersonal communications: “With all the focus Screaming Eagle Labelon social networking, I’m worried that the signal gets lost in the noise…So much noise that the point of social networking – building relationships – can get lost. Especially if you’re trying to sell high-end wine, you need deep relationships with consumers, not ones created in 140 characters or less. Facebook will never replace face-to-face meetings, lunches, interview, etc. It can augment, but not replace.”

Dear Reader:

The specific idea behind my blog was an attempt to raise the level of discourse concerning the field of contemporary wine biz marketing issues, and the concomitant desire to create a dialog with my readers. Part of this contemporary marketing landscape is the need for the effective application of e-marketing skills as applied to our complex, saturated corner of the CPG category. Of course there are often no real solutions in a single microblog post people talkingexpressed in a 140 characters. But perhaps there are answers and solutions in the resulting conversation. Effective wine marketing is a series of integrated actions leading to planned outcomes, trackable through specific metrics. Social media is a brand awareness tool that works only in concert with effective implementation of channel strategies, field brand execution, promotions, pricing, etc. Murphy-Goode’s current promo would be inauthentic, and ineffective if they didn’t have their brand house and e-house in order, and a fully developed network of guests, customers, clients and fans. Murphy-Goode is effectively reaching out to existing and new customers, creating additional brand touchpoints.

In an attempt to clarify the role of Social Media on improved brand performance, please note an observation from Pahlmeyer Chardonnaymy experience and noted marketing research in that wine consumers have a limited # of brands, or varietals in their preference set(s). Any mentions from good print reviews, to a product placement in a Demi Moore movie, or a write up by Alder Yarrow in the Vinography wine blog will tend to place one’s brand on the tip of the consumer’s tongue, and tend to predispose and shape  consumer  purchase activity, the goal of any cogent marketer. Also, winery sales management need compelling reasons to communicatNoisee to their distributor partners, gatekeepers and consumers. If a certain number of mentions, perceived as noise, predisposes a positive response from the audience, all to the good. The conversational noise of the Social Net can be be filtered into viable wine marketing buzz with the use of the Social Media aggregation and syndication tools from Cruvee.com. So, yes the Social Media digital handshake augments, supports, and sometimes drives commerce as a new part of old school wine industry networking best practices.

My blog is 1 of approximately 4 million existing weblogs that are written in total and 1 of about 250+ wine marketing blogs. My readership is targeted to a specific niche market, the emerging tech sector of wine marketing, i.e., CellarTracker, VinTank, Cruvee, AbleGrape, etc., also including the winery brand management, marketing research, consumer insights, anacademic analysisd strategic planning arenas. To limit my discussions to just deep academic analysis and thought, would perhaps limit readership, and in turn limit an understanding of the Social Media e-tools now available. But, please don’t confuse brevity with lack of thought or insight. Although reports like the foundation VinTank Social Media White Paper, are perhaps more important in moving the awareness needle forward, the bloggersphere performs a key wine business communication function . I’ll concede that many blogs are personal journals, quickly written, or restatements of news feeds, and that some may disappear without reader remorse. But perhaps blogs are like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlets, Red Meat issues meant to stir the pot, with some postings leading to a positive, meaningful discourse that moves the conversation forward.

Wine NetworkingAlthough I’ve focused my blog on wine business Social Media issues, hopefully I’ve done so with the POV of pragmatic integration. My goal has been to move at least one person to be a better wine marketer.  I don’t have all the answers, just a part in the real world approach to contemporary wine marketing that works. Marketing that works because it includes talking to and more importantly listening to our customers. Yes networking matters more than ever because we’ve now included the end user as a focus of that network. And, while our handshakes are now often digital, they hopefully convey the modern wine marketer’s intent to form meaningful, nurturing adjunct relationships in the new wine marketplace.

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

In a Wine 2.0 World It’s All About the Conversation

images-1“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much”
… Yogi Berra

It is my experience that the best time to innovate is in time of crisis. Business historically exhibits up cycles and down cycles. Right now, we’re either in a bounce, or the cycle has started a long slow trudge out of the financial abyss. It is evident that case good supplies are tightening, as wineries winnow down inventories of their ’06’s and ’07’s. Our wine distributor partners are ordering via the Dell Computer model of just in time. Restaurants that were case buyers have become bottle buyers, and retailers have reverted to post millennium stock reduction strategies. At this point, the wine market is forecasted to continue growing, albeit at a slower rate.

