Robert Parker should be ashamed of himself…

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So there apparently was some information floating out there about the Wine Bloggers Conference that I find very interesting.  Mostly because of the source and because while he should be ashamed of himself, I ultimately agree with him.

It was Robert Parker himself that seems to take issue with bloggers.  The thread on eRobertParker.com centers around bloggers and the fact that they are changing the industry.  Good, bad, whatever your take they at least admit that its changing the industry.

I don’t take issue with that.  What I do take issue with, and I take it directly with Mr. Parker, is his mis-representation of the conference, his lack of understanding of the community, and is unwillingness to even attempt to correct either one of those two mistakes.

First, let me say that the thread calls into question the motivation behind not only the Wine Bloggers’ Conference but the OpenWine Consortium.  The original poster says:

“I believe you and many of the top wine critics are under fire today not by chance but a systematic effort of the wine industry to change the paradigm of the relationship between consumer of wine and producers of wine….”

and then goes on further to say:

“With regard to whether this is an industry planned movement or just a shift in buying habits enabled by technology, I think could be up for debate. But when I look at things like the Open Wine Consortium or I look at www.winebloggerconference.com and examine the participants, sponsors, etc., I think there has to be a strategy for change? The technology industry has made shifts in market conditions through consortiums and conferences for years. It’s not wrong or right. It is an industry doing what is best for the producers.”

Joe (thread originator) – My name is Joel Vincent.  You can read my background here – JoelVincent.com.  I created the OpenWine Consortium and I produce the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I am not someone deep in the California wine industry.  I am fascinated by technology and wine is a serious passion/love.  I created the OpenWine Consortium as a consortium of wine companies all over the world to learn about and drive Web2.0 technologies’ adoption because its GOOD FOR WINE.  I believe that now and always have believed it.  It started as a consortium because that is how I understood how to create a movement like that – I’ve been active in the IEEE and the WiFi Alliance as well as efforts in creating standards for Ethernet and Internet Protocols.  When I saw that the wine industry needed a way to learn about these technologies I created the OWC to try to organize the more knowledgeable companies and have them efficiently proliferate their understanding of Web2.0 to other wine industry people who don’t.  Also, its a Web2.0 community because I believe the best way to learn is by doing.  So just by using the OWC the industry is learning the power of Web2.0.  It has since grown into a much broader business networking platform for the wine industry than I ever imagined attracting people from every continent and every facet of the wine business.

The Wine Bloggers’ Conference was a decision I made to organize the community of wine writers that are blogging and give them a forum to learn from one another.  It wasn’t an original idea – the European organizers and I discussed it for a while then did independent conferences last year and combined them this year.

Since most citizen bloggers are exactly that – citizen bloggers – I figured they didn’t have the funds to attend something like the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium ($500 admission I think?).  So I asked wine companies to sponsor to subsidize the costs and make it reasonable.  They came in droves.  I’m sure they have their agenda, but I don’t care what their agenda is as long as the goal of getting the community together to learn from each other is met and the prerequisite to that is to make it affordable.  Mission accomplished there.

I hardly think that I am the “industry” but yes, its an astute observation that I have created a platform the for the movement of Web2.0 into the wine industry.  Thanks for the props (FYI to eRob folks – “Props” is short for “propers” and is a slang term commonly used by those under 40 to recognize that one has been afforded the proper credit for their efforts).

Third, to Joe AND Mr. Parker, the Wine Bloggers Conference is held in CA and Europe with affiliated events cropping up in New York now as well.  So this movement is even more widespread than you understand, more pervasive than you’ll every know, and DEFINITELY not confined to California.

Its late and I have two young tots.  So let me get to why Mr. Parker should be ashamed of himself.  I’m personally annoyed because I (and every blogger I know) would never, EVER take anything away from Parker’s importance to this industry or his achievements.  But let me address some of the word, written directly from Mr Parker, about the Wine Bloggers Conference.

