The digital winegrower – how much social media does a vintner need

Social media is not exactly very popular with many winegrowers. Whereby, image cultivation on the internet has enormous potential. There is no other way where you can reach so many customers or potential customers so easily and cheaply. A short overview.

"Yeah, you can send us a fax", says the winemaker’s wife in a broad Palatinate accent. The person on the telephone would like a box with six bottles of wine. But the website does not have an ordering function. So the caller first needed to make a telephone call and must now also send a fax.

The lady of the house is very friendly and informs in the further course of the conversation that they preferably sell the wine while chatting about it personally with the customers as part of a comfortable and cosy wine tasting. A nice thought, but it is not exactly revolutionary as a marketing strategy. Amongst small businesses scepticism is not uncommon when it comes to modern media.

Pretty much every business now has a website. And that a shop is part of it is more-or-less assumed at this stage. Whoever puts a few alternating offers in there, will be amazed time and again by how significant the effect is. And this effect can be increased further by simple steps. The internet address on the label makes it easier for potential customers; it would be even better to add social media contacts from the very outset and to provide a bar or quick response code as well. For the majority of consumers, this information is more important and relevant than the postal address.

That the website contains some nicely-formulated sentences about the vineyard and where it is located is obvious; this information can be "nicely packaged" with a few different visual tricks. What would be more important, however, would be more detailed information on the region where the vineyard is located as well as the actual work that is done on the slopes of the vineyard and in the wine cellar. This grabs the interest of the customer and they then take a closer look at the website. It is amazing just how many winemakers do not even mention in what winegrowing region they are located. In the shop, a detailed description of each wine is helpful. A website with fully up-to-date content is of as much value to the business as business cards, brochures and a supplier - just a lot cheaper.
Photo: Faye Cardwell - communiactions expert
Photo: IT Expert André Ribeirinho
Photo: Elisabetta Tosi - Social Media Consultant. Source: Magnus Reuterdahl
Photo: Jan Matthias Klein - owner of the 1,100 year old family wine estate Staffelter Hof
Photo: Frank Schulz - Head of Communications at DWI. Source: Andreas Durst
Foto: Heimo Tscherne - media consultant. Source: Hauke Seyfarth
Photo: Robert McIntosh - Founder Digital Wine Communications Conference. Source: Ken Payton

Make yourself likeable

Smart winemakers also include a diary on their websites. Every now and then, it is never a bad idea for a winemaker to share a few words with customers on how the year is going and what the next things are that need to be done. If problems arise, the readers will be far more delighted to read that they have been solved than about a few nicely formulated sentences in which every year is a great year.

And who then also answers individual questions from the web, has more-or-less completely understood the entire social media cosmos. Each person reveals just so much about themselves so that other people can like them. Put in a market-economic way, you set yourself apart from the competition.

There are certain winemakers who have in the meantime become cult, such as the Austrian Bernhard Fiedler, who informs his followers about every step from the vines to the wine cellar in so much detail that it is as if they were learning to become winemakers themselves. Dirk Würtz, oenologist at the 46-hectare vineyard Balthasar Ress in the Rheingau region has even made it onto television with his opinions.

Statistically, five from eight Germans are active users of the internet and spend about 7 hours a month on social media websites. This trend is similar in other industrialised countries. This means that you will find your customer base online.
Photo: Overview Social Media

Free choice in the universe

These types of additional marketing channels should not be ignored. The list of such channels is continuously getting longer, though the most important ones are still a relatively small number. Facebook is the most well known, and it more-or-less functions like a website with a temporal dimension to it. It allows you to let your friends and the world know what you are up to at intervals of your own choosing. The potential coverage is enormous. Every fifth person on the planet is on Facebook at least once a month.

With just a few clicks, you can arrange get-togethers and tastings. The information about the newly bottled wine gets to the people extremely quickly. No comparison whatsoever to sending a circular. "Even though Facebook is not suitable as a personal platform for the majority of people, you can still get a quick picture of who someone is", says the communications expert Faye Cardwell, "I have often experienced winemakers and wine-importers coming together on this. In this way, you can save a lot of money on representative events."

Twitter only allows a short message to be written, and seems to be somewhat impractical initially. A lot more professional information is exchanged on this platform, however. Followers are often very interested in what they are following. Whoever follows the right people, gets a lot of valuable input themselves in return. You can filter the flood of information by using hashtags, which are targeted keywords.

