Wine Marketing & The Furrowed Brow

Furrowed brow
The Furrowed Brow
seems to be the official wine industry response to the new social media tools. And why shouldn't this be the reaction? If you've been in the industry for even only a few years these new tools are so untested, so new and so unlike previous marketing tools that few people understand anything about them.

VinTank is hoping to unfurrow a few brows.

Vintank is a new company formed by Paul Mabray, founder of Inertia Beverage Group, and Joel Vincent, founder of the OpenWine Consortium. Vintank is a new media consulting firm that focuses on wine industry issues. Their first project will be a Social Media Matrix White Paper. The project is described this way:

"In the VinTank Social Media Matrix Report, in particular, we are in the process of evaluating Social Media as it relates to the wine industry.  We are creating an overall picture of the wine "Social Media" landscape in which we will be establish a directory of which micro-publishers (blogs) are interesting and worth wineries spending time with as well as evaluating "social networking" sites related to wines in order to enable the mapping of their particular strengths to a wineries business objectives and strategic marketing plan."

Not a bad idea.

Today, wineries and wine companies are struggling with whether or not wine blogs are worth addressing in their PR efforts, whether they should actually maintain a blog, whether networking sites like Facebook delivers a worthy Return on Investment of time. Where blogs are concerned, I think they must be incorporated into communications campaigns. But which blogs? Which are worth engaging. I also believe that Facebook and other Social Networking sites are worthy of engagement. But note the word I just used: "Believe". I don't have anything to measure my gut reaction. My gut is pretty practiced. But I like numbers.

The Idea behind the VinTank Social Media Matrix White Paper is to provide solid information that marketers can use to evaluate these new tools. And I think the time is right.

32 Responses

  1. Glenn - February 10, 2009

    Whoever thinks wine blogs don’t matter is wrong, in my opinion. There’s two wineries I plan on visiting solely due to wine blogs. One is based on an interview with the winery from a regular wine blog and another visit is because of reading the winery’s blog.

  2. dhonig - February 10, 2009

    Oy! So now we get the “benefit” of a self-appointed annointer, a company that is going to take OUR free content and act as a paid conduit to decide what is worthy and what is not?
    What makes a blogger “influential”? And more important, once some self-appointed arbiter of influence makes their list, does the door close behind them?
    I’m sorry Tom, but the whole idea behind blogging is that it is a person-driven and dynamic environment. Sitting down today and picking the “good” ones is either an exercise in futility, or an effort to limit those with “influence.”
    This strikes me as just another attempt at certification. Certification is done for a few reasons and none of them are good. First, the group doing the certifying becomes a player with other people’s content. Second, once one person gets certified his interest goes from broad certification for everybody to closing it down- “we have enough now, so let’s shut this thing down.” Third, it marginalizes everybody who doesn’t get touched by the fickle finger of the annointer, no matter how good they are, or might become.
    So tell us, what’s the vig. What is the pay to play to get judged worthy? Do you want money? A link? A survey? What must we do for you to get included? Oh I’m sorry, you already told us. We have to fill out a survey, and YOU will decide if we are worthy.
    Goodby wine blogging. Hello wine micro-media, courtesy of VinTank.

  3. Tom Wark - February 10, 2009

    Consulting companies, analysts and information brokers have been evaluating business tools forever. People have been passing judgment on the media landscape forever. Why would bloggers and social media developers think they should escape notice or evaluation. Anyone who has ever placed a comment on a blog criticizing or contradicting the author’s statements is doing pretty much the same thing.

  4. Paul Mabray - February 10, 2009

    David – the goal is not to decide if you are “worthy” but to measure the influence of these new channels through math. We are not placing any certification or subjective analysis on the bloggers, just raw math and helping wineries understand how to better work with you. I think you’ll find that our results will both benefit wine companies AND wine bloggers. Again, we are not asking for anything from you except math and topics so that we can help people navigate these confusing waters easier.
    As to the wine social media companies, we have a very, very detailed analysis of them and numbers associated with our questions so that wine companies also understand how they fit into their overall strategy.

