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Has Vintank tanked? Not clear. My thoughts

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Some years ago, around 2011 or 2012, Jo Diaz, the winery publicist, set up an event at U.C. Davis that featured a showdown, of sorts, between me and Paul Mabray, who had created VinTank in 2009. VinTank has been described in this article as “the wine industry’s most powerful social media monitoring and data distribution platform…designed to help revolutionize the wine industry through monitoring and analyzing blogs, social media, and tasting note platforms and distributing that information to those in the wine and restaurant industries.” The idea behind Vintank, I gathered, was Paul’s strongly-held belief that social media was becoming, or already had become, a very important tool for wineries to sell wine, something VinTank could help them achieve, and that wineries had better hop onboard—at the risk of missing the boat.

By that time, I had acquired the reputation, mainly through this blog, of being something of a social media skeptic, although those who portrayed me as such tended to exaggerate the degree of my skepticism. I myself always took the position that social media’s ability to sell wine was limited. As I looked around, I saw an entrepreneurial explosion of social media consulting firms, all making inordinate claims about social media’s power, backing those claims up with Powerpoint-illustrated statistics, and, of course—so far as I could tell—hoping to be hired for the expertise they said they could bring to their clients, who all too often were hopelessly befuddled as to what they should do with this new-fangled gimmickry.

I never said social media was worthless. Far from it: I was a player myself, active not only on my blog but also on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. In fact I advised every proprietor I talked to that they should practice social media to the extent of their ability to do so. At the same time, I said that social media was not, and could not be, the be-all and end-all for wineries: that it was but one tool in the toolbox, and wineries had best not forget the other tools, namely, good sales and marketing done the traditional way (not to mention making high-quality wine!).

Well, you know the media loves a good story of heroes and villains, so I got portrayed as this social media hater, and that was the point of Jo’s event at Davis. Jo thoughtful person she is, knew I didn’t hate social media. She knows me as well as anyone in the industry. At the same time, she thought it would make for good P.R. to present Steve vs. Paul as a gunfight, and I agreed to go along.

Things did get testy that day. I remember thinking that Paul’s claims for social media’s effectiveness were hyperbole, or at least unproven, and his comments about me went beyond objectivity towards the personal. Perhaps he felt the same way about me. At any rate, we parted in a friendly way, and, more importantly, gave the U.C. Davis V&E students “a good show,” which is always what these things are all about.

I largely lost track of VinTank after that. I knew that last year it was acquired by something called the W2O Group, when Paul told Forbes that, with the acquisition, “We can truly catalyze the industry into meaningful and healthy change in how they understand and relate to their customers.” But, like I said, I didn’t follow VinTank or W2), until yesterday, when Wine Industry Insight reported on developments with the headline, “Vintank dead? Vin65 customers left in lurch. Signs point to quiet euthanasia by private equity.” (VinTanke and Vin65 had previously partnered in 2013.) The article went on to quote from the Vin65 website that VinTank, “recently rebranded as TMRW Engine, will cease operations as VinTank…” and…”will no longer be supporting clients in the wine industry effective July 31, 2016.”

The actual details of VinTank’s complicated deals of recent years are hard to follow, and it’s not clear to me, at this time, if VinTank will continue to operate in one form or another, or what Paul’s role will be. (I reached out to him via Twitter, but didn’t hear back.) However, I think we can agree that social media has not turned out to be the savior of wineries, particularly smaller ones, who might have looked towards it for its supposedly miraculous abilities. If it’s true, as Wine Business Insight, reported, that VinTank is tanking, I feel bad for Paul, but I haven’t changed my position in nearly nine years. Social media is fun, it can be helpful for wineries, they should do it if they can, but it’s simply not as vital as some people initially portrayed it.

ED. NOTE: This version has been slightly edited from an earlier version.

 

  1. The last sentence of your penultimate paragraph is incorrect — it’s the TMRW Engine that “will no longer be supporting clients in the wine industry effective July 31, 2016,” not Vin65. My understanding is the Vin65’s business is all about supporting clients in the wine industry.

  2. Vin Social says:

    It’s not dead, it’s a fossil.

  3. Steve,
    Click bait title aside, this was not a indictment of the value of social media or VinTank/TMRW but rather a case study about incongruent business models and the subsequent ramifications.

    As it relates to the value of social, it is just a footnote in our industry’s use of technology. All digital tools are barely used in the wine industry. Just because there is a lack of use does not diminish the value of e-commerce, search, social media, mobile, location, et al. The fact that the industry is able to ignore these digital realities and still succeed is a moment in time. Digital Darwinism is inevitable.

