[Official “Smarter Wine” logo etc.]
At Stormhoek, the wine company I work for, our basic schtick is this philosophy we call “Smarter Wine”. This is what Mark Earls would call the “Purpose-Idea” of the company; i.e. the reason we get out of bed in the morning and go to work every day. Here are some thoughts on what Smarter Wine means, in no particular order:
1. Smarter Wine does not imply that we’re “smarter” than anywhere else. It’s an ideal that we aspire to, not that we embody. The idea is not something Stormhoek will ever “own”, like a tagline in an ad campaign. It’s an idea I think EVERYBODY in the trade should get their head around, be they makers, sellers or buyers, large or small. But hey, I would say that.
2. Everyone’s definition of “smarter” will be different. I’m OK with that. To me, it means continually engaging the customer at a higher level, continually raising the bar.
3. The brilliant thinker, Russell Davies identified four keywords that will govern the future of the advertising business. About as succinct a list as I’ve ever seen:
Always In Beta.
“Always In Beta” is a popular term in Silicon Valley. In an ideal world, it would be equally popular in the wine trade as well. It’s unfortunate that this is not the case.
4. A word people like using in the wine trade is “innovation”. Some companies pay it only lip service, some companies actually try to embrace it full-on. But it’s harder than it looks. Wine is one of the oldest products in the world; change happens slowly and with great reluctance. Sure, putting wine in funky-dunky plastic or aluminum bottles might be technically “innovative”, but does the average wine customer actually want that? A more interesting question for me is how the wine connects with people on an emotional and intellectual level. That to me is where the real action is.
5. Big ideas start out as little ideas, and lots of them. What do companies like Apple, Nike, Innocent Drinks and Starbucks have in common? Superficially, very little. But one thing you’ll notice about them is that they’re constantly coming up with new stuff. Constantly trying out new ideas, seeing what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, they move on quickly. Their schtick is all about taking frequent small steps in the right direction, as opposed to betting the farm on the annual Superbowl ad. Creating a constant stream of “Social Objects”. We take a similar approach at Stormhoek [We’re a small wine company, frankly, so we have no other choice]. Different branding ideas, different cartoon label ideas, different sponsorship and PR ideas. On one level it’s a highly unpredictable way to go about it. On another level, it’s amazing how certain we are that SOMETHING good comes out of it eventually.
6. Eighty per cent of vineyards in the world do not make a profit. Eighty. Per. Cent. Other fun stats: There are 50 countries in the world that have wine industries. Italy alone has 500,000 vineyards. Sicily has ten times the vineyards as Napa Valley. Conclusion: The competition is off the scale. Besides making good wine [obviously], the only way forward is to somehow figure out, by any means necessary, how to rise above the clutter. The only way to do this is to speak to people in a way our industry has never spoken to them before.
7. I am not a wine expert. I am not a wine snob. I am not a wine bore. I am not even a wine geek. When I think of the business I’m in, I do not think of the vineyards, the lifestyle porn that’s famously attached to the industry, the “hummingbirds gathering nectar in the morning dew” palaver. My thoughts are more prosaic. I think about a person pushing a shopping cart through a supermarket, a teacher or a nurse, perhaps, who’s there buying food because she’s cooking spaghetti for her boyfriend that evening, who just wants a good bottle of wine for under ten dollars to go with it. Her needs, as simple and basic as they are, interest me FAR MORE than satisfying the vast sea of social pretentions that lives inside the wine trade.
8. Not everybody inside the trade will “get” the Smarter Wine idea. In marketing terms, it not that big a deal. As Oscar Wilde once quipped, “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”
Despite all the vineyards, I still think there’s a major gap in the wine industry/trade. Of course, I speak solely as a consumer, but in my expierence no one has a “my wine” whereas most people have a Vodka , a Whiskey, and a beer that they consistently drink (btw, Stoli, Jack, and Harp). The reason for this, I think, is because of the “clutter”. I doubt non-affcianados could name one of the world’s million vineyards, nor should they have to, nor should they need to. If a wine company is really “smarter”, they’ll save the consumer from having to be.
Interesting post. #6 makes me think of Gary, a friend of my Dad’s. He has a vineyard, and he is passionate about growing the best grapes. We got to tour his vineyard a couple years ago, and it was fascinating to learn all the little details about what he does to get the best harvest possible.
What Gary does not do, though, that many neighboring vineyards do, is run a winery. He has had some of the wineries he does business with make small batches of wine just for him that he can sell or give to clients and friends. But he doesn’t do the whole promotion, public tasting, etc. deal. He just focuses on growing great grapes, which he sells to wineries both big and small. And even in a tough business climate, he is doing very well.
Sounds like Gary has found himself a nice wee niche, Susanna. Good for him 🙂
Yes, nice wee niches in the wine biz do actually exist, but overall it’s a tough-ass business, that’s for sure.
I do find it fascinating that despite the fact that you continue to make it very clear you’re in the wine business, people think the Blue Monster is about you getting into tech.
btw, you’re quoting Russell Davies, not Russell Beattie – our Russell’s name is much easier to pronounce 🙂
Typo fixed, Lloyd. Thanks for the pointer.
Yeah, it’s fun watching people guess what I’m up to with Microsoft. Especially the anti-MSFT Open Source guys. I wonder if they realize, the more they rant here, the more they’re helping me out, and indirectly, MSFT as well…
I am a wine drinker and I also own a bar so I have some idea about what folks want and some of the obstacles they face.
I can’t agree more about your approach, while some may buy into the whole “wine porn” or some blather about a wine lifestyle, most wine buying is a more humble experience. Robert Parker, the biggest wine geek of all, has a shut up and drink mentality. Do you like the wine? Then it’s good and you don’t need an expert to tell you one way or another.
WHAT’S LEFT IS TO CONNECT. Walk into any wine shop or supermarket and you know that in there is a bottle – or ten – for you, but have no idea where to start. If you don’t have that special someone in-store who knows you, it’s up to the winemakers to help. This goes way beyond making a fancy label. Many awesome wines are plain to ugly on that score. You need to bring more to the game.
It’s an interesting dilemma. You’re a brave man Macleod.
No need to guess what you’re doing with ‘Blue Monster’.
“2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – MacLeod
Most definitely the FLOSS rants help. And though the M$ Business Model is the ‘evil empire’ it is NOT the softies who are. Let us not forget that without M$ and IBM, regardless of what we feel about their ethics, or lack of, computing would hardly be the ubiquity it is today.
Half of the time I have no idea what you are about in some of your posts Hugh, but the fact that you consistently say these things like in number 7, and actually appear to effort change, effectiveness and cut thru some of the crap for us in the non-marketing/non-tech work world is one of the reasons I continue to read everyday-gives me hope! That and you’re a cutie cartoonist who makes me laugh and think too 😉
Another insightful look at the world from an outsider. Although I don’t feel that wine (and bespoke suits for that matter) are a commodity as opposed to technology and Starbucks coffee, there is a need to rise above the clutter in any size market. Note that real wine is always in beta, that’s what makes it interesting.