June 15, 2006

the corporate wine blogging manifesto


I've been asked to write this piece of marketing collateral for Stormhoek, explaining the Stormhoek story : The bloggers' wine freebie, The 100 Geek Dinners etc etc.

Part of the remit is that the document is aimed at people in the wine trade who are not only NOT web savvy, but downright hostile to all thing internet in general. These people have never heard of blogs or The Cluetrain, let alone Clay Shirky. Even AOL is a bit too "out there" for some of them.

It's easy selling the idea of social media to people who like the internet in the first place. But to people who don't?

Anyway, I had a bash at writing Page One:

The Stormhoek Story: A incredible global conversation is taking place that will decided the future success or failure of all products, not just in the wine trade, but in all industries.

So you’re in the wine business. You’re probably wondering what the future of the wine business is (at least if you’re smart, you are).

Guess what? The future not about the usual bumph: terroir, vintage, cork vs screwcap, Sauvingnon vs Pinotage, Australian vs Argentine, hipster labels vs old-fashioned labels etc. Nobody cares.

The future of the wine business is- actually- the same as the future of all business.

The future is, of course, the internet.

But when we say ‘internet’, we’re not talking about the usual suspects: Internet retail. Vinyard websites. All the stuff we’ve seen before. Those are just virtual storefronts. Little more than electronic brochures. Those are irrelevant.

The web is not about techonolgy. The web is not about a new media to market one’s wares in. And the web is certainly not about you.

Remember the following line, first coined by Jeff Jarvis; you will need to rely on it for the rest of your life:

The web is about people.

in more layman's terms, consider the words of Clay Shirky:

The cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.


The end result of this is, wiith the advent of the internet and various forms of social software, suddenly highly savvy networks of people are springing up in their millions. They’re talking to each other. With or without your permission.

It used to be, you could buy a piece of media, hire some advertising professionals to polish the message till it was nice and shiny, and deliver it to as many people as you wanted, in whatever form you wanted.

But suddenly, you’re now irrelevant.

Now, people can simply ignore you. And they’ve gotten very good at ignoring you. Nobody cares about you or your wine. They’d rather talk to their friends and contacts about wine, they don’t need to hear it from you. They probably think what you have to say is just a lot of advertising-induced lies, anyway. They have better sources of information. And lots of them.

This is a pretty daunting enough prospect, if you’re a large player in the wine market, with millions of cases shipped annually, and a marketing budget the size of the GDP of Lithuania.

But what if you’re like us, Stormhoek, a small South African vineyard in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles away from your mainly British and American customers, with no marketing budget to speak of, with scores upon scores of worthy competitors, all fighting like hungry rats for ever-decreasing share of the market?

What do you do?

This is just a very rough first draft. It needs to be shorter. But it's not a bad start. More later...

Posted by hugh macleod at June 15, 2006 3:24 PM | TrackBack

I like where you're coming from in terms of describing the rise and success (in progress) of Stormhoek as a blogging-branded wine.

Do you see the "Corporate Wine Blogging Manifesto" working for the second, or third, or tenth winery that wants to enter the blogging space?

You and Stormhoek definitely have first-mover advantage here. The in-the-know blog folks associate 'wine blogging' with Stormhoek, but how can a competitor take advantage of this?

So far the product differentiating factor I have seen for Stormhoek is that "Freshness matters" - this is arguably the most important factor for a wine drinker. If anything, your blog-marketing-word-of-mouth approach is better known that 'freshness matters.'

I put it to you then - can other wineries do what you've done using a similar blogging promotional method but other differentiation? Or will they have to come up with a whole new channel and approach as well? :)

Posted by: Jonathan Cohen at June 15, 2006 4:29 PM

I love it! But I love the internet and I'm not in the wine trade. I suspect your audience will find it aggresive, arrogant and from another planet. If you're really looking to take the first step in a dialogue with them I'd be a little less "you're irrelevant" and a bit more "Look over here. This is where the action is".

Posted by: Nick at June 15, 2006 4:38 PM

I love the article and its tone. I am of course a fan of yours Hugh, great work.

I live in the states, and the thing is, people here love propaganda. Cooked up right it feels good and reasuring and familiar, like a good dose of "promotion-free" Oprah or a sloppy burger laced with je ne sais pas. Case in point, the persistent support here for current US foreign policy.

People are talking, but people like to be talked at too. And people with the new tools may be participants in the conversation but they aren't equally loqacious or influential. So it seems the wine folks might know that their propaganda can also find a home on the internet, and for much less money if it's done cleverly. And of course, democracy is also available for those who crave it.

