Category Marketing Considerations

The Question of Authority in the Context of Social Media, with a quick nod at democracy

A Shift in the Question of Authority: A Response to Steve Heimoff

In his blog post yesterday, “What Today’s Social Media Means for Tomorrow’s Wine Industry,” Steve Heimoff follows a meandering trail to ultimately claim we cannot predict the impact that social media today will have on wine purchasing tomorrow. Having stated the future is unpredictable (he does not argue for this though he makes a lot of oblique references to splash zone moments of history along the way), Heimoff then claims wineries should be skeptical. I take it Heimoff means to direct his recommended skepticism at the ultimate persuasive power of social media, and at its projected longevity.

The comments’ section of the post furthers the exploration, with one of the more interesting aspects being responses from Paul Mabray, the Chief Strategy Officer and founder of VinTank, a social media tracking application for wineries and wine professionals. Mabray engages with Heimoff, challenging him to recognize the power that the internet has had in shutting down brick-and-mortar businesses unable to adjust to new demand. Examples named include book, movie, music, and electronics retailers, and (more poignantly for someone like me) a plethora of newspapers and magazines.

A later comment from Mabray points out that VinTank tracks an impressive number of online conversations daily–around two million–and through those digital instances VinTank calculates trends, and tracks their changes over time. In fact, it is possible right now to stop reading this blog post and instead go to VinTank’s site to read their Social Media Index for today’s most discussed wineries and wine labels. Via this information, VinTank follows which wines or wine types are hottest right now, which were hot but are now cooling, which are increasing in hotness, and who the hell is spreading this hotness around. The point is, VinTank tracks the peaks, valleys, and hikes between on the wine trail of the social media landscape.

Why Heimoff’s Response Matters

Heimoff however resists this point and offers one of two interesting moments from the post as a whole. (I’ll give you the second interesting moment later.) Here’s how Heimoff responds: “Paul: Two million conversations a day sound to me like babble.” That is NOT the interesting part. That is him simply refusing to admit that VInTank uses smart algorithms. This is: “What is to break through and make sense? Authority. Where does authority come from? That is the question.”

In asking where authority comes from, Heimoff has inadvertently opened the door to considering the effects of our society’s moves from print to online media. Considering the answer also happens to be precisely what undermines Heimoff’s resistance to Mabray’s point, as well as the skepticism he recommends to wineries.

In order to answer Heimoff’s question about authority we have to look at the contrast between the world of print media and the diversification of influence.

The Print Media Authority Model

In the print media model, wine critics released reviews of wines, and consumers received those scores via print publications. Reviews came out once a week, for example, in newspapers, or once a month in wine magazines. The conversation was primarily uni-directional. It was possible, surely, to write a letter to the editor in response, and a few of those letters were even reprinted a handful at a time in most publications.

However, even allowing for letters to the editor, in print media, critics essentially announced their views, and then the next week or month announced their views on newer wines. There were a limited number of positions for wine critic open throughout the world. Leaders of the industry were eventually known by name, and celebrated for their influence not only on consumer perception but economic reality. They were not only named authorities in wine, they were deemed so by consumer pocket books. That meant that importers and distributors were also influenced by such figures.

Authority as Singular

The point is, within the print media model, sources of authority were singular and easily identifiable. Under the Robert Parker hey-day it was possible to track direct correlations between announcements of 100-point scores, and increase in wine sales for those 100-point wines.

The advantages of the old print media model of authority are clear. It’s easy to know exactly who the influencers are. No one questions if Robert Parker sold wine. They argue about whether or not they like the effect it had on the world of wine.

So how’s it work now?

The Blindness of a Stuck Schema

Well, the truth is, it’s hard for a lot of us to see that authority models even work at all now.

The trouble with social media is it doesn’t fit the old model of authority, which really comes down to a question of influence. Figures like Robert Parker influenced people’s spending habits on wine. Because such authority figures were so few, their social influence could be tracked easily via spike (or not) in wine sales after the release of any particular person’s review.

The trouble is the old model was so damned easy to track — it was clear who the influencers were — that many of us are still hooked on that way of thinking. When we believe that what influence amounts to is something as straightforward as an obvious and immediate or singular spike in wine sales, then its hard for us to even recognize other forms of influence as they happen. So hard in fact that we can even be standing in the midst of two million examples, and still not see them. This is what psychologists call having a stuck schema.

