On Wine Blogging……

There has been a bit of debate recently about wine blogging, it’s usefulness who should do it and so on going on in the wine trade press. A lot of the talk has been pretty negative, and has at times verged on the aggressive towards bloggers. So I’m blogging about it – looking at what blogging is doing, what it’s usefulness is and what it serves.

The criticism appears to be that ‘bloggers want to make money from their blogs’ but that they aren’t worth investing in. Let me explain. There are portions of the wine community who want bloggers to be ‘relevant’ and help to sell more wine – there appears to be a number of producers who have invested money in bloggers, taking them out to their wineries and entertaining them in the hope that they will then write a glowing report on their trip.

Now if a blogger gets asked to go on a trip they are probably going to say yes, but the chances of most of those bloggers writing something that is a game changer or even repays the investment of the winery is, I think minimal.

The problem is not the blogger, it’s understanding who the blogger is and what they are looking to achieve and why they are blogging. Some data has been collected on this – and useful infographic is HERE .

Bloggers by and large are blogging for themselves, 79.9% stated  personal satisfaction as the biggest measure of achievement – and I can really relate to this. My head is full of stuff – and the only way to get it out is to write it down. So sometimes I blog it – it gives me a release and I hope someone somewhere might decide to read it – but honestly that isn’t my main motivator. 82.4 blog because wine is their passion, only 8.2% do it in the hope of making some money from it and 12.2% state that they want to promote someone elses business.

And yet the argument  against the relevance of wine bloggers continues to come – and I think it comes because there is a misunderstanding of who bloggers are, what they want and how they act. It is not up to the industry to tell bloggers what they ‘should’ be doing.’

The wine industry realises that the internet is a powerful tool that they can use to market, sell and promote their wines or businesses. And it is, people like reading so having content out there telling people how brilliant things are is a reasonable jump. Having  an independent voice out there is something I have seen first hand that acts as a powerful buying motivator for people to buy. But producers need to look very carefully at how they will view a return on investment with any online marketing strategy. 

In the time I have worked in the wine trade there have been a number of times I have sold a large amount of wine on the basis of a review here or there or result of a tasting or whatever. What I have learned is that there are very few occasions that you will see a great uplift in sales because someone writes about your wine. There are some writers for whom this isn’t true, and certainly if your retailers get their marketing right then they can sell more.

So the question really is not whether wine blogger are relevant – that term is based on a wrong idea of what they are there for, the right question might better be to ask are wine bloggers worth investing money on, in order to try and gain some exposure. To that end I think you need to look at who the bloggers are – and instead of using the useful infographic I linked to above lets just examine it. Some are wine writers who are also blogging – so Jamie Goode over at Wine Anorak writes for the Express, blogs, writes articles, judges in competitions, tastes extensively and has a large following – and most of his following are like minded sorts of people. Not that they have labradoodles – but rather they are not looking for top end Bordeaux but perhaps something more ephemeral and dare I say it cutting edge (or even natural……) because of his other work he is able to give things real context, and people listen to what he says. I am not saying that if he recommends a wine people go out in their droves and buy it – I honestly don’t think it works like that – rather when he raves consistently about a style of wine, a region or a producer that  he really likes then people start to sit up and take a bit of notice. Man O War or Cape Point are good examples of these. Is it worth either of these  flying even Jamie out of the country to taste – not a chance! But what they can do is make sure that when he’s in the country he visits them, or they can make sure he tastes the wines in the UK at a dinner or  something.

It might however be worthwhile someone European doing so, given that the exposure could work favourable for them. But then you  have to ask – is Jamie the right person – I mean there are other bloggers out there who have followings – or other writers who have blogs rather – the key is to match your invitation to writers/bloggers whose profile fits your wines. If you are  Portuguese don’t invite someone who only writes about Italian wines – that is common sense – but there are more subtle things to look for. Don’t just scatter gun bloggers – look for those whose preference for wine – ie those they really rate – fit with the style of wine you think you are making – and if necessary get someone to taste your wine to make sure it is what you think it is!

