Understanding Wine Influencers
The other day I was called out on Facebook for supposedly being a vapid, stupid 26-year-old chick who doesn’t know anything about wine. Ahh, there are so many things wrong with this sentence.
It happened after I blocked the guy after a mean-spirited comment he made about me regarding wine influencers, so I didn’t get the chance to respond. Nor did I want to. I am not here to convince anyone who already has their mind made up about me… I’m aware that doing so is often a waste of time. Though, I did want to write about my experience, because this is my blog and that’s kinda the point.
Over 10 years ago, I was 26 and definitely didn’t know anything about wine. I was just getting started in the industry, working at a marketing agency as a project manager. Our first wine client was Clos du Bois. Yes, this was before they were bought out by Constellation, and now Gallo. I didn’t know much about wine beyond that I liked Pinot Noirs and I did not like Cabernet. I also didn’t know that if you kept a case of wine in your trunk during the summer that it would ruin the wine. I definitely learned that lesson.
Fast forward 12.5 years later, and I have worked in several areas of the wine industry: working the tasting room; helping wineries and wine associations with social media, email marketing, website design, and customer service; and now, writing and teaching classes on how to use social media to connect with an online community. So to say that I know nothing about wine is definitely wrong.
But I’ve never claimed to know a lot about the nuances of wine tasting or how wine is made. That was never my interest even when I first started out as a wine blogger.
IMO, wine is about the experience.
For me it has always been about the experience (the Alexander Valley Winegrowers understand this… I mean, their next event is called EXPERIENCE ALEXANDER VALLEY). It’s never been just about the wine. And to think that I am somehow stupid because that’s how I view it is complete horseshit. That’s such a patronizing and old-school way of looking at the wine industry.
With so many wineries out there, what’s going to set one apart is not necessarily the wine itself, but the branding. It’s the people. It’s the experience. And yes, good wine should be a given. But for some 26-year-olds not in the industry, they don’t know the difference yet. They may never learn what the difference actually is. And, let’s be honest, who’s to say what is good and what’s not? (Yeah, I said it.)
We know that the younger generation cares less about wine scores than older generations. Does not caring make millennials wrong? No. Wine is subjective. We also know that Generation Z (the oldest are just 21) is drinking less wine overall than previous generations. So instead of whining about how marketing to them is like talking to monkeys, maybe take a break and try to listen.
I like what my friend Robert from a winery in Dry Creek Valley said: “They care. When given an experience that they enjoy, they care and they engage. It's just that they are not stupid and they see through the mass-produced bullshit that our industry produces in spades.”
On the topic of influencer marketing in the wine industry again...
I get it, influencer marketing and wine is controversial. Hence the original point of this blog post….
It’s still hard to determine ROI and that makes a lot of people nervous. That’s why I’m still teaching people how to engage on social media 13 years after the start of Twitter.
It’s also challenging trying to figure out the ROI of spending a little extra time cultivating relationships and how that’s actually equivalent to them buying more wine. I understand that the idea of spending your time engaging on social media is an abstract idea. I’m lucky to have worked with Joy from Iron Horse Vineyards for 6+ years. She understands the value in creating relationships with customers. She understands that influencer marketing, engaging with the media, or being nice to the person who has 100 followers and shares a picture of a bottle of wine at your winery is going to cause people to care about your brand.
So it isn’t that I don’t want to talk about ROI. It’s just more nuanced than that. I'm writing an article for the North Bay Business Journal on how many brands who don't understand influencer marketing are already doing it – by having their local chamber host a happy hour and giving away free appetizers. Or inviting a local writer out to try a new wine… These are both a very basic form of influencer marketing, just not the kind that people think of right now. I’ll link to it when the article is live.
My last blog post on the subject of wine influencers got a lot of attention, both positive and negative.
Right now, in addition to the ROI question, people are looking at the term “influencer” as a group of girls posing for the camera, not knowing anything about the subject matter, and expecting things for free. Once again, I'm here to say that that is not the case for everyone, and certainly not the case for influencers worth their weight in cans of rosé.
The term “influencer” has been warped by the Kardashians of the world.
For many, their mind goes directly to people like the Kardashians or the twenty-somethings at Coachella taking selfies. Or travel influencers traveling the world on someone else’s dime, having their boyfriends take pictures of them in front of historic monuments. Or Khloe Kardashian promoting Fit Tea (or whatever it is called) when you KNOOOOOWWW she isn’t using it.
I will elaborate on this more in my next article, but “influencer” just refers to an individual who persuades someone. In the general scheme of things anybody could be an influencer as long as they inspire one other person. In the marketing world, these are people with hundreds, thousands, or millions of followers who have an online community that is essentially inspired by them.
The same old guy who called me a vapid 26-year-old also noted that I am a part of a pod and that my engagement on Instagram isn’t actually real. Not that it matters, but the image he commented about was never even shared as an Instagram DM to my friends. On top of it, many of the women in the pod I mentioned in my last blog post are actually a part of the wine industry – not vapid 26-year-olds taking selfies in the vineyards without knowing anything about wine.
But as a marketer, I also want to understand my target audience. Maybe right now baby boomers are buying the most wine. But we know that won’t always be the case.
I also want to put out a reminder that there is a wine for everyone out there. If you like full-bodied, oaky Cabernets, there are a ton of them out there. If you like super, super sweet white zin, then guess what? There are a lot of them out there as well.
And you know what… If your audience is baby boomers, there is a wine influencer for that.
Just because the misconception about “influencers” is that they are vapid, only taking images of themselves… and saying they are in NAPA when they are in SONOMA…. Doesn’t mean that is correct. There are plenty of baby boomer wine influencers out there. Many who mentored and inspired me when I was a newbie wine blogger 10+ years ago.
Wine influencers / bloggers like Jo Diaz from Wine-Blog.org and Tom Wark from Fermention Wine Blog are the first two that pop into my head.
For me, I’m going to stick to rosés, extra dry sparkling wine, Petite Verdot, and pilsners.
Speaking to those 26-year-olds out there taking pictures of themselves in the vineyards… Not everyone will understand you. And that is fine. I was 26 once, and if smartphones were around, maybe I would have taken more pics. Instead I had a Razr, and its camera wasn’t very good. I will say, if you are truly looking to be an “influencer” as a career move, check out Julie Solomon and The Influencer Podcast. She is a professional and will help you see it as a job and not just a way to get free wine.
I have said it before, influencer marketing is a trend that is only getting larger. Because it can work. You just need to connect with the influencers that make sense for YOUR target audience.
Oh, and to older guys, or anyone who doesn't realize that the wine industry and the world is changing, have fun being a cynical jerk online. I mean, it worked for the president. Ugh.