Home Wine Business Editorial Digital Darwinism Imminent: Wineries Must Invest in Digital or Perish

Digital Darwinism Imminent: Wineries Must Invest in Digital or Perish

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By Laura Ness

This article is part of the Bold Predictions series.

Paul Mabray
Paul Mabray

According to Paul Mabray of Emetry, wineries are ignoring the importance of digitally engaging both their existing and potential customers at their peril. “We are going to see a wave of digital Darwinism,” says Mabray. “We have to get smarter. We’ve been ignoring digital. All of us live in the digital world. We buy on Amazon, we use Google and social media all day long. The market has slowed down and competition has ramped up, making it the most competitive market in history.”

Emetry, roughly translated to “the science of buying” from Latin and Greek origins, is about 2.5 years old, and was founded to unlock insights related to consumer buying habits that’s hidden in big data and obfuscated by the 3-tier system. “We don’t know enough about our customers. What are they thinking and doing? Who are they? Where are our blind spots? We need to be able to see around corners into the future,” says Mabray.

Current clients are larger wine companies, including Far Niente, Wente, Duckhorn, and Pernod Ricard. Emetry essentially provides a data aggregation platform and tools, including predictive analysis, to predict when a restaurant or wine shop will reorder a given product. Analyzing buying behaviors helps companies design programs to better service their customers.

“We are at siege,” warns Mabray. “Competition will come from retailers, beer producers, distillers, maybe even abstinence and cannabis. Reality is speaking clearly. We need to understand who our customers are and what they want. We need to become customer-centric, instead of product-centric.”

He warns that the downfall of most wineries is their hyper focus on the eno-tourism tasting room model. “It’s an Achilles heel. It’s the most inefficient and limited model for reaching customers. We have to fly people to our doors, then send wine to them back in another state, if that state even allows it. With a digital footprint, we can touch everyone in their own place. We haven’t done this enough.”

Mabray doesn’t want to come across as a Cassandra, insisting that he says these things out of love for the wine industry. “This is my family. Our addiction to California consumers coming from San Francisco is not sustainable. The tasting room model is not scalable. We need to reach customers, including retailers, through social media. We left them behind with Granholm. There are only two reasons to buy direct from a winery: an emotional connection and winery-only products. Retailers have all the advantages. They know how to build scaffolding around their customers.”

He points to examples of companies who are leveraging digital. “Look at Nike. Over the last 5 years, they’ve grown digital DTC sales by 40%. New companies are going digital before they set up storefronts. They can test models and approaches virtually.”

Wineries need to capitalize on innovations like augmented reality labels and RFID that engage customers in new ways. Social media can be turned into a feedback loop that changes the dynamics of customer interaction and keeps them coming back for more. Mabray advocates creating communities around your brand, and use alpha testing of wine concepts before wines are bottled.

But changing culture is hard. “It’s a very traditional industry, rooted in the land. We’re a push marketing model. It’s the Mondavi playbook of get a good review, sell it to the distributor, win the war. Times have changed. Look at how tequila companies are using Instagram to get feedback on design mockups for a tequila truck. Wineries should do this before a label is even created. The tools are at our fingertips. This is being applied outside wine, and we just don’t learn.”

He points to traditional ways in which wineries typically engage with customers, like cruises and fancy winemaker dinners. “Wineries spend $40k on a winemaker dinner, but there’s no ROI. This money would be far better spent on digital marketing, telling unique stories. People self-identify on social media. They seek out causes and interests important to them. Data can show where they shop and get their information.”

While wine clubs were one of the original subscription models to work, Mabray thinks they are undergoing an existential crisis. “What are the benefits of a wine club in Napa that gives you four free tastings a year when you live in Illinois?”

Look at the trends, he says. “This is a subscription economy. People are buying more online. We live in a multi-channel world. Customers choose the platform they want to engage on: you don’t. You have to be actively listening to all channels. Would you ignore the telephone ringing in the tasting room?”

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