Google+ is more-or-less equivalent to Facebook in a technical sense, however, it provides less private personal content. Various groups can be kept separate.

LinkedIn is more like a job exchange, and therefore in a far more matter-of-fact style. With at times very exact descriptions written by the person themselves, the communication in this case is predominantly from desk to desk. Free-lancers offer their services - and often land a contract in this way.

The portal Xing sees itself as a business network in the German-speaking region. Professional contacts and job offers are the focus on this particular portal. With the help of individual networks, members can even see with whom they have common contacts but do not know yet themselves.

Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Tumblr and a number of other platforms allow users to exchange images and videos, and they are becoming ever more important. It sounds a bit over-the-top for a winemaker at first. Pinterest in particular is visited a lot and increases the awareness for the brand. A lot of images are used on other platforms as it is.

It does not matter which network is used or how many, only those who regularly contribute to it will achieve an effect. Whoever visits the platform should be able to recognise what the winemaker is doing. Images of a bountiful harvest are of little interest six months later. The system lives from being completely up-to-date.

All channels together are also an option that can be easily and very quickly achieved. “With images, text or video, you communicate in a personal and effective way”, says Annette Lizotte, who uses the media as export manager of the Friulian company Tenute Tomasella. In addition to that, a lot of information can be acquired and compared. From the best Italian restaurant in the area, where the next wine tasting is taking place, to questions about cellar technology. Open exchange without any petty secretive behaviour is a further aspect of the networks.

It can be a bit confusing at the start. “Many winemakers only see themselves confronted with an unknown universe”, says Faye Cardwell, who advises many large winegrowers associations on social media issues. “It is not even necessary to be active on all channels. They just need to be the right ones.” In other words, there is a choice to make. It is a matter of preference which one you choose. They should ideally be those on which many of your customers are already active. They tend to expect that you will look for them there.
Photo: Reka Haros © Magnus Reuterdahl

Corkscrew communicates with iPhone

“There is no magic spell”, explains Elisabetta Tosi. As a social media consultant with many years of experience in the sector, she has a simple but all the more useful suggestion: “You first have to think about exactly who you want to reach, and then you choose the channel.” Many do this the other way round - and fail with flying colours.”

An introductory seminar given by a professional will save a lot of disappointment in the long run. “All in all, the web is ideal for exchanging ideas with colleagues, retailers and journalists”, affirms Jan Matthias Klein, owner of the 1,100 year old family wine estate Staffelter Hof, “it enhances the image in a cost efficient way”.

You can - and should - always continually adapt your strategies to the reactions to your behaviour. Change is the essence of social media. “Wine happens online nowadays”, says media consultant Heimo Tscherne, “from purchasing the bottle, the evaluation, the contact with the retailer right up to the booking of the overnight stay at the vineyard. Opinions are posted more quickly than it takes to open a bottle of wine.”

It is more than likely that special applications in the future will also mean an even greater focus on media hardware with smart phones and tablets. “The corkscrew will then also communicate with the iPhone” (Tscherne). There are already a few wine tastings via Skype today. They could be even more a matter of course.

In this way, a new type of connection between the participants is created through social media, in which the social and professional aspects merge. Each customer should be regarded as your friend, even if you are not inviting them for a barbecue at the weekend.
Photo: Vintner Piero Mastroberardino

“Listening is one of the most important aspects“

Reka und Pier Haros übernahmen 2003 das venezianische Weingut Sfriso. „Workshops, Messen, ein Export Manager, alles ein Flop. Wir haben kaum mehr umgesetzt, aber wesentlich mehr ausgegeben“, erinnert sich die Winzerin. Die gelernte PR-Fachfrau begann, über Kontakte im Netz selbst Verkostungen zu organisieren. „Wir trafen uns bei Freunden, die luden Freunde ein.“ Die Idee verfing, und Sfriso verkauft heute die gesamte Ernte auf privaten Events von der Schweiz bis nach Schweden. Bei den Verkostungen lotet sie nebenbei aus, was die Kunden wirklich interessiert, längst ein Mantra des modernen Marketings.

„Zuhören ist eine der wichtigsten Übungen“, bestätigt Tosi. „Und das geht nirgendwo besser als im Wohnzimmer unserer Kunden, wo Händler nie hinkommen“, weiß Haros: „Wir konnten unsere Erträge um 300 Prozent steigern.“ Nebenbei entfiel der Zwischenhandel. Reka Haros ist eine gefragte Rednerin auf Symposien. Noch kürzlich widmete das englische Traditions-Magazin Harpers Wine & Spirit dem erfolgreichen Vermarktungskonzept einen begeisterten Artikel.

