Archive - March, 2011

A new wine conversation

Welcome to the new WineConversation, one where you will find a few new, but familiar voices.

Virtually all blogs begin as solitary endeavours driven by the author’s energy and motivation to share some message or theme. In most cases, this energy is lost over time. The world changes. Eventually the themes have been explored and the clever puns have all been made. The blog gets tired, and authors move on.

A great many bloggers have found it easier to continue their online conversations with specific groups of like-minded friends on Facebook and Twitter rather than continue to preach from the lonely soap-box of the blog, and so blogs eventually die.

However, if you driven to create content as well as sharing it, you need a platform.

I’ve long felt that the future for many bloggers was to move on from running all aspects of their sites, from being publisher, editor, author, marketer, ad sales and chief spokesperson, and to pool their knowledge and resources with others and specialise. The effect will be to create bigger, better, more interesting group blogs. These don’t have to be huge publishing enterprises such as Huffington Post or TechCrunch, but niche sites as before where content creators focus on producing quality content without the need for the filler stuff that keeps blogs ticking over.

When I started this blog in June 2006, it was only intended as a small place for me to publish a few comments about what I was thinking about wine culture in the UK. I hadn’t expected it to become a major part of my working life. I didn’t really have any other “social media” channels to participate in – Facebook was not yet available and Twitter was about to launch. However, it grew, partly because I was convinced that this was going to be important for the wine business, and largely because I was getting to know so many cool people.

Two of those amazingly cool people were Ryan & Gabriella Opaz, not only experts on Iberia writing on Catavino.net, but the experts behind Catavino Marketing.

After becoming friends via Facebook (yes, we are a product of Facebook) we eventually went on to create the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), the Access Zone, the Born Digital Wine Awards and more. It made sense to create a proper structure for all these projects, and so together we are launching a new business called Vrazon (and you’ll hear a LOT more on that soon).

This new focus needs a home. It needs a place where all of us can share our thoughts on how social media and new technologies can benefit the wine business. A place where we can inform you about the conferences, events and campaigns that we are participating in, so you might be able to benefit from them too. A place where you can find us easily and contact us with your comments, questions and suggestions.

The obvious solution was this site.

WineConversation was always about the convergence of wine, marketing and social media (well, in the last couple of years anyway), so this is a logical step. I will still be covering these topics, except now the site will have an even greater International focus, it will benefit from an ‘Opaz’ perspective from the US, Spain & Portugal and it will give the site greater access to Ryan’s technical expertise and Gabriella’s insight, editorial skills and management.

Welcome to the NEW Wine Conversation

We are really looking forward to getting started and hearing what you think.

And finally, special thank you to my many readers, commenters, friends and supporters over the first stage of this site’s development. I owe you so much! I will continue to have a space for more personal thoughts on wine, UK events and activities over at thirstforwine.co.uk so do drop by there from time to time too.

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What’s so Odd about Oddbins?

Oddbins is in trouble, and it needs a new lease of life, and probably a new investor, to survive, but brands CAN survive repeated near-death experiences if they have something to live for.

Newspapers and the wine media are full of doom and gloom stories about the future of Oddbins, once the UK’s coolest wine retailer. This week they announced that they were closing 39 shops, losing around 200 staff, and that this was probably just the start. The reality is that once the financial situation reaches a state of crisis, trust evaporates and things only get worse. Of course many of us working in the wine business either grew up working or shopping there, so many people are very upset.

Yogi on Meditation.

What seems to be missing from the discussion are positive suggestions on the future for this brand.

I know nothing of the financial or management discussions going on at the moment, but I thought I’d say something that has been on my mind since the current owners, under the management of Simon Baile, bought the business from Castel in 2008.

