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What’s Your Social Dialect: The California Wine Club

by Fadra Nally on July 19, 2011

When wine and social media come together, it’s like an online party. No, actually, it’s not like an online party. It is an online party.

In fact, it’s such a good mix that more and more wine companies are infiltrating the blogosphere, some at a rather alarming rate. Not only are they using social media to bring their brands to market, they’re making the target audience part of the brand.

Putting the word “Mommy” on a wine label may be the newest trend but what it really comes down to for moms who blog (and drink wine) is two things:

  1. How does it taste?
  2. How much does it cost?

california-wine-clubAnswer these simple questions favorably and you’ve probably created a fan for life. It was actually this premise that introduced me to Jonathan Boring, Director of Social Media Marketing, at The California Wine Club.

I met Jon through a referral from another blogger. He had approached her about doing a wine tasting. Since she didn’t drink wine, she referred his contact information on to a few other bloggers. I sent my pitch to Jon and made it good, since wine was at stake. Since that time, I’ve worked with him on a few promotions.

What impressed me is that Jon seems to marry an older concept (mail order club) with new marketing (social media). And you know what? It works. Here are some of the things he’s doing right.

***

Social Dialect: Your brand started 20 years ago. Has the concept remained the same from the start?

California Wine Club: I’m proud to say, yes, absolutely! In 1990, my parents Bruce and Pam Boring founded The California Wine Club with the idea of friends recommending great wines to friends.  That continues to be the blueprint for our company.  We only feature award-winning, limited-production wines handcrafted at California’s smaller boutique “mom & pop” wineries.  Bruce and Pam still visit each and every winery we feature, and they taste and hand-select the best wines from each winery to share with our members.  Only wines that they would proudly serve to friends in their home make the cut.

SD: How has technology changed, for better or worse, the way your company does business with its consumers?

CWC: Absolutely it’s changed how we do business, but 100% for the better. When we first started out, we did almost everything by telephone or U.S. postal service. We would reach out to customers with an occasional fax or direct mail piece to let them know about sales and special offers.

While we still pride ourselves on customer service with a personal touch, and have knowledgeable personal wine consultants available by telephone, we now offer a variety of ways for our customers to interact with us online. Our website, www.cawineclub.com is available to provide information 24/7 and can be used to place orders, send gifts and join one of our many clubs.  In the last few years, we have begun participating in social media, and now have a very active Facebook fan page, a YouTube channel, and a Twitter feed that allow people to interact with The California Wine Club in a whole new level.  However, at every point of contact, we strive to provide over-the-top customer service.  A phone call is still the best, most personal way to communicate with customers.  People love talking about wine!

SD: How has your marketing strategy evolved to align with those changes?

CWC: Well, technology has definitely helped us get the word out about the club, and it’s definitely helped us to service our customers better. But technology has also given those same opportunities to other wine clubs (or start up clubs) who see our success, and try to model what we are doing.

We’re still the only club committed to only featuring real-working wineries. We’re the only club that we know of, that actually goes out, visits the wineries and hand-picks the wines we feature. As technology evolves, we’ve been able to adjust how we reach our target audience, so in that sense the marketing medium changes but ultimately our message doesn’t change…which means our strategy really doesn’t change. What changes is how we get the message out, how we convince wine consumers that we are doing is better than anyone else.  And honestly, one taste of the wines we feature and most people get it.

SD: How has social media played a role in the marketing and development of your company’s brand?

CWC: Social Media has been a tremendous advantage for us. One of our goals is to introduce people to handcrafted boutique wines that typically cannot be found outside the wineries.  And we know that, for some people, shopping for wine can feel a little intimidating.  Social media gives us a way to discuss wines that wine lovers might never discover, and we help take the guesswork out of choosing a good bottle.  Plus, we offer multiple forums for asking questions and use them as a way to present easy-to-use wine advice.  Wine is a fun product and we use our social marketing to reinforce our message that it should be enjoyed.

SD: You have a significant number of “fans” on Facebook. How did you grow your fan base and how do you best leverage Facebook?

CWC: Thank you! We are very pleased to have over 140,000 Facebook fans spread over our 10 separate Facebook pages. This allows us to interact with different types of wine drinkers, such as Dads who love wine, Aged Cabernet aficionados, Chardonnay lovers, and red-only drinkers.

