Joel Vincent

Technology. Wine. Family. (maybe not in that order)

802.11n and the all-wireless campus :: Voice&Data

802.11n and the all-wireless campus :: Voice&Data

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eCommerce Holiday Season – "Hooray! We suck less!"

Image via Wikipedia

Is there ever an occasion to celebrate sucking?  I’m hyper competitive and I can personally tell you that typically “sucking” is not an option.  Let me strike that, I’m hyper competitive with a smidge of lazy.  So if I actually choose to do something – a project, blog, social network, whatever – then I insist on it being the best possible.  (The lazy helps by making sure I don’t commit to everything under the sun and thereby giving myself to excel and be the best I can).

Researching some of the eCommerce data thats being reported to draw a picture of the environment for our clients at VinTank I noticed something – eCommerce can celebrate sucking this holiday season!

Sounds wierd, I know.  But look what these numbers bear out (I’m clipping from various notes and sources that I’ve been looking at):

Amazon’s sales peaked on Dec. 15, when online shoppers worldwide bought 72.9 items per second, amounting to more than 6.3 million items that day, the company said, although it did not report a dollar total for how much it sold. Wal-Mart and Apple also reportedly had strong online sales.

U.S. e-commerce sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 were down 2.3 percent compared to 2007, according to SpendingPulse, an information service of MasterCard Advisors. SpendingPulse called online sales “an area of relative strength” amid overall holiday retail sales that rank among the worst in recent memory.

And the the stories keep coming, mostly generated by SpendingPulse report (a subsidiary MasterCard).  I don’t think all the evidence is in just yet but its obvious that the value of ecommerce (easy, search capabilities, avoidance of difficult crowds and/or customer service situations) played a pretty big role this holiday season.  The question that has to be worked on is how to best get over the hurdles to wine ecommerce (logistical, legal, as well as product proliferation) to make sure wine companies can share in this rising tide.

Anyway, back to my homework.  Cheers!

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Quick Note: Wine Life Links update

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

FYI to anyone who doesn’t know why I didn’t have them in the Wine Life Links – I was using a service to manage the links which disappeared (I’m a silly early adopter). So the updates I’ve made over the last 6 months or so got lost. If you don’t see your site there just send contact me on via Twitter (see “Where Else Am I” in the sidebar) or via the OpenWine Consortium messaging.

Sorry!

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Gary Vaynerchuk on Holiday Wines this morning

Buddy of mine Gary Vaynerchuk was on CBS this morning talking holiday wines.  I know most of my wine contacts that hit the blog know Gary but for those that don’t, he’s the host of WineLibraryTV.com and he does alot of appearances like this, I just happen to think he did a really good job with this spot so its worth a look.

Watch CBS Videos Online

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The DaVino Code: Link Between Social Media and the Wine Industry

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Image via Wikipedia

There is endless analysis out there and supposition/assumption that social media is important to the wine industry.  Some people claim the vision is over-blown and that traditional sales methods will dominate for a very long time to come.  Those people would be very wrong and taking their business, in the short term, in an OK position but long term dangerous position.  The decisions about online strategies for wine companies today will have long range impact on winery, retail, etc… business success and ultimately determine if the business will survive.  Here’s why.

I’ve written a bit about how wine is bought a couple years ago in what I called the Wine Life Value chain where I describe a bit on how wine is bought when people trust the source.  Stronger the trust bond is, the more likely the sale.  This is a little more elaboration on that idea and how Social Media is critically important to understanding that trust and scaling it to global proportions.

First a bit about the wine industry.  According to Wine Business Monthly and US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau there were 5960 bonded wineries in the US representing 12,000 US wine brands in 2006.  Lets just assume that number is still valid (even though its grown, those are just the latest I have on hand for this post).  Add to that the approximately 20,000 import brands (a number I’ve been told by several industry contacts) and we’re talking somewhere on the order of 32,000 brands available in the US, with new vintages every year, multiple varietals and blends and you’re looking at an incredible amount of selection for just the US consumer (only gated by protectionist government policies).

