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It’s one of the most venerable of marketing and advertising schemes. Give the consumer an interesting character he can relate to in an advertisement, and half of the sales job is done.
That’s why David Ogilvy invented Commander Whitehead to sell Schweppes Tonic Water in the 1950s
and why, 60 years later, Dos Equis invented The Most Interesting Man in the World to sell their beer.
Put a face on a product, make the face fascinating, give the reader/viewer a little back story, and voila, you’ve brought that consumer a step closer toward purchasing your product.
Storytelling is well known in the wine world, especially among public relations and media experts. They’re always looking for a way to make their clients compelling. People like me, who are gatekeepers to the media, are the particular targets of PR types. They know that all winemakers and winery owners are fundamentally the same, so they have to figure out a way to make their client different. It’s not unusual for a pitch to be crafted this way:
“Steve, I know you know a lot of husband-and-wife teams who made their money in another industry, then moved to Napa Valley to live the dream of owning a winery. But Bill and Tammy [made-up names] really are different! He’s not just another rich guy, he loves puppies! And Tammy is an artist in her own right, having exhibited her crocheted images of moths in the St. Helena Library!”
What the PR folks, bless their souls, are trying to do is tell a story, or, more accurately, sell a story, in the hopes someone will buy it.
Now, we’re being told, in the pages of Direct Marketing Magazine, that 2012 is “the year of brand storytelling.” Go ahead, read the article. It’s short and actually very acute in its perception, and the writer–Scott Donaton–is balanced. He’s not one of these people arguing that social media is the alpha and omega of everything. He gets to the heart of the issue with two really interesting statements:
1. “content can’t be relegated to a side role. It must be integrated into everything [businesses] do,” including traditional advertising but also tweets, YouTubes and other “consumer experiences.”
2. However, “The more broadly content is defined the more danger there is that the word will be washed of all its meaning. If everything is content, how can you have a content strategy?”
In these two statements lies most of the back-and-forth that’s occurred on this blog over the years concerning the value and role of social media for wineries. Many of my colleague bloggers have tended to the position in #1: Wineries have to become more socially engaged by telling their stories and engaging consumers, or else they risk being irrelevant. My position has veered more towards #2. If everybody is Facebooking, tweeting, instagramming, etc., all the time, then it all tends to cancel everything out. Donaton, the writer, calls this conundrum “questions that need to be addressed,” which is fair enough. It means we have to continue to have the conversation, even if it sometimes leads nowhere. In the meantime, Donaton writes, “brand storytelling is an effective weapon [that can] establish rituals, showcase product benefits and generate excitement.”
Problem is, if everyone has a story (and everyone does), then distinguishing your particular story becomes less and less possible, to the vanishing point. You really have to start splitting hairs. If Bill loves puppies, then his competitor, Don, has to love crippled puppies rescued from disasters. If Tammy’s crochets are in the St. Helena Library, then Bill’s wife, Tina, has to have an installation piece in the Louvre. (Actually, that would be a pretty good story!)
There have been some good recent examples of storytelling. The Envolve guys leapfrogged on Ben Flajnik’s star turn on “The Bachelor” to tell their story. They got tons of publicity, all of it free, but it remains to be seen if that has legs. As Donaton suggests in his column, the consumer’s attention span gets shorter all the time. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has turned into 15 seconds on a tweet.
Storytelling has its place, but whenever you hear someone talking it up, look for their agenda. Little wineries such as Failla or Saxum have great stories, but journalists didn’t get around to writing about them until they [the wineries] proved themselves by establishing quality. People tend to forget that quality must precede the story. You can tell a story about a mediocre winery and the winery will still be mediocre. Conversely, every story about a great winery is a great story.
After all the sturm und drang about the “print is dead” predictions of 2008-2010, we learn now that “magazines made from paper-and-ink are sticking around.”
I was sent this link to Crain’s New York Business by someone who has an interest in print magazines sticking around, Wine Enthusiast’s publisher, Adam Strum.