A quick review of a recent down point in the economic life of North America, reflects that crisis and necessity are the mothers of invention. 9/11/2001 had a significant short termimages-2 affect on wine consumption. At the time wine inventories in all channels were inflated, and recent vintages had been panned in the press. Fred Franzia and ‘Two Buck Chuck’ came along to absorb the juice at the value end of the market, and the series of vintages over the next six years received significant acclaim from print critics in the know, cementing the category we have come to know as ‘cult Sidewayswines’. The buddy wine film Sideways was released, and demand for Pinot Noir wines shot through the store roof. Prices for wines of all categories above $5 a bottle increased as a result of market dynamics, with the strongest growth in the segment of wines above $15 bottle. For a full review of the economy’s relationship to wine sales in the last 25 years, please read Vic Motto’s article ‘Wine in a Downturn’ in the Global Wine Partners January 2009 newletter, VinSights.

Several factors have mitigated the effects of the global banking crisis on the growth in overall domestic wine sales. The pool of wine consumers in the US has grown by 25 million in millennial selecting wine at Safewaythe last six years as  millennials have adopted wine as their beverage of choice. The relatively cheap dollar in relation to other currencies and drought in Australia have diminished market share for most categories of import wines with the exception of Spanish wines. Smaller recenttapas  bar and Spanish wine domestic wine grape crops related to demand, and a wine industry tuned into the consumer sales cycle, have case goods inventories in balance, or in some pricing and varietal segments short, softening downward pressures on wine pricing. This even as we experience channel consolidation and shifts in consumer purchasing patterns.

Given the law of unintended outcomes, a new way of communicating brand has occurred as well. Computer work station, laptops, netbooks, and smart phones, as exemplified by the Cork's iPhoneiPhone and Blackberry, are now ubiquitous. This generation of new wine drinkers is indeed the personal computer generation. Communication has evolved from the desktop to a more portable format. What started out on AOL as instant messaging, moved to Yahoo and MSN, continuing the migration through MySpace to Facebook and now Twitter and FriendFeed. Texting and IMs have morphed to become micro blogging as a way for friends, communities and businesses to communicate. It is now all about the conversation.

The mindset around social media is it’s all about having a conversation with your friends and not about advertising to an audience. As Jeff Stai, at Twisted Oak has often stated, ‘it’s the modern equivalent of the office water cooler conversation.‘ Sorry, Don Draper, the Mad John Hamm as Don Drapper, Mad menMen model has peaked and, like Sisyphus’ rock, is rolling downhill. Understandably navigating this new multi platform brand awareness strategy can be intimidating and challenging, and the utilization of unique tactics  for different touch points can be daunting. Wineries need to develop a set of targeted tactics for each platform such as podcasting, You Tube, blogging, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, while including traditional media in the mix in an effort to create brand awareness. It is important to note that this takestwitter commitment, and managers who aren’t just digital savvy, but who understand that the dissemination of key communication points is now a complex exercise. It may also take the insight that maybe it’s more important to listen than to talk. Today’s consumers choose with and to whom they engage. The current key marketing question is not how do I manage my social media relationships, but rather it’s how do I nurture them.

a really Goode jobLets take a quick look at the Murphy-Goode’s promotion ‘A Really Goode Job’. Their print ad reads – “Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent. $10,000/mo (6-month contract), wine country housing included for a good communicator who is Web 2.0 fluent..blogger, videographer, tweeter..excellent written and verbal skills, engaging presence, at least 21-years old, wine lover”. The folks at Murphy-Goode, have established solid broad market distribution. They’re utilizing print, website and social media platforms to tell a fun story. Their have their ducks in a row. Prior to the start of this social media campaign there wasn’t much of a digital conversation going abouA Really Goode Job Annoucementt Murphy-Goode. Now if you check-out Twitter search for ‘Murphy-Goode’ or ‘A Really Goode Job’ you’ll be able to observe all the buzz that this promo has developed. And that’s just Twitter. If you check out the freemium search feature at Cruvee, you’ll see that the conversation about Murphy-Goode has elevated above the din in a noisy, brand saturated marketplace.

question-mark.jpgHow does your winery compare? What are you doing to innovate, and create brand buzz? Are you engaging in the conversation? The Murphy-Goode program has legs. Publicity and brand awareness will follow the selection of the successful candidate. The stories, videos, blogs and conversations generated by the new Murphy-Goode ‘Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent’ will continue to engage customers and fans. As soon as you go on the Murphy-Goode web site and vote for your favorite candidate, take time to think about your digital media strategy, and how your winery will engage customers. clients and fans in the conversation.

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