Der Vertriebsweg ist allerdings so neu nicht. Tatsächlich kennt ihn jeder, der schon einmal vom Avon Berater, dem Vorwerk Vertreter oder einer Tupper Party gehört hat. Im Weinbereich lebt das Unternehmen Pieroth seit Jahrzehnten vom Direktvertrieb. 3600 Akquisiteure erzielen nach Firmenangaben durchschnittlich neun Euro pro Flasche – rund das Vierfache des Durchschnittspreises in Deutschland.

Abgewandelte Geschäftsmodelle beobachtet man immer wieder in den sozialen Medien. etwa verschickt Weine im Abo, dazu gibt es online interaktive Verkostungsseminare mit Sommeliers, die die Weine und ihre Regionen vorstellen. Der Unterschied: die Kundenbindung in Haros’ Modell ist durch die persönliche Bekanntschaft intensiver. „Wir verkaufen Werte, nicht Marken oder Produkte“, sagt Haros stolz. Man könnte auch sagen, Emotionen.
Foto: Jan Matthias Klein - owner of the 1,100 year old family wine estate Staffelter Hof

Also large companies appear personally

From a historical perspective, winemakers have always cultivated a certain distance to their customers. The largest portion of the Bordeaux-Crus has been sold by agents and middlemen for as long as anyone can remember, without the winemaker ever having seen his customers. The cooperatives also separate the grower from the wine drinker, even when in this case it fails due to the lack capital for the self-marketing. In France, as an example, many of these wines end up in barrels at négotiants. Only a small number of cooperatives stand for strong brand building. A look at the purchaser is certainly worthwhile.

The target group 50+, who many winemakers consider to be their regular customers, is the fastest growing group in social media; they enjoy wine and have the relevant income. Their descendants, the Millennials, tend to guess the value of a good on the basis of the comments on the internet. Medals and awards help there increasingly less.

The majority of wine drinkers under the age of thirty on the other hand err their way through a world of wines, mixed drinks and puréed fruits completely without developing any connection to any particular one. They can be reached using digital channels. Larger producers also have to go there to get them. “Terroir is something you need to explain in person”, is something Piero Mastroberardini knows, “and be visible as the person behind the product”. He exports his Campanian wines to over 60 countries worldwide. He still likes to answer enquiries himself nevertheless. That is also the case with a classic wine trade fair such as ProWein with its Facebook and Twitter accounts or the German Wine Institute. The German Wine Institute has 15 websites online in various languages and the YouTube channel ö “Enquiries from both home and abroad are increasing all the time”, says Frank Schulz, Head of Communications at The German Wine Institute, and the “level of communication” will continue to grow.

“There is nothing comparable in the world“

Over the past number of years, the Digital Wine Communications Conference has developed as a hub for new ideas. “Initially we actually just wanted to let wine retailers know that there is also a digital sales channel”, remembers Robert McIntosh. That was in 2009, when a hand-full of bloggers met for the first conference. The event quickly filled a vacuum.

Today, the participants come from 40 countries. Amongst the speakers are Eric LeVine, founder of the databank CellarTracker and former Microsoft Manager. The legendary wine critic Jancis Robinson says in praise, “there really is no other event of its kind anywhere in the world”. Seminar contents range from an algorithm for combining wine and food to optimising search engines right up to discussions on ethics.

“No one needs everything that they find here,” McIntosh points out, “but it makes sense to know the possibilities. Even if you decide against it in the end”. “Whoever wants to know how to tackle a new project like this should come here“, recommends Faye Cardwell.

“For me it was a kind of initial spark”, remembers Klein: “a massive amount of ideas, excellent contacts, some of whom became friends and a new way of looking at the possibilities that a small producer has.” For a Riesling producer on the Mosel, it is not very easy to get rid of the somewhat conservative tag. With the help of Facebook, small “Mari” developed, a stylish mixed drink made from Riesling, Mate and Elder, that sells well in the club scene.

The Portuguese IT engineer André Riberinho presented a wine glass with memory chip that winemakers can use at their tastings with select wines. The memory chip sends all the details of the tasted wines to the visitors email address. You do not need a notebook or expensive brochures. Reduced down to its purest elements, the wine tasting then turns into a situation that would also be enjoyed in Palatinate region. You can have a good chat with the people.

Matthias Stelzig