Our Facebook pages, much like our wine club, have grown organically.  Most of our fans, like our members, have come to us via word of mouth. Wine lovers tend to be social, and when they find something they like, they share it.  Social media and Facebook are great mediums for us.

Facebook has given wine drinkers a voice and a social group to plug into. To help grow our pages, we reward our Facebook fans with special Facebook-only offers and give them first notice on upcoming offers.

SD: You’ve recently started working more with video. How do you hope to use that medium for your brand?

CWC: We’ve found that people are more apt to watch a short, fun video than click to read a web page, and we are looking to capitalize on that.  We are using our videos to promote the fun side of wine, rather than the complicated (and maybe a little stuffy) sniff-and-taste wine videos you often see that invoke tasting terms like “forest floor”, “wet stone” and complicated rating systems.

What I have done is come up with a character called The Boring Wine Guy, and his job is to just provide quick and fun wine facts and tips. These are just short videos, always less than two minutes and typically less than a minute.

SD: How important is word of mouth marketing with a company like yours?

CWC: Word of mouth is extremely important to our company….in fact, it has been the key to our success.  We take our reputation very seriously. Wine is a product that people like to share and talk about.  And they will be just as quick (if not quicker) to talk about something they didn’t enjoy. Since day one, Bruce and Pam have selected every wine we feature, and they stand behind every one with their 100% bottle guarantee.  Their ability to discover great wines is the reason we have been so successful over the past 21 years.  Our providing a low-key, unstuffy forum for novice as well as “expert” wine lovers is why our efforts in social media have had such success over the last 2.5 years.

SD: When did you start working with bloggers on social media campaigns?

CWC: I started working with bloggers about 6 months ago to broaden CWCs reach.

SD: In what way do you work with bloggers (review, giveaway, promotions, sponsorships, other campaigns)?

CWC: We are using bloggers to reach a new demographic. We’ve been working with food bloggers and mom bloggers who enjoy wine and like to unwind with a glass after a long day. We started by sending a few mommy bloggers some sample shipments from The California Wine Club for them to taste and review. As we gained some traction, we turned up the volume by offering some giveaways.

SD: How have you found and selected the bloggers that you have worked with in the past?

CWC: At first we reached out to the mommy blogging community to see who would be interested in reviewing our product. We found was that there were many bloggers who were interested in reviewing our wines. Since bloggers follow each other, the word quickly got around. We have also reached out on other Social Media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

SD: How do you measure the success of a blogging campaign?

CWC: We give each blogger a specific offer for their fans, linked to a unique promo code that we can track internally.  We also track how many twitter followers they have and how many unique page visits each blogger receives each month.

SD: Do you or have you considered advertising on blogger sites, either as part of campaign or as standalone advertising?

CWC: Not yet. We are still new to the blogging community. We don’t want to just buy our way in:  we want to become part of the community and a trusted source. I am actually attending the BlogHer ’11 conference to learn more.

SD: How do you feel about bloggers that directly approach you and pitch you campaign ideas?

CWC: I love ideas and opportunities, and I recognize that bloggers have their ear to the ground so to speak. We may not use everything that is pitched, but we are always open to hearing great ideas.

SD: What word of advice would you give to bloggers looking to work with a company like yours (good or bad)?

CWC: If you are running a business or getting one off the ground, always behave in a professional manner. Get back to people in a timely fashion, and honor your commitments.  If there are issues or problems, speak up right away. Everyone understands that things happen and life gets busy, but for me, not knowing what is going on or having to spend hours trying to get a response is very discouraging and makes me less inclined to want to work with a person.

SD: Anything else you’d like to add to help bloggers and brands work better together?

CWC: My suggestion to bloggers looking to grow their business is to self promote as much as possible. If nobody knows who you are, you might have to create some of your own magic to begin with. Ask other people to promote you as well.

When you contact a business, be prepared to show them how your blogging can help them. Blogging is still a very new medium and most professionals don’t understand it or have not thought about it.  Have a game plan ready, and let them know who your audience is and what you can do for them. Unsolicited offers with no background data will most likely get rejected, but if you paint a picture, you greatly increase your chances of success.

***

Okay, that was a long interview, I know, but well worth it. Having never met Jon in person, I can still tell you the kind of energy Jon brings to his role. He creates a strong sense of community and values the relationships he creates with bloggers. I predict continued success as a business and great success in the blogging community.

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