Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winemakers Make Things You Can Hold

I think back growing up in the 70’s.  My dad was true renaissance man in my eyes.  He was a mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, a rancher, a teacher, and a fireman.  He could fix anything.  He had a garage full of tools and he taught me to use them all.  Our trucks always had mud caked on them from our ranch where we grew grapes and citrus.  I learned to drive on a Ford 400 tractor and at the end of the day, after spending time doing things on the ranch, I was tired and slept like a log.

In high school, there was a shop classes, small engine repair, woodworking, classes in which you did things with your hands, got dirty, sore, maybe scraped or cut up up a bit.  But, you touched the things your worked on.  You could actually bring it home when you were done and say: “I made this.”

I was pretty good at math and science too.  Actually, electronics was my interest.  College courses at night during high school, professor recommendation to a prestigious university’s electronic engineering program.  Theory, logic, circuit design, physics; they were all very engaging and interesting.  Computer science, computer languages, design patterns, punch cards, then terminals, PCs and databases all followed.  It all makes sense to me and it is engaging.  That was my destined career path.  That was the future.  Computers were the future and you were either with it or not.

But something was missing.

I have a hard time explaining to my parents what I do.  They understand that I work with computers, and they have become quite computer literate themselves.  Necessity and interest has led them to become very proficient in e-mail, the web, spreadsheets, even digital imaging and video.  But working as a computer scientist is hard to explain.  I have nothing that I can carry into their home and say “I made this.”

I think about this when I am making wine.  Wine is a hobby for me.  It doesn’t pay the bills, not even close. But at the end of the day, I have a bottle, with a label, with my name on it.  I can take it with me to friends and\or family and say. “I made THIS.”

That is the appeal of a winemaking for me.  It fills a need to produce something tangible.  The end result is something I can hold, carry and give to friends and family.  It doesn’t require abstract descriptions of what I did to produce it.  It is real.  That is what winemaking is about for me.

I made this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sorry Will Akerlof, you're half wrong

This is a response to a blog posting I read on Online Media Daily. You can read the blog posting titled: Twits: Why Twitter Won't Change Marketing by a Will Akerlof

Before I go on, I do agree with Mr Akerlof that Twitter won't change the fundamentals of Marketing. Where I have a problem with his article, is the premise that it will have no effect at all and everyone will look back it as silly and deny we ever took it seriously.

I am a Twitter user. Sometimes I am a Twitter promoter. I wouldn't call myself a Twitter Zealot, but I do find myself compelled to defend the service from time to time. One thing I don't consider my self: a Twitter Evangelist.

Now, when I use the term Evangelist, it brings to mind a religious connotation, and that fits. There are "Born Again" Twitterers out there that would have you believe that Twitter is the second coming of The Net, or the "end all and be all" of this new field of marketing. But, don't let their extreme rhetoric distort the landscape

It is easy to get the impression that Twitter is populated by a few, distinct types of users. The popular press likes to represent new technologies that way. It makes it easy to fit it into a news story, or use it as background. Mr. Akerlof is a good example of the over-simplification of Twitter and its users. He presents a graphic showing that there are 3 types of users:
  • People he doesn't care about
  • People doing something interesting
  • People who twitter
And his Venn diagram shows that the overlap of those people is a very small area. It is cute, easy to understand, and probably wrong. I can't speak for him and the little circles that he uses to classify people, but his system of determining the data behind this graph seems just a little bit shortsighted. Does he really believe that the Marketing, Business and Network populace falls neatly into these three groups? That should make finding your audience and reaching them a piece of cake! Lets not put users into your little boxes quite yet.

Twitter won't drastically change Marketing. Saying that it will is as short sighted as the Dot-Com pundits who were saying that all the rules of business had changed because of the Internet. We all learned that, No, the rules actually still apply. At the end of the day, you do needed to make a profit and all the sock puppets and WebVan trucks you advertize are not going to make up for loosing money, just because your stock price is inflated.

The rules of Marketing still apply. You need to get your brand out there, connect with your customers and make them feel comfortable with your product. If 72% didn't stick with Twitter, and you were uninterested in that other 28% of vocal users, fine, ignore them. I bet a year ago, that 28% was only 10%.

Now, although the internet did not change the basic rules of business, you can't argue that it has not affected businesses. I doubt you would start a company and say that you are going to ignore any internet facing access for your company and its employees. That web thing and blogging is a bunch of out of work guys in they pajamas working from their parents basements, right?

Twitter's place in marketing is the same. If you are depending on Twitter to be your entire marketing campaign, you're going to fail. Unless of course you are one of the 500,000 life coaches, or Social Media Guru's that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.

Data showing that many 72% of Twitter users loose interest and drop out, is not a compelling argument that it is a wasteland or black hole of marketing resource. It is a piece of the puzzle, a small but very interesting tool in the belt of a marketing professional. But don't try to give the impression that it will have no effect at all, unless you are just trying to get others that don't "get it" to comment and reinforce your opinion.

That sounds like an echo chamber too.