Let’s face it, the future of mass wine retail on the high street is either finished, or extremely uncertain*. We don’t shop there as often and margins don’t cover extremely high rents and staff costs. This is not the full story though. The Telegraph points out that wine is not alone here:

Every bottle of wine we’ve bought in the supermarket over the last year has been a bottle we haven’t bought from Oddbins and its rapidly diminishing off-licence peers. … Oddbins’ troubles are exactly those that have hit booksellers and record shops nationwide. Let’s hope that there’s not about to be another casualty to add to the list.

We have not stopped buying music, books or films have we? We just stopped buying them on the high street.

I know, I KNOW! Books and music can be ‘consumed’ digitally, but that just made them the first to move the shopping experience online. Our lives are changing and a lot of our shopping is now online. I don’t know about you, but our household rarely visits supermarkets anymore and orders stuff with excellent companies such as Ocado.

Wine is no different. Can you imagine an investor buying into a chain of high street bookshops, music shops or video stores in 2008? I’m sorry, but why did Oddbins try to save hundreds of shops? While they were doing that, people like Rowan Gormley were doing the opposite and establishing businesses like Naked Wines.

Oddbins established its reputation because it made wine accessible to people when the only alternative was “stuffy old wine merchants” – even supermarkets were hardly in the game in those days. The reputation was not really built on “convenience” of high street retail but on the knowledge of staff, the quirkiness of the range, the “coolness” of the Ralph Steadman brand image and the general excitement of discovery. I think I’m right in daying, however, that despite this, even at its peak, Oddbins was never greatly profitable even then!

It’s not death, it is moving on to a better place

Where can you best make that happen today, and try and do it profitably? Not in shops, but online.

The future of the Oddbins brand is to “ascend to a higher plane” and move its MAIN business online and keep a small number of outlets as “experience stores” (in the way Apple & Nike have done so well, and Laithwaites is already doing in wine).

I know it will be a tough transition, and I’m sorry to the many fine folks that will lose their retail jobs, but this would also create a whole new category of online advisor jobs where staff could actually use their wine knowledge and spend less time stacking shelves and dusting bottles.

Threshers tried to cling on to its retail model, and after a protracted series of death throws, it eventually collapsed. That brand didn’t have much to live for. Oddbins is different. I believe, along with many others, that it deserves to continue, but it must go back to its ‘Odd’ roots and embrace the future, not cling to the past.

* Real local shops will survive, but big brands are unlikely to. Even Majestic avoids the actual ‘high street’ and their model is based on finding other local sites.

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Great advertising is about message, not product

Many of my readers are not from the the USA, so may not have seen this advert (unless they happen to love American Football) but take 2 minutes and 3 seconds to watch this Superbowl advert:

Now, think back about how often the logo, the car itself or anything recognisable as “the product” were shown. They were there (so you see them the 2nd, 3rd … 22nd time you watch the ad), but they are NOT the message. The message is bigger than that, and the clever thing is that a strong, emotional message can be associated with the product with good advertising. In fact sometimes it actually makes it more likely if the product is not shown (think perfume ads).

How many businesses in the wine industry dare to advertise like this? Think, in particular, of “generic adverts” promoting regions such as Bordeaux, Alsace, etc. Or the battle to be the packaging and closure (screwcap, cork, ..) of choice. More often than not, they focus on the bottle of wine … and fail.

I’ve seen a few decent wine “Country” adverts promoting the wine alongside food & tourism, but they hardly break any mould.

I should point out that although I like the advert, it has little effect on me. This is a good advert for someone for whom “luxury” is a reason to buy a car. I personally think that Detroit has failed so massively because they failed to understand that more people are after practical cars with a much reduced impact on the environment (and not just modified versions of the same old stuff). Just as an advert for a wine, or wine product, I have tried and know I dislike would not appeal to me. However, it is a good way of communicating their message and helps you to change how you think about it even if you don’t buy it.

Oh, and an unexpected celebrity endorsement also works too

Is anyone doing something similar in wine? There must be some good adverts out there in print or video

UPDATE: of course, one thing leads to another and I start to see relevant content everywhere (though not wine yet). I LOVED this advert too:

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