Why Marketers Can't Let Social Media Replace In-Person Contact
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/6/2013 1:42:23 PM
With little financing, they built a brand that in 2004 was selling about 580,000 cases annually. Then, in 2005, they sold the company to E & J Gallo. The brand continues to be among the top-selling table wines in the country today.
Since the sale, Houlihan has worked as an adviser to start-up businesses and corporations, offering advice on how to improve profitability and how to grow brands. Houlihan and Harvey also spent the last three years co-authoring the book The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine, which will be available in May.
The book details how Houlihan and Harvey, who knew almost nothing about winemaking or the business, started Barefoot Cellars in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma farmhouse.
Jo Diaz, who worked at Barefoot Cellars under Houlihan and Harvey, praised those times in a recent blog posting. "So what was it about their marketing strategies that made them so successful? It's everything the wine industry doesn't do. It didn't use pretentious ideologies or advertising, it was down home friendly. It was all about fun and wine being part of an easy lifestyle. It was way ahead of labels being cutesy, applying a non-vintage to the bottles and appealing to a younger demographic."
What Houlihan didn't know about winemaking at the beginning, he more than made up for with solid instincts for customer service-a lesson he maintains is important in these days of social media shortcuts.
"Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction," Houlihan says. "Your physical presence, or at least the sound of your voice, builds trust you can't even approach with a keyboard, screen or profile image."
Barefoot Cellars and the type of management Houlihan and Harvey instilled in the company before it was sold to Gallo may have been an anomaly, but the duo is out there today offering up reasons why they believe it was a success.
Barefoot Cellars was founded and grew during a period when the Internet was essentially a non-factor, at least through the 1980s and â€˜90s. And the power of social media via digital platforms that every business is jumping into today was also not part of corporate thinking back then.
So it might be hard for some in the advertising and marketing world to totally embrace the principles that Houlihan and Harvey are touting. But he insists on their relevancy, and believes that the seemingly old-school approach is a powerful social tool today.
"I can't tell you how many retailers, suppliers and potential customers I visited in person during those early years," Houlihan says. "What I can tell you is that I would never have gotten satisfactory results if I had tried to build those relationships via email and social media. The Barefoot brand would never have become a national bestseller without meetings, phone calls and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date. People don't just buy your product, they buy you."
Houlihan also believes dependence on virtual communications stunts social skills needed to attract customers. And while he knows that face-to-face meetings with vendors and employees on the other side of the world are expensive, and it's not economically feasible to hop on a plane every time a meeting it's needed, where there's a will, there's still a way. "Skype is the next best thing to being there," he says.
"Live video streams allow you to do just about everything short of shaking hands," he adds. "You can accomplish so much more when you become more than just an email address or a disembodied voice to one another."
Here are some of the reasons why Houlihan feels real-time, in-person, face-to-face relationship building is advantageous for marketers and their agencies.
- The time investment shows you really care.
- You're better able to give personalized attention.
- You're generally more effective.
- Facial expressions help get your message across.
- Body language also helps get your message across.
- Tonality helps get your message across.
- Your vulnerability shows and that's a good thing.
"Always meet in person if you can," Houlihan says. "When an important client or critical team member is on the other side of the globe, a face-to-face meeting once or twice a year can often be a smart investment."
While email and texting may be great ways to communicate, Houlihan says they can fail at relationship building.
"When spoken, the same words used in a text or email can have a very different meaning based on the tone, inflection and the emphasis that the speaker gives," he says. "It's much easier to get intentions behind the spoken word."
Regarding showing vulnerability, Houlihan says, "Imperfections make you appear more believable and sincere. Most people will overlook minor foibles in appearance and speech because you are literally there for them. This can be a big advantage in the long run."
Houlihan adds that as communications technology developed in his Barefoot Cellars days, he did not avoid it, but he did not let it become a crutch.
"A relationship can start through text, email or social media, but in order to be lasting and dependable, a business relationship has to grow in person."
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