Long comment, sorry.

Posted by: John Dumbrille at June 15, 2006 4:41 PM

Spot on timing Hugh: I'm giving a talk at BarCamp Cape Town tomorrow, and will be using Stormhoek as a case-study... this will be most helpful!

BTW: It really helps that there is sincerity behind the people-oriented internet promotion - I was really impressed that Graham Knox from Stormhoek drove all the way out from Wellington to personally deliver a case of Stormhoek to my office in town yesterday.

"Rock on"

Posted by: Dave Duarte at June 15, 2006 4:48 PM

Jonathan: Believe me, I would love nothing better than to get people to talk about "Freshness". But that's not where the conversation seems to be going. [Cluetrain 101: You do not control the conversation].

Nick- point taken, but "You are irrelevant" cuts deeper than "This is where the action is".

Besides, "aggresive, arrogant and from another planet" worked wonders for Steve Jobs ;-)

John: "And of course, democracy is also available for those who crave it." Wow. I LOVE that line!!!

Dave: Yeah, Graham's a sound guy. Doesn't surprise me at all that he would do do that.

Posted by: hugh macleod at June 15, 2006 5:15 PM

Just an observation, but my reaction was that your web-hostile audience might be turned off by the prevalence of web-speak in this draft.

I don't mean technical jargon, but the sort of phraseology which all of us buy into (and thus write without realising), but which all of them may use as a reason not to read on. Phrases like global conversation probably won't mean much to them.

For what it's worth, I think your opening sentence is in fact a great finishing sentence (effectively throwing down the gauntlet at the end of explaining what's been going on) and that the opening should be about the conversations that they do understand (namely the person to person recommendations) and how the stormhoek story has been about generating thousands of those conversations without recourse to the usual bullshit.

Posted by: john dodds at June 15, 2006 5:20 PM

So far, so good.

PS - I thought the word was "Argentine"

Posted by: Harry Joiner at June 15, 2006 5:29 PM

Good start. One comment. You start off talking about the internet, then switch to calling it the web.

Technically, they're not interchangeable nouns, although the general public thinks they're the same thing. If this piece is aimed at internet-phobes, you might want to keep the terminology consistent.

Cheers - Steve.

Posted by: Steve Lacey at June 15, 2006 5:45 PM

Well spotted, Harry. Typo fixed. Thanks.

Steve: Web vs Internet. The debate continues...

Posted by: hugh macleod at June 15, 2006 6:14 PM


I see two stages; (1) getting attention and (2) good follow through. Back in '95 and onwards an agency I started put a big load of single malt scotch brands online. The brand owners were taken there by us 'kicking and screaming'. Each brand that embraced each new web opportunity first got an advantage. How did we sell it to them. Told them to shut up and listen and do as they where told (they were clueless marketing people - almost)

So (1) is doing something first and do it well.

But you need (2) and that is you have to follow through with great products, good ways to find and buy the stuff, keep on all the other conventional innovations that are not pure marketing. The mix is big. A different mix will work for different types of people.

To summarise - Stormhoek have got all these wine marketing guys chattering and also a whole lot of coverage and buzz in lots of new consumer places. All they need to do is further understand the people who are buzzing and look after them with more new cool stuff - both wine and ways to communicate about their wine and their company. As for the 'other' wine producer guys - Stormhoek just have to be better than they are and keep ahead. People love to copy ideas.

So Stormhoek need more Hugh - and while they 'give good hugh' they should not forget to also give out more wine

James (who now loves Cumbria)

Posted by: James Thomson at June 15, 2006 6:38 PM

I like the aggressive tone.

However, I think you could make it more convincing, by adding to the 'shock value', with an additional sentence:

(Put in your real metrics here, but you get the idea):

What do you do?

You use these networks of millions to circulate 500 bottles of wine to 100 dinner parties to generate 400 reviews, 10 bajillion links, and a sales growth of 4000%. And you do it on a budget of $200,000. That's what you do.

Provided you have real results that prove your point, I think this will get the attention of your most skeptical wine readers.

Posted by: kim at June 15, 2006 7:22 PM

Kim- I don't think a 4000% increase in sales by the time we're done is out of the question, by the time we're done.

Of course, by that time I'll be on my yacht, ergo not really giving a hoot whether I have their attention or not ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at June 15, 2006 7:42 PM

another winery trying to enter the same game


Posted by: James Thomson at June 15, 2006 11:47 PM

Yea, imitation of a great idea is the sincerest from of flattery, etc., but if their wine sucks, they have done more harm to their brand than good. I've signed up to try Mankas Hills just like I did for Stormhoek; I don't see any issues with others using this strategy and hope more wineries will follow...