The Diversified Model of Authority

I take it that Mabray’s point was that the two million conversations a day that VinTank tracks show people really are talking about and drinking wine. Part of the reason this matters is because these people are engaging with each other.

The print media world has essentially caved in from fifteen years ago. People aren’t looking to such publications today, and instead more often track a diversified range of sources online. The print media sources that have survived, have mostly done so by integrating an online engagement component. So, print media, and a new tradition of online news sources do exist, and have influence, however, in a wholly new expression from before. The further truth is many people are not reading traditional online news sources at all, as much as just following Twitter, or reading some blogs, or keeping up on Instagram.

So, what’s another thing that has changed in the last fifteen years? The volume of wine sales in the United States. The numbers have greatly increased. However, people are making buying decisions differently now.

And that’s where Heimoff’s second interesting moment comes in.

Within Heimoff’s hand waving of ideas, he references (though not by proper citation) a recent interview of Jancis Robinson done by David White in which she celebrates the “democratization of wine.”

In the interview, Robinson emphasizes the positive force of consumers having their own voice and ability to engage with overt wine critics directly. The implied contrast she draws is with the days of print media when there was little to no interaction with wine critics.

Heimoff reveals his resistance to recognizing the new model of authority here in his response to Robinson’s comment. He describes her appreciation of the democratic shift as “a critic… going over to that side of the fence.” In doing so, Heimoff relies upon a false dichotomy as if critics sit on one side, and those they influence on the other–a set-up that (1) sounds a lot like a rigid version of the old Print Model of Authority, and (2) denies the reality that someone like Heimoff, or Robinson are also influenced.

But what is the democratization of wine? Let’s look first just at democracy.

A Short Point About Democracy

Democracy, to put it simply, comes from the Greek meaning “people power.” Sources of authority are generated by the people, usually with certain people having stronger leadership roles than others. Some of these leaders are elected through what we think of as traditional voting mechanisms, but other times it’s just that a person has charisma and a lot of folks listen to their opinion. In other words, the democratization of power moves authority from a few persistent leaders that pronounce the rules, to a more dynamic engagement of people with each other and their leaders both.

Democracy in Wine: There Are Still Influencers

VinTank has something to teach us about what democracy in wine looks like.

VinTank is able to track various wine’s social media index, as I mentioned before, which is an analysis of a winery’s level of engagement with others online. The thing is, for a wine’s social media index to be high it can’t just be online popular people talking about the wine. More engagement is reflective of interaction with more people, not a few pre-chosen ones.

When you’re signed into VinTank itself you can also check-in on particular social media users to see how regularly they’re engaged with online. Bloggers like 1WineDude regularly pop up as one of the most engaged with figures in wine writing online. Wine critics like Jancis Robinson juggles influence via print and online media with widely respected wine books, but also a pretty good social media index as well.

But wine conversation in social media is about far more than wine writers. Thanks to social media, winemakers and wineries are able to speak for themselves. Winemaker celebrity Randall Grahm has more followers than the city of Anchorage, Alaska has residents. Labels like Dirty & Rowdy launched to the pages of The New York Times within a year of their first release thanks in no small part to the cherubic liveliness and charm of their winemaker, Hardy Wallace, online. Their releases have instantaneously sold out, however, largely thanks to the D&R teams work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and their blog.

Greater than these examples of lead influencers in wine, however, more pedestrian examples show what diversifying influence really amounts to.

I posted on Facebook earlier today that I was eating oysters and in short order someone asked what wine I drank with them. A friend of mine is traveling soon to Denver and hopes to find champagne there, so I messaged three friends of mine on Facebook about wine shops in Denver. The next thing I knew two tweets had gone out to people I’ve never heard of asking their recommendation. When I hear back, and tell my friend, she’s going to shop there. These sorts of lightning fast conversations happen two million a day online and they move wine.

The old model expects that when one person speaks, that is, the right person, cases of wine fly out the door and a wine sells out. In this perspective, “breaking through” two million voices is necessary because one voice is wanted as a clear beckon of authority. The thing is, in the old model, those two million voices had little opportunity to speak.

The diversified model, however, recognizes that no one person has such singular, consistent influence today. Instead, influence is spread like a grassroots movement through the communication and action of a large number of individual people. When any one person speaks with people that value their opinion, some wine will sell, and that with two million conversations a day how much and what might not be predictable, but it’s still certain.