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)…”

For someone who continues to make wine blogging synonymous with the Wine Spectator Award debacle, this is one of the most uninformed mischaracterizations I’ve seen in the Inter-webs’ series of tubes.  The WBC is a community organization effort.  Driven in the US by myself and Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures (niether of us are part of the “CA wine industry”) and in Europe by Catavino Marketing and Robert McIntosh – again, no CA there.  Bloggers are paying for everything but a couple of dinners.  It even says that on the site.  Did you read the site?

Next, and this is directly from Mr. Parker:

“or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…”

Is “big and free sloppy wet kiss and then some from the CA wine industry” not misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehood?  I’m just an electrical engineer from MIT but I think “egegious” is a misspelling or I’m just worse at this writing stuff than I thought.  I think those two statement are ironic though…unless I don’t get that concept either.

Moving on:

“no doubt I miss some very fine producers as do others,but their trade associations may have had it with the independent press in search of just the best….and need to garner support from somewhere…by targeting the independent and more established press..it may help bloggers’ readership…the public sucks down anything perceived as “scandal’…even if the story is totally bereft of any investigation or fact checking…”

Mr Parker you need to understand something.  Last year, Alice Feiring gave a keynote speech to bloggers and it was inspiring.  In that speech she said that wine bloggers represent something unique in the entire history of wine writing and that is a community of wine writers.  The one dude who entrapped Wine Spectator is not enough of a sample set to make conclusions on the entirety of the wine blogging.  Again, note the irony of your “blobbers” statement.

More?  Sure thing:

“and of course,and bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)…”

Now there you are showing again a fundamental lack of understanding of not only wine bloggers, but Web2.0 in general.  People participate because they want to contribute to a community.  I can tell you that no one in wine blogging that I’ve met sees blogging as something that they will do as a business.  And the speakers (who include businesses that are not wineries, Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Steve Hiemoff of Wine Enthusiast, and many others) preach to everyone that comes to the WBC that if this is their intentions then they need to get off the bus right now.

And he continues…

“but that conference sounds like a California wine trade junket to further the interests of the vast California wine industry that feels slighted by coverage from the more established press….as always there is a simple solution for wineries feeling ignored….make better wine…it will get attention faster than you ever dreamed….fascinating list of sponsors under-writing all the costs for that event…not one of them pro-consumer….all of them pro wine-selling business….”

This may be true of the sponsors, but the content of the event is driven by the community.  Topics are discussed in the US conference and expanded upon in the European conference and vice versa.  There are ad-hoc events to discuss topics that weren’t explored at the main WBC.  This movement is much much bigger than you understand, clearly.

For the reasons I stated above, you should be ashamed of yourself.  But now, let me agree with you in a HUGE HUGE way:

“Vinography comes to mind immediately…so it is not so much an anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”

Yes, Alder is a clear leader.  And we are ALL “anti-irresponsible” bloggers.  Bloggers are a very very new community.  They are trying to understand themselves as much as people are trying to understand them.  The topics that people want to discuss at the conference include:

  • Blogging and the future wine writing and wine reporting
  • Beyond Words: How Video Content is Changing the Wine Biz
  • Create a panel on Unified standards for ethics and disclosure
  • Legalities of Blogging

Wine bloggers are voting to discuss these topics.  They want, collectively as a community, to understand how to be responsible wine bloggers and what that means.  Many don’t have the distinguished career that you have in wine writing.  Blogging is still very young by many standards and absolutely in its infancy in the wine industry.  There are many things yet to be determines and at least the community wants to take responsibility for what is happening.

You and your voice can be a leader to a new generation of wine writers and lead the change that is happening to the wine writing industry.  This change is going to happen.  I’m not forcing it, just giving it a platform.  I’m not the CA wine industry as Joe seems to thing, I’m just a nerd from MIT that loves wine.  If you came to the conference and started to discuss with the community what you believed should be deemed as “responsible” blogging you’d have 200 very enthusiastic bloggers doing their best to live up to the standards set by thought leaders like yourself.

