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Wine research through a distorted lens

Last week, an organisation called Wine Intelligence put out a press release concerning the apparent lack of trust consumers had in wine bloggers. I can only imagine it was intended to bait bloggers and commentators into some sort of argument to create headlines.

Ryan Opaz and I talked about it and found there were simply too many questions raised not to comment on it. We’re not sure how else to explain some of the conclusions from an organisation that is trying to sell a research report “worth” £1,300.

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Let me start with the headline:

Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the UK, USA and France, according to research published today, despite the growing importance of the Internet as a source of information about wine.

A headline worthy of tabloid newspapers, or even untrustworthy “independent bloggers”. Hardly the sort of interpretation that would make me trust an organisation that wants to sell me their analysis of the state of the wine “internet and social media”.

Who are these “independent bloggers”?

There is no explanation. Does it include blogs written by the same merchants that the “regular wine drinkers” apparently trust so much? What about the blogs published unofficially by their staff? What about the many blogs published by wine magazines, journalists, importers, wineries, and even research organisations? What about blogging wine personalities like Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Alder Yarrow, Dr. Vino and others? No?

I’d love to see the definition, and the carefully vetted segmentation applied to the 1000+ worldwide wine blogs covered by this statement.

Maybe it is just intended to capture all those individuals who don’t happen to work in the wine business, have not gone through standardised wine trade education schemes, and happen to be writing about wine for their own entertainment and education? The folks who have no “borrowed’ trust and must establish themselves individually. In which case they seem to be doing pretty well to be considered at all and we should salute them!

If that is how they define bloggers then they must realize that these blogs are word-of-mouth amplified by technology platforms, and as such they are trusted by certain very important people – their friends.

What do you mean by “least trusted”?

According to the research, focusing on the UK for now;

1 in 5 regular wine drinkers in the UK trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with the 50%+ who trust what they hear over the counter in a wine merchant.

AND

… just under half the wine drinking populations in [the UK and France use] the Internet for wine information and 16% using social media.

Let’s examine this.

If 16% of all regular wine drinkers “use social media,” they presumably mean that they are on Facebook, Twitter and (whisper it) read blogs. Let’s make the outrageous assumption that you can only trust, or not trust, something you have actually “used” – otherwise the view is not an informed one. The report is supposed to be about the sources of wine information, not the public perception of blogging as this would apply equally to anyone involved in it, not just the poor old “independent” ones.

I’d venture that the numerical similarity of “16%” and “1 in 5″ means that bloggers might actually be trusted by the VAST majority of those who have bothered to check them out.

In fact, even the headline 20% figure means that a great many wine consumers DO have some trust in bloggers, and if you were to look at particular segments of the population who are heavy social media users, you might even find that they are a MAJOR source of trust. Why be negative about something so new and still developing?

Isn’t it actually more shocking that consumers think that 50% of wine shops are lying to our FACES? Bloggers are publishing stuff for lots of strangers to read/watch/hear that they may never meet. These merchants on the other hand are on the other side of the counter, and half of what they say is either wrong or are lies! Apparently.

Market differences

In the USA, websites run by wine shops, newspapers and smaller wine producers are the most used online sources, while supermarket websites rank below Facebook as a source of wine information. The UK tells a different story with supermarket websites proving the most popular online source, whilst in France the brand or producer websites are the most important destinations for consumers seeking knowledge

Does this shock anyone? In the US the vast majority of wine is sold by merchants and wineries, virtually none in supermarkets. The UK market is reversed. The only shock would be that people didn’t trust the people selling them the wine – oh, wait, we did discover that above, but we prefer to bash bloggers.

We considered ignoring the release, but one or two industry news sources decided to pick up on the story and as these things can easily become “fact” (interestingly a criticism usually aimed at bloggers), we felt it might be worth pointing out some of the flaws in the argument for the record.

I’m only able to base my response to the press release, there’s no way I am paying £1,300 for a research report (especially one that promotes itself with inflammatory headlines), so I suspect that SOME of these points may be addressed in the detail. If so, I look forward to hearing from anyone who has read it, … if they bother reading any wine blogs.

Oh! One final irony …

This Wine Intelligence press release, and other reports, were published on a WordPress blog platform! If  the market doesn’t trust bloggers, by extension should we not be trusting this report?

:)

Robert McIntosh and Ryan Opaz

UPDATE: 07 Feb 2011:

Thank you to everyone for your comments, discussion points and feedback, we really appreciate it. Ultimately, the argument is not about research or how to write a press release, it is about perception of social media opportunities. I feel strongly that while other industries are adapting to take advantage of new ways of reaching customers, the wine trade will miss out if they don’t take it more seriously.

Separately, you might like to check out some of the articles that came out since we posted this, including a riposte by Wine Intelligence and some comments from a US perspective including some good research by @winewonkette

Wine Intelligence: Bloggers Bite Back
Vinography: Why trust a wine blogger
Another Wine Blog: Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release

There will also be something in the printed edition (and hopefully online) of Harpers this week (10 Feb 2011) as I was asked for a small contribution to the debate.

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