Earlier this week, James Cherkoff and I had lunch with Jason Korman of Stormhoek, the wine brand that has been enjoying considerable success using blogging. Jason talks about the practical applications of the ideas we talk about on our Open Sauce workshops – creating conversations with customers, bypassing conventional market research and design processes, and allowing customers to be really engaged in where the brand is going.
So here is some our conversation in the form of a podcast, with some shownotes below giving the gist of the conversation. I think it’s worth a listen, though I say so myself.
Download the Podcast – 21m 17s – MP3 (12.1MB)
Podcast RSS feed for iPodder etc.
0.00 Johnnie’s introduction
0.23 James asks if it’s true that Stormhoek’s blog doubled sales
0.33 Jason answers that… yes, it’s broadly true… sales have doubled since we started blogging.
0.52 Blogging is fascinating, it’s like an ongoing focus group… we’re a young company and we are happy to expose things warts and all… we want to hear what people have to say…
1.46 James: so you like criticism? Jason: Yes. We want to know what we can improve
2.10 Johnnie asks how blogging has changed Stormhoek.
2.27 Jason: you’re sort of on the small end of a funnel.. you’re getting all this information and it’s up to the business to figure out what you’re going to do with it. One of the great values of blogging is you can ask the market questions and get an immediate response. When you see the total of market opinions you get a real feel of where you’re going…
3.42 Johnnie: You’re a small player in the wine market and you’ve courted controversy. How is that working?
3.52 Jason: The challenge with wine is to break through the clutter in an industry with lots of products from all over the world. To have an impact we have to have A) great product and B) something interesting to say. Blogging helps to do that… an enormous opportunity.. and it’s very cost-efficient. It’s hard to think of a way of marketing that would be less expensive.
4.56 James asks about the impact on the wine trade
5.10 Jason: We’ve had a lot of trade press recently. It tends to focus on the free samples to bloggers but they misunderstand what we’re trying to do. It’s like going into a bar and buying someone a drink. You do it not to give them a free drink, but to start a conversation. All we’ve done is use our product as a way to start conversations with people. That’s what marketing today is about: conversations with people. We’re lucky to have a product that is a social lubricant.
6.25 Johnnie: the blog is not for connoisseurs… how he likes the way the blog explains the mysteries of the wine trade to the layman. For example, have championed the use of screw tops over corks… So this has an impact not on experts but on me, Joe Blow
7.09 Jason explains the story about screwtops being better than corks – and how Stormhoek chose to play this.
7.36 Jason talks about the problem of the wine industry: it’s done a great job of alienating consumers by making the whole product pretentious and elitist. We want to democratise wine. One of the ideas of the blog is to have everyday people, who don’t know a lot about wine, talk about how they engage with the product.
8.53 Johnnie: theme of talking to customers as if they’re intelligent. The wine industry in some ways treats them like idiots… Previous attempts to popularise wine have resulted in Black Tower and Blue Nun, dumbed down products.
9.58 Jason: The wine industry has done a great job of putting people off. And the wine trade has continued that with, for instance, far too many varieties on display that confuse the consumer.
10.44 Jason talks about the notion of “terroire” – the traditional emphasis on the location the wine comes from, it’s very place-centric and the trouble is, everyone is using the same terroire argument. And it becomes a meaningless argument. We want to use messages other than about where the wine comes from.
11.44 James asks for examples of how Stormhoek listens to the market. Jason talks about how their best wine is their Sauvingnon Blanc… and we found some people like it – and some don’t. You forget that what we like as producers isn’t necessarily what the consumer likes. We’ve been astounded by the popularity of our Rose even though we expected other things to do better.
12.53 Jason talks about Stormhoek’s competition seeking new design ideas for the packaging. We offered Â£1000 – and about 150 different people submitted ideas. For us, it wasn’t about the individual idea, it was about engagement. People cared enough about we are doing to take the time to do this. We gleaned something from those people that sent us off in a direction we would never otherwise have gone in, and will give us a wine which will look like nothing else on the shelf. A contrast between insular inward-looking design and open source with your customers. You’re not designing for yourself but to meet the needs of the market.
16.00 The customers who are involved in Stormhoek are in the thousands, not hundreds of thousands – but those people have had an impact on our business, on our product.
16.29 Where we’re moving our blog to is to create a window onto the business of making and selling wine. We’re talking about the ups, the downs, the frustrations.
16.44 James asks about how the big supermarkets are reacting to what Stormhoek are doing. Jason: For many of them, this whole thing comes out of left field and it’s not what they’re used to. They are sceptical. We’re developing a promotion for one of them which partners with a tech company… and that idea of a tech company promoting with a wine business creates a richness which wasn’t there before.. and I think the grocers will begin to see what we’re doing.
18.55 Jason refers to Hugh Macleod’s idea of brands as idea amplifiers and this is what guides Stormhoek. Wine doesn’t have to be about pretence it can be about software, about uploading photos to flickr, about engagement in lots of different ways over a bottle of wine. More interesting than what temperature it was fermented at. There is enormous interest that a little winery such as ours is taking such a different approach.
19.35 Jason: Wine marketing has to change, and if we don’t do it, somebody else will.
19.43 James asks whether they’ll let customers influence the product itself, not just the packaging and promotion. Jason: absolutely, that’s fundamental. We will encouage people to voice their opinions in a way that will influence our style of wines and how we make them, it’s just a matter of time.
20 31 Johnnie asks Jason to summarise the impact of blogging on Stormhoek. Jason: it makes us completely outward-looking.. it gives a richness to what we do everyday that fundamentally changes how we do our business and how we view the market. It’s something I hope lots of wineries do and I think it could change the industry.