  5. SashaB. - February 10, 2009

    Tom, What is your personal connection to this company? I seem to recall your name alongside Paul Mabrays at the end of Inertia’s press releases. Are you involved in this project? It seems like if you have a vested (financial?) interest in the VinTank’s success, you should let your readers know…

  6. dhonig - February 10, 2009

    Perhaps my reaction is unfair, perhaps not. It does seem to strike deep into the heart of what is “blogging,” rather than “marketing.” However it shakes out, we’re pretty sure to have the conversation now (

  7. Tom Wark - February 10, 2009

    I worked with Paul at Inertia Beverage Group. Still work with that great company. Paul asked me to weigh in a little with some suggestions regarding the blogging side of the social media paper. I’m not being compensated. I’m just a really, really nice guy.

  8. dhonig - February 10, 2009

    Of course, the really ironic thing is that if I do manage to turn this thing into a major [stuff]-storm, my numbers will go up.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - February 10, 2009

    I’m staying out of this. It’s my m.o.
    Vinofictions manages to be overlooked by most consultants and many blog readers (or bloggers who don’t link to me) either because it fits no pre-conceived mold, or because it stinks.

  10. Jeff - February 10, 2009

    What Vintank is doing isn’t any different then what Alltop is doing or Technorati for that matter. They’re kind of doing a Forrester or Gartner for the wine industry, which is needed because the wine industry is a “show me” industry. If you don’t have data and a good reference, then very few wineries are willing to make a leap of faith in any area — closures to online marketing.
    Plus, there is a whole lot of swirl in wine online — hundreds and hundreds of blogs that a layperson can’t tell apart and scads of Wine 2.0 companies.
    I see them adding some self-reported quantitative data along with some independent validation, but the overall net effect will help wine blogging, not hurt it.
    If they show that a blog — take Tom’s for example, gets equal traffic and visitors then established media, with a halo of influence while said established media outlet circulation is going down, I think the logical recommendation to a winery is to focus your efforts by adding a couple of eggs to the pr basket — bloggers.
    Honestly, take a guy like Matt Kramer — I’m sure he is on every wineries radar, but I have little doubt that somebody online, if influence is measured objectively, probably has equal influence. It just hasn’t been calculated to date.
    If that occurs, then blogging, particularly wine blogging, which is about three years behind other blog niches, stands to gain as a legitimate medium.
    Now, the downside is people with blogs may feel like this is an assault on their blog, which it is not, but the reality is, online, influence equals eyeballs — how many view your site by visitors, page views, RSS subscribers. And, getting to that takes a long time to build, not weeks, and oftentimes not even months, but year(s).
    I personally think I have a great blog, but my metrics aren’t anywhere near Tom, vinography, Dr. Vino and a host of others, but then I always come back to the metrics and I double down on trying to create good content consistently that will increase my own influence sphere.
    Thanks for indulging the ramble …

  11. harvey - February 10, 2009

    from a hundred winery salespeople, the response is “no impact” from social media…

  12. Tom Wark - February 10, 2009

    That assessment doesn’t surprise me. Although, I’d like to think a little about how social media is best deployed as a tool where distribution and street sales are concerned. What I do know is that it certainly has much more impact where direct to consumer sales are concerned.

  13. dhonig - February 10, 2009

    No impact? Or invisible impact? I submit a single anecdotal example along with the question- if one posts, how many more acted?
    “Bought the 2006 purely based on your recommendation. LOVED IT! Halfway through the bottle now. I don’t think it’ll make the 2nd day.”
    The comment is not from a fellow wine-blogger, but just a new wine enthusiast. If it is appearing once on my site, it probably happened a dozen times, and if it happens a dozen times on my little site, how many more at Dr. Debs’, or Lenn Thompson’s, or Dr. Vino’s, etc.?