But, thanks for making me think about it

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Does the Beverage Industry Seem to “Get” Social Marketing? Because It Always Has.

It makes sense.  Wine and food have always been about people sharing an activity with other people.  Wine and food is best experienced with friends.  Even when you’re with people you don’t know, wine and food seems to spark the conversation, lower the firewalls, provide the commonality for a shared experience that, many times, leads to discussion and friendships.

Families have been using the dinner table to re-connect with each other forever.  Sometimes, the supper at the dinner table is the only place or time we get to see the rest of our family.  A home base in our busy lives of work, school, and life.  The dining table was the original social network.

Friends and coworkers get together after work or on the weekends for a drink, time to relax, blow off steam, and catch up.  A glass of wine or beer lifted with friends makes up for all of those thankless interactions we all have during our day.  Whether going out or staying in, it allows us to catch up with our friends and find out how each other are doing.

Local pubs and watering holes were the original Facebook.  A place to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, share what was going on, laugh.  Not much different that the online version, only now your friends can be separated by more distances.  It feels comfortable surrounded by friend.  The the pub in Cheers, every knows your name.

I can imagine Norm from Cheers on Chat.  As soon as he logs on, all of his buddies sending him an IM at the same time that just say “NORM!”  Woody would IM him saying “What’s up Mr. Peterson?” and Norm would respond back with a witty one liner.  Of course, Cliff Clavin would be constantly sending out 140 character tweets of “Little Known Facts”, all taken from Wikipedia (Today’s Guinness Book).

The Beer and Wine community have always depended on relationships as their bread and butter.  Beer comes packaged to share will 5 friends.  A bottle of wine is the perfect size for 4 people; at least to start.  No one wants to drink alone, they want to do it with friends.  And, sharing it with friends builds memories.  Memories are what makes life enjoyable.  Online communities mimic this community.

There might be other factors that has helped the beverage industry in general, and the wine industry in particular to click with the technology based social media.  The proximity of California’s wine country to Silicon Valley has permitted a large cross pollination of resources and people to flow back and forth between high tech, net savvy people and wineries.  It is obvious that the social media connected wineries are heavily dominated by those close ties to Silicon Valley.  Napa and Sonoma is very well represented.

Another contributing factor is probably the economy.  The cost of entry to social networking is very low.  Although, to be successful, a business needs to invest quite a bit of time, fostering relationships and maintaining their online presence.  That is a hidden cost of Social Networking.  Where a business, in the past, may have taken out an add, or bought some airtime, Social Networking requires a social commitment.  These are not just customers, they are friends, followers and buddies.

Welcome to the world of Hospitality 2.0.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mayfield Iconoclast series Nocturna – Good, but not a value

IconoclastNocturnaLabelCRAlores When I first heard of Mayfield Brewing company in Belmont, I was intrigued with the beer, the brewery history, and the brewer. The brewer is a microbiologist as well as a beer and wine enthusiast, and a businessman.

The brewery is a reincarnation of an 1868 brewery that started in the San Francisco community of Mayfield, are area now known as Palo Alto. The brewery was serving the local peninsula until it closed down due to prohibition.

The beer is a blend of old world and new world brewing. Brewed in a small, local brewery, the brewer began experimenting with beer that he aged in wood barrels acquired from wineries. The beer was conditioned in the barrel, allowing it to develop characters from the wines that previously occupied the barrels, the oak from the barrels and from micro-oxygenation like a wine.

Hearing about this, I followed the brewers web postings and twitter posts as he blogged about hand delivering to local stores. My first few attempts to find the beer were not successful. The store clerks were unaware of the beer, but eventually, talking with the brewer and the buyers at the store, I found it. But I was a bit surprised at the price.

The beer comes in 750 ml bottles, and it is a small batch, completely hand crafted, hand bottled, hand labeled and hand delivered by the brewer. So I was expecting that it would not be an inexpensive beer. And I was correct. When I spoke with the buyer at the store, I asked how much it was and he said simply that it was $42.50. “Wow!” I thought. “That is a bit steep.” I pressed the buyer further. “Is that for a 4 pack?” “No”, he informed me. “That is for a bottle.” HOLY COW!

Now, $42 is a lot for many wines. A wine for $42, although not out of the questions, needs to be real special. You can get a wonderful, quality wine for that. But there are very few beers that rise to that price. There are a few notable exceptions, but they are all from well know breweries and have a track record for excellence. This beer is an unknown.

I decided that I was going to hold off for a while. Possibly I would be able to get a few other enthusiasts to gather with enough interest to get one that we could taste together. I had expressed my interest in the beer to my wife and, being the wonderful, supporting and enabling woman that she is, she surprised me with a bottle one day.

So, on Mothers Day, we opened it.

The Bottle is beautiful. It is a traditional 750 ml Champagne bottle. It is sealed with a cork and a crown cap, like many French and Belgian beers. The neck was dipped wax. Not a brittle was, but a soft, black paraffin. Clearly, the beer was packaged to be laid down for a while. From the neck of the bottle also hung a card on string which gave information about the beer and it’s aging to this point. It noted that the beer was a 2007 vintage, and had aged for over 10 months in an oak barrel previously used for a petit syrah port from Napa Valley.