But rather than being the center of the inevitable change, the beacon that guides that change in a responsible direction, you seem to be disparaging what you don’t seem to understand.  Rather than attending, understanding, and helping, you are pointing at the problems with blogging and offering no solutions.

If thats going to be your stance going forward you should refrain from commenting on what you and your Web2.0 advisors don’t understand and stick to tasting wine.

New Whiz Bang Social Media Sites…same old SPAM!!!

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Its been a year now since I started the OpenWine Consortium and during that time I’ve spent many many hours thinking about social media, whats good, whats bad, and how can OWC be great. I’ve learned more then I ever imagined and OWC has grown to 3000 people making all sorts of connections, business transactions, business expansion, and even helped to launch a fledgling magazine.

Among the many lessons I’ve learned though, one thing is making me focus OWC and make it even better – SPAM. As a part of trying to make OWC better, I study other sites and social media to understand what makes them particularly effective communications tools. One thing keeps coming back over and over again – MOST of these sites really are driven to create revenue for the owner and almost every one without exception sees the only path to revenue as advertising.

I am the member of dozens of these sites and almost without exception new social media sites are being used as a place to capture your email and send you advertisements.

I started OWC with the mission of creating value for the wine industry by opening new avenues of business and networking using these new tools. I created an “ideas marketplace” where smart people in the wine industry can connect and create new things (profitable or otherwise) or make their existing things better. I plan on forging partnerships that continue to add and deliver more value and push the envelope for the community.

The interesting thing with focusing the site (granted, OWC is more of a virtual trade association than a business and I don’t rely on it for my livelihood so that makes a difference) is that by understanding that a social/business networking site creates value without creating huge “hits” or “uniques” is what seems to make OWC special. I’ve talked to owners of other big sites – social and business – and what I get back more often then not are a series of “hits” and “uniques” and “members at all costs” talks.

It seems to me that people are creating social networks not to further benefit a business or community, but all to often targeting a community that may be inclined to connected in order to drive “hits” and “uniques”. The inevitable byproduct of which are traffic generating techniques, which to the untrained ear sounds cool but to the uncreative site owner it turns a potentially interesting community into a fancy mailing list that gets persistent SPAM.

I guess I’m just a little sick of sites that say “its really good to connect here because of XYZ” when in reality they want your “hits” and will use tactics that border on incessant spamming to get them.

Put up a site with a purpose that creates value for the community and you’ll make your money one way or the other. There are no short cuts in life, and that includes in social media.

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eCommerce Holiday Season – “Hooray! We suck less!”

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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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You see, gotta do this Social Media thing…

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Image by hannesseibt via Flickr

This week was the Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) and last week was Inertia Beverage Group’s DTC Symposium.  At both venues I gave a talk about social media (the term that has been hijacked by Web2.0) and why the wine industry needs to pay attention.

My bottom line points are simple.  I’ve written about and preached on the “Wine Life Value Chain” where I talk about how the strength of a relationship basically has direct correlation to influencing a wine buyer.  The closer you are, sociallogically, to the source of a wine recommendation the faster and more likely you are to buy it.  So with that theorum guiding my thoughts we look at social media.

Social Media is basically conversations online, but the nice thing for wine (or bad) is that “word-of-mouth” becomes lightning quick and globally scalable.  So get on board and incorporate it into your business.

The reason for this post is we basically had a case study in the power of social media yesterday with Twitter and the wine crew (or it seemed like the wine “hit men/women” on Twitter yesterday!).  Here’s what happened.

The scene starts with Jill finding a wine writer in Florida at Tallahassee.com using the pseudonym of one of our fellow wine bloggers (DrDebs).  Jill tweets “Hey, someone is hijacking DrDeb’s good name” and to boot she was reviewing TERRIBLE wines and giving them good ratings – Yellow Tail, et al. A bunch of people immediately flocked overthere to check it out and left some choice comments for Fake DrDebs.

