Paul Mabray and Polly Hammond have been banging the drum for digital and e-commerce in the wine industry for years. For much of that time they have been left frustrated by the unwillingness of so many wine companies to take online seriously. Not any more. The Covid-19 lockdown has forced consumers and drinks businesses online like never before, opening the way for Mabray and Hammond, through their respective digital businesses, Emetry and 5Forests, to be able to offer their services and work with wine producers, to act fast to try and make the most of the Covid boom in online sales. In the latest The Buyer video interview, Richard Siddle talks to them about what they actually mean by making the most of digital and how they hope to work together and combine their data analysis and brand marketing skills to offer more wine and drinks companies the advice, support and action they need.
It’s one thing having a digital platform, it’s quite another making it successful. Emetry’s Paul Mabray and Polly Hammond of the 5Forests digital agency share their insights.
(Click here for the full interview between Richard Siddle and Paul Mabray and Polly Hammond)
Change does not come quickly in such a traditional industry as wine. It’s arguably what makes it such an enticing, appealing sector to work in, in the first place. But there is one area where even the most stalwart old school member of the wine trade would have to admit that wine is way behind other drinks categories is in digital, e-commerce and knowing what our consumers, never mind our potential customers, are doing online.
Thankfully the industry is also blessed with individuals and businesses who have made it their career ambitions to convince, persuade, cajole, inspire, or do whatever it takes, to make more wine businesses wake up to the fact that unless they get their digital story right, it really does not matter how good the wines are in your portfolio. Fewer and fewer consumers are going to be able to find them in the competitive world online.
But perhaps all that hard persuasive work behind the scenes is finally going to pay off – thanks to the extraordinary circumstances and impact that Covid-19 has had on all our working and personal lives.
As we have all, the world over, had to batten down the hatches and live the majority of our lives indoors for the last few months, it has meant we have all had to rely on e-commerce and go online to find the products and services we need.
Which has provided a massive opportunity for producers, suppliers, importers and retailers alike to connect with and sell to consumers online like never before.
Waking up to digital
It’s been a long time coming but in terms of the trade finally waking up to digital it has been dream come true for Paul Mabray and Polly Hammond.
Mabray will be well known to many in the trade for the work he has done in data mining the conversations taking place about wine on social media and using them to better understand how wine producers can talk and engage with potential customers. His new business Emetry, for example, has recently developed software that enables producers to analyse their wine club consumer data and predict when members are becoming disengaged and are most likely to leave or skip a payment.
Hammond’s 5Forests agency works with both brands and producers to help them understand the consumers they need to be targeting and what are the best messages and methods of engagement that are going to be the most effective.
What do they do?
First up, how do they describe the digital businesses they have created?
“Emetry provides customer insights software,” explains Mabray. “We take a winery’s DTC data and/or wholesale data, enrich it, analyse it through complex algorithms, machine learning, and AI and then prepare it in a series of dashboards or exports so wineries can use it in sales and marketing activities to more successfully increase sales and retention.”
Mabray’s commitment to “leading the charge for wine online” stretches back two decades and with Emetry he is essentially running a “customer insights company that takes big data and does predictive analytics to tell big wineries where to sell and who to sell to and when to sell to them” (3 minutes 30 seconds).
As for 5forests, Hammond says she and her team “spend all day, every day trying to drag wine kicking and screaming into digital” (1 minute 40 seconds). It is a “no-nonsense, results-driven marketing agency that works with wine businesses around the world to harness the full power of digital to drive growth”. She adds: “We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions, instead we rely on research, data, and expertise to build resilient strategies and profitable tactics that suit the unique needs each client.”
Responding to Covid-19
(Click here to see what impact Covid-19 has had on wine’s wake up call to digital)
Not surprisingly they both see the Covid-19 lockdown as having been a make or break time for wineries and wine companies. If businesses have not moved online, or at least started to invest on what they can do in digital they face a particularly bleak future.
Mabray says the wine industry has been forced to evolve “as a result of this Black Swan event”. Hammond agrees: “Adapt or die. There will be no middle ground.”
As Mabray adds: “The genie is out of the bottle but candidly, the demand was always there. Most wineries just never invested in it to make it a key channel to acquire or retain customers. Now we have an opportunity to remedy that oversight and make online one of our key channels for customer engagement and sales.”