The presentation was very nice. I was hoping that the contents would live up to the run up.

We poured the beer into wide mouthed wine glasses, to give the aroma as much of an opportunity as possible to present.

The color was a deep, dark stout black with a ruby color only visible in the sun. The carbonation was obvious, but not over carbonated. And the nice, creamy head consisted of fine bubbles. I would say the appearance in the glass was a perfect imperial stout pour.

There was almost no perceptible aromatic hop characters. As the beer warmed, it began letting some of the wood notes come out. I detected some of the oak, others did not notice that, but vanilla became noticeable and molasses and caramel characters from the malt started to come to the front.

The beer was well balanced between the sweetness and the bitterness, in fact, I thought it was very good. I felt that it could have had a bit more hop character. The time in the barrel may have diminished the aromatics of the hops. I don’t expect an imperial stout to have a lot of hop floral character, but this had none. It may have been the brewer’s intent to have the barrel character be a substitute for the aromatic hops, and to a degree, that worked.

But, that is when I realized the flaw in the beer. Yes, it was excellent, but so are many, many other beers available on the market. I enjoyed this beer, but there is no way that I would say that it was worth $42 dollars for 750 ml and my current gold standard imperial stout, from Dogfish Head, is 1/6th the cost.

Now, I know that Mayfield is not getting rich on this beer, even at that price. I can only imagine that at what I believe his production costs and quantities are, he is probably loosing money on it at this stage, or at the very best breaking even. So, I can not completely fault him for the pricing. But at the same time, I just can’t see this moving at the price point. I hope that Mayfield brewing can bring up the quantities or lower their fixed costs and overhead to bring the price down. Until then, I don’t expect that I will be have them again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Critical mass, Fermi Pile, pent up resources, and a turn in the economy

I am not an economist. I don’t claim to be able to predict what this quarters GDP, earnings reports, unemployment figures or durable goods sales are going to be. I don’t know if the economy is going to turn around in one month or 10 months. But I think I can say with some certainty, it has been bad (real bad) and all previous history seems to indicate that it will get better again.

I have a lot of friends, family and previous co-workers that are either unemployed or under-employed. I know even more people who, even if they are not happy with what they do for a living now, there is no way that they would risk leaving it to try something new.

All of this talent is waiting, like the legs of a swimmer on the starting blocks. This talent is just waiting for the starter’s gun to go off. The energy, collectively stored in this reservoir of talent is almost unimaginable, ready to explode as soon as the shot is fired.

There is another storehouse of resources growing at the same time: Social media and social networks. This collection of simple little services such as Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, and Web 2.0 communities have been growing, gaining followers, working out the bugs, getting past the novelty and probably most important, adding users.

The downturn in the economy may have enabled and even fed these social networks. Millions of users have a bit more time on their hands, not as much free cash to go out, and a need to connect with friends. Oprah alone may have taken Twitter over the top when she featured it on her show. Twitter went from being this obscure service that almost no one used or understood to this misunderstood service that almost everyone was talking about, but still didn’t completely understand.

In the hay day of the Internet explosion (before it was known as the DotCom Boom), the power of a system came from the design of the system itself. Webservers, mail servers, databases; they all were judged against each other by their speed, their storage, their throughput, and their feature set. And although those metrics are still important, the users don’t care. Who cares if you can send only 140 characters at a time, if you are doing it any from device, at any time, from anyplace. Who cares if it takes 30 to 60 seconds for a tweet to get to its followers if they are splitting their time between their MP3 player and the other 5 things they are doing at the same time.

The power of the social network doesn’t come from the software. It comes from the users and the chaotic flow of information between them. It is no longer the software that is valuable; it is the shear quantity of users that make the system valuable.

Just like nuclear fuel is not explosive in small quantities or diluted form. A lump of unrefined uranium will not start a self sustained nuclear reaction because the molecules of fissionable material are too far apart, and not concentrated enough to have the neutrons that are flying off of them collide and interact with the other fissionable molecules. In 1942, Enrico Fermi and his fellow scientists were able concentrate uranium and bring it close enough in proximity to enable the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. As soon as it reached critical mass, the system was self sustaining and able to keep itself going.

Social networks have now reached that point. They have amassed enough users that they have momentum. It is harder for someone to dismiss them as a fad or an oddity. And at this point, businesses either needs to get with it, or get out of the way.

Some businesses and government agencies were slow to move onto the web, not understanding how it applied to them. Other businesses fumbled with the early web, awkward domain names, unwieldy URLs and confusing, awkward or just unusable web sites. But those early adopters figured it out. They realized that the internet was not only required for their business to succeed, but there were businesses that succeeded only on the Internet.

Social networks and social mediums and the foundation for the next wave of business/customer relationships. Business has always been about relationships and now those interactions have just found a new mechanism to expose them.