The wine industry is abuzz about “web 2.0” marketing, also known as “social networking” or “social network marketing,” as the latest trend in marketing wine. Web 2.0 encompasses “technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and functionality of the web” according to Wikipedia – a site that could claim to be part of web 2.0, since it is based on interactivity and collaboration. YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter are among those that are considered the poster websites of this internet evolution.
These types of websites spur visitor interaction and involvement, and often create communication between website visitors as well as between companies and customers. Online communities and networks are created – though this has been happening since the internet was created (IRC, The Well, etc.). This online interaction is what companies hope to tap into – if not harness – in promoting their products and services. Accelerating the adoption of these websites is technology that makes it remarkably easy to participate, from blogging software (such as I am using now) to flash-based digi-camcorders that practically upload videos to YouTube by themselves. No command line in a Telnet link required.
Reaching customers and creating a dialog with them is the very essence of marketing. In the past the marketing dialog was mostly one way, from company to consumer, via advertising in print, radio, or TV. The internet and web 2.0 technologies makes it more two-way, yet on a scale on par with print, radio, or TV. Customers can comment on company blogs, follow Twitter tweets, tweet back, and add funny YouTube ads to their Facebook pages. This allows for a much more personal and direct form of bonding, which is powerful and healthy for customers and companies alike.
Much of social networking really entails pushing yourself publicly – creating the Facebook page, setting up a Twitter account and tweeting away, or posting videos – which is what marketing is all about. But it still takes promotion to make people aware of what you are doing, even doing the new stuff online. Just doing it does not equal it being effective. These are new channels of communication, not magical new marketing methods and, like all channels of communication, it is the creative, unique, interesting, and fun messages that will get attention. But even being creative does not equal success, as people first need to know that the messages are there to be read/seen/experienced in order to seek them out. Many think that just by participating in web 2.0 activities customers will flock to their efforts.
Not to say that there are not benefits of doing it via online social networking tools; the internet has proven very powerful in creating interest among people in what is termed “viral marketing” – a fancy term for word-of-mouth or, in this context, word-of-mouse-click marketing. Ideas, subjects, and content can seemingly seize popular attention and get a lot of people interested quickly, and the internet’s network effect can accelerate that interest immensely. Still, like print, radio, and TV, there are a lot of voices out there chattering away at us online, and it takes effort to cut through it all to reach your customers – just like plain ol’ everyday style of marketing.
This is where the trend buzzing in the wine industry is starting look familiar and alarming; new companies are popping up and touting web 2.0 and social network marketing as the next, greatest thing to solve all marketing needs. There is talk of “global wine commerce, the latest technology, and a strong network of relationships” and “build new businesses and disrupt markets”. Wineries are being told to get on the web 2.0 band wagon or they may be left behind, fall into the tar pit, and someday be used to fill a Hummer’s gas tank. A sense of urgency is being pushed, as if you don’t evolve now then you will be in the bull’s eye when the death meteor strikes.
Wine, though, is very much an analog thing – it is molecules of matter, not bits or bytes. A bottle of wine exists in the physical world, not the virtual (thank goodness). It is meant to be opened and drunk to be experienced, not downloaded and processed. Wine retains its direct connection to the earth in which it starts. Web 2.0 does not change how wine goes from grape to glass. It still passes from hand to hand, therefore those marketing channels must also be utilized and maintained, to build relationships and create interest among those hands. Strong networks of relationships must happen offline as well as on, and only happen when the brand is interesting and people learn about it. There isn’t a “new” business to be built overnight, as we in the industry are still hamstrung by post-Prohibition regulations, and progress in opening new or alternative distribution channels is incremental and piecemeal. The only way the wine market can be disrupted is if the Supreme Court or Congress abolishes state and local regulation of alcohol sales (same odds as the death meteor striking in our lifetimes). Global wine commerce will never be shipping a case from a winery in California to a consumer in China, but remain exporting pallets to foreign markets for overseas distribution partners to sell. Talk among marketers today like the quotes above is very much in the same vein as what I imagine was said around the board rooms of Webvan and Pets.com. Or in Lehman Brothers about those hot, new securities they traded – similar hot air filling that bubble of buzz to bust.
Web 2.0 provides some valuable tools, and makes marketing for wineries easier because of it, especially for smaller wineries. The basics of marketing still remain the same: creating a robust, interesting brand identity; finding an audience of loyal and potential customers; and building relationships with customers through communicating that brand identity creatively and succinctly. New tools, same foundation. A customer will not buy a bottle of your wine just because you use Twitter, but because of what you say using Twitter.
Remember that effort and cost must be allocated to these new marketing channels. While many web 2.0 tools and services are free, time is not, and getting customers’ attention happens by giving attention to reaching them. Those resources for social network marketing often are in lieu of other marketing efforts, so allocating them must be weighed appropriately; wineries need to identify where and how their loyal and potential customers learn and discuss wine (and similar consumer products) so their marketing reaches them.
For many that is online, but it isn’t everyone, and even those of us who live online log off – like I’m going to do now, and go enjoy a glass of wine.
PS – the only bubbles we recommend are the ones to be found in a glass of sparkling wine. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Tincknell & Tincknell.