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Revisiting the question – wine merchants vs bloggers

by Harpers
Monday, 14 February 2011
The wine blogging community was up in arms last week over a report from Wine Intelligence, which said independent bloggers were one of the “least trusted sources of wine information”. Harpers asked bloggers, merchants, online retailers, and Wine Intelligence for their views.

 

Wine retailer and blogger Peter Wood runs Luvians bottle shop in St Andrews in Scotland, and blogs at thetastingnote.com

The fact that wine customers don’t trust bloggers to give them recommendations doesn’t surprise me. I know that UK wine consumers still rely on either print media or their local merchant for recommendations.
Wine blogging is still in its infancy, and there are so many people who have a passion  and want to write about it.  The problem is that many wine blogs are simply a list of tasting notes. Retailers and newspaper critics have the opportunity to compare dozens of Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs, so when a customer asks for their advice they can suggest one brand over the other. Bloggers, since they are self-funding, don’t have this opportunity.
Retailers and critics also have anecdotes from winery visits or meetings with winemakers. Often these stories give customers another reason to buy a particular wine. Again, many bloggers don’t have the same access, and even if they do, their voices are diluted by the masses that don’t.
If bloggers are going to get the credibility in the wider wine world, they need to attract people to their blogs with a USP. I use winemaker or celebrity interviews and guides to Glenfarclas whiskies where I link them to Elvis Presley’s career. I try to make my blog more entertaining than others, with relevant content. But until bloggers can gain consumers’ trust, the customer will always trust the retailer or newspaper critic first.

Rowan Gormley, founder of online retailer Naked Wines

  1. The report (as far as I can see) is flawed. The research seems to me to say that most people have no idea what a wine blog is, rather than they don’t trust them
  2. While the trade debates the difference between a wine blogger and a wine critic…real people don’t care. The trend that will overtake all of this is that people trust, in descending order:
  • Their friends
  • Other people like them
  • And lastly, self-appointed experts, whether they work behind a counter or for a newspaper or anything else

We know this because we tested it. We picked wines with gold-medals, a good journalist recommendation, and high customer ratings. We split our customer base into three, and tested which one drove more sales. The answer….what other customers think. That is real people, voting with real money.

Bloggers DO have a vital role, which is that they are in a position to explore the long tail. There are thousands of talented winemakers, who don’t have the marketing muscle to give their wines the space they deserve, and bloggers are better placed to connect them with real wine drinkers than anyone else.

My advice to wine bloggers is to make a decision…do you want to be relevant or not?

  • IF so, do what only the bloggers can do, focus on the long tail.
  • If not, do whatever you like, and ignore whatever Wine Intelligence or anyone else thinks about you.

Rob McIntosh blogs at wineconversation.com, and is co-founder of European Wine Bloggers Conference.
As consumers we don’t trust either bloggers or merchants. We trust people we know or, to some extent, those who represent brands we already trust.

If we speak to a merchant, we know they are working for a retail brand, be it large or small.  They may have expertise and be friendly, but they have wine to sell. If we build a longer-term relationship with them, we may learn to trust them.
Bloggers, on the other hand, are an unknown quantity. They might be journalists, winemakers or other “experts”. They might be the same merchants we visit or even consumers just like us.
These bloggers might be our friends, in which case no doubt we will trust them. They might be recognised “experts” in which case we are likely to listen. Anyone else is just a stranger with an internet connection. We have no in-built trust in someone just because they blog or use social media. But there will be a few that each of us finds interesting. I don’t need to trust all bloggers, only find a few that I do.
It is time the wine trade stopped criticising social media channels for a perceived “lack of expertise” and instead got involved and concentrated on listening to what people like, appreciate (or not), or where they need more information. Then consumers would not only trust bloggers more, but they’d probably drink more good wine.
Merchants who embrace this new way of engaging with consumers can only benefit.

Wine merchant Rupert Pritchett owns Taurus Wines, operating from his Surrey store near Bramley.

The amount of trust customers have in us never ceases to amaze me — especially when it comes to their weddings.

In terms of blogging and social media, you do need to bear in mind who your target audience is. Our location is a very conservative and traditional and our youngest punters are in their late 20s. The core is made up from successful business people in their 50s.
We do tweet and have a Facebook page that we promote and update regularly, but when the vast majority of our fans/followers are friends of staff, suppliers or competitors spying on us.
Frankly the time is better spent on looking after customers in more traditional ways.  Social media is not currently of significant benefit to my business, but it’s worth having. I think it will become more widespread, especially since it allows you to talk to several customers in a personal way at any one time.

With regard to trusting a blogger I think it all comes down to who they are and how much of a ‘brand’ they have become – I am sure people have great faith in the blogs of well respected independent journalists such as Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Simon Woods et al.  However, anyone trusting A.N.Other random with time on their hands who feels the need to pour their heart out online with no editorial checks needs to get out more.

Richard Halstead, chief operating officer, Wine Intelligence

 

Following the PR adage that all buzz is good buzz, we should be fairly pleased with the reaction to our report. It’s hardly surprising: you would need to be a comatose blogger not to react to a report that says one in five consumers trust what you say. You could argue that 20% trust levels for such a new medium is quite good. And what’s not at issue is the future importance of this medium as a way for consumers to engage with wine.

 

The blogosphere lays three charges at our door following the report:

  1. We didn’t ask the right questions
  2. We didn’t ask the right people
  3. Our press release didn’t give detailed information

Starting with the third charge, I tend to agree. Press releases need to be short and newsworthy to function.

 

As for the second charge — we asked wine drinkers how much they trusted wine bloggers, when most of them (84% in the UK) don’t use this medium for wine. You tend to have less trust in something you don’t use, but it’s also possible you don’t use something because you don’t trust it.

 

But if we isolate UK respondents using social media for wine, trust levels rise to 44% of users (it’s 19% for the total population). Unfortunately this still leaves the majority of social media users either distrusting or indifferent to bloggers’ opinions. It also means this source still comes seventh (out of seven) in terms of trustworthiness even among active social media users – behind supermarkets, wine region promotion agencies, and brand owners themselves.

 

The final charge – that we didn’t ask the right questions – is one that we can debate, and in doing so improve the kind of questions we should be asking.

 

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