Social Media: Is the French Wine Industry Falling Behind?

      In recent years, the growth of the Internet has revolutionized numerous industries, including the wine business. With this movement towards online communication, shopping, and research, it seems like the logical answer for companies to incorporate digital technologies into their marketing strategy. However, this is quite difficult to do in reality, especially in industries where tradition is valued over innovation. One such example is the French wine industry, with many companies not keeping up with the rapid evolution of the digital world. Below is a comparison of two Alsace wine companies, Clément Huck and Cave de Turckheim, demonstrating how different businesses are approaching this ever-growing trend.

       Before we compare these two companies, it’s critical to establish what social media is and why it’s important to a company’s success. This relatively new area of digital marketing encompasses a variety of online networks, like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Wikipedia, and it offers an alternative form of communication with consumers. The use of social media tools, according to Araujo and Zilber, can significantly change the relationship between the company and its suppliers, customers, stakeholders and employees, as well as with the general public (Araujo, & Zilber, 2016).  Yet, over 80% of marketers are concerned about measuring the returns on investment for social media, and rightfully so (Kumar, Bezawada, Rishika, Janakiraman, & Kannan, 2016). Since there is still so little research on the impacts of social media, marketing professionals find it difficult to predict how their social media initiatives will be received by consumers.

      Even with a rapid Google search, it becomes evident that the two aforementioned wine companies have nothing in common when it come to  their social media presence. Clément Huck’s approach strongly mirrors their wine making approach: traditional and unwilling to adapt to change. Other than a website, that is only available in French, they have no other social networks to connect with consumers, and no e-commerce offer. This clearly limits their reach because only a very specific target group, older French-speaking customers, have access to company updates.

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Clement Huck’s website is seen here. It is clearly too small to be legible without zooming in and only in French, making the user experience more difficult than it ought to be.

     On the other hand, Cave de Turckheim not only offers a multilingual website with a user-friendly mobile version, but they also have social network accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. Their relatively consistent posts across multiple networks allow them to capture and interact with a much wider array of consumers. Their social media posts focus on the company’s products and history, and on local events. This is highly beneficial because it allows for cross-promotion between them and other businesses, increasing their online popularity.

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In comparison, Cave de Turckheim’s website is much more informative and user friendly.

 

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A fairly recent Tweet from Cave de Turckheim, promoting a wine tasting. Note the lack of likes and retweets from followers.

     Lastly, in regards to storytelling through digital media, both companies make an effort in their About Us pages. However, Cave de Turckheim is more successful in getting their story across to consumers, using posts with old photos of the cooperative and some interesting facts about that period. As you can see, the two companies have a very different approach to social media. While Cave de Turckheim is working towards an integrated digital media strategy, Clément Huck is reluctant to implement any social media techniques into their marketing plan. At this point in time, the question is no longer if social media ought to be used, but how it should be utilized. Therefore, Clément Huck’s approach won’t lead to a sustainable business in the long term.

       In terms of recommendations, both companies have interesting stories to tell and it would be a shame not to share them with customers. According to Rocchi and Gabbai, geographic origin has been used in the Old World to distinguish wines and establish quality for many years (Rocchi, & Gabbai, 2013). With the Alsace AOP quality guarantee, both companies are already well positioned to take advantage of their geographic location through social media posts. Explaining the Alsace region’s history, and how their winery came to exist in this area, can play on the emotions of consumers and help them tell their story. Rocchi and Gabbai states that “French wineries have historically based their marketing on the characteristics of the production site and the origin of the grapes, developing a successful niche strategy based on product quality and reputation” (Rocchi, & Gabbai, 2013). This gives the two companies a strong foundation for social media marketing because consumers are looking for this type of story when selecting a wine to purchase. All the companies need to do is find an interesting way to tell this story – what makes them different from other French wine producers, and how can they communicate this?

     As said by Lipschultz, an effective social media strategy moves beyond reach and instead focuses on relationships and conversation. Communication ought to be audience-centered, beginning with social media customer service. Once the customer knows when and how you’re available, you can move towards outbound promotion (Lipschultz, 2017). In other words, begin by satisfying the basic needs of customers, and then work on telling your story. To understand how to best target your consumers, it’s important to understand who they are and what they like. This can be done through data collection, classification, and consumer research (Lipschultz, 2017). However, this personalized digital strategy raises privacy concerns for many customers (learn more about this here). It is therefore important to balance your need for customer information with their desire for privacy.

     For Clément Huck, the first recommendation is to upgrade and continually update their website. They ought to select better graphics and fonts, minimize the amount of text on certain pages, keep their news page current, and add more language options. In addition, they should create social media pages, starting with Facebook and Twitter, and plan to post on these networks regularly. Aiming for at least 4-5 high quality and varied posts a week will help them gain consumer awareness. These social media outlets will also allow for consumer feedback, and the winery should ensure they are acknowledging and replying to any comments posted by customers. In this way, their customers’ followers will see the posts and the company’s consumer base will expand.