  14. Christian Miller - February 10, 2009

    But Harvey, how do they know this? I’m quite willing to believe them, but I’d like to see some more evidence. I have documented a number of things in the past that salesmen “knew” to be true that turned out not to be so.

  15. Stacy B. - February 10, 2009

    Blogs are very similar to college radio in the musical realm in that their results are somewhat nebulous.
    The musician wants as much coverage and attention as possible. So does a winery.
    However, the amount of plays a song gets on college radio, no matter how many, can’t guarantee X-number of sales because you can’t quantify how the listener reacts to hearing the song. Maybe they’ll buy the CD, maybe they won’t…
    Perhaps they’ll just be more familiar with the musician’s/winery’s name…
    Just like reading blogs about wine online, you can’t determine what the reader is going to do after reading a great wine review.
    Unless there is specific click-through technology or some kind of profit sharing between wineries and blogs, all those hits and all your readership could possibly still equal a giant question-mark in regards to “how many sales did that press coverage get us?” from the wineries perspective.

  16. Chaud Neuf - February 10, 2009

    Do you get extra props if you hate the three tier system?

  17. dhonig - February 10, 2009

    A lot of bloggers include links either to the winery or the retailer (often an on-line retailer) where they purchased the wine. When that happens, and a buyer clicks through the links to make the purchase, the winery or retailer can look at their statistics to see where they came from. That is how blogs, or any on-line experience, differs from radio.

  18. Dombeya Wines - February 10, 2009

    If the traditional wine press keeps getting hammered out of play by the current financial crisis ( think about how many papers have canned their wine coverage already) then the on-line medium will continue to grow in importance. From a producer point of view you just don’t have the time to sort through the hundreds of blogs and find out who are the key influencers, plus there are only so many samples to go around. It might be a bit controversial, but this sort of analysis was always going to happen at some point.
    As for the social media side of things, the jury is out. There is a brand visibility component to it, but how such involvement affects sales is very hard to quantify.

  19. mydailywine - February 10, 2009

    Social media in simple terms is a new way to market your product and connect with your customer. But all the rules of engagement have changed.
    Social media is having an obvious effect on wine sales. See dhonig’s example above, then times that by the thousands.
    But the wine industry is notoriously slow moving and antiquated. Trust me, in the past 12 years I have worked as a distributor sales rep and sales manager, a wine importer sales manager and a restaurant group’s beverage manager.
    The wine industry desperately needs someone (why not a VinTank for one?)to explain the benefits of social media to them.
    I view this forward momentum as empowering for wine bloggers not threatening.

  20. KenPayton - February 10, 2009

    The valorizing of mere numbers, what is breathlessly celebrated as the key ‘metric’, is simply one of a number of ways of looking at the success of a wine blog. I would argue it is not how many read your blog but who reads it.
    A winery may be interested in a blog solely with respect to its big numbers, to the total eyeballs looking in (love that crude commercial image). So be it. And a humble blog armed with a good stat counter may worry or celebrate their distinction in this regard; but far greater satisfaction is to be had by knowing who reads what you write.
    For me a hit from UC Davis, Riverside, U of Western Australia, the U of Adelaide, the International Biochar Initiative, Gallo, Constellation, the Greek Ministry of Culture (!), the US Commerce Dept, the Wine Institute, and many others, means far more than whether I can fluff drinkers into a buying frenzy.

  21. TexaCali Ali - February 10, 2009

    Well, I’ve been using “Social Media” since 2005 to help spread the word about the brands I represent in Texas. I came from the Gartner Group and CNET Networks world pre-wine and understand the power of viral marketing. I welcome VinTank to the mix. My blog and active profiles on Social Networking sites make a huge – I’m talking enormous difference for the wineries I assist.
    “My Daily Wine” summed it up perfectly.

