How a small winery found Internet fame

A small South African winery is using conversational marketing to go global, reports Business 2.0 Magazine.

By Tom McNichol, Business 2.0 Magazine senior writer

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- How do you get your product noticed in a sea of look-alike competitors? If you're South African winery Stormhoek, you go Web 2.0, with blogging, viral marketing, and crowdsourcing.

"A wine company shouldn't be like a country club," says U.K. marketer and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who created a wildly successful word-of-blog campaign for Stormhoek wines. "It should have the same attitude as a small Web startup."

SOCIAL NETWORKING: Marketer Hugh MacLeod (center) hosts 'geek dinners' with local technorati.

Two years ago the Wellington-based winery hired MacLeod to promote its products on his blog, where he publishes advertising and technology commentaries and stream-of-consciousness cartoons.

CEO Jason Korman had seen the blog and thought targeting MacLeod's readers, many of them tech geeks, would be a natural: They shared the same single-minded passion as wine enthusiasts.

As Stormhoek's representative, MacLeod offered a free bottle to any blogger who asked -- as long as he or she was of legal drinking age and had been blogging at least three months.

Recipients didn't have to mention the wine, but many of them did; nearly 100 bloggers posted related items or comments in just six months. MacLeod then used his blog to organize more than 100 "geek dinners" in Britain, France, Spain, and the United States -- gatherings of tech workers and influential bloggers who were plied with Stormhoek wine.

A recent dinner in San Francisco, for instance, attracted local technorati like former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble (Scobleizer) and RSS pioneer Dave Winer (Scripting News).

While the blogosphere's reviews of Stormhoek have been mostly good ("drinkable" and "pleasant," with the odd "disappointment"), MacLeod's results have been amazing. Stormhoek sales have jumped nearly sixfold, from 50,000 cases a year worldwide to almost 300,000. The winery expects to sell a million cases annually within three years.

"The online work has fundamentally changed our business," says Stormhoek's Korman. "It gives us real-time feedback and lets us talk about things that are relevant to us, our industry, and our customers."

The campaign has also been remarkably cheap. For about $40,000 over two years, the company has created the kind of buzz others spend millions to generate. The trade journal Ad Age named the Stormhoek strategy one of the top 50 marketing campaigns in 2006.

The buzz has spread beyond the tech community. Supermarkets and wine stores, including U.K. supermarket giant Tesco, are giving valuable shelf space to Stormhoek wines. That's no small feat, with thousands of competing wineries hawking pretty good products for about $10.

"We walk in and have a different story," MacLeod says. "We're doing cool stuff with Web 2.0 people. It got us above the clutter."

Of course, Stormhoek is only as good as its last bottle. No amount of conversational marketing will sell bad wine. Top of page

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