Subscribe

As social media tool’s parent plans to exit wine, Napa Valley tech players plan comeback

As the wine business has been slowly moving farther into engaging consumers on mobile devices and social media, they'll have to do so now without one of the pioneers in converting these digital interactions into direct-to-consumer sales.

However, the Napa Valley co-founder of the social-media management software company formerly known as VinTank is mulling over a new wine-online project, and a major user of VinTank is working toward a solution for its client wineries.

TMRW Engine plans to discontinue at the end of this month its Yountville-based social-media management software effort for the wine and hospitality businesses, formerly known as VinTank. VinTank was sold in March of last year to W2O Group, a San Francisco-based marketing and communications consulting company. W20's agencies include Brewlife, WCG and Twist.

“Over the last year we have worked as a key arm of W2O Group helping our parent company upscale their technology and leverage platforms across the firm's client base,” VinTank co-owner and founder Paul Mabray wrote on the company website July 6. “Earlier this year, W2O Group confirmed its strategic direction to scale the business with a laser focus on Digital, Marketing and Communications services to Healthcare, Technology, and Global Brands clients. To that end, a hospitality focused Social Customer Relationship Management software does not fit into that focus and there are no companies looking to acquire the VinTank business.”

W2O at the time of the acquisition said it wanted to expand VinTank's software beyond wine and hospitality industries.

‘STILL MAKE WINE A REALITY ONLINE'

Since the announcement early this month, potential buyers of the wine-oriented software have emerged, Mabray said July 15. And he said he's received hundreds of calls, emails, social media posts and other messages about not leaving the wine business without robust social media tools.

They said “I'm last flagbearer for wine in digital, and don't put down my flag,” Mabray said. “I'm going to still make wine a reality online.”

He plans to hold an “ask me almost anything” forum at the end of this month to field questions from those interested in what's next for wine social media software.

VinTank was started in December 2008 by Mabray and James Jory, chief technology officer. Mabray has been in the wine business since 1997 and got in at the ground level of wine e-commerce with WineShopper.com. In 2002 he started Napa-based wine direct-to-consumer sales software provider Inertia Beverage Group and left in 2008 to start VinTank. IBG became WineDirect in September 2012.

PARTNER BUILDING IN-HOUSE SOLUTION

A major partner of VinTank then TMRW Engine over the past for three years is Vin65, a winery direct-to-consumer sales software provider that's part of WineDirect. The company explored the handful of services for listening to and interacting with social-media conversations as a replacement for TMRW Engine.

“Our plan for the social media solution has solidified, and we are now implementing our own in-house integration to pull valuable social data about wineries' customers directly into the Vin65 platform,” said Jim Agger, WineDirect vice president for business development and marketing.

Some major social media-management providers such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Radian6 also tie into general sales-management software such as Salesforce. Mabray said Hootsuite is likely the closest alternative, and some clients have used it with his software. Hootsuite's partnership with Reputology for online reputation management adds a component that VinTank–TMRW Engine has, Mabray said.

When Mabray started VinTank, it was a trailblazer in wine business social media management. In an industry still weighing the return on investment from employee time and resources spent on social media, the startup tailored for wine needs software technologies popularized elsewhere. Key ones were geofences, which allows for sales promotion based on proximity to the retailer, and social stitching, which allows a seller to track and have conversations with consumers, no matter what social media platform they use.

TMRW Engine has been an add-on service among the in-house and data-interchange services Vin65 offers its more than 1,400 winery customers. The integration of TMRW Engine's social media-listening service with Vin65's customer resource management functions has allowed users to see the lifetime value of consumers who connect with a winery on social media and the return on investment from tying social media interactions to winery online sales via Vin65.

While it looks for another good social media listener, WineDirect has been busy rolling out direct-to-consumer software tools that help wineries keep up with hot online consumer trends such as dramatically lowering shipping costs, speeding delivery and converting visitors to a store - in this case, a tasting room - into loyal customers from afar. Three technologies launched that have gained traction among vintner users in the past 18 months are the 46Brix loyalty program, Carrot Engine virtual shopping cart tool and Action Emails notification system, according to Agger.

“We are constantly looking for inspiration from outside the wine industry to help our clients sell more wine,” Agger said. “Offering shipping promotions is one example. The e-commerce landscape is rapidly evolving, and wineries shouldn't be left behind.”

Drawing on the increasing popularity among online consumers of paying nothing or a lot less for shipping, WineDirect launched 46Brix in 2013 and now has 37 participating wine producers, including two in Canada. For $79 a year, a consumer that joins the 46Brix program gets unlimited ground shipping on packages of more than two bottles from those suppliers.

It's likened after Amazon's $99-a-year Prime membership deal for unlimited two-day shipping plus other perks. And to reach the two-day-delivery threshold, WineDirect now has four order-fulfillment warehouses: one in American Canyon, two on the California Central Coast and one in Ohio to forward-stage bottles for East Coast consumers.

Consumers who sign up for the prepaid-shipping program end up spending twice as much the next year on wines from 46Brix vintners, Agger said. Recent research by courier giant UPS found that 31 percent of online shoppers would join a loyalty program to get free shipping, and 58 percent would add items to their virtual carts to get that.

For vintners not in 46Brix, the Carrot Engine helps deals with two bugaboos for online retailers in general and for wine e-commerce in particular. To encourage shoppers to actually buy the wines placed in their virtual carts, this software makes suggestions of wines that will help reach the threshold for shipping to be included in the price. Alcoholic-beverage regulators consider the term “free shipping” as a no-no.

The Action Emails feature allows vintners to send notifications based on consumer actions. For example, after tasting-room teams capture contact information at the time of purchase, an email is automatically sent three to five days after the visit. The goal is to turn consumers who hadn't considered buying wine online into repeat purchasers, Agger said. One winery was able to increase e-commerce sales by $100,000 a year by turning on that feature, and other users have had similar results, he said.

Show Comment

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette