With Shanika Hillocks, food & wine digital strategist, published writer and active speaker, we talk digital strategy, influencer marketing and brand engagement. As we re-assess the weight of words and the power of pictures in a deeply shaken and polarised world, we also explore good practices for Fine Wine estates and brands.
A conversation to assess the best way for Fine Wine actors to cut through the online noise, build meaningful relationships with trade and consumers and embrace their responsibilities.
In a rush? Here are some of the major takeaways.
How did you see brands changing and reacting to the current Covid-19 situation?
“In Covid 19 many many people were looking at influencers as a way to just escape the news cycle inundated with a lot of fear. What a lot of brands and companies did with their influencers was to pivot the message towards more positivy, but also reaching out quickly and effectively. We may not be able to have a glass of wine on the terrace with a friend, but we can have a happy hour and toast to our friends digitally.”
“As usual, the brands that had a long term partnership and true understanding of their influencers’ audience and not just a one of transaction did best.”
In this very particular situation of quarantine, did you also work with your influencers on guidelines to prevent over consumption?
“Overconsumption is never something that we want to encourage, ie have influencers holding a whole bottle of wine and finishing it in one sitting. What we encourage is joy and pleasure and this is not compatible with over consumption. We clearly banned messages like ‘this bottle of wine is getting me through the quarantine.’
You are driving marketing campaigns that are inclusive and equitable. Could you let us know what it means for you and how does one learn the reflex to think “inclusive and equitable”?
“Black Americans in the wine world are not a product of our imagination. They are here. There are African American winemakers and producers, sommeliers and vintners doing amazing things, and yet I just didn’t see their names or their products often in the forefront. So, when I had the opportunity to start writing, my intention was always to pitch, highlight and profile those individuals. When I moved to digital marketing, I took the same logic. There should be no reason why, if there are over 5-8 million users on Instagram, that I can’t find more people who look like me, and that those people shouldn’t not be on my clients target lists.”
” My job is to make sure that the influencers on my list are not here because we’re checking a box, but ensure that they’re also considered first and foremost, that they are taken into account in every step of the way from the start to the finish of a campaign.”
So is it a mindset that people need to acquire first and foremost then, thinking outside of their box when it comes to race and diversity?
“If you value human life, it shouldn’t matter the color of one skin. If wine is supposed to be a pleasure and an experience of life and brings out the best moments, then why is that only allowed to be experienced by a certain group of people? We understand the power of Black culture and Black dollar, so why not considering Black people when it comes to experiencing wine?
The US is going through a dramatic situation once again, stressing violently the need for said inclusivity and equitability, and a global shift of mindset when it comes to race and diversity. How can a brand react to that?
“When it comes to marketing, I don’t think injustices can wait for a pretty packaged response. Saying nothing and being silent acknowledges and says to me that you’re complicit and just fine with the situation. I’m not asking for pamphlets or highly produced videos, I don’t think black people are asking for that at all. It’s about your response and how you can address that, ‘hey, we stand in solidarity with you, we see and hear where you’re coming from, we value your life. And so in response to everything that is going on, here is what we can say.’ I think that’s step one. Then look internally and see how you are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”
“It’s less about re-labeling something or dedicating X amount of sales to a cause, but more so speaking out first and understanding that you are not aligned with injustice and then taking a step back after that statement to look inside and say hey what else can be done? What funds can we allocate? Who can we hire?”
How global do you think those issues are? Should a non-US winery -maybe only with a local market- be concerned too?
“Of course. Racial injustice and lack of diversity are an issue everywhere. You might have a big local, mainly white market, but your staff can be People of Colour, tourists coming to visit your winery could be POC, sommeliers serving your wine at the other side of the world are POC. They need to be considered, they need to be seen, and heard.”
With Covid-19, it seems that every winery big and small is now online and on social media. How could one possibly cut through the noise in such context? Do you think that the classic signs of quality (notably provenance and origin) are the more relevant information to push on digital platforms?
“I think it’s less about worrying about the number of people that are going to be active, but more about communicating on a consistent basis. The first thing to cut through the noise is to keep being consistent and regular in your posting.”
“As for the signs of quality…Well, look at what people have been doing recently. Wine lovers who had been saving really amazing vintages for years are now opening those bottles while in quarantine, and bringing themselves back to those beautiful places in Italy, France or California. They talk about emotions and memories, not soil types or barrel fermentation.”
We live in a visual world now. You are both a writer and a photographer. What do you think visual is adding to the conversation that words don’t?
“Being able to capture a moment in time is something that I think a photo does a bit better than words. Words are so aligned with one’s experience. Visuals I think bring us a sense of nostalgia and the ability to even talk about a moment or experience that we had with one another.”
“What I enjoy most about this generation that’s coming up is that they don’t really care about how any of it looks, but they’re just here to speak and say what they have to say, and use the images to support that”
Is it fair to say that visuals is for a younger audience and words for “old school” ones or is there a way to harness the power of both photos and text?
“I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. With the use of digital we’re continuously seeing the power of both combined. Images definitely are speaking, but what you have to say is important. How you position that image is important. I think the marriage of the two needs to be looked at less than the separation.”
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