Add to this that many of the wineries (like most of the US economy) are small businesses with few employees and even fewer resources dedicated to creating a recognizable brand by the average person and what you are left with is an industry that is driven primarily by “Buying Pattern Influencers” (BPIs).  Every industry has them – people who are knowledgeable and can guide your decision – but no industry has such a confluence of factors (selection, unique characteristics, variety of flavors, degrees of desireability influenced by individual body chemistry) such that word-of-mouth and BPIs become the primary driver (Yes, there are lots of HDTVs out there, but if you took every factor – size, brands, prices, etc… – you still don’t come anywhere near the selections of wines that change every year of production).

Hence wine is bought and sold by BPIs more than anything else.  If you look at the Wine Life Value chain I discussed in my other post, BPIs vary in influence depending on the strength of the bond between the consumer and the BPI.  Basic laws of business still apply in the wine industry, don’t get me wrong.  If your product has no distribution of any kind, either direct to consumer or through three-tier distribution, then the consumer can’t buy it.  But the BPIs matter the most.  What are some examples?  Well:

  • Wine Spectator is an entire magazine that used the concept of BPIs, aggregates them and publishes a magazine that is very widely distributed.  The experts, by virtue of their qualifications, are BPIs though their bonds to the consumer are weaker than say your wine geek friend.  But in the end, its better than nothing and therefore influences a large number of people.
  • Robert Parker and his newsletter are another example of a BPI using traditional media to distribute his opinions to a large number of people.
  • I’ll get a little more personal – I know for a fact that the buyers of the Whole Foods and other grocery stores near me go to my wine guy (Bert over at Joseph George in San Jose), check out what he’s getting, and use that to select brands.  Bert and his crew are BPIs not only to his customers but to other local liquor operations interestingly enough.
  • Another one – my brother buys anything I tell him I think is good.  He’ll do it blindly because I’m basically his BPI (or one of) and we have a strong bond (i.e. we’re close) so he’ll buy it site unseen.

OK, now Social Media and what does all this have to do with anything.  The connection between the wine industry and social media is the basic understanding that Buying Pattern Influencers decide what gets bought and sold in the wine industry and the strength of the bond between the BPI and consumer is the factor that tips the decision from “maybe someday I’ll get that” to “gimme that right now” (i.e. it’s the factor that increases the conversion rate of touches – in marketing terms).  If you understand that then you need to look at Social Media in this way – you can try to become the BPI or you can find a way to work with BPIs that are mutually beneficial to your business and/or the community of BPIs (i.e. the social network between BPIs).

Prior to online social media, it was nearly impossible to understand who were BPIs.  You didn’t know an individual’s network, how big it was, or how influential that person is over his/her network.  How could you?  The only measure was this magazine/newsletter has this many readers therefore at a minimum you’ll get lots of exposure and at a maximum the publication will influence many many people.  And it does just that through wide distribution.  The weakness of such publications is that, save for a select few fanatics, they create a weak bond between the consumer and the BPI.  Hundreds of thousands of weak bonds, but relatively weak none the less.  Given no alternative, again, it’s the best bond there is for a newbie.

Along comes Social Media.  Here’s a couple of videos with a simplified explanation of Social Networks and social media.  But basically, it allows for communities to evolve, BPIs to develop to much wider audiences, and exposes the social graph of a person and scales it in ways never possible before.  A single person can connect to thousands of other people and maintain communication with those people – two way communication, unlike magazines – and not only create a bond but maintain it and make it very strong.  And that bond is not necessarily local either – that person can be equally connected to someone next door as they could with someone in another continent.  Social Media allows individuals to become BPIs (see the most famous example in Gary Vaynerchuk and the like) or to get to know communities of BPIs and create strong bonds with the members.

This fact is reinforced by a recently release study of consumer behavior online conducted by Razorfish called “FEED:  The Consumer Experience Report”.  In it they surmise that:

And not too surprisingly, most consumers are using social networking services to connect with others—either actively or passively. Few are venturing there for less-social goals, such as finding out about new products or services. And despite the proliferation of games and applications available on social media sites, user activity is still dominated by communicating with friends and updating status messages to keep others abreast of personal news and developments.