The bottom line is the personal connection with customers who dig your wine. The trick is making those connections. Hugh is onto part of the solution here, but it's still evolving.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2006 2:57 AM

I've been reading your blog for months. I found you with a google search for "edgy blog writing." I immediately loved your comics (and still do). And, as a web programmer, I am blown away by your marketing ideas.

I love what you are doing for Stormhoek. I love what you are doing for marketing. But most of all, I love what you are doing for the internet and blogging.

The future is messy - we should all just dive in.

Posted by: futuregirl at June 16, 2006 3:54 AM

I like it. I agree with John Dodds above. Does your audience care about Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis? If they listen to you, they will tomorrow. Today their names are just so much incomprehensible Internet noise...

Posted by: Josh at June 16, 2006 9:11 PM

I love theplanned book or what have you. Whilts I don't feel offened by your aggressive tone I wonder if talking to wine people reminding them that at the retail level the public walks into the winestore that makes them comfortable, the manager is pleasant, helps them with good wines knows the latest football scores ot cricket scores you name it there is a relationship that extends beyond just buyinga bottle of wine or a case. Isn't that what we try to do in a blog build a relationship not just grab a customer.
keep on keeping on some people are out there listen even learning.

Posted by: Roger Wilks at June 17, 2006 4:31 AM

You're right. I guess even though the Internet is beginning to surface as the premier means of communication, still, many have not realized the power it can do when it comes to business. The Internet has a lot of negative hearsays that people who are not familiar with the whole media is not getting the point.

Posted by: Mary at June 19, 2006 12:47 PM

We agree on many points - the internet is scary to most wineries and they don't yet understand that that the internet is their DIRECT link to their customers (consumers, restaurants, retailers, press, wholesalers, etc.). It has extreme power when leveraged properly. Moreover, the wine industry has been conditioned so long to the three tier system that only since consumer direct started (about 15 years ago and only really aggressively 5 years ago) has the concept of customer centric marketing started to become mainstream. We appreciate you helping communicate the power of the internet and technology to the entire industry.

---Paul Mabray - CEO

Posted by: Paul Mabray at June 22, 2006 3:03 PM

The more "you are there" an experience is, the less immersive. It's why a movie can't involve a user to the extent that a printed book can. It's why TV news can't keep people riveted on a single subject for more than a couple minutes whereas newspaper or magazine articles can grab them for 15 minutes or more.

Posted by: Smith at October 2, 2006 4:19 PM

I was fortunate enough to listen to Graham Knox tell his story on Stormhoek and was amazed but as Johnathan Cohen asked ... is this a once off or do you think there is opportunity for other winery's to do the same and expect the same type of success?

Posted by: Jenny van Niekerk at May 28, 2007 11:34 AM

I think there are other opportunities, Jenny, just not quite the same opportunities as ours.

The secret sauce is not so much the blog per se. The secret sauce is having the willingness to try out new experiment, with the goal of raising customer engagement etc.

Posted by: hugh macleod at May 28, 2007 11:50 AM

What you do is still craft your message. You've got to make the initial imprint, and then let the chips fall where they may.

What's you've written is very provocative. While I agree with most of what you say, I also know that marketing is not all-or-nothing; i.e., "It used to be, you could buy a piece of media, hire some advertising professionals to polish the message till it was nice and shiny, and deliver it to as many people as you wanted, in whatever form you wanted.

"But suddenly, you’re now irrelevant."

Marketing has life cycles, from being created, to market decline, to near obscurity.

Example: Foot sizing apparatus - which my uncle Harold Clarke invented to process soldiers quickly for WW II expediency. It went into market maturity - when, if you were buying shoes, you first had to have your foot sized. Then to market decline - still in shoe stores, but with self service, people just try on shoes from the rack. They either fit or not, but there's at least one per store, if not two.

While I believe that many stories are now coming from others on the Internet, there's still plenty of assignments out there to write internal copy, because if we all just rely on what others are saying on the Internet, chaotic stories about us all will reign. I don't see that in the near future.

That said, I do see the proliferation of Internet social exchanges adding to the truths and perceptions (which are also truths of a kind)of every single brand that exists in the world, and they're are thousand upon thousands of them, so it's crafting the best stories, now, not throwing up one's hands in a "What are we to do?" just yet.

Posted by: Jo Diaz at June 13, 2007 4:30 PM