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Buy your iPhone 4 en primeur

iPhone4 side view
Image by A7design1 via Flickr

Sometimes the wine world seems baffling. Take the term “en primeur” for example.

Every year, for weeks and months (and getting longer), the wine world is abuzz with the “campaign” to sell Bordeaux from the latest vintage. A small selection of wineries from the world’s most famous wine region generate massive enthusiasm for wines that only a handful of “experts” have ever tried, selling them years before they will be bottled and leave the winery, and for figures that make bankers weep for the fact their bonuses simply aren’t big enough.

It seems very odd.

Many point to this complex, elitist and expensive system to demonstrate how out of touch the wine world has become.

Yet, today I find myself in the middle of a series of other “en primeur” campaigns.

Apple is the master at this game. In the last few weeks we have seen the “pre-order” frenzy for both iPads and the iPhone 4. These are products only a handful of “experts” have ever tried, being sold to consumers days or weeks before they will be shipped, and for figures that certainly make YOUR bank manager raise her eyebrows.

This is all stage-managed to generate excitement, the illusion of scarcity, the social value of one-upmanship and the insatiable demand for innovation.

Maybe it is the rest of the wine world that is out of touch? We all like a bit of showmanship and prestidigitation from time to time, … don’t we!?

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Should We All Quit Facebook? Not Yet (IMHO)

Don't quit, Mike!
Image by SuziJane via Flickr

Last week, the brilliant Josh Hermsmeyer at Capozzi Winery (also known as @PinotBlogger) posted a controversial post entitled: Why I Quit Facebook, And Why Wineries Should As Well – it is well worth a read.

Josh manages to combine a great marketing mind with a brilliant passion for making wine, great technical knowledge and an ability to communicate (yes, a bit of a hero to me). It is just a shame that I may never get a chance to taste his wines. However, his posts are always worth reading.

Having said that, I disagree with him on this one.

The conclusion of his post is summed up as:

Bottom line: Even if you never plan to advertise or otherwise leverage Facebook’s “social graph,” You do not want your brand tainted, even by association, by the sh*tstorm that is engulfing Facebook.

His argument is that the kinds of activities that Facebook has been accused of entering into should not be condoned, and that if you are a winery (or any business) on Facebook, you will be tainted by it by association:

… there can be no doubt that the risks of maintaining a presence on, and thus providing a tacit endorsement of, Facebook far outweigh any benefits you can possibly think to imagine. Act accordingly.

You can read his report and plenty other reports out there about what Facebook is accused of doing, but essentially it seems to be about breach of trust. In his view, that breach is so serious that he simply cannot be part of the network. That is his decision. It is also the conclusion of many other influential individuals such as Jason Calacanis and many thousands of others.

I respect Josh’s principled stand. In the comments he says:

Even if you are using Facebook just to have a conversation where your customers are, you are tacitly endorsing the medium. I can’t do that any longer. I owe the peeps more than just looking out for my brand’s interests.

My actions are communicating to them louder than any wall post what I value, what Capozzi values, and where we draw the line in terms of where commerce ends and a trusting, worthwhile relationship begins.

Wineries who are on Facebook may well be there simply to engage with their customers around the world. This is still one of the best places to do that, even if I do recommend that this is just a means of taking that relationship elsewhere (like a winery’s own blog).

Essentially, I don’t believe that having a business presence on Facebook “tacitly endorses” whatever may or may not be going on behind the scenes between Facebook and their advertisers with our data any more than running a local wine shop “endorses” dubious commercial property deals by banks.

Wineries NEED to communicate with their customers, and if the customers are on Facebook and are willing and eager to engage there, then wineries will have a presence there. IF there are privacy concerns, there is no “ethical duty” to disengage with the network. It is not the business’ or brands’ role to make decisions for their customers about these things. As long as they are part of the network they can & should lobby for things to change and do their best to communicate this to their friends and customers.

“The REAL issue is that this is a closed network that is trying to justify, and monetise, itself …”

As I write this I hear that new privacy arrangements are being made by Facebook. I’m dubious that this will quell the discontent fully.

The REAL issue is that this is a closed network that is trying to justify, and monetise, itself by getting bigger and offering even more options to everyone. I don’t believe it can do this without getting too complex. It is getting so big that the revenues it needs to achieve become astronomical, encouraging “extreme” behaviour. We need to keep an eye out and complain, but not necessarily run away.

There is a precent for this. AOL grew exponentially by educating millions of us about the internet. However, eventually we grew tired of the walled playground and we left it for the more exciting WWW. Facebook introduced many individuals and businesses to the Social Web. The time will come when many of them will cut the apron strings and venture off into the wider social world. But not yet.

——————-

Please read Josh’s full post AND the comments. This is a wonderful example of what kind of conversation a blog can create. This is Josh’s topic, but anyone can respond, disagree or agree, and he engages with all of them to clarify and refine the message.

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Give them Access, They Will Talk

Last week, the London International Wine Fair (#LIWF) saw the arrival of a new breed of exhibitor. This one was called “The Access Zone”.

The Access Zone was a combination of Press Office, Lecture Theatre, Consultancy Office, Networking Zone, Business Centre, Free Wi-Fi Spot and Sales Platform.