They are also concluding that the “one-stop” destination for information and updates is in a state of disintegration because of the ability of the individual to make these connections, filter information, and federate tools to create highly personalized portals to their digital life – but that’s a topic for another discussion on Social Media and the wine world.

Its been speculated that wine enthusiasts that leverage one of the earliest social media tools – Blogs – are important and a catalyst of change.  Wine Bloggers are in effect early adopters of this new technology and they, as a community, represent a group of BPIs.  They are people who, through their passion for wine – either by trade or just because they love it – write about wine just to share that passion and potentially educate other people.  They generally have small audiences but the important thing to remember is that there is genuine two-way conversation happening on blogs and each blog creates a micro-community with very strong bonds.  Now there are by some estimates 1000 wine blogs out there.  The industry is saying “yeah, but their audiences are small and they’re all spread out”.  True…today.

Social Media is in its infancy and there are spectacular tools that have yet to be written.  This first stage of social technologies are allowing for information to be liberated and democratized.  Over time, technologies for how these disparate bits of information – 1000 wine blogs, hundreds of thousands of wine reviews on sites like Cork’d or WineLog, etc… are correlated and tailored to a single persons tastes and how this person influences the buying patterns of their social graph are all coming.  (FYI – therein lies the danger behind the door for publications attempting to create the “one-stop” destination for their readers.  Its the technology that changes the playing field that ends companies’ dominance and changes markets.)

For the wine industry this is a fantastic new frontier.  The technology world is working feverishly to simplify the creation and identification of BPIs, something the naturally social world of wine has done offline for centuries as good wine would be recommended from one friend to the next.  Technology and the Internet are just now catching up to where the wine world needs it to be – all about social interaction.

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A Little Comic Relief

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Image by ikelee via Flickr

Ahhh, “Dear Abby“…what ever happened to that in this age of near real-time social media…anyway, here’s one thats worth a chuckle (but not worth the e-mail bandwidth its probably taking up!).

Maybe this is a way to reduce traffic on the Internet, just post funny stuff up on a blog and send friends the links not giant emails.  :)

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Dear Abby:

I have never written to you before, but I really need your advice. I have suspected for some time now that my wife has been cheating on me.  The usual signs; phone rings but if I answer, the caller hangs up.  My wife has been going but with ‘the girls’ a lot recently — although when I ask their names, she always says, “just some friends from work, you don’t know them.” I always try to stay awake to look out for her coming home, but I usually fall asleep.  Anyway, I have never approached the subject with my wife.  I think deep down I just did not want to know the truth, but last night she went out again and I decided to check on her finally. Around midnight, I decided to hide in the garage behind my golf clubs so I could get a good view of the whole street when she arrived home from a night out with ‘the girls.’  When she got out of the car she was buttoning up her blouse, which was open, and she took her panties out of her purse and slipped them on.  It was at that moment, crouching behind my golf clubs, that I noticed a hairline crack where the grip meets the graphite shaft on my 3-wood.  Is this something I can or should try to fix myself, or should I take it back to the pro-shop where I bought it and try to get a refund?

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Lots of "Analysis" on how to "use" social media, is it missing the point?

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Social Media Friends

Social media is creating quite a long tail of industries – lots of software companies, consultants, new modes of public relations, etc, etc.  Some of them focused on getting you into using social media, which is great, and many of them aspiring to help you “use” social media for your business.  The latter point is what I find interesting.

I’ve spoken on the topic of social media before (with assistance from the self-proclaimed “Bonafide Marketing Genius” Marta Kagan – FYI, I’m glad she has the confidence in herself to tag herself that way b/c she’s one of the few I would actually agree with) and I think the biggest point from my talk and others that I’ve seen (like Marta’s deck) is that this all is an excercise in sociology.  There are so many technologies that one could use, so many things that you could do, but in the end what is happening to the web is just another means of connecting, interacting, and getting to know people; not unlike joining a social club (like a sports team, a cultural center, or whatever).  In fact, just as you have “different circles of friends” offline (work friends, drinking buddies, sports friends), you’ll develop the same thing online and your community will drive you to the tools.