Turns out, more print magazines are being launched this year than last, and fewer are going out of business. In fact, in a way, the health of print magazines parallels that of the housing market. Foreclosures are down in much of the country, as the market bounces back to pre-Recession levels.
When I began blogging, in the Spring of 2008, predictions of The Death of Print were widespread. And certainly, these prognosticators of gloom found plenty of evidence to support their claim. Newspapers were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. There were rumors the New York Times would close, the San Francisco Chronicle would go out of business, the Boston Globe was doomed.
Magazines experienced the same rebound effect. Between January, 2008–just as the Recession was taking hold, although most Americans weren’t yet aware of it–and January, 2009, when it hit with a vengeance, ad pages in U.S. magazines plunged 28%.
While it’s true that advertising has yet to reach its pre-Recession levels, media outlets report that total U.S. ad spending in magazines increased anywhere from 2.1%-2.6% in the first quarter of 2012, hinting at a steady albeit slow recovery.
I said in 2008 and 2009 that it was the Recession that was hurting magazines, not some inherent historical switch away from print. I’ll say it again today. If there’d been no Recession, print magazines would have done just fine. But there was a Recession. Advertising (which accounts for the vast majority of a magazine’s revenues) fell off the cliff, and so the magazines struggled. Certain people, mainly bloggers, saw this struggle and confused it for The Death of Print. Problem was, it just wasn’t so.
Now we see that magazines–the better ones, anyway–are springing back. That doesn’t mean, and I’m not saying, that print will survive the next ten years. There are a lot of problems with using paper to publish magazines, not the least of which is (from the publisher’s point of view) the costs of paper and shipping. It may well be that U.S. magazines someday will migrate away from paper to some sort of tablet or other device we can’t even imagine.
Savvy publishers already are anticipating that day and are planning accordingly. But whenever it happens, it’s still far enough away that we can predict with some confidence that print magazines that are successful today will remain successful into the 2020s, as long as they stay smart and current. “We’re going to have print until people work out the monetization of digital,” said an analyst quoted in the Crain’s article. Well, we’re no closer to the monetization of digital than we were in 2012, and in some ways we’re even further away. I don’t see that logjam breaking anytime soon, and the longer it takes, the longer print will stick around.
Here’s an interesting report, from our very own University of California at Berkeley, as reported in the San Francisco Business Times: “[G]ood online reviews on Yelp do indeed bring in more customers.” Specifically, “a half star rating increase (1 to 5 scale) meant a 19 percent greater likelihood that a restaurant’s seats would fill up during peak hours.”
The researchers did not have an explanation for this phenomenon (which actually has some important limits, which I’ll get to in a minute), but I do. Now, I’m one of those people who likes and depends on restaurant reviews. We have a ton of restaurants here in the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley area, of all types, at all price levels, from just about every ethnicity in the world. So it can be confusing and intimidating to decide on a new place to eat. Under the circumstances, I’ll often turn to two sources for recommendations: Yelp, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s great restaurant reviewer, Michael Bauer. A bunch of great Yelp reviews is enough to persuade me to try someplace out, while a single Bauer “must eat there” does the same thing.
I think that’s the reason why Yelp reviews work: people, like me, believe in peer recommendations (such as Yelp’s) and also in expert reccos (such as Michael Bauer’s). Of course, just 1 or 2 glowing peer reccos for a particular place won’t work for me (or anyone else, I should think), because they could always be from the owner’s cousin and mother. And 1 or 2 glowing reviews won’t do it at all, if they’re negated by 6 or 7 “worst experience of my life,” “would never go back there,” “AVOID AT ALL COSTS!”
But one great Michael Bauer review will send me to the joint. I guess, to my way of thinking, there is an emerging parity between expert reviews, on the one hand, and peer reviews, on the other, but that parity only works if the peer reviews (such as Yelp’s) are overwhelmingly positive. So Michael Bauer isn’t going to have to look for a new job anytime soon. When it comes to food, people still depend on restaurant critics. (At least, in a foodie town like Ess Eff.)