  22. Nikitas - February 10, 2009

    Tom, I share what I’m inferring from you is a great deal of ambivalence about Social Media and its role in wine sales & marketing. I love online technology, love that it’s gotten to the point of allowing just about anyone to throw up a website and voice their opinions, and love how all that is being applied to the wine industry. But I’m at the age where novelty is beginning to stir up healthy skepticism in me. And while hunch and anecdote do have their place, when it comes to making decisions where quantifiable resources are to be spent, then any new choice or route or technique should be empirically validated before jumping on any bandwagon. It sounds like VinTank is seeking to do just that. I only hope, however, that they’re efforts are fully objective from start to finish — because when we as humans strongly believe in something, we have a way of interpreting objective data to match our hopes and expectations.

  23. KenPayton - February 10, 2009

    This lengthy, anxious thread reads like the narrative of a bad episode of ‘Fringe’; all paranoiac, miraculating bravado, with just a hint of naive hubris.
    My advice to bloggers? Write something worth reading. It’s as simple as that.
    As far as the unfortunately named VinTank is concerned, I think those guys should go it alone, force them to do their own research, publish their ‘white papers’ without our help. Let’s see how far they go in the absence our ‘raw math’.
    The absurdity of VinTank’s approach is the very idea that their work is for our benefit, for the benefit of wine bloggers generally. Their cynicism is as grim as it is amusing. Their names and pics are prominently displayed on their website, after all. And the rest of us? We are but web addresses, the trivial punctuation to their commercial avarice.
    I will have none of it.

  24. KenPayton - February 11, 2009

  25. AC - February 11, 2009

    I love it, you all are using three tier words, like “metrics”.
    I think it’s a good idea. Why not?
    No furled brows from this camp. Onward through the fog…

  26. Thomas Pellechia - February 11, 2009

    OK, I’ll be the idiot in the room who hasn’t a clue.
    Can someone cogently define “social media” as it applies to the Internet?
    What does the function purport to be and how does it claim to work?

  27. Terry Christiani - February 11, 2009

    I am interested to see what these guys come up with and if it will in fact be of benefit to wineries.
    Whether or not it establishes a hierarchy of blogs and social media sites, remains to be seen. Personally, the first report is not as interesting to me as the second one will be. In order for this to be a legitimate exercise that will establish VinTank as industry arbiter, a la Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, they will need to do this annually, at least. The change in statistics and ad revenue from year to year will be the true indicator of success for VinTank. After all this is a sales tool for them to influence wineries and other wine industry companies to pay them for their services. Just like the quadrant is for Gartner.
    Rather than get your panties in a bunch over the project figure out how you can use this to your benefit – even if all you do is critique it on your blog.

  28. Dylan - February 11, 2009

    I think social media also has its place in the wine world’s PR. It would be great to have the Head of PR for a specific wine producer actively engaging (not just saying things one-way), but having a conversation with interested users. This may sound like an oxymoron considering the technology used, but people listen to people. A wine made properly in the vision of the producer can speak, but only so much as the user’s senses can understand. There are people behind that wine, the ones passionate about it enough to make sure the bottle wound up in your hands. The opportunity to talk to those people and be heard is a worthy one.

  29. Craig Camp - February 11, 2009

    I love Harvey’s comment – he’s got 100 wine sales reps who are afraid of losing their jobs.

  30. Thomas Pellechia - February 12, 2009

    Am I to assume that no one can give a cogent definition of the activity being referred to as “social media?”

  31. fredfric koeppel - February 14, 2009

    I’m suspicious of this phrase: “we will establish a directory of which micro-publishers (blogs) are interesting and worth wineries spending time with.” Seems to me it should be the other way around. Since I started writing about wine and reviewing wine almost 25 years ago, first in print on now on my blog, it has been of no concern to me if wineries found me or (now) my blog “interesting” or “worth spending time with.” The way I work, it’s the WINERIES that have the responsibility of being interesting to me and to be worth MY spending time with their products. Let’s not get the objectives and priorities of wine reviewing switched around.

  32. tom merle - February 17, 2009

    Until early adopters among wineries preach the gospel to their peers it will fall on deaf ears “No goods more precious than the ones I sell” fails to persuade in these challenging times.

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