Next, one of Jill’s “followers”, Brittany aka WineQT, is from Florida and notices that the reviews from Fake DrDebs is eerily similar to a newsletter written by Nat Maclean.  Sure enough, it was plagarized!  We quickly see WineQT tweet out that “Fack DrDebs ripped it off!”.  Subsequently, Jeff Stai of Twisted Oak Winery sees this, logs a complaint with the website “Tallahassee.com”.  Within an hour the post is removed from the site for copyright violation!

Within an hour, a small post about wine that was plagarized was noticed by someone in LA, recognized as a fake post by someone in Oakland, and taken down by someone in Florida!  THAT, my friends, is Social Media.  That is word-of-mouth to the 100th degree.  And that is what wine companies can tap into if they just take the time to learn how!

Cheers!

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Evangelizing Social Media and trying to get back to the grind

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This weekend was the Inertia Beverage “Direct to Consumer” Symposium. I had the pleasure of presenting one of the larger sessions called “Marketing on Social Networks” and basically took it a little more horizontal and spoke more on “Marketing in Social Media”.

I think the presentation went well but a few things we are very certain in my mind as I start to evangelize and encourage people to participate via the OpenWine Consortium social network – since marketing in social media is a sociology problem and not a technology problem, wine companies have more of a head start then they think. Sure there are a blizzard of tools out there, but what is happening is that these technologies are moving in a direction that allows the skills that every wine brand already has offline – building a community around their product and getting to know their customers – to leverage the Internet to build that community on a much larger scale. Thats the basic synergy with Inertia’s business model. Once that broader community is established beyond just the tasting room, the final step is translating the connections made into a wine sale. Without the technology to do that, a winery is pretty screwed.

I really wanted to wineries to feel a little more comfort then they seem to be. Two main reasons – 1) online social stuff is happening and fast, but its not replacing everything tomorrow and 2) There are ways for wineries to benefit even though they are wearing many different hats already (and many don’t involve sitting in front of a computer 25 hours a day). This is where my talk and my co-presenter – Gary Vaynerchuk – differ. Always one for a bit of hyperbole (go figure) Gary says – email is dead (for some and many millenials, yes, but not completely), you have to be on every network all the time, and you can’t control your brand (which I agree with but influence is different from control). Ah yes, and he believes that there is no role for PR anymore with the new technologies – a point we differ on, its changing but PR doesn’t stand for Press Release so having built billion-dollar brands I can tell you PR is vital to a strong brand. Without PR there would be no Gary Vaynerchuk. PR is the art of image shaping and influence and there is alway a role for that. Most people have to outsource it, but others control it themselves (GV obviously controls his own PR). Anyway, long discussion.

Overall it was a good talk and hopefully we can get calmer heads to prevail and really help wineries to move forward with online strategies rather then just use “the sky is falling” discussions.

Well, now the in-laws are gone, daycare is back on (they had a week off for vacation after the 4th), so I have to try to get back into the groove!

Cheers!

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Site skinned and ready for life v2.0

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Here it is.  Wine Life Today in all its glory.  Just spent a little time updating the look and adding “My Story” (which I happen to think summarizes whats going on here pretty well).

I like the Digg-clone for wine that was formally WLT, but I have bigger fish to fry.  I’ll soon make an announcement of what my next move is in the wine industry but I can assure you things are gonna change – there is a Vincent in the wine industry now and I intend to make that mean something.

Cubicles suck and as of July 3rd, the paperwork I handed in is my official “Hasta La Vista” to cubicle nation(hence my “fugitive of a cubicle nation” tag) but there’s no denying that we all may have to work in them some day.  My intention is to make sure that if/when I do, its on my terms.

I don’t feel like I’m going it alone though.  As word trickled out that I’ve made a move to the “free” world, friends from all over (virtual and real world) have offered me great advice, support, and love.  This is going to be fun!