I mentioned above that the U.C. Berkeley study had important limits:
(1) “For restaurants with Michelin stars, for example, the Yelp reviews were irrelevant.”
(2) “Restaurants that were rated in popular guidebooks or newspaper rankings got less of a Yelp bump. They ‘did not see a statistically significant effect from the Yelp rankings,’ the economists said.”
Let’s take (2) first. This just confirms my own reasoning: I’ll take Michael Bauer over Yelp 95% of the time. Even if there were positive Yelp reviews, one critical Bauer review canceled them out. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe experience counts over simple enthusiasm (such as the type you see on Yelp and, for that matter, on “Check, Please!).
As for (1), my hunch is that the kind of people who review restaurants on Yelp probably don’t frequent Michelin restaurants. Why not? They’re too expensive; the people who eat at French Laundry, Coi and Benu are not likely to post their experiences on Yelp, and the people who are considering eating at French Laundry, Coi and Benu are not turning to Yelp for advice.
You just knew I was going to make a connection to wine reviewing, didn’t you? Well, I am, and here it is: Inexpensive wines are more likely to see spikes in sales from online social media sources, such as blogs and Twitter. Expensive wines are not, because the kind of people who can afford them don’t blog or tweet, and if someone has enough money to buy, say, Shafer Hillside Select ($230 for the just released 2008), they couldn’t care less what some blogger has to say.
However, that well-heeled person considering buying the Shafer does care what the Michael Bauer-equivalent of the wine critic has to say about it. I’m not saying who that equivalent is (wouldn’t be prudent, not opening that can of worms), but I’m reviewing the ‘08 Hillside Select tomorrow, and if I give it a good score, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has an impact on demand.
As social media migrates towards images and away from words, what are the implications for wineries?
We’ve all seen how the rise of photo sharing sites such as Instagram and Pinterest are the breakouts for 2012. I first noticed it earlier this year, when some of my young hip friends here in Oaktown, who really hadn’t been into social media very much (in fact, they took a disdainful attitude toward it, because everyone was doing it), fell hard and fast for photo sharing.
You always could put pictures up on Facebook and then of course YouTube’s been around for a while. But the visual aspect of Facebook seemed secondary to the written content, at least at first. People seemed to use it more for comments. But Facebook seems like it’s trending more toward images. Maybe it’s because, as time passes and Facebook users get more and more “friends,” it’s harder to keep up with a constantly shifting feed, so that we’re more likely, when scrolling through, to stop at an interesting photo than to actually read everybody’s posts (not to mention everyone else’s comments on the posts!).
And now we have Instagram and Pinterest. They seem to represent social media’s next frontier, which means, of course, that businesses (and the consultants who advise them) are eager to exploit the phenomenon. What does this shift toward the visual mean for companies, including wineries?
Well, if your company is selling something with visual appeal (designer fashions, handbags, wallpaper, hotels), it means you can advertise on a potentially huge scale for virtually no cost. That’s the point this article, from Fast Company, makes. “[A] picture really is worth a thousand words,” it says, pointing out that, “as humans became more pressed for time and content became more infinite…we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication.”
I suppose that’s true, but we have to define the difference between humans casually interfacing through social media (including photo sharing sites), and the much more complex relationship between buyers and sellers. In the former, two people (who may or may not actually know each other) “share” an experience momentarily. For example, I may put up a cute photo of Gus. That’s usually bound to generate a bunch of “likes” and even a couple “Awww” comments. Nobody is going to take more than 5 seconds on a picture of Gus, though; they’re onto the next thing, and they don’t expect me to reply to their “like” or their comment. That’s the casual side of photo sharing.
But the buyer-seller relationship is vastly different. The seller isn’t simply putting something online casually, on the spur of the moment, because he thinks it’s interesting or cute or noteworthy. The seller is advertising, and his motive is to interest the buyer to reply, either by making a purchase at that time, or by remembering the brand, in the hope that the buyer will make a purchase at a later date.
