A Response to Steve Heimoff: Considering his Original Question
Steve Heimoff asks, what are the implications for wineries as social media shifts away from words, more towards images?
I want to take up Heimoff’s ideas on this topic in order to consider briefly how wineries can leverage the power of images for their own marketing goals. To do so, I’ll first consider aspects of Heimoff’s account, then show where I think his analysis points to ways we can go further in recognizing the power of images.
click on comic to enlarge
In his post from September 5, Steve Heimoff considers what he sees as the shift in social media from primarily word based communication towards more visual based sharing. As Heimoff describes it, social media forms such as Facebook (and I assume also blogs) had initially been more text driven, but recently have changed to become much more about image sharing. This shifting phenomenon Heimoff sees repeated too via sites like Pinterest and Instagram.
In describing the movement from words to images, Heimoff wants to ask whether the change will impact wineries marketing plans, and whether visual based forms of social media can really help wineries’ wine sales at all.
To consider the question, Heimoff first asks whether or not any particular product being sold is in itself a visual product. As I read Heimoff’s post, the idea here is that if a product is primarily visual (like fashion, or art, as examples), then it should be easier to sell that product via visual imagery (I don’t think this is at all an obvious claim, but I’m going to ignore that here to focus instead on a different argument). To clarify, claiming a product is primarily visual does not foreclose the possibility it is also delivering other ideas, it is just asking what the driving aspects of a product are. So, as a different example, while a novel might need smart design on the book cover (a visual element), the value of the novel itself is more primarily found in the ideas and story within the novel (the text). His point in exploring this idea is to state that wineries’ apparent product (that is, wine) is not something that is primarily visual. So, in other words, the label of the wine may be relevant to how a consumer responds initially to a wine, like the cover design of a book. But wine is not primarily about the label on the bottle, it is more importantly about the wine inside the bottle. As the argument goes, since wine is, apparently, not a visual product it will not readily sell via visual-dominated marketing or visual-dominated social media presentation.
If wine is not a product with an importantly visual element, what is it? According to Heimoff, wine is not a product with image-driven sales (like Lanvin’s hard to walk in but still really gorgeous high heels might be), but is instead an item dependent on data for sales. In Heimoff’s view, to readily purchase wine consumers need data on the wine not just a picture of a bottle. Here Heimoff considers the effect of something like the image of a cute dog on a consumer. The dog may trigger an “Awww” response, as he puts it, but in his view triggering that feeling isn’t doing the work of building a relationship with the person that happens to think the dog is cute. When considering what kind of images a winery might post online he doesn’t go far beyond the possibility of an image of their wine bottle, or perhaps of their winery. At that level of sophistication, it seems easy to agree with Heimoff that a picture of a bottle of wine isn’t doing a lot to deliver data to a consumer. The bottle of wine photo doesn’t do a lot to give consumers data they may want.
What data does Heimoff see as relevant? The relevant data, according to his account, includes information like, a wines’ grape types, its flavor profile, the cost of the wine, and perhaps the origin of the grapes, but as he describes it what that data offers is a kind of consumer assurance of the role the wine will play in the consumers’ life–that is, whether they’ll like it. The point Heimoff wants to make, however, is that what wineries are trying to do through this data and assurance combo is build a relationship with consumers, a relationship that over time will help sales.
Heimoff has more to say on the subject than just these points, and I certainly recommend reading his post directly. You can find it here: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2012/09/05/as-social-media-migrates-towards-images-and-away-from-words-what-are-the-implications-for-wineries/
However, what I’d like to respond to is Heimoff’s analysis of the word versus image dichotomy and his implicit assumption that the imagery operating in social media is not effectively enough delivering the data consumers want and/or need. In doing this I want to assume that Heimoff is right about the point that consumers need or want data as a way to understand what they are buying, though I think what we mean by data could be further considered. I also want to agree with him in the idea that wineries need or want to build relationships with consumers as a way of supporting sales. I’m going to assume that effective marketing is partially about building such relationships (though I think it’s also about triggering a spontaneous purchase from a consumer). Where I’m going to try and push Heimoff’s account further is in considering how the visual can actually work to build this relationship and share the data Heimoff is looking for.