    I appreciate your sentiments. Our team was definitely sad to see this story end this way. While you are correct about our cordial interaction and that VinTank is no longer in the wine industry (for now), social media is and will increasingly become vital for the wine industry to talk with their customers. The new phone is called Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, etc, etc and there is ALWAYS ROI in talking with your customers.

  4. Randy Caparoso says:

    Steve: VinTank “tanked,” lending credence to your original argument that it is easy to overstate the effectiveness of full blown social media engineering. At the risk of coming across as a digital yahoo, my own feeling has always been: how complicated does social media marketing have to be? Is vast data generated by platforms like TRMW something of an overkill; a distraction from more important goals like melding marketing focus with actual product — finding, and keeping, *your* audience for what you actually grow and produce?

    I mean, how hard is it to open your own accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., set up blog posts on your Web site, and start direct conversations about what you do, in your own primitive, clumsy yet charmingly organic way, and grow your own clientele without having to monitor every nook and cranny of the internet?

    One thing we know for sure: social media has opened up means of directly reaching consumers never dreamed of just 20, 30 years ago. But as I’ve heard Mr. Mabray also say in the past, “content is still king.” That also goes for content in a bottle — if you make a boring or sub-par wine, all the crafty packaging and social media savvy in the world won’t save you. The question, for wineries, is still not so much “what are you doing with social media?” as “are you making products worth anyone’s time and money?” Or are you just doing it to look good on, well, social media?

  5. [This is me, Steve. I’m publishing the following comment from Jeff Stevenson, who was experiencing problems with my website, so I agreed to publish his comment for him.]

    I’m deeply saddened that Paul and his healthy obsession wasn’t wildly successful in the wine industry. I too have probably labored at least as many hours as he has over my healthy obsession with creating a profitable and sustainable business in the wine industry, and we just happened to pick the right play at the right time. Unlike the high-tech world where even ‘Alpha version’ tech is often adopted in production environments, the wine industry is just not ripe for the mass adoption of tools like this, even if they are very advanced and totally ready for prime time. As a technologist and engineer myself, I often comment that I work in the most backwards industry I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been a part of dozens of industries as they relate to the adoption of technology.

    “The new phone is called Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, etc, etc and there is ALWAYS ROI in talking with your customers.”

    While that may be true in general terms, I smiled broadly when I read this… With all due respect, and speaking purely of the wine industry in which we all live and breathe, the “New Phone” is becoming even more of one of the most antiquated technology platforms on the planet: The Old Phone. Couple this with the inescapable fact that wine drinkers actually like talking (ie using their vocal chords) about wine with other people and you can see that Paul’s astute observation of “incongruent business models and the subsequent ramifications” rings true in this particular case, at this particular time and in our particular industry.

    I suspect we have not heard the last of his efforts… If anything, Paul does not give up. His eye for innovation, tireless pursuit of success and the passion for what he does will invariably produce another set of interesting solutions for our industry, and innovation is something we could all use a healthy dose of in the wine biz. I can’t wait to see what his next efforts produce, and hopefully our industry will have matured enough by that point to witness adoption, for all our good. It’s either that or we’ll soon have to start outsourcing our mounting phone work to India…

    Jeff Stevenson
    VinoPRO Inc.

    PS – we’re trying to hire 30 additional FT sales reps right now… see our Facebook ad campaigns we just paid good money for. 🙂

  6. Dear Paul, glad you weighed in. I don’t do “click bait.” I’ve been around for a long time and I don’t need to troll for that kind of stuff, so please disabuse yourself of that notion.

  7. Bob Henry says:

    Paul,

    Do you plan to release this VinTank/TMRW report (teased on March 10, 2016) before you shutter the operation at the end of the month?:

    “The Five Tribes of Online Wine Buyers”

    http://tmrwengine.com/2016/03/the-five-tribes-of-online-wine-buyers/

    ~~ Bob

  8. Steve, while I came across your article quite late, it’s pleasing to see a sane voice in the room. I too have been quite critical of social media and wine on my website and have had Paul come at me for it. I didn’t even call him or his company out by name as I wasn’t even aware of them. Once I glanced over the Vintank “platform” I could see why as it made a lot of claims that just don’t play out in wine.

    He too accused me of click bait and I’m sure if I had engaged him Godwin’s law would have quickly been slung my way as well. It’s classy for you to state that you feel sorry for him but based upon my interactions, there’s no way I can say I feel the same.

    Don’t know why I didn’t have your site in my feed reader wine list before, but I’ve now added it.

    Cheers

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