     Finally, in all their digital communication, they should use their competitive advantage to distinguish them from larger wineries. Their commitment to environmentally friendly winemaking and their traditional approach is sure to attract the attention of new customers, but they need to have their story heard for that to happen. Perhaps publishing short articles about their agricultural practices, with photos included, will be a step in the right direction for this company. Lastly introducing online sales to their website will benefit them greatly in the globalized competitive environment. The initial costs will be offset by the company’s ability to compete on a global scale.

     In Cave de Turckheim’s case, it is recommended that they expand into vlog based advertising to help them compete on a global scale. They are already posting consistently on Twitter and Facebook, but they are missing the global reach that would increase their follower count. Short, well-produced videos will help the company get the attention of millennials, a demographic that is drawn to high quality visual media (Kumar, Bezawada, Rishika, Janakiraman, & Kannan, 2016). A few videos can be found on their Facebook page, but they do not seem to be very popular among viewers due to their 10-15 second length and lack of story. They would benefit from more regular video posts that collectively tell a story of their wine production. The videos can be shared across all social media platforms to increase their popularity with different audiences. Plus, if a different winery that is part of the cooperative cellar is featured in each video, customers will more easily associate individual stories with the cellar. Instead of thinking of the company as a producer and seller of wine, they will see the individual wine makers behind the grapes, inciting them to purchase from the cellar to support the wine makers.

    The company also ought to leverage their competitive advantage by educating consumers about their technologically forward winemaking methods. Their website can illustrate in more detail how their production techniques differ from those of their competitors, and their social media posts can complement these explanations. The wine production process is new and intriguing to many people, and by emphasizing that the company is constantly innovating, they can attract consumer groups that previously had no interest in wine production.

     As a general recommendation, Instagram is an important social network that is currently being underutilized by the French wine industry. As we discussed in class, it provides a different angle than most social networks because it’s traditionally a place where personal photographs are shared. This creates a sense of close-knit, family and friends environment, which can be used to a company’s advantage. Sharing some well thought-out and professional looking images with Instagram followers allows for a much more personal connection than a Tweet or Facebook post could ever offer.

     Stepping away from these two companies, an interesting example of social media use in the wine industry is by a Russian company called Simple Wine. They recently launched a digital marketing campaign called “Don’t Reach the Bottom”, designed to encourage drinking in moderation (quite an unexpected message from a heavy-drinking country like Russia!). A series of 1000 bottles were distributed across the country with one of three cartoon designs which can be seen when the wine is poured out. The top images show people enjoying wine in moderation, while the last image is of a drunk driving accident (Faw, 2017).

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Shown here is an example of the cartoons featured on the wine bottles.

     Along with the distribution of the wine bottles across stores in Moscow, they were also given to digital influencers to increase digital buzz about the campaign. Faw explains that, because alcohol related advertising is prohibited in Russia, marketers rely heavily on social media to promote their brand. This campaign is relevant for French wine companies, because it demonstrates how social media can be utilized in this industry to promote your brand and support a social cause. Like any viral campaign (read more about this topic here), it’s an initiative with a short life-span, but it allows the company to truly take advantage of their social networks and grow their following.

      Coming back to the two Alsace wine companies, it is evident that each firm has its own approach to establishing a digital presence. What is truly important is that they all use the Internet to tell their stories, connect with customers, and sell their products. As long as the companies are willing to accept change and work through inevitable difficulties that come with introducing new techniques to their marketing strategy, the Internet will bring positive changes to all of them. As discussed above, incorporating social media into your digital marketing strategy is no longer optional, but instead a requirement. While this may present a challenge for these firms, which have been operated in the same way for generations, they must adapt to this digital revolution is they wish to survive. User-friendly mobile and Internet websites, e-commerce offers, and a strong social media presence should all become a priority for these wine-making companies. They must find a balance between digital marketing and physical work, and use every opportunity to gain valuable customer feedback and make genuine connections with their consumer base.

References:

Araujo, J., & Zilber, S. (2016). What Factors Lead Companies to Adopt Social Media in their processes: Proposal and Test of a Measurement Model. Brazilian Business Review, 13(6), 260-290. http://dx.doi.org/10.15728/bbr.2016.13.6.5

Faw, L. (2017). Biggest Wine Distributor In Heavy-Drinking Russia Launches Moderation Campaign. Mediapost.com. Retrieved 6 April 2017, from https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/299063/biggest-wine-distributor-in-heavy-drinking-russia.html

Kumar, A., Bezawada, R., Rishika, R., Janakiraman, R., & Kannan, P. (2016). From Social to Sale: The Effects of Firm-Generated Content in Social Media on Customer Behavior. Journal Of Marketing, 80(1), 7-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.14.0249

Lipschultz, J. (2017). Social Media Marketing: It’s Personal. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 April 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/social-media-marketing-its-personal_us_58ead152e4b0acd784ca59d4

Rocchi, B., & Gabbai, M. (2013). Territorial identity as a competitive advantage in wine marketing: a case study. Journal Of Wine Research, 24(4), 291-310. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09571264.2013.837382

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