That’s where the idea “use social media” sticks in my craw a little bit.

I’ve had this blog since 2004 and I’ve interacted with many many people thanks to it.  It’s mainly an outlet for my thoughts, creativity, and passion (wine, technology, and marketing) and I’ve made a serious number of friends in the wine industry because of it.  My goal was to do exactly that, get to know people in the wine industry.  One of the major things its taught me though is that the only way to truly understand what this “social media” thing is all about is to get out and do it.  BUT – do it with a genuine desire and understand that its a means to reach out to a community (blog in particular).  Its not a sales tool and its not a PR tool for social media any more then going to a conference is a PR tool for you.  What I mean is you can go to a conference, chat with people, network, find people that you can stay connected with.  If you contribute to the conference (effectively contributing to the ‘community’ that the conference is bringing together) then you can get noticed and in that sense you get some good word-of-mouth publicity.

But here is how to think of “use social media” (Ugh!).  Its a sociological, human based filter.  Its not a broadcast engine like the “information super highway” or the “series of tubes”.  Doesn’t matter what tool/site you use, first and foremost your community has to be on that site and/or using that tool.  There is always a “critical mass” that needs to be achieved before the tool gets useful.  Kind of like a party, its not really fun until there are a bunch of people you know there.

Once your community is there, interacting, chatting, whatever then the dynamics of what happens is facinating.  Things start to get “useful” and the human filter is formed.  It becomes a situation where the community is as close as a bunch of office mates even though they are all over the world.  I literally consider the community I interact with on Twitter my “virtual office mates” and I genuinely like interacting with them.  The reason is that you can contribute (chat, answer questions, and otherwise participate) just like you would any other office.  In the case of Twitter, it becomes just like a hallway conversation in an office.  You can ignore it for a while, pop your head in with a little bit of nothing to say, put out some information or useful tool to the community, or you can put out a serious question to the group and get some solid answers.  Pretty much how you would for any office with cubilcles and hallways.

The best part of all this is that when the community reaches critical mass of people in a certain technology/tool who genuinely like to talk about a particular topic, forming an open community, thats when the best things come out.  If you contribute something to that community that is truly useful, it will get passed on to everyone very quickly.  People will decide if what you said is interesting, show their friends and, if its applicable, their friends may pass on the information to their other “open communities”.  The network effect takes over and your information has just become “viral” (i.e. it will spread not only in the current ‘circle of friends’ but to other ‘circles of friends’).  More importantly, the human filter took over and since that useful piece of information you generated is actually VERY useful, it will get passed on for a while (or very funny, or very interesting in some other way – the latest on Twitter was a streaming video of puppies, not useful, just very Zen).

So if you find an open community or want to know where there is critical mass already for a community you want to learn about (for instance – the wine community is embracing Twitter and Social Networks) on one of these tools the best way to “use social media” (I hate the term because it makes me feel like “use your friends”, but I guess there isn’t a better way to say it) is to contribute in significant ways.  Add to the community but more importantly be YOURSELF.  If people like you, they like you.  If they don’t, guess what…they don’t.  There isn’t alot of advice that can be given there that your parents should’ve taught you before Kindergarten.  Thats the funny truth of this “social media” craze.  The fundamental sociological point is that this is making friends.  Because even if you contribute something that spreads from network to network like wildfire, when those people check you out and “follow you” on Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever, then they start to get to know you in a more personal way then anyone over 25 ever thought possible.  If you’re obviously contributing to promote your business it will come across.  If you genuinely approach this medium (regardless of technology) as “getting to know people” in the way you’ve always done then you’ll not only have that “viral hit” you won’t be an online “one hit wonder”, you’ll have friends who can help you when you’re down, connect you to others, help you build business, get emotionally invested in your brand…. i.e. you’ll be a part of a community and how you do that is something your Mom and Dad shoulda taught you.

FYI – if you’re doing it for a business/brand it doesn’t matter – if people don’t like your personality, they won’t like your brand.  These things have a way of piercing the corporate PR veil.  Want an example?  Supposedly Cisco “gets” blogging.  Read their blogs and you tell me what you think….

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