The democratization of wine is a diversification of influence, and also of our choices. Wineries should be skeptical but skeptical of their own practices. Through social media they’ve been invited to engage.

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To read Steve Heimoff’s post: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2013/11/11/what-todays-social-media-means-for-tomorrows-wine-industry/

To read David White’s interview with Jancis Robinson: http://www.terroirist.com/2013/10/a-conversation-with-jancis-robinson/

To read David White’s account of the implications of his interview with Jancis Robinson: http://palatepress.com/2013/10/wine/a-consumer-revolution-in-wine/

To check out VinTank: http://www.vintank.com/

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Post-edit: 1WineDude has since delivered a response to this general discussion. You can read it here: http://www.1winedude.com/why-social-media-advice-from-traditional-wine-media-is-almost-always-wrong/

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Thank you to Katherine Yelle and Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Recognizing Consumers, Predicting the Future: A Conversation with Sergio Hormazabal, Vina Ventisquero

A Conversation with Sergio Hormazábal

Traveling in Chile we were able to share lunch with the President of the Chilean Association of Winemakers, Asociación de Ingenieros Agrónomos Enólogos de Chile, and winemaker for Viña Ventisquero, Sergio Hormazábal. Working for Viña Ventisquero, Hormazábal is responsible specifically for their Root: 1 brand. Hormazábal advocates for the quality of Chilean wine, noting that the goal rests in encouraging consumer desire as quality is there and continues to grow. We asked him to express his views on the idea of making wines for the consumer. Following are some of the thoughts Hormazábal had to share.

Sergio Hormazabal

Sergio Hormazabal, president, Asociación de Ingenieros Agrónomos Enólogos de Chile, and winemaker, Viña Ventisquero, climbing the steep slopes of Apalta in the back of a truck

“People talk about making the wine the consumer wants. To me talking about the consumer is like trying to capture the rainbow. Who are you talking about? If you want to talk about the consumer, show me faces and names.

“People like to look at statistics to predict the future. This is always a mistake. If you look at statistics you are always looking in the mirror to the past, to what is behind you.

“How to predict what will sell? What is the future? It is very complicated but I think the only way is not to look at the numbers but instead to be in places and talk with people. You do not experience the future through the numbers but by being in a place, by talking to people, by looking at the street to see what’s there. It is not scientific. It is a feeling. But you need time in the street, in a place to catch a hint of what is to come.

“We talk as if people know already what they want. People do not always know what they want. Instead, give them a taste of something. They like it? A moment before they had not had it. They did not know they would like it.”

***
Thank you to Sergio Hormazábal.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Growing Delectable: Expanding communication through VinTank

A Look at the Delectable-VinTank Exclusive Partnership

Delectable Screen Shot

a screen shot of Delectable 3.0s new Regions’ tracking

In a development announced just today (Wednesday, October 16, 2013), Delectable has partnered with VinTank. The partnership is exclusive for both companies, effectively pumping VinTank’s massive social media capabilities through the Delectable Application.

Delectable is known primarily as a wine app available for iPhone users in which they can record, and share the wines they’ve been drinking, as well as follow others in the worldwide community. With their recent 3.0 upgrade, the app has also integrated an exciting regional mapping system, and a wine recommendation system. The synchronicity of Delectable’s 3.0 release with the iPhone 7.0 upgrade also expanded the International user base.

VinTank is known as a well established tool for wineries to track social media. When using VInTank, wineries receive a signal that someone is talking about them, letting them know what is said, and who they are. Perhaps most importantly, via the VinTank platform, those wineries are then also able to respond directly through the chatter to say thank you to a consumer for drinking their wine. As VinTank CEO, Paul Mabray, explains, “we’re working to make wineries more human and engaging by helping to connect the consumer with who is behind the bottle, to build a relationship.” The platform makes connection between wineries and consumers easier.

VinTank already tracks wine engagement through the social media channels of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and FourSquare. The new partnership makes Delectable the only wine app with such a high level of connection, treated at a similar level as Twitter or Four Square within VinTank’s platform. Delectable’s program is currently only available for iPhone users. However, with VinTank, wineries are able to comment within Delectable from outside the Delectable system, making it possible for Android (for example) users to also engage.

