George Clooney > Twitter

Young George Clooney with Long Hair

Greetings, friends, and welcome back. First, let me say thank you to everyone who messaged and emailed me in the past month. You kept me sane while I was trapped in the Deep South dealing with dysfunctional family and drinking wine from tetrapaks. I’m home to my beautiful, calm Auckland and have something on my mind…

The Twitterverse.

I also must thank twitter, and the #neverendingwinethread, for giving me something wine-related to ponder while away. (I’d say you should read it, but I imagine most of the participants kinda want the thread to die off.) As twitter threads do, this one circuitously hashed out innumerable subjects, with no small amount of contention between opposing viewpoints. To me, the comments often resembled the age-old debate between pure art vs selling out – and there were a couple of assertions about wine marketing that really pissed me off! Namely that wine branding is inherently baaaaad and that good wine requires no marketing (ie, “if you build it, they will come”).

What ivory-tower rubbish.

This POV is why we “joke” that the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one. It lumps all branding/marketing into one category (“manipulative”) and trivializes the need to be financially sustainable. I know few small to mid-sized winemakers who live in that bubble. So today, you’re going to get my ranty 280+ character response to the thread.

But first, George Clooney.

As I’m sure you know, George Clooney wasn’t first generation Hollywood. From his dad, to his aunt, to his cousin, he had nepotism on his side. He was a decent actor, but he struggled to get work when he started out. Despite his pedigree, he’d rock up to casting calls, pitch his awesome self (okay, not so awesome back then…), and get rejected. He was one of many actors trying to sell himself for those parts and the agents kept passing him over.

Until (!), good ol’ George had an epiphany: agents had the problem, not him. They put out a call because they needed an actor who met their criteria, was reliable, could deliver the performance, and would make them look good. Once George understood that he was the solution to their problem, he altered his pitch. He learned what casting agents sought in a role, and when they called him in, he showed all the ways that he could meet their needs.

He marketed himself differently.

Marketing vs Branding

I noticed in the twitter thread that there seemed an ambiguity about marketing vs branding. Let’s clear this up:

  • Marketing is about finding an audience.
  • Branding is the promise you make to that audience.

Here’s my favourite explanation:

To assert that branding is by definition inauthentic and manipulative is a (dare I say, trollish?) misunderstanding of how branding works. Inaccurate branding isn’t worth fighting over because it will kill a brand faster than anything else! No matter what you produce, you will have a brand identity. Isn’t it better that you make mindful decisions about what that branding will be?

Marketing: Interruption vs Permission

Prior to digital marketing, most efforts fell into the category of Interruption, or Outbound, marketing. Print and media ads, telemarketing and direct mail, PR and promos: these were the tools that companies could use to pull your attention away from what you were doing. And in the pre-internet era of legacy companies, those with the most ad dollars won. Channels were few, costs were high, accountability was quiet. Consumers had the problem and were willing to be interrupted to solve it. Consumers were at the mercy of Producers.

But technology changed all that. TiVo meant consumers could record TV and skip the ads. Call blockers meant no telemarketing annoyances. And then came the internet..and shit got real! Suddenly, consumers could access anything, day or night, from producers big and small, around the world. With competition on all sides, Producers were at the mercy of Consumers.

It was time to market differently.

Permission, or Inbound, marketing is the result. The internet provides so many channels of communication that small to mid-sized producers may leverage personality, proximity, and ethics to beat the big guys. Social media has further altered how we market, with today’s consumers seeking experience and community over commodity. Effective marketing now mandates a clear understanding of your audience so that you may gain and continue to receive Permission to share your business story with them.

Now Back to Twitter.

While I could be wrong (and I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I am), I think Twitter dissenters were confusing Branding with Marketing; and specifically, I think they were arguing against interruption marketing. While I don’t want to oversimplify, interruption marketing is (mostly) at odds with today’s best practices, and it remains the purview of large, commercial budgets. This is not our competition because, frankly, how many of us are going to run Superbowl ads? The tweet-arguments are based on the flawed assumption that there is only one kind of wine consumer and that every winery is fighting for their attention. And that’s what makes me ranty.

Effective permission marketing works because the producer has taken the time to understand their customers. This allows them to communicate their message clearly, consistently, and with empathy, to the right people, at the right time. In fact, they are the opposite of manipulative; they are genuine, because they’ve taken the time to understand why customers would choose them over a competitor.

Good branding is the result of these efforts. Knowledgeable businesses invest in considered choices about imagery, copy, content, placement, pricing, channels…and in doing so, they make promises to their customers. To assert that wine should be above this because of quality or terroir or history is nonsensical because it fails to recognize that consumer behaviours, expectations, and priorities have evolved.

So, Tweeps, here’s the deal: great branding and marketing is simply an exercise in making friends. Know what you stand for, listen when your customers speak, communicate with integrity, and stand by your promises. Humanity will always beat out education or history or heritage.

[photo: proof that there’s hope for all of us]

Portrait of Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond is the Founder and CEO of 5forests, which means every buck stops with her. As the public face of 5forests, she splits her time between Barcelona, Auckland, and California, consulting, writing, and speaking about the trends that impact today’s lifestyle businesses.