Instead of a stand being directed by a single company or brand, or acting as a neutral information or service point, The Access Zone was a place where ideas were exchanged, wines tasted and business contacts made. In many ways it was an exhibition within an exhibition. You can read some of the results here (thanks to @gabriellaopaz)

The organisers of the LIWF invited Ryan & Gabriella Opaz of Catavino.net, and my partners in The European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), to help put together a site dedicated to Social Media in the wine business as part of the main event. This ‘hub’ was then home to all sorts of individuals and companies that wanted to explore the possibilities of social media for promoting wine, including this site as one of the main sponsors.

The users determined the content

What made this stand different was that all sorts of people in the trade were invited to give talks relating to social media tools and strategies. There were interactive talks on using facebook for wineries, wine fault seminars, promoting films, wine blending, personal branding (my own contribution), the launch of the EWBC 2010 in Austria, and more. The USERS determined the content, then stayed there to help others. It was about bringing our online social networks to life, and as such it was important to have the right people at the centre who could motivate and attract an interesting group of friends.

What did we discover? Well, in a show affected by the economic downturn and volcanic ash related travel woes, it was good to have a positive message to discuss. This was especially true online, but also in the trade press. The wine business is very interested in the potential of social media, but still uncertain as to how to achieve this. Having people there, not just us ‘consultants’, but practitioners, brands with experience and brands who invest in social marketing, they were able to get a better overall picture.

The stand was always busy, with a variety of bigger and smaller exhibitors coming to attend talks or meet someone on the stand, including generic wine bodies, wine journalists and winemakers. The stand also hosted Naked Winesspectacular selection process where their ‘angels’ selected a wine (video) to import which then sold out in less than 24 hours! (more videos here)

The Access Zone is not necessarily a model for every future exhibition. In reality, embracing social media is something ALL exhibitors should do, but while adoption is still very low and exhibitors and visitors are interested in learning more in a non-commercial atmosphere, the Access Zone model is probably one that more exhibitions around the world should emulate. I suspect that many other wine events will now look to have such a space, and will invite key players from around the globe to fill it.

Did you come along? What did you think? Worth repeating? Was there other content you would have liked to see?

Well done James!

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Is there a Grand Cru in your future?

1976, BA begins Concorde flights

Another classic that failed to keep up with the times? Image via Wikipedia

I went to a great tasting event not that long ago, but the kind of “trade” tasting that has me scratching my head. Who goes to these things, and what do they achieve?

“Trade” tastings are officially intended to offer insights into certain wines (by region, style, importer) etc. to those whose job it is to buy, promote, review, or sell wines. However, this definition encompasses a great many people, and the reality is that they are mainly about reaching out hopefully to try and find an audience and champion, and avoid too many people coming simply for the free booze.

The problem is that they cost a LOT and achieve rather less, and the biggest issue is that many of the people there selling their wines don’t know what they want to achieve.

Anyway, the tasting in question was the Union des Grands Crus de Chablis (I’ve linked this, but since the site has not been updated since 2008, not much point clicking through). An organisation of some of the best producers of a marvellous style of wine, Chablis, representing the top fraction of wine produced in what is already a tiny region in France. The thing is, those who are invited all KNOW they are great. Why spend so much money hiring a room, marketing an event, flying over and pouring free samples in order to tell us so?

In order to try and work out what they were hoping to achieve, I asked most of the producers there who they thought their customers are. I got two “stock” answers:

  1. Slightly older consumers, already well off, who know what they like, buying these wines in top restaurants
  2. Those who recognise that Grand Cru Chablis is “better value that other top White Burgundies”

Well, the second answer is just ridiculous. Buying my own Boeing 747 might be cheaper than running my own private Concorde, but I still can get around the world quite easily without either.

The first is more worrying. Not only does it show a worrying lack of any understanding of the nature and motivation of those who choose £30-£50+ bottles of wine, but those folks are disappearing!

Being almost 40 (shock!) I remember a time about 20 years ago when ordering a “Chablis” was still a demonstration of great wine knowledge. When faced with hundreds of French & Italian wine options, knowing this one word made a great difference. These drinkers, trained on this style, were then more likely to ‘trade up’ to Chablis Premier Cru for special occasions, and eventually maybe discover Chablis Grand Cru as the boom-time bank accounts allowed.

The problem is that keen wine novices are no longer weaned on Chablis, and these are no longer boom times. Choices in general are much better, better value and more varied. Ordering a bottle of Chablis is no longer the ‘quality default’ it used to be.

The Chablis consumer pipeline is drying up.

“Classic” wine regions that simply rest on their laurels can become outmoded and struggle to become relevant again. Think about Sherry, Madeira and others . I’m not saying Chablis will disappear, but will it become sidelined?

The time has come for several things:

  • Cooperate! Producers need to work together, properly, to promote regions and their brands. Regionality is a key differentiator in wine that needs better promotion, and the benefits only come if producers can communicate its distinctiveness.
  • Invest! Investing in marketing and working out who the customer is and what motivates them – then work out how to reach them.
  • Engage! Stop preaching to the converted at cosy trade events, and reach out to consumers. If people want to buy the wine, the trade sales will follow. Two year old websites are an embarrassment.
  • Stay relevant! See these wines in a much broader, modern, context – understand that consumers have many more options.

Hopefully a new generation of consumers can be reminded that Chablis wines ARE distinctive and delicious, and that exploring them can be rewarding, but the UGCC must get its act together if these new customers are to arrive before the current crop die out.

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