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Why we need more than just 15 minutes of fame

That's being a bit greedy isn't it? Why would you want to be famous in the first place?

I don't mean people staring at you in the street famous. I mean working out what it is you want to be famous for in the eyes of your customers, be it the trade or your target consumer. That's a very different kind of fame and it will increasingly determine how successful you are at what you do.

Really, why?

It's a bit like taking your company's values statement that sits pride of place on the wall in reception and turning it into something that really matters. Not to you, but your customer. What is it about you that makes them want to work with you, buy your products and come back for more? It's a harder question to answer than you think, particularly in such a homogenised industry as wine, where essentially everyone is just buying and selling different variations of the same thing - 75cls of wine in a bottle.

But surely every business is different based on the people in it?

They are, but it does not mean the end product or service they are offering is anything distinctly different from a whole number of other like-minded companies. Which brings us back to working out what it is you are really famous for. You can't just say you are dedicated to finding, supplying and selling the best quality wine in the world. There are directories full of companies all claiming to do the same thing.

So what's the answer?

That's clearly going to be different for every business. Look around your competitive set and you will quickly be able to identify what they do best, or better than you. What is it about them that gives them an edge? What would they say makes you unique and different? If you can't answer that, then you've got a problem. Look around different sectors and the most successful companies are the ones that have got a clear business strategy, image and identity. Take Naked Wines. It's all about its Angels supporting winemakers around the world. The Wine Society. A not-for-profit wine club made possible by the collective support of its paid up members. 67 Pall Mall. A private club for professionals who are passionate about wine. John Lewis, a department store you can trust to never sell you a product that is cheaper elsewhere.

But surely there is not an infinite number of ways to buy and sell wine?

If you can't find one then you're in the wrong business. Particularly now that competition is fiercer than it ever has been. Smartphones have put the buying power in the hands of the consumer and your decades of good, loyal service to the wine buying public now stands for nothing if your products come up more expensive on Vivino or Wine Searcher.

So who are the winners and losers in all this?

Potentially it's particularly bad news for the big generic businesses that claim to be all things to all folk. Like our major retailers and national drinks distributors. It means they are effectively all doing the same job - supplying wine from all over the world. Where the only differences between them comes down, in the case of a retailer, to the price or the quality of their private label. Or for national distributors how easy it is to place an order, how flexible they are on delivery slots, and what sort of support, training and trips they offer. They can stand out by being the biggest, with the buying power to supply wines at a lower price. Or they can diversify and specialise in new emerging regions, but then there are independent companies who are already doing that.

So what are they doing?

It's interesting to see how Bibendum is making quality, interesting content as one of its key points of difference. Already famous for its market-leading consumer and trade insights, it is now producing a premium quality e-book, Fine Lees, with customer and producer profiles and magazine quality content. It is also producing a regular podcast, Bibendum Radio, featuring members of its own team, producers and customers to push quality information out alongside the wines.

What else is going on?

We can learn a lot from what is going on in the hospitality and travel sectors. Here businesses that are essentially service providers, be it the food, drink, hotel room or airline seat they offer, are 100% focused on making themselves into brands that are relevant to what their customers want. If you have the money why do you choose one airline over another? Or book yourself into a certain hotel chain? It's the same with restaurants, bars and pubs. Noble Rot became famous amongst its customers for its off-beat, left field magazine, before channelling the concept of the magazine into a restaurant of the same name. Martin Williams, founder of M Restaurants, is quite clear he is all about building a brand, not a chain. A brand famous for providing excellence in service and hospitality that can take those credentials and the community it has created around them into other sectors, be it travel, fashion or whatever. It's what M is famous for that counts, not how many outlets it has.

And finally?

It's why we are seeing so many specialist subscription services starting up. It's where brands are going to be famous. The space available for brands, both big and small, on supermarket shelves is decreasing by the month as they look to build customer loyalty through their own private labels. So instead brands are looking to go direct to their target customers by building up their own subscription models. Just look at the success of Harry's, the US shave club, that is now raking in sales in the UK for its through your door regular supply of razors and cream. It became so successful that Unilever bought it for $1bn. If Harry's can become famous for such an unexciting product as razors, then there has to be enormous potential still for all those businesses, and individuals, who can become genuinely, uniquely famous for the wines they make but increasingly about how they market it, sell it, deliver it and get people coming back for more.

