A Brilliant Flash of Insight On Wine & Blogging

What would happen if I advised any one of Wark Communication’s winery clients to send out a bottle of wine to any blogger who asked for it?

It’s a good question, and one that blogger Hugh MacLeod tested in going to work for South Africa’s Stormhoek Winery. According to a Decanter story, there appears to be some correlation between the doubling of sales of Stormhoek’s wines in 2005 and the MacLeod’s BloggerSampling program that provided samples of Stormhoek to about 100 bloggers in the UK and France. In fact, as Decanter puts it, "
South African producer Stormhoek has doubled sales of its wine with a campaign directed at the blogging community."

I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think it was MacLeod’s liberal sampling policy aimed at bloggers that doubled sales. It may have had something to do with South African wine sales in general seeing a hefty increase, the quality of the Stormhoek wine, and likely other factors. (and it’s hard to know what those other factors are without being on the inside, understanding their distribution policy,etc.)

But, this isn’t just me questioning Decanter’s claim. To quote Macleod himself: "The Stormhoek wine meme didn’t sell more bottles, any more than Scoble’s blog increased sales of Dell computers"

It’s unlikely that in the wake of the Decanter Story MacLeod will be correcting Decanter on their bold assertion that the "blogging campaign" orchestrated by the proprietor of the unique and insightful "Gaping Void" blog resulted in a doubling of sales for Stormhoek. (At least in his latest post he doesn’t)  Why should he? It’s a pretty cool piece of disinformation to have floating around.

However, MacLeod did, back in December, explain what he thought his PR campaign accomplished:

"You have to remember: there are hundreds of thousands of vineyards in
the world, all trying to sell to the twelve or so mass market wine
buyers in the UK. So you need a story that cuts through the clutter

And the best stories have market disruption baked-in.

With the disruption, came a new and different story that the
supermarket buyers and the importers wanted to hear. Telling the story
made the sales process easier. With easier sales, the curve was raised."

In other words, Stormhoek wines found an interesting "hook" to utilize inside the sales process. Not exactly a brilliant flash of insight.

I’m guessing there are a few successful PR pros, marketing types and marketing interns both in and out of the wine industry who might respond to this revelation with a great big, "Okey dokey….what else?"

What Macleod learned is that when you have a market that is over-saturated with brands selling the same thing, you need to differentiate yourself to be successful. As MacLeod points out, this was done, in Stormhoek’s case, by giving the sales people on the street and in retail shops a story that was unique. It was good work, to say the least. But hardly anything new. It’s a strategy that reaches back to when Jesus told us that his God could deliver redemption (and the rising from the dead thing, well, that worked pretty good too.)

The bigger story, that Decanter didn’t touch on, and what is a brilliant flash of insight, is the notion that "corporate blogging" in the wine world can play a key role in the positioning and explanation of a wine or winery if the practices is authentic and strips away much of the divide that puts wineries on one side and the customer on the other. Or, as Macleod explains it, good corporate blogging creates a "porous membrane".

One of the benefits that has come to Wark Communications since this blog was begun in November 2004 is an increase in business, from retainer to project to consulting to writing gigs. I attribute a great deal of this increase in business to this blog. By being and appearing more accessible via FERMENTATION, it has created an immediate comfort between a prospective client and Wark Communications. This increased initial comfort makes it far easier to make a call and investigate the company behind Fermentation.

More wineries will and are incorporating blogging into their customer outreach. As I"ve said before, 2006 will be the year when "winery blogging" becomes an important tool in the wine marketers tool kit. However, caution needs to be applied here. Just as MacLeod’s outreach to bloggers is unlikely to have played a major role in selling an additional 50,000 cases of wine in 2005, it’s unlikely that the new and soon to be launched Winery Blogs will save the day. However, if they really deliver the goods and if they bring the reader/wine drinker in closer proximity to the winery, they can help deliver a unique story and support sales.


7 Responses

  1. gapingvoid - January 17, 2006


    Here’s a term I just coined: “A-Listology”. The study of “A-Listers”, and the social dynamics that go with them. Often confused with useful and original thought. [Bonus Link:] Tom Wark, one of the best wine bloggers out there, does a…

  2. Winecast - January 17, 2006

    Why Wineries Should Blog #4

    Tom at FERMENTATION has nailed the Stormhoek meme and, as a bonus, has provided the most compelling reason for wineries to blog:
    The bigger story, that Decanter didnt touch on, and what is a brilliant flash of insight, is the notion tha…

  3. jens at cincinnati wine warehouse - January 17, 2006

    I agree with your comment about your blog making potential customers more “comfortable”. I have noticed that with my blog, customers have a sense of the personality of my store BEFORE they arrive for the first time. But it is not just a blog that accomplishes this, as a blog with stale impersonal info would not get the job done. Static web data, canned wine reviews and “special wine sales” don’t reveal the person/people at the store.
    Additionally the blog has greatly enhanced my web visibility, as you are aware, to the extent that this little store in Cincinnati has caught the attention of many, including other retailers in California.
    I am also looking forward to trying the Stormhoek wines as I have requested samples.
    jens at cincinnati wine

  4. Dave - January 17, 2006

    From a consumers standpoint, buying wine can be as complex as the product itself and anything that simplifies that process is certainly welcome.

  5. tom - January 17, 2006

    Point taken. I think success in blogging and nearly any form of writing is delivering an authentic voice.
    Yep…simplifying is good and the wine industry is getting better at doing this.

  6. Eye - January 17, 2006

    Preaching to the converted wine drinker creates noise but does it translate into sales? Perhaps not unless you are RP, JR, ST or another on a very small list of approved writers. What Gapingvoid may accomplish is to convert some of those teasan and pilsner swilling biz/tech bloggers and their readerships into wine drinkers! With only 40% of Americans even willing to consider a drink of wine, we have a lot of untapped potential out there and that public is probably not searching through wine blogs the way you and I do.

  7. Mike Duffy - January 17, 2006

    Thank you for some well-informed, thoughtful analysis of the winery blogging phenomenon, Tom (and the link, too!).

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