The partnership for Delectable with VinTank, then, deepens the connectivity between winery and consumer in the Delectable framework as well. Winemakers have already been using the application, thereby sharing their wine drinking experiences with an interested consumer audience. With the new partnership, those same winemakers are now able to more readily interact with consumers that are drinking their wine.

In this context, part of what is significant about Delectable is the self-selected nature of the app. People downloading a wine only application to use on their iPhones have already crossed a threshold of engagement with wine that isn’t obvious through the other social media channels. Delectable is thereby giving VinTank customers the highest level of social media relevance–already known-to-be wine lovers.

From the consumer perspective, VinTank’s access to Delectable makes contact with the producers of the wines they love more possible. As Delectable CEO, Alex Fishman, explains, “we’re trying to develop interaction [with winemakers and producers] for people that can’t travel around the world meeting with them directly.” Delectable users continue with the app in the same way they already have but behind the scenes the scale of engagement has increased via VinTank by giving wineries easier and better access.

As Fishman describes, “the single most exciting project for us, from the beginning, is deepening the connections between consumers and producers.”

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More on Delectable 3.0 in the next couple weeks.

Full disclosure: I use Delectable.

***

Thank you Alex Fishman, Julia Weinberg, and Dan Fredman.

Thank you to Paul Mabray.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Being Delectable: How a Data Guru, and Entertainment Engineer Went Deep Into Wine

Building Delectable: Alex Fishman and Aaron Vanderbeek Brainstorm

“What Can We Do To Make the World a More Delicious Place? The conversation started over breakfast in May a year ago, at Gramercy Park, in New York City. Alex Fishman had just returned from half a year working in Dubai, and his long time friend, Aaron Vanderbeek, just happened to be visiting the city on vacation from San Francisco.

Alex Fishman: How Big Data Operates Behind Learning & Loving Wine

Alex Fishman, Delectable co-founder, enjoying life on the go

Not all that familiar with wine at the time, Alex Fishman and his girlfriend had happened upon a bottle in the Dubai duty free shop that they enjoyed. They wanted to remember the wine to purchase again later, but reading the label to sort out the basic information–producer, type, vintage–was daunting. How could they learn more about a wine, if it was hard just to identify what wine they’d enjoyed? It occurred to Fishman that other consumers likely have similar trouble. He was struck with the challenge of how to make it easier.

Fishman’s work history has sorted its way through the realm of big data. In illustrating the reality of such work, he references the success of Paypal. Fishman explains that what that company did better than any other ecommerce money exchange site at its inception (Paypal got started in the late 90s, becoming a subsidary of Ebay in 2002) was fight and prevent online fraud. At the time Paypal started, numerous online money exchange companies were in operation. The difference was that while other exchange sites relied on artificial intelligence to spot fraud activities, the people behind Paypal recognized that anyone determined to defraud consumers would be smarter, more innovative than a programmed computer. Paypal chose, then, to use computers for what they did well–querying and sorting vast collections of data–while people worked with those computers to exercise their human assets–spotting patterns and anomalies in online behavior. The combination worked, setting Paypal as a leader in online financial exchange and security.

The Paypal model led to applications in other forms of security as well, including national security and border protections. The company Palantir, where Fishman worked, was born. What Palantir did was extend the financial security model that Paypal had delivered, into national border defenses to fight terrorism, increase the safety of international monetary exchange, and track crime. Included in Fishman’s trajectory with the company was six months working in Dubai, developing security solutions appropriate to the social environment there. But after several years of working in the realities of border security both in the United States and abroad, Fishman began wanting to use his skills to improve the richness of everyday life within a country’s borders. He decided to return to New York.

Aaron Vanderbeek: The Life of an Entertainment Engineer

Aaron Vanderbeek, Delectable co-founder, on the verge of infectious laughter

After completing an undergraduate education in a Music and Mechanical Engineering double major, Aaron Vanderbeek began developing nano fabrication techniques for the production of memory cards, or d-ram, with the company Samsung. Though he did incredibly well at the project, he realized his heart wasn’t singing from the work, and he decided to return to graduate school to move his career in a direction that tuned in closer to his interests. Carnegie Mellon offered a Master’s Program in Entertainment Technology, offering their advanced students the opportunity to dive into deep study of multiple avenues of entertainment from Theatre to Amusement Parks to Video Games to Television, in order to learn the fundamentals behind creating entertainment. The result of the program was to give successful students the confidence to design all different types of entertainment through all different mediums. That is, what Vanderbeek learned through the program were the foundational skills needed to design experiences.

