Tag Archive - marketing

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.

A clipboard

Image via Wikipedia

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.


… 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.

Related articles

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Facebook Deals with Wine

Another week, another bit of our world is touched by Facebook, as Facebook Deals launches in the UK as well as in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

kid in a candy shop.
Image by rhoadeecha via Flickr

Facebook launched Facebook Places in the UK a few months ago but if you’ve never heard of it, I’m not TOO surprised. It followed the path of two much more focused players in the location-game – Foursquare and Gowalla. These two, particularly Foursquare, have been very successful social networks for users of smartphones with GPS, such as iPhones and Android devices, that allowed people not only to chat to friends, but also let them know WHERE they were.


If you are not already involved, it sounds creepy. It can be! But then remind yourself that so did blogging, Twitter and Facebook itself until you became involved (as I guess you will have by now). Negative, pleaserobme games aside, these location based services offered several benefits:

  • USERS could add SPECIFIC location information to their messages to friends. When you “check-in” you are not just broadcasting a location, you are adding location information to a message. Subtle, but important difference
  • FANS could share their favourite locations, or those that they discovered, with more people in order to promote the location – doing a free marketing ‘favour’ for the location
  • BUSINESSES could reward fans by offering them discounts for their loyalty and for sharing the information with their friends
  • BUSINESSES could also gather information on who was visiting and when, what they liked/disliked and what they were interested in, in order to improve their services

Remember, you can check in and NOT broadcast every single one to the world on twitter – only do so if it adds value to the conversation!

My favourite places to check in are local shops (I want to promote local business), the better restaurants and bars I go to that have good food and wine (because that’s what a lot of my followers are interested in) and unusual locations I end up around the world. I also like to check in (and not broadcast it though twitter) in places where I might have the time to meet up with other friends also checking in – airports, events, hotels, etc.


When Facebook arrived, it seemed natural to add these activities to the list of things you share on Facebook, but there is so much there already it got rather lost (and was never as engaging). So why would users it on Facebook instead, … and why bother trying to use more than one network?

Gowalla offers regular users virtual “items”, “pins” and “stamps” to collect. Foursquare trumped this with “Mayorships” and then moved into location- & mayorship-based special offers.

Facebook needed to do something to incentivise users to switch, and instead of building something “better” they’ve decided to appeal to our love of free stuff.

The new service, Facebook Deals adds offers to this “check in” service, and they’ve negotiated deals with Starbucks, Yo Sushi and others for the launch.


I encourage businesses involved in wine to take part.

  • It helps your regular customers, who obviously appreciate you, to share information about you with their friends
  • You can reward them in some way, even if it is just a personal “thank you” for this word of mouth marketing
  • You can learn more about your customers to improve your own range of wine, your events and especially your communication
  • Producers can become engaged and learn where their wines are being sold & consumed

So what will be the first wine based offer in the UK? I’m guessing it will either be a big brand that is aware enough of these opportunities and has the deep pockets and distribution in place to do something worthwhile OR it will be a small deal by a small group of locations that can move a lot faster, such as a small chain of restaurants (any takers?). I look forward to seeing who gets in there first.

Wine offers and discounts have been the supermarket’s bait for so long that consumers are already used to thinking of wine as something to look out for only when discounted, so I would not be surprised to see it.


What I find worrying is that if Facebook Deals succeeds it will probably kill off the early movers which will also end the altruistic value exchange which was, for some of us at least, the best bit of these services. “Why bother checking in if they’re not offering me a deal?”

It’s the UK supermarket muscle game all over again.

They tell us “it what the consumer wants”, but when they kill off all the alternatives, we don’t really have a choice.

I think I shall hold off taking part, personally, until I see how they develop it. How about you?

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Writing under the influence of twitter

I’m currently working on a project looking at the measurement of online influence. Or is it influence online? Or is that influence of online measurement? The whole concept is hard to grasp. What value do these values and lists have?

First question, what do you measure and what does it mean or imply?

'how to win friends and influence people'
Image by bubbo-tubbo via Flickr

For example, do I have “influence” because I have almost 8700 followers as @thirstforwine on twitter, or do I have 8700 followers because I have influence?

In fact, I only have followers because a few people thought I was interesting and friendly enough that they kindly recommended me to their friends, and then these people did the same. In that case THEY have influence. I now have *some* by extension.

Some influence measurement sites/scores

If you want to look into this area, here are some sites to check out and sign up to, including my current ratings for reference and to demonstrate the variability of scores and their scales:

  • PeerIndex: I have a PeerIndex score of 55 (and an ‘Authority’ score of 45)
  • Klout: My Klout score is 66 and I’m a “Thought Leader”
  • Twitalyzer: I have an impact score of 4.3% (which puts me in the 88.8th percentile) and I’m a “Reporter”
  • PostRank: Not even sure what figures to quote, but I have 411 “Engagement Points” so far for January. Good?