In this, images can be powerful. If I’m looking for shoes, a hotel to stay at for my vacation, locally made bluejeans–anything at all that has a visual aspect to it–a picture really is worth 1,000 words. In fact I wouldn’t dream of making a hotel reservation without first checking pictures of the rooms, the restaurant, the beach. If they don’t have good pictures, they’re not getting my business.
Wineries, on the other hand, are not selling things with a visual component. Yes, the appearance of the bottle and label are important, and wineries are well advised to pay attention to them (most, in fact, do). But I don’t believe consumers are going to buy a bottle of wine based on the bottle’s appearance. So if we’re now “skipping words altogether,” then how can a winery possibly communicate its message? Consumers want information that can’t be provided in a photo: the cost, some knowledge of the wine’s back-story, its ownership, where the grapes are from, what kinds of foods does it go with, what does it taste like? In this, wine is data-driven, not image-driven. Consumers need information beyond what a photo, no matter how beautiful, can provide.
What they need, in order to close the deal, is assurance.
- that particular wine will improve their lives
- that particular wine will please and delight them and the people with whom they share it
- that particular wine has been approved by trustworthy people who have already had it and loved it
Without these forms of assurance, consumers are far less likely to buy things, especially something discretionary like a bottle of wine.
The end result is that, while it can’t hurt for wineries to jump on the photo sharing train, I don’t think this new shift to the visual is any more of a game changer for wineries than blogs, Twitter or Facebook have been. If the objective is sharing that leads to viral marketing, we have to face the fact that social media so far has been a disappointment for the wine industry. While there have been exceptions (Rodney Strong’s Rockaway project, A Really Goode Job), they’ve been transient in their effects. The wine industry has yet to find the killer app for social media. Let the search continue. And, please don’t call me a social media hater just because I point out the obvious!
is sitting through another panel on “how to monetize your wine blog.” It just happened again–it’s baack–at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (which I did not attend).
Personally, I’d prefer to be covered in honey and eaten alive by red ants.
How do I know that the WBC monetization panel was boring if I wasn’t there? Because some things are knowable in themselves. I know the sun is shining someplace even though right now Oakland is covered in fog. I know that Jennifer Anniston’s marriage will not last, if it even happens. And I know that the topic of monetizing a wine blog is contentlessly bankrupt. There just isn’t anything more to be said about it, so let’s stop pretending it’s somehow worth an hour of anyone’s time.
Actually, I do have an inkling of what happened at the WBC monetization panel because the great Joe Roberts put up this video of what he said there. I watched and listened. Joe has been exploring the Terra Incognita of the monetization waters like Columbus sailing the ocean sea, in search of new worlds and new riches. He is going where no man has gone before (well, except for Gary Vaynerchuk). Joe’s advice, if I may be so bold as to summarize it, is two-fold: You can monetize your blog by taking advertising, but this will always be limited, because wine blogs will always have limited audiences and so the pay won’t be all that great.
Or you can “monetize yourself.” Now we get to the nugget of making money. ”Be your awesome self. People will start to call you. Producers will ask you to create content on their sites…The more unique your voice, the more likely you are to get those calls and get some of those gigs and charge a higher rate.” Let’s not forget speaking fees as well.
I call this the Paris Hilton or Kardashian phenomenon: Be famous for being famous. (Gary V. pioneered this too.) Your talent, such as it is, consists in the ability to become known. Then it builds on itself. Once you’re known, you become knowner. People call you up, not particularly for your wine expertise, but because they want you to tell them how you became famous, and so you build a lecture series based on…how to become known! Or how to use the tools of SEO to optimize traffic on your blog…which makes you even more known.
Well, this certainly wasn’t how wine writers got known in the past. But who am I to judge? We’re living in new times, which require, I’m told, new tools. I’m trying to master those tools myself. So I take my hat off to Joe Roberts. Really, I do. He said two years ago he was going to make it in this racket and he seems to be doing it. Well done, Joe.