In completing his Master’s, Vanderbeek made it his goal to find his way to San Francisco to live and for work. The move led to him working for companies in the city first to design hard-core gamer entertainment, like Dante’s Inferno, and then after, mobile social media games. The experience led to Vanderbeek applying his skills with building entertainment systems to the realm of interactive software and social media. Then Fishman called.

A little over a year ago, in May, back in the United States, Fishman decided to call his friend, Vanderbeek, hoping to schedule a Skype chat to catch up. By coincidence, Vanderbeek was actually visiting New York at the time so instead of video conferencing, the two met for breakfast. Fishman began relating his interest in working for the sake of life within borders, while Vanderbeek talked about his work in video game design. By the end of breakfast the two had realized a common goal–to make life more delicious–and brainstormed the early stages of an answer to the question of how to do just that. As the meal came to a close, Vanderbeek made Fishman a deal. If Fishman would move to San Francisco, Vanderbeek would quit his job so the two could work together. By September, a year ago, the two had incorporated their new company, Delectable.

Delectable: The Wine App, 2.0

a screen capture of my recent Delectable wine diary as the system identifies a Vermouth I posted. I’ve been trying it out and been acting tricky, posting pictures of other drinks besides wine and images with lots of corks or multiple bottles. Delectable’s id’ing softwear really does always work. Amazing. This image shows only one screen within the program. Other page views of the app show what friends have been drinking, or recent activity, among other things.

Together, Fishman and Vanderbeek built their iPhone App, Delectable 1.0, offering a way to help users identify and remember wines. The original design allowed users to take and store a photo of a bottle of wine to build a kind of wine diary for bottles to be remembered later. The remarkable element of the app though went beyond simply storing images–the app identified and named the wine for you, recording the producer, vintage, and exact wine type–alleviating the kind of confusion originally felt by Fishman in the duty free shop in Dubai. Since the release of version 1.0, the pair have gone on to develop a Delectable team with other engineers, both from the tech and the wine side, to assist in expanding the functionality of the app.

Today, November 1, marks the official release of version 2.0. With the upgrade, Delectable expands the program to a more community based experience. Much like Instagram, a user on Delectable can share an image to their online community with comments as desired. However, while on Instagram you simply post a picture, on Delectable the wine in the image is identified for you. But further, what Delectable 2.0 does differently is not only identify the exact wine, but also offer a simple rating system for that wine with room to type in comments, and a way to purchase it again. The Delectable team works with the best possible source for locating requested wines at no additional cost to the user. What the Delectable 2.0 app does, then, is combine Image-identifying software with the benefits of social media and online retail, all in your phone.

As Fishman and Vanderbeek describe it, they believe wine is to be shared and enjoyed. Their goal, then, is to make every step of the wine finding-and-buying process easier for the consumer to help increase that enjoyment, while also helping the consumer to connect to smaller wine producers to share in unique experiences. In their view what differentiates Delectable 2.0 from many other wine apps is the source of information and income.

Other wine apps generally make their money, and therefore also direct their marketing, based on resources directly from a wine seller–be it a producer brand, an importer, or a distributor. The reality of that is that mostly larger companies can afford such efforts, and as a result it is often larger producers that direct what is marketed, mentioned or sold on other wine apps.

The difference with Delectable is that it is individuals that get to post for themselves the wines they enjoy, whatever those wines happen to be. Since each user also decides for themselves who they want to follow on Delectable, individuals on the Delectable platform are driving what wines anyone is or isn’t exposed to, rather than marketing companies directing such influence. It isn’t that users can’t post wines made or sold by larger groups–indeed users can share any wine they enjoy. It’s that what is posted is directed by the consumers themselves. In this way, Fishman and Vanderbeek see themselves as helping to fill a gap in the wine world–the opportunity for consumers to connect more directly with wine made from smaller producers.

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Congratulations to Alex Fishman and Aaron Vanderbeek, and the entire Delectable team on today’s official release of version 2.0!

The Delectable 2.0 app is free. Check it out!

If you are interested in downloading the app you can do so in the Apple app store here: del.ec/download?ew

Thank you to Alex and Aaron for taking the time to meet with me. Thank you to Julia Weinberg.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

The Power of Images for Winery Marketing: A Response to Steve Heimoff

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.

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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.