Will wine ranges soon be picked by Big Brother algorithms and bots?

You’ve been reading your Steve Jobs book again? What’s all this about robots and wine?

If you are traditionalist and like to think of wine suppliers and buyers carefully working together tocurate lists and negotiate prices based on their years of experience and tasting skills, then look away now. Computers are already automatically determining ranges and prices of goods in wine and other categories based on equally carefully crafted algorthims. Just look at Amazon. It is not employing members of staff to trawl the aisles of Aldi and Asda to look at their ranges and work out how much, say, their own wines need to be to keep up with the competition. It is using carefully programmed algorithms to trawl the internet, compare prices and change automatically up to half of all the prices on its site every day. There is no need for a Master of Wine or wine buyer with decades of experience to assess sales pattern trends using that model, the algorithm will do that for you. 

 

You’re right it all sounds very Big Brother. 

We may not realise it but carefully constructed algorithms are dictating many of the decisions we make on a daily basis. Take the movies you are shown to watch on Netflix. That is based on all your previous searches and are said to result in 60% of the films you watch. Data scientists are even being used by Hollywood to decide which films to make. It’s why Wall Street now employs some 2,000 physicists to keep ahead of the algorithms managing the millions of transactions taking place every day on global stock and currency exchanges. Algorithms that can close a deal a milli second faster than another really are worth their weight in gold.  

 

But are algorithms dictating what wines we are buying and selling?

Yes, and they will do so to a greater extent in the future. You might be working in a company that already has algorithms and bots helping to manage what you do. Particularly if you are involved in ecommerce or using wine recommendation apps. Vivino has just introduced Vivino Market that is using a range of machine learning algorithms to scan the 20 million consumer reviews, 65 million ratings, and 10 million wines it now has on the platform, to give any of its 23 million users a personalised wine recommendation in less than a second. 

 

That’s a potential game changer? 

Absolutely and what is particularly worrying for the traditional wine trade is that Vivino is not a wine business. It has from day one been focused on collecting enough data about highly marketable, well heeled consumers to drive a Big Data-fuelled business, one that is now highly attractive to third parties to access. “We had to grow our community first in order to leverage the power of our data,” says founder Heini Zachariassen. An increasing number of other algorithm-based apps and websites have all been set up in the hope of taking their cut from the marketing power of the average wine drinker.  

 

This is too much for me. I can’t keep up...

Sorry, but you have very little choice. There is no place for luddites in modern business. Many of the software tools we innocently use on our smartphones, laptops and desktop computer are jam packed with bots and algorithms effectively controlling what we see and do. Our social media feeds are full of them, which is why we all get to see the same daft videos of cats and dogs on Facebook.

 

Any other examples?
Well, brands, retailers and social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are increasingly using artificial intelligence and chatbots to engage with users. Beauty brands are now able to “talk” customers through trying different types of make up to selfies posted on a smartphone. If a website takes you through a series of conversational steps to book a table, buy a plane seat, change your password, or order a case of wine then you have probably been interacting with a chatbot to do so.

 

What else can they do?
The most advanced chatbots are being used by brands on messaging apps, like the new Facebook or eBay Shopbot service, to not just “chat” to users, but are capable of learning from each interaction so that they appear even more authentic and personal to the next user. Chatbots are increasingly being used to improve our experience of e-commerce by placing orders knowing what we have previously bought, contacting us throughout the delivery process and then following up to find out what we thought of what we have just bought. Soon bad customer service will be for any transaction where we don’t feel like we’ve had our hand held all the way through the process. Even if by a robot. 

 

What else can we expect

Well, here’s one for you. Facebook is working on new augmented reality technology that could allow us to type, hands-free, up to 100 words a minute just by using our brain waves. All it would involve is for us to wear a device that can read our thought patterns and then write them out for us. I can assure you this article has not been written by a robot...by a robot.