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And speaking of social media, let’s headline this part:
Do you give more than you receive?
The key to success in the social media sphere, it turns out, is the same as it’s always been, from the Bible to the Golden Rule to the Beatles (“the love you take is equal to the love you make”):
His theory is that “authenticity”–that Holy Grail of social media–“comes more from giving, not getting.” If you’re just a consumer, feeding off other people’s tweets, posts and comments instead of giving your followers, readers and friends more content than you’re consuming, then you’ll never “get” social media or succeed at it.
I’ve been accused in certain circles of not “getting” social media, so this message hit me, and made me think. At first I was guilt-struck: Gee, maybe I am consuming more than I’m producing, which would make me a social media parasite.
But then I realized how much I’m actively tweeting–several times a day–and posting to Facebook–ditto–and then there’s this little blog (give ‘til it hurts), and I thought, Just how much more am I supposed to give?
Question: When it comes to social media, how do you know if you’re giving enough?
Mr. Deep (as I call him, because he calls me Mr. Steve), the young (21) guy who works at my local UPS Store, is a YouTube junky. Everytime I go in there, he’s grinning about some video he found, or that one of his friends sent him. Most recently, it was of an Indian (subcontinent) guy standing on top of a train who grasped an overhead electrical wire and then went up in a flash and a puff of smoke, falling onto the platform below, quite dead. It was shocking, but illustrates the fact that Deep and his friends’ favorite pastime is surfing YouTube, then sharing the things they find cool with each other.
YouTube’s popularity with Deep’s generation surprised me. So it wasn’t all that shocking to hear, over the weekend, that “YouTube, the Google-owned video sharing website, has become a major platform around the world for news,” as an online publication reports on a Pew Research Centre study. Of course, we all knew that breaking events can go viral on YouTube, especially when they have a dramatic visual component: the Japan tsunami, the uprising in Tahrir Square. But there apparently are tens, maybe hundreds of millions of Deeps around the world who don’t read newspapers or watch news on T.V. or listen to news on the radio or get news in any of the traditional ways. (I asked Deep if he and his friends have any news sources, and he said no, “because it’s all made up.”) Instead, they surf YouTube. Did you know that according to Pew, YouTube “is now the third most visited destination online, behind only Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook.”
That fact hasn’t evaded the attention of people interested in knowing what eyeballs are looking at these days. When eyeballs (or, rather, ear drums) started listening to radio, advertising dollars flowed there. When eyeballs looked at magazines and newspapers, ad dollars flowed there. When eyeballs turned to T.V., ad dollars poured in, in unprecedented amounts. Now, eyeballs are looking online. We know (those of us who follow this stuff) that the challenge for online content providers has been to figure out how to lure those ad dollars to their sites. In this, they’ve been less than successful.
However, the existence of people like Deep proves that there’s value on Youtube beyond generating revenue–namely, branding. Kerrin Sheldon, founder of a site called Humanity.TV, has written an interesting article for fastcompany.com, in which his two salient points are, (1) “online video will soon dominate your time spent on the web,” and (2) “the next 5-10 years will be huge for video marketing online.” He argues that marketers should help their clients master the art of posting videos (which is not terribly difficult, as the technology gets easier to use), instead of relying on the written aspects of twitter, Facebook and blogs. (One picture, as always, is worth a thousand words.) The hope of marketers, of course, is that a video will go viral, launching the product or service to overnight stardom.
But will it? Mr. Deep and his friends enjoy finding videos that were not “produced”, but those where the “videographers” just randomly stumbled across cool stuff on their iPhones or whatever. Can Deep, who doesn’t trust anything corporate, be persuaded to like a produced advertisement? That would entail him overcoming his resistance to being manipulated. (Of course, he would have to know that the video was produced.) It may never be possible for a produced video ever to attain the level of surprise, amazement and delight achieved by a truly accidental great video, which calls this whole issue of YouTube marketing into question.