But then there are the people whose voice is just their blog – ok so I’m going to call it here –  estates and producers should not invest large amounts of money in this sector if they want to see a return on their investment. Virtually none of these  bloggers has a voice big enough to make a difference to  your sales – which is after all what the marketing budget you are proposing to spend is all about. JUST DON’T DO IT. You are expecting something that a blogger – most of whom are amateurs are never g0ing to deliver on. You may then even have a pop at them, or get a little bit cross- and I think this is where some of the debate has stemmed from – but it isn’t the bloggers fault – it is your own fault. You are the one who has failed to grasp what the blogger is about.

If you want a blogger to write about your wine send them a bottle, see what they think – even send them two. If they give you good coverage consider a dinner but keep expenditure down – only if they start hitting big numbers consider a trip. I am not sure why this has taken so long to realise – but on a vast internet space a single voice is lost.

Similarly Bloggers – don’t imagine you are more important than you are. Ok so you get 3,000 visitors a month to your site – but how many  of those were your mum visiting three times a day – or were producers reading what you’d said about their wines. Or put it another way how many bottles of wine do you actually think you have helped to sell in the last month. Ok I’m doing the calculation for you – less than you think. MUCH less than you think – possibly nill. (I should point out that this is not the preserve solely of amateur bloggers – there are professional wine writers who imagine they are important too and are far less influential than they think they are.) So don’t petition for freebies – you are not really offering anything in return – there are 27 million wine drinkers in the UK – the few thousand you are reaching are not all that many.

There is also the universal truth that the people are not as invested in internet content as other content. Let me explain – there us so much content produced on the internet, so many blogs are written that consumers literally consume the information – but it’s throwaway – you just don’t get the engagement from reading a blog as you might from a tasting. An interesting experiment would be to set up a blogger to write about a winery and their wines – and see what the sales response looks like. Then get that same blogger to attend a wine fair somewhere – there are plenty about now – but one with a few hundred visitors – say 10% of their blog readers. Now compare the number of sales – I bet their blog says more about the wine, I bet the blog gives a more in depth analysis of the winery and tells the story better – but the attendees at the tasting can look into the bloggers eyes and engage with them  – and that gives a greater buy in (this is sealed by being able to taste too.)

One of the reasons for this is that people are naturally sceptical about much of the content on the web. With so much content out there people know a lot of the content is written by people who don’t really know what they are talking about. 

Now there are those who argue (correctly so) that good writing will draw readers, there are those who agree that written content is part of the sales story for wine – and they are – but I disagree with the suggestion made to Harpers that wineries should put their hands in their pockets to make it worthwhile for bloggers to carry on doing what they were doing…. sorry it’s up to wineries to make it worthwhile for a blogger to blog…. don’t be so daft! Bloggers blog because they want to, and because it’s part of their passion. They don’t need to be given added benefits – or at least if they do they are probably in it for the wrong reason.

However there will still be producers who want to engage with bloggers – that is great – but don’t expect or demand that they give you immediately what you are looking for. But a better approach might be to team up with other producers and organise a bigger trip – it is about education – get the blogger(s) knowing the whole region better – but at the same time greatly reduce the cost of the trip. Or get a tasting organised for them in the UK initially, but make it at the same time a consumer tasting would happen – these people often have real jobs too!

I personally like the idea of generic or local bodies sponsoring blogger type trips – I think it sits much more easily in the overall communication and general communication style – but make sure there is a clear message to convey (and hope they then use this message). An example might be if the Consejo Regulador for  Rioja invited a group of bloggers on a trip – how should they do it.

 

1. Pick the right bloggers – not any old bloggers will do, and if your choice can’t make it then don’t just make up the numbers.

2. Pick visits carefully – they need to be really interesting – the top top places and places that have points of difference.

3. Get yourself a clear ‘message of the trip’ 1, 2 or 3 points that you hope this group of bloggers will go home with – and will convey in their blogs and other media.

4. So in Rioja I’d be looking at small, new wave producers doing something different – perhaps single vineyard wines, or single estate wines – whichever way you go – there are usually new developments happening that are quite exciting – that is what you need to convey.

5. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that your normal marketing is the best way to go – so for Rioja, drinkability, oak aging and history are not news – and everyone in wine has read a hundred things on them already – bloggers need something new to write about.

 

* – I am just using Rioja as an example – I am not suggesting that the Consejo Regulador ‘should’ take a blogger trip.

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