Hammond likens the situation now to the old ‘chicken or the egg conundrum. “Were people not buying wine online before because we weren’t selling?”
It’s why so many wine businesses and wineries went into the Covid-19 lockdown better placed to cope than others. Those that were already selling and doing well online have been “solid,” says Hammond (5 minutes and 18 seconds).
For the leaders in wine that had not invested in digital, then it was an “Oh shit” moment, she adds. That said it’s not a black and white picture, and it’s been a lot harder for some businesses to get systems up and running than it has been for others.
Great digital is not about having a big shiny website, it’s about the information, content and the processes within that business that it is based on (6 minutes 30 seconds). If you have not got, for example, an aggregated email list of customers to use then you are starting way back on the grid to those that have been thinking digital for some time.
She likens getting wine businesses to taking digital seriously “as a war of attrition and this has been the front line of that” (7 minutes).
Rubber band effect
(Click here for Paul Mabray’s assessment of how wine and wineries responded to Covid-19)
Mabray likens Covid-19 as having a “rubber band effect that has jerked us into everything has to be digital” but the issue has been businesses having “the technical debt of not knowing the skills sets, the processes, the people” they need and although “they’re learning as fast as they possibly can” there simply has not been the time. It’s the equivalent, he adds, of “going from being a first year medical student to doing surgery” (7 minutes 50 seconds).
But the good news is Covid-19 has forced everyone online, from the smallest to the biggest wineries and businesses around.
He agrees with Hammond that even those with a “modicum” of digital experience have had “huge success” during the lockdown and in many cases were doubling or trebling their sales week by week and gaining up to 40% new customers at the same time (9 minutes).
The trouble with digital ironically came when wineries, particularly in Napa, were able to re-open again and the focus dropped immediately from digital and back into running tasting rooms and cellar door sales. In a way the latest lockdown in California has been a blessing in that it has forced wineries back to digital and made them realise that the time has come: “Let’s stop this madness, let’s go digital, let’s get it done, let’s get it right” (9 minutes 50 seconds).
The big challenge now for wineries and wine businesses that have done so well during lockdown is what do they next? It will be clear very quickly just how good their online models are in how many of these new customers they acquired during lockdown stick with them long term, says Mabray. “Why spend all that money getting them there if you can’t keep them,” he adds.
Hammond hopes the boom in online sale will finally make wine companies realise that understanding digital has to be part of a comprehensive strategy, and not just be “tactical bits and pieces that can be bolted on”.
Click here as Hammond and Mabray discuss their concerns about wineries and businesses continuing to invest and focus on digital when the online sales boom slows down).
The worry now is managing what she calls “realistic expectations” and making sure those wineries and businesses that have jumped into digital, and seen the enormous growth there has been, and then maintaining that commitment to digital in “non trauma” times when sales are not going to be so dramatic (11 minutes).
Mabray agrees and says wine businesses need to understand they have years of what he calls years of “debt” that has to be paid back just to catch up in terms of how much they have invested in the past on digital, systems and the right skills and people. “A lot of people think they can carry on driving this jalopy in the Grand Prix. It does not make sense any more.”
Need for wine leaders to step up
Click here for why wine’s digital future Is in the hands of its leaders)
If the wine industry is to fully maximise the online opportunity the Covid-19 lockdown has given it then its leaders really need to come to the table. Preferably with their credit card with them.
“It’s the number one impediment,” says Hammond not having leadership buy in to the digital projects she works on.
She says the reason they are now comes, partly, down to the fact that suddenly these same business leaders are stuck at home having to buy their groceries online. Probably for the first time (21 minutes 54 seconds). Hopefully now they will be convinced to make the digital investments they need to, but already she says it is “heartbreaking” to see some leaders quickly reverting back to how they have always done things.
(Click here for Paul Mabray on cultural change needed in wine companies to invest in digital and see it as long term strategy and not a quick fix)
Part of that leadership challenge is investing in the right people, which, in itself throws up new challenges, says Mabray, as often wine trained and digital background people mix as well together as oil and vinegar.
There is also the added factor that “there is no template to do this” and no “100% success story to follow”. So each company has to find the right way forward for themselves and to really succeed in digital requires business leaders to be prepared to test and fail and learn that way (24 minutes 45 seconds).