A Response to Steve Heimoff: The Power of Images, and the Role of Marketing
Let’s go ahead and assume Heimoff is right that social media has become far more visually driven, and from that perspective reconsider his question. What is the implication for wineries?
click on comic to enlarge
Heimoff is right. Images operate differently than text does in making contact with a consumer. Where Heimoff’s account can push further, however, is in his consideration of what imagery has the power to do.
People involved in marketing, as wineries certainly are, can never under estimate the importance or power of the visual in selling their product, whatever that product happens to be. To put it another way, marketing is generally dependent on visual elements, and has been since before the introduction of social media, or even print media. Signs and billboards are a simple example of our dependence on the visual for quickly delivering a consumer response. With print media, the introduction of print advertising and associated simple imagery can be seen. In social media the potential marketing for the visual expands to include moveable icons, or even videos. Behind each of these forms is the presentation of a kind of brand through which a company, person, or product builds their longer term relationship (or not) with consumers. In each case, the visual elements act to give consumers at least two things, which I’ll name in a moment.
The challenge to Heimoff’s account rests in his implicit assumption of text and imagery being a simple dichotomy. In this view, words operate to deliver information as text, on the one hand, and images act like the image of the dog I quickly think is cute, or of the ever-enticing Lanvin shoe I can’t stop thinking about (god, I love the combination of leather, a stiletto, and a smart ankle cuff), on the other. That is, from this perspective, images are not assumed to deliver information in the same way that text does.
click on comic to enlarge
Here’s the point: the sort of data communication that Heimoff is looking for, and assumes will build a relationship with consumers for wineries is possible through visual forms. The visual turn in social media has profound implications for wineries. That is, visual marketing can be effective when it accomplishes either of the following two goals (and I’m sure there are other potential goals to seek here too. I’m choosing to focus on these two simply to make the point that the visual is thoroughly relevant for wineries).
First of all, it is possible for images to either implicitly or explicitly deliver information that lets consumers know if they want the product or not. In the case of wine, one example occurs by sharing tasting notes through visual elements rather than only textual ones. The visual can also be blended with text. The comics I have been imbedding in this post are an example of a way to do this. The feedback I’ve received from readers, both general consumers, and consumers from within the wine industry, is that these wine comics make the flavor profile of the wine, and therefore the experience of drinking it, more accessible than a simple listing of taste components. Even if in a bare sense the information presented through the comic is remarkably similar when listed out as mere descriptors to the information given in a textual tasting note, the shift from textual to visual presentation turns out to be important. That is, the form of presentation of information has a significant impact on the reader, and information can be delivered in visual form. The reality of such impact I believe reaches to the second possible way to harness the power of visual imagery.
The feeling response Heimoff points to through his example of the cute dog picture is, I believe, important. Marketing has the power to trigger spontaneous purchases, or sudden interest, as well as develop longer term buying relationships with consumers. Understanding that imagery doesn’t just deliver information but also triggers feelings that matter, with those feelings leading to choices people make, including choices of what to buy, is foundational to marketing and has been since long before the advent of social media.
click on comic to enlarge: this comic drawn for Talia “I’ll Swirl Anything” Baiocchi
In this way, the apparent shift in social media to focusing on the visual is something that has profound implications for wineries, but also too for all of us, as we strive to re-imagine the ways we communicate with each other, visually or otherwise.
Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews began in mid-2011 as a primarily comics based wine blog, and has expanded to include more writing, and also photography. The comics shown throughout this post are just a few examples of images that have previously appeared as a wine review feature throughout this blog, and are all hand drawn by Ms Wakawaka herself.
Thank you to Steve Heimoff for his post.
Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.
Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.