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Gabrielle Vizzavona
/ 13 Oct, 2021
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[Interview] What is the new normal for digital wine and spirits marketing?

What major change did the pandemic bring about in the use of digital technologies by the wine industry?

Interview with Arnaud Daphy, partner at SOWINE, an agency specialising in digital marketing for wines and spirits.

Gabrielle Vizzavona:

Arnaud Daphy: For B-to-B relations (between professionals), there is clearly a before and after. A lot of wine is exported and many winegrowers have distributors around the world. The inability to travel and meet up with them has led to new ways of doing business. They have had to organise meetings by videoconference and remote tastings. This has been a game-changer.

GV: Do you feel this has been beneficial, despite the lack of physical contact?

AD: You have to think about the cost/benefit ratio, and in my opinion, it has been positive overall. The cost is the human element, with more shallow relationships. But, even if the contact is less rewarding, videoconferences still make it possible. The issue mainly is about minds communicating and not bodies, and even if you can’t go to dinner with your client, you can still hold a meeting. The benefit is greater, because you can do much more, increase the number of contacts using less energy and at a lower cost.

GV: So are these solutions likely to stay around after the pandemic?

AD: They will not replace encounters with others, but they will increase their density. The wine world will always have quality face-to-face relationships, especially through trade shows. But these solutions allow us to interact with partners that we previously only saw once every 3 or 4 years, due to lack of time.

GV: These solutions were already available before the pandemic, why were they underused?

AD: Covid has accelerated the adoption of these techniques that save everyone time and energy. We had our backs to the wall and realised that they worked very well and so we quickly adopted these different ways of working.

GV: How about B-to-C, connecting the wine industry and consumers?

AD: Here again, things have moved fast. People have dramatically increased their online purchases. At the end of 2020, our barometer showed that the number of people stating they had bought wine online – which had remained at around 30% for several years – had soared to 47%. There is a rule of thumb, and that is that when we get to 50%, we switch to new consumption patterns which ultimately take the lead. Currently, a good 10% of wines by volume are sold online. It is estimated that in ten years’ time this could double. The Internet has to be considered as a full-fledged distribution channel.

GV: How about online tastings for the general public?

AD: There have been numerous initiatives, some more sophisticated than others, including tasting packs and Instagram lives that have worked well for both industry members and private individuals. Their format is quite simple from a technology perspective and they allow a more direct connection with winegrowers, directors, journalists and head winemakers, some of whom were very difficult to meet previously. They are also more intimate, genuine and interactive and can be likened to singers hosting concerts in their living rooms! They have the potential to create a direct relationship with the consumer outside the winery. And that’s new.

GV: Which social media have stood out?

AD: Instagram is king because it resonates with the way people use social media, through inspiring, staged visuals that entertain the audience and can be used quickly. TikTok was a pleasant surprise, though has yet to be embraced by wine people. As wine and spirits brands have yet to do anything with it, it is pretty much unchartered territory. It will be interesting to see how its potential develops. Nobody has a crystal ball telling them which media will be successful or which ones will disappear. One thing is for sure and that is that there is a ‘bonus’ for those who get in first as we have seen over the last 10 years. Conversely, when you invest in a nascent social media, the ROI is more difficult to justify. It's all about timing.

GV: Which social media should be embraced, knowing that they may cease to exist or become quickly outdated?

AD: You always have to be on the lookout. Each media has its own conventions. Instagram is about laughing, being emotionally moved and aspiration. Young people have deserted Facebook, but the older generation that uses it drinks wine. LinkedIn is now mandatory for B-to-B engagement. It has its own conventions and involves creating informative and educational content. New social media emerge every day. At the moment there is a lot of talk about ClubHouse, which is entirely audio-based. It will be interesting to see if this media becomes established, and of course to use it to experiment with different ways of reaching out. One rule that will always have to be complied with is that the contents, their format and their tone will have to be specifically adapted to each social media.

GV: Which tools will develop on these platforms?

AD: Some media will become sales platforms. This is already true of Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. They will make relationships and transactions between winegrowers and consumers more seamless. Marketplaces will develop. One of the new developments to watch is Vivino, which has the resources to achieve its ambitions after raising $155 million in February 2021, and aims to become the Amazon of wine.

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