Changing CEOs is a Saavy Business Move

When I read Inertia Beverage’s announcement of a change of CEO it was not only interesting but actually a very wise move by the current CEO and a friend of mine Paul Mabray.  I don’t want to get into a long post on my business philosophy but I thought I should post a short commentary as I saw some conversation breaking out that made it seem as if this was a negative thing.

I know many times press releases put alot of spin on a bad situation to make it seem like a good one.  I know because part of my role in various marketing jobs had been to do just that and I always put out the story before someone makes a “scoop” and spins it negatively first.  Thats just good PR.

But I view Paul’s announcement differently.  I’ve been in High-Tech since the 1980’s even before I was in college (when I was working for a software retail company).  But more importantly, my view is shaped by something my mentor, Don McKinney, imparted on me when I first moved to Silicon Valley.  Basically, if you want your company to really succeed you first have to recognize that the company will require different CEOs and RARELY does the same person have the personality to be all of these.

  1. the “$0 to $10M” CEO – this CEO thrives on the startup situation.  Risk taker, entrepreneurial, big-game hunter, and business developer (as well as visionary and marketeer), this CEO is usually one for the founders.  The key here is to have a sales person in this role and drive the initial products to be customer-oriented with a saavy product team.  This CEO recognizes that getting A+ players on the team is more important then having the right structure or hierarchy.
  2. the “$10M to $100M” CEO – This CEO can take those first few BIG customers and nourish them such that they can be cash cows for the company.  At the same time he/she starts to pull in trusted sales and business development folks as well as marketing folks to compliment development and empowers them to do their job.  What can happen to a company that may cause it to fail is if CEO #1 thinks he/she is CEO #2 but isn’t really and has trouble either getting help to create new business, create a polished brand, or both because he/she still thinks he/she has all the best ideas and no one else can do it for them.  Its the beginning of scaling the company.
  3. the “$100M to $1B” CEO – This CEO recognizes that the company is going to go BIG TIME and needs processes that allow the organization to scale.  Oh the dreaded “P” word, but its true.  At this point, customer care is still job #1, but setting up the structure to scale operations is becoming more and more important and this CEO needs to allow that to go to a professional A+ COO type.  Again, failure can happen here when a CEO doesn’t appreciate what an operationally oriented person’s value is (i.e. can make the organization scale in ways the CEO never dreamed up).  This CEO also has to be able to attract the investment levels that typically the founding CEO doesn’t have access to.  This is usually when you see a CEO finally step aside but it can be too late.
  4. the “$1B to $10B” CEO – Now your talking about the professional CEO that you see at the top of Cisco, GE, and companies like that.  Charismatic and oozing leadership that can rival Bill Clinton in his prime.  This CEO still focuses on his top customers but there usually are so many that the top 10 are likely the only he/she gets to visit.  This CEO could be very very smart but is really removed from day-to-day so is fed development information and status from a staff of A+ lieutenants but likely has a big company filled almost 50% with B players (inevitable at this size).  The hope is that CEO #3 created solid enough processes that the company will thrive and compensate for some incompetence that has inevitably creeped into the the ranks of the company.

Thats the idea in a nutshell.  You can move the revenue bands up and down a little but this is generally true.  I had this wisdom passed on to me in the early 1990s and I’ve seen it proven out time and time again.  What I see in the Inertia announcement is a smart man that wants to see his company do great things.  But I say “smart man” because from my conversations with him, he intuitively sensed he wasn’t CEO #2 or #3, checked his ego at the door, and did the right thing.  He’s still working in there directing strategy and given his history in the wine business thats probably a good move.

The employees of Inertia should be excited.  As a Silicon Valley veteran, I can tell you more often then not that a move like this initiated by the CEO prevented this from happening later in your lives when the Board of Directors forces this decision (and they always do) because the CEO isn’t scaling the company for the big time.

Cheers!