Paul Mabray is the founder of WineDirect, VinTank and currently CEO at Emetry.io. Our own Dave Dobrow sat down to talk with him about social media, digital engagement and using data to craft the customer experience.
Dave: So Paul, you started Vintank (now operating under Avero as AveroBuzz), which is social media software designed specifically for the wine industry. And you’ve been a champion of social media and branding in the wine space for years. Why do you think social media and social media engagement is so important for wineries these days?
Paul: Well, let’s take a step back. What is one of the biggest challenges for wineries these days? Without question, it is the need for differentiation. You need something different in this space in order to make it. This is especially true now that eCommerce has hit the mainstream. Customers aren’t just purchasing a few dozen brands from a handful of local stores. They literally have thousands of options available. And too many of those options look, sound, and feel the same.
So what can you do in a world where wine and wine brands have been so homogenized and commoditized? That’s really the first question we have to answer.
Dave: OK, so let’s go there! What can wineries do to break through the noise and really offer something different?
Paul: I think it all comes down to experience. And that takes engagement. Wineries have done pretty well at innovation when it comes to product. But they are still trying to figure things out when it comes to engagement.
So how do you engage? The main thing right now is the digital user experience. Nowadays that’s the key to how you engage your clients when they are not at your tasting room. You need to put your best foot forward and create the best experience, all the time, every time. That’s how you turn average consumers into raving fans.
The first thing you can do digitally is learn about your customers. Segment your market and your customer lists, and use social graphics to really dig into the data. What does your average customer like to do? What music do they listen to? What news do they follow? If you know these things, you can speak to their interests and their lifestyle, weaving a brand story around that.
You can also identify types of wine buyers. Who goes for new products? Who signs up for your wine club? Who is buying the premium stuff? Any bit of information can be relevant: Demographics, social graphics, conversion analysis, audience insights, and so on. These should inform your overall strategy.
Here’s another thing you should do—it’s not digital, but it can inform your digital strategy: Visit your top 25 customers. Talk to them. See what makes them buy, what they like, and what they dislike. And then reach out to your underperformers too. What’s missing that could drive further engagement and sales?
Once you’ve learned about your customers, start creating the experience. For example, wineries should be rewarding customers for retention and participation. Suppose you have a subscription service, a wine club. Are you rewarding customers for each year they stay with the club? Miner does that: They give loyal members an extra gift card each year, just to say “Thanks.” People remember that, and they stay in the club to reap that reward year after year.
You can also use rewards to encourage further purchase and engagement. Once a customer is in the funnel, have a system where, the more they spend, the more they can unlock in terms of experiences and value adds. FedEx does this to an extent, right? The more you spend, the deeper the savings they give. There’s even more you could do in the wine space: Premium bottles, winery tours, limited editions, case discounts.
Finally, you need to pay special attention to the end-user experience. This might not go beyond your wine label when talking about the big box stores, but you can definitely control the experience when you are shipping direct to consumer. Ask yourself: What happens at home once the package arrives? Do you communicate with them? Encourage them to reach out? To buy more? Are you making them nostalgic for their trip to your winery, and continuing those warm feelings? All of these are to get you thinking: How are you making the receipt of that wine an experience in itself? [Note: We actually give several detailed examples of how to do this in our blog post and white paper on the “unboxing” experience. —DD]
Dave: What I’m hearing is a three-step process: Gather your data to get to know your customers, reward them for spending and for loyalty, and create a great end-user experience. How does this all work with social media?
Paul: Glad you asked! This is really the groundwork. If you do these things, you’ll see the effect on social media. People are sharing their experiences of brands, making recommendations to friends, and so on. It’s great free publicity—but you really have to wow them first.
Social media is also your go-to place for information. It lets you know customers at scale. You really have to become a kind of CRM anthropologist…look at your customer data every which way until you feel you know your customers, what makes them tick. And, of course, you need to look at their buying history or subscription history.
It’s not just data either. Many people are reaching out to brands on social media when they have a question or a complaint, or just want a recommendation. If you are responsive and helpful, that, too, is part of the customer experience. And again, it’s one where you’re in control. You’re creating your own brand experience for them.
Dave: What about subscription models? You mentioned them earlier as a way to create a great end-user experience. Is this where the industry is going? How does it link up with branding?
Paul: Look, the subscription economy is here to stay. No doubt. Really, it’s been around for a while; newspapers did it, record clubs did it. [Note: For interested readers, we wrote a little bit about the history of flash sales and subscription models in this earlier post. —DD] Now we’re seeing many more companies that have nailed it. Who doesn’t have a subscription to Netflix, or Hulu, or iTunes? Who hasn’t heard of Dollar Shave Club, or Stitch Fix? They get it. There’s even a subscription service for flavored waters, Hint Water, and they’re doing great.
It makes sense. The best way to realize a profit is to sell directly to a customer, and sell to him or her multiple times. If you can encourage customers to buy wine to drink (and not just to store in a cellar somewhere), and get them really excited about your brand, it’s a no-brainer as a business model.
That said, the subscription services economy is an underachieving segment, in my opinion. There is a lot of opportunity there, but you have to get a lot of things right. For example, you need to really target and understand your customer, and then data-analyze that customer…who they are, where they are, purchasing history, and social media activity. You have to have good content that resonates with those customers. And you have to communicate with each shipment. [Note: We discuss what Dollar Shave Club got right in our analysis of Unilever’s purchase of it, here. —DD]
Gone are the days when you could just “spray and pray” with your marketing messages. You need to tailor your messages to your segments, even down to the individual. Social media lets you do that.
Dave: Sounds like some wineries have a lot of work to do! Can you wrap up by maybe speaking to the ROI of all this engagement?
Paul: Of course. First, let me say that this is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you won’t have all the answers out of the gate. You need to set some digital plans, figure out your spend, and track your efforts to see what is bringing the most value to you. Every brand will be a little different. That’s the point. But you have to crunch the numbers.
Here’s a prediction I can make, though. Ten years ago I was saying that the people who excelled at DTC, who knew how it works backwards and forwards, would be the ones stepping into the Director, VP, and CEO roles. That has come true today. Now I am predicting that tomorrow’s VPs and CEOs will be the folks who excel at digital. They will be winning the battles for differentiation and brand exposure.
Dave: Great, thank you Paul—hopefully we can talk in 10 years and see if your prediction has come true!
Based on Paul’s discussion, here are 10 questions that wineries should be asking themselves when it comes to their digital efforts:
- How will your brand differentiate itself in the eyes of your market?
- What are your digital plans, and how do you plan to spend your marketing dollars?
- What are your customers “into”?
- What are your top 25 spenders telling you? Your underperformers?
- What data are in your CRM, and are they helping with engagement?
- What can you do to acquire and retain customers?
- How are you encouraging more spending? Sharing? Loyalty?
- Are you finding ways to sell to customers multiple times?
- How are you improving your customer experience?
- Are you making an investment in your own people, so that they can master the new digital frontier?
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