Podcasts – The New Way to Communicate with Wine Drinkers?

In an age where everything is on-demand and off-menu, the post-pandemic world seemingly remains addicted to the digital offerings to which it was restricted to during lockdowns. Among these, some of the most popular have been podcasts. They are  fast-growing businesses. Big and small players in wine are able to inform about regions or simply to promote products. Robert Mason reports.

Reading time: 4m 40s

Ben Franks CEO of Novel Wines recording an episode of On the Vine in Bath, UK
Ben Franks CEO of Novel Wines recording an episode of On the Vine in Bath, UK

 

  • Podcast audiences and revenues are growing and wine is a growing segment.
  • Blogger-podcasters are being joined by serious businesses like Berry Bros & Rudd.
  • Stevie Kim’s daily Italian Wine Podcasts attract over a million listening sessions per year.
  • Budgets and ambitions range from home-made to professional studios.
  • Video podcasts are becoming more popular.
  • Motivation for running podcasts, so far has focused on education and customer relationship-building.
  • The revenue model is still uncertain.
  • Will wine businesses that launch podcasts today retain their commitment and enthusiasm over the long term?

 

In a study released by Grand View Research in August 2021, “The global podcasting market size was valued at $11.46 bn in 2020 and is expected to expand at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 31.1% from 2021 to 2028.” In the UK, according to Statista, there were 19.1m podcast listeners 2021, a figure that is predicted to grow to 28m by 2026.”

A New Format for Information and Promotion

Wine is just one of the wide range of subjects covered in downloadable, radio-style programmes since the first, tech-focused, podcast – IT Conversations by Doug Kaye – went online in 2003. But, until now, most have been the playground of individuals, audio bloggers and educational platforms promoting specific regions and producers.

The Italian Wine Podcast (IWP): Showcasing a Nation’s Wine

One of the best known of these, The Italian Wine Podcast (IWP), launched in 2017, has steadily expanded its audience to the point at which it can now claim that its daily efforts have cumulatively over a million listening sessions over the last 12 months. 

Launched by Stevie Kim, managing director of the Vinitaly trade fair, and funded partly by merchandise revenue, donations and sponsorship, its varied daily podcasts can mostly be seen as a source of education and promotion of Italian wine and wine-centric events. Kim’s commitment, which includes building a dedicated studio in Verona and hiring a range of presenters, is paying off. Regions and producers now pay significant sums to be featured in sponsored video podcasts – which also benefit from sophisticated production values.

If the IWP platform can be effective in showcasing a national wine industry, what advantages can free podcasts offer a business offering tangible products, such as a retailer, distributor or importer? Is it worth them investing the time, effort and money for a project that offers no guarantee on return on their investment?

A Promotion Tool for Wine Producers and Distributors?

One company that might have been able to answer this question was Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR). Founded in 1698, and with a London headquarters that looks unchanged since that time, this family-owned business has a recent history of surprising innovation. It was a pioneer in setting up duty free shops in London’s Heathrow airport and expanding into Asia. In 1994, it was the world’s first fine wine merchant to have a website and in March 2022, it launched Drinking Well, ‘the podcast designed to help you enjoy and shape your wine collection.’

When invited to contribute to this article, however, a spokesperson from the company’s PR firm, proved unwilling to discuss BBR’s latest step into the unknown: “Given the recent launch of the podcast, I’m afraid it’s not something that they [BBR] are able to help with on this occasion.”

Building Relationships: ‘On the Vine‘

Another smaller UK merchant was more forthcoming. Ben Franks (CEO & wine buyer) of Novel Wines in Bath in the south west of England happily revealed that the motives for launching his company’s ‘On the Vine’ podcast were driven by necessity during Covid.

“For us, it was – and is – a way of building on relationships with our audience and other businesses, who came on as guests, more than measuring a short-term financial return on investment. The podcast helps build trust. We might not win that new customer the afternoon they listened to us for the first time, but we might be one of the places they order from in the month following.”

Even without a pandemic, Novel Wines couldn’t compete with BBR’s or indeed IWP’s financial means and facilities, but this didn’t deter Franks.

“The best thing we sorted out was a format and inviting guests with good stories. Then it was just about making them comfortable and letting the conversations flow. We’re a time poor business as we don’t have loads of members of staff and we’re growing quickly... therefore, it was essential to record in two days or we might never have made it.” Franks went on, “we did it cheaply...rather than look at lavish studios or production budgets.”

Marketing, Customer Loyalty and… Sales?

Taken at face value, retail operations like BBR, offer a wealth of knowledge such as tips on which wines are “drinking well” and what listeners should be investing in but they have no sure-fire way of translating this into a physical sale. The lines of brand loyalty are very blurred.

Franks is not too concerned about this. “We’re all about encouraging a love and curiosity for wine and drinking differently. We want our customers to be loyal to us (we’re a business, after all), but if they spend 40 minutes listening to our podcast and then all their time spending money with our competitors, that’s less a fault of our podcast and more a fault of something we’re doing elsewhere”.

Personal Engagement: The ’Wine Blast’

Another pandemic podcasting pioneer, Master of Wine Peter Richards, co-creator and co-host of the entertaining, informative and engaging ‘Wine Blast’ with fellow MW (and wife) Susie Barrie, agrees with Franks’ rationale for going into audio.

https://susieandpeter.com/wine-blast-podcast
https://susieandpeter.com/wine-blast-podcast

Outlook

Berry Bros & Rudd, Novel Wines, Richards and Barrie are all relative newcomers to podcasting and it is clear that others are increasingly seeing the appeal of the platform.

“It’s a crowded marketplace” says Richards. “Many forward-thinking businesses are either creating or funding podcasts”.

As more commercial enterprises join the fray and video increasingly becomes part of the offer, podcasts will become more professional, and require higher quality equipment, production values and editing. How many people who like the idea of recording a few conversations and posting them online are ready for the long-term effort and commitment the platform will demand? Will podcasts be like winery and wine retailer blogs: a communications medium whose frequency drops as other priorities become more pressing?

On the other hand, will podcasts simply provide a rewarding new means of doing something the wine trade once took for granted?

Before the days of supermarkets, wine was usually sold by hand, often to the accompaniment of stories told by the merchant or producer. Sometimes those stories led to an immediate sale; sometimes the bottles were bought months or even years later, or not at all. But as anyone in the business of selling knows, a customer who is happy to listen to what you have to say is more likely to buy, than one who isn’t. And maybe, nowadays, they’d prefer to listen through their headphones to a podcast about wine while driving to work or exercising in the gym, than to the manager of a wine shop standing behind their counter.

Robert Mason

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