How to get your digital strategy right
There are though some best practice steps you can take that can ensure you are doing as many of the right things you need to be doing in order to get your digital strategy right (28 minutes 30 seconds).
Both agreed it’s about spending less time in making the website look nice with your designers, and making sure the user and customer experience is spot on. Which means actually shopping and using your site like your customers would do across desktops, laptops, mobiles and tablets and fixing the hiccups you find.
Mabray says it is also about assessing where your wines and inventory is being sold and assessing those platforms.
Why direct to consumer sites are here to stay
(Click here for why DTC is going to be crucial to wine brands and wineries)
Covid-19 has also seen a number of major FMCG brands launch their own DTC sites and look to engage and sell directly to their customer base during lockdown. These are very much going to be the norm, says Mabray.
Not because it gives them another sales arm, but primarily because of the data and consumer insights and knowledge it can provide brands about how they shop their brands and the feedback they give. That’s what makes them invaluable to the brand owners that have made the leap to DTC.
It is happening so fast in the US that the major retailers have also seen the benefits, says Mabray, and recognise done well it can be a “synergistic” development rather than a competitive move against traditional retail.
(Click here for how Mabray and Hammond are joining forces to offer their combined services to the wine industry)
The two have now decided to look at ways and projects where they can work together. Mabray explains why: “I’ve had a long standing respect for Polly’s work and thinking. I’ve even hired 5Forests for Emetry and convinced my wife to hire her for winery projects. This trust and respect blossomed into friendship and continual collaboration. As our product has continued to evolve we started to see incredible applications for using data to power sales and marketing. While some of our more sophisticated winery partners were doing amazing work building marketing automation processes around the insights, it takes a pretty sophisticated group to integrate multiple customer journeys to multiple solutions with workflows that self correct based upon results.
“Since we don’t and never will do service and this requires strong and trusted operators, we met with Polly and Michael to help be part of a new wave of vendor engagement where, together, we build solutions not just integrations. By adding the 5Forest team’s wisdom and execution on our insights, we knew that together we could really make meaningful impact.”
Hammond adds: “Paul knows more about wine digital than just about anyone in the business, and he has long been the person I turn to when current systems or data let us down. Having been lucky enough to work with Emetry, the 5forests team saw the long-term need for what they have built, and the wide-reaching implications for wine businesses who could onboard these insights. What we found, though, was that many wine marketers are already operating at max capacity, and there was no bandwidth to take all this good data and turn it into action plans. How do we solve that problem? That was the question Paul and I set out to solve.”
Passion for data
Ultimately it is their shared “passion for data” and how you can use it to enhance the “customer experience” online that they hope can provide some real value to potential wine businesses.
Hammond explains: “We both see digital and data as a way to make our interactions more human, not less – if done correcty. Insights allow us to speak the right message to the right people at the right time. Emetry provides the insights upon which 5forests can build the communication and marketing strategy. That way we’re stronger working together rather than separately.”
It is one thing having data, it is having the systems and processes in place to be able to ‘see it’ and use it that’s key, says Hammond.
“As an external marketing agency, we consistently found ourselves running into the same problem: wine businesses would have their customer data in one place, three-tier insights in another, communications records in yet another and often the data is hard to get to or poorly constructed, or just not clean enough to be usable. That means it’s been almost impossible to get an actionable bird’s-eye view of what is happening, and why. When we started working with Emetry data, we saw that we finally had the missing piece we needed to bring all that together under one roof, and from there we could develop, implement, and iterate strategies based on the full view, not just bits and pieces.”
Their initial focus is on what they can do to help wineries as that is where the bulk of their work has come from to date. From there they can then see what other opportunities are out there. Or as Mabray puts it. “We want to nail and then scale it.” He adds: “We can work with wineries and wine retailers with this current incarnation but are building out the capabilities for Polly to do restaurant and retailer marketing automation.”
The biggest step any wine business can take is to open itself up to digital transformation. Not every answer and strategy will be the same, but with each step you take, the more experience you will get, says Mabray. Combine that with “smart data and smart teams and it becomes a revenue and retention multiplier”.
Hammond is a little more succinct: if you respect your product, respect your people, you can “sell the pants off some wine”.
- If you would like to contact Paul or Polly then do so via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.