What does influence mean?

I think I can encourage a certain number of people to follow links, but who are they and what are they doing? Is it just robots? Are they curious? Or am I really answering questions they have, and therefore delivering some value?

In the case of wine, should it only be measured by an ability to get bottles into consumers hands?

Influence ought to mean “creates action or change”, but how can we measure that, even just online? What many tools really look at are just a proxy for that – followers, retweets, mentions, etc.

Worst of all, are these ‘influential’ lists just self-referential? For example, the lists of ‘top blogs’ add weightings to links from other ‘top blogs’ that mean that once you are ‘in the club’ you are more likely to stay there until you make the mistake of linking to newer blogs and giving them a boost up the ladder (note; this is intended to be ironic – seems we need to be sure to qualify things these days). Once you are listed as influential, it is more likely you will be followed, retweeted, quoted, measured and interviewed and so you become more influential.

What use is it?

Once I’ve had a look at the actual rankings I will also post some thoughts on how, if at all, these measurements might be useful for anything other than stroking a few egos.

The Plan

I will be working with one of the services listed above to put together a view of Wine Influencers on Twitter, providing them with a reasonably comprehensive list of wine twitterers to review. It should be fun to plug in some names to the algorithms and see what list/order emerges and then get your feedback.

Who would you say is “most influential” in wine (online, on twitter)? How do you even define it? Leave me a note to link me to you favourite list of wine twitterers and I will do my best to get them included.

UPDATE 25 January: In writing this post I realised I had not properly signed up for PostRank analysis. I have now done so and update the line above. Firstly, it is VERY confusing. I have no idea what stats mean, what is public, what is about me, versus the blog, and how it is calculated. However, it SEEMS to be extremely powerful and FREE, so I will keep looking into it. Any recommendations or help? Do you use it?

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Imbibe and some lessons to be learned

The recent Imbibe show was a curious demonstration of the divisions in the alcohol business, and hopefully one that will encourage things to change.


In a lightly packed Earls Court 2, Imbibe Magazine brought together players from the worlds of wine, spirits, beer (mainly from the craft world, not big brands) and a few mixed others such as Teapigs (… though strangely no coffee I could find). It was very interesting to see the effort spent not just on the exhibition, but also the 5(!) separate seminar areas.

I was only there briefly, mainly to say hello to people I know and to get to know the event. I was not disappointed in that – lots of familiar faces were among the crowd, but the crowd itself also included a lot of new faces you do not see at existing events – bar staff!

Therein lies the rub.

Bar staff do not buy alcohol for their business, but they do influence what alcohol is sold to consumers. In other words, the main behaviour that this show might influence was not the action of getting products listed in bars and restaurants, but ensuring the products are poured when they already are.

Almost all wine stands had tables around the edges of the stand, … creating a physical and psychological barrier

In the case of spirits, with lots of BIG brands with broad distribution, this is very useful. It is a chance to encourage existing customers to recall your brand and incentivise them to sell more … but that only works if the staff already know the brand and have it available to them. With tens of thousands of wines available in the UK alone, this is highly unlikely for the wine brands.

What particularly stood out for me was the difference in the approach to customers taken by the spirits brands compared to the wine stands, and it seems I was not alone in this view – even the editor of Imbibe, Chris Losh agrees (see his Just-Drinks column here)

Almost all wine exhibitors had tables around the edges of the stand, each with dozens of different wines available to taste, creating a physical and psychological barrier between taster/outside and exhibitor/inside. They probably intended this as a benefit; “Look at all my wines you can try.” Instead, it looked more like a gauntlet for any passing attendee to run.

Wine was coming across as challenging, testing and exclusive, something to be examined and learned rather than enjoyed.

On the other hand, the spirits stands were focused on many fewer products, maybe even just one. Their boundaries were open & inviting. The stands themselves included music, carpets, sofas, mock bars, tables and chairs. Attendees were invited to join in, rest and spend time experiencing the brand … and maybe also interacting with the exhibitor.

Which do you think might be the more effective of the two?

In the end, wine stands often had more staff than visitors, whilst dozens of visitors congregated in groups to chat and enjoy themselves on the spirits stands.

There will always be the issue of budgets. Spirits are products with big margins and bigger promotional budgets. They can afford to work on loyalty and relationships because they often already have distribution for their products, and drinkers expect to find the same brands in each bar. This forces new products to do the same and arrive not only with unique products, but with marketing plans and promotional budgets. It means that launching a new spirit brand is expensive, but the rewards are potentially high.

How might wine replicate some of that success?

It may be time for wine to stop trying to “educate” customers and consumers and more time entertaining and involving them.

If the Imbibe exhibition has another edition, I wonder if we will see a different approach?

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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