A couple of months ago, I was honoured to be invited by Wine Cellar to be on the panel for their #SkillsChallenge Workshop series on marketing. On the sideline, there was a vivid discussion on influencers and how to best make use of them in the Wine Industry. This is a trending topic worldwide, and a lot of brands are at a loss or have been scarred from previous experiences with so-called ‘influencers.’ In a time where we find ourselves amidst a global pandemic; marketing and correct expenditure of said budget is of uttermost importance.
Influence marketing is not a new concept; the explosion of social media has just amplified it. Fundamentally it is the idea of a personal recommendation by someone you trust. Wine Critics and journalists like Robert Parker have been doing it for years.
I cringe at the word ‘influencer’ <previously referred to as bloggers> I allude to a group of entitled millennials who think they are rather important and live off free lunches and press drops.
Like all herd communities, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s first look at the definition of an influencer;
“An influencer is someone who has:
- the power to affect others’ purchasing decisions because of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience.
- a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.
It is important to note that these individuals are not merely marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.”
According to Influencer Marketing Hub
Influencer marketing aims to increase your brands reach, to authentically share your story via an influencer. It is particularly useful to drive a buzz when a brand is new or releasing a new product.
As per the definition above, the influencer should be a specialist in your industry; have knowledge and experience. Knowledge is vital here, but shockingly not all that common in those who pose as a wine influencers locally. Wine seems to be grouped in a ‘lifestyle’ category alongside food, travel, skincare, pets etc. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being an influencer who spreads across all these areas, but we are left with just a handful of genuinely discerning, focused, and able wine commentators. Most of whom are wine journalists and may not have their own blog or website and hence the leverage required to influence your target market. Overseas the pool is far greater with influencers who have impressive qualifications and a significant following of, on average, 30-40,000. We have big shoes to fill…
We must bear in mind, South Africa has a very low per capita wine consumption when compared to other wine-producing nations. Only 31% of the country drink alcohol at all, and whiskey and beer usually is the beverage of choice before wine! Let’s not forget we are also a developing country; the majority of people buy what they can afford, and they don’t have the luxury of being influenced by social media. So the target market is a smaller sample than other wine consuming countries.
If you find the right influencer – they can be a massive asset to your business and without costing you much. Very few local influencers have the qualifications or clout to justify being paid, in my opinion. Of course, it depends on how much you expect to gain from the agreement, but a social media post or blog post should be done with authenticity, a genuine review of your product (if positive; no one gains from public negativity). If you are paying for content through an influencer, they are legally bound to state so in the post. In doing so, the credibility and legitimacy of their review is lost. If a feature is unpaid, it feels like a personal recommendation, paid it can come across as ingenuine as a billboard advertisement.
Influencer Marketing is the new version of advertising, although far more convincing and useful in today’s market. If you believe in your product, you no longer need to put an ad in a magazine; you can just put a bottle in the hand of an influencer. Not just any influencer mind you, the right influencer. Do your research; otherwise, you may do your brand more damage than good.
Finding the right influencer is like online dating, you are looking for your perfect match…
Tips on wine-fluencer dating;
1) Where to meet your brand’s soul mate.
– Start at home. Have a look at your social media and see if there are any influencers who regularly and authentically rave about your products.
– Have a look at hashtags relevant to your brand and see if anyone pops up there.
– Look at the social media of other brands in the industry and see who has tagged them in posts.
2) Do you match?
– Do they fit into your target market? An influencer generally targets those in a similar demographic as themselves. So it makes sense to align them with your customers.
– Is their content relevant to you? Do they have a related audience? Remember, you can use different influencers for different tiers of wines. Your flagship and entry-level wines generally have different end buyers, so you need a separate marketing approach.
– Look through their content. Do they speak the same language as your company? Does their aesthetic content match that of your winery? If they use profanity or provocativeness in their posts, is that something you want representing your brand? Yes, sex sells, and the post may get a lot of attention, but is it your wine the viewers will remember – and if they do – will they remember it for the right reasons? Your chosen influencer is an extension of your brand, make sure they represent your values authentically.
– Do you like their writing; is the content engaging and compelling, or is it a copy and pasted press release?
3) What is their value?
– It is tempting to use single metric definitions like the number of Instagram followers and likes per post as a measure of influence, but beware they could be fraudulent. People will do anything for attention, including pay for it! Firstly have a look at their’ follower to likes ratio’ and see if it is aligned. Secondly, look through their followers and look out for bots – bots generally have none or very few posts, don’t follow anyone and/or have spammy usernames. These are some red flags. You can also use online tools specifically designed to hunt out fake followers.
– Bigger isn’t always better. Someone may have tens of thousands of followers, but sometimes a smaller, more focused, niche, and engaged following can be more powerful.
4) Ok I’ve found my brand’s match, now what?
Ok, you’ve done your research, and you would like to approach your ideal influencer. If they live near enough to your winery, invite them to visit and give them a tour and a tasting. See how you align and put your feelers out. The perfect result would be to endorse the influencer to become a brand ambassador and engage in a long term mutually beneficial relationship. Remember money isn’t the only currency; invite them to your events, give them a membership to your wine club, perhaps offer a discount off your products, in your winery’s restaurant; spoil them but at the same time bringing them closer to your brand.
Your influencer should enhance your brand like a Michelin star chef compliments your wine with his creations. It’s a natural marriage of vision and personalities. Take your time to find the perfect fit. There is no exact recipe here, just an interdependent collaborative agreement. Good luck out there; it’s wild 😉