Real benefits to ‘virtual’ brand communities

A three-year research project, which helped create three ‘virtual’ wine communities in the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and at Mt Surmon Wines in Clare Valley, has shown tangible, low-cost benefits for wineries of all sizes.

Led by Dr Roberta Veale, senior lecturer and program director Master of Wine Business program at The University of Adelaide’s Business School, the research investigated online engagement strategies, in particular live-streaming video technology, to create and build interactive wine communities and brand advocates online.

The three projects – The Adelaide Hills ‘Wine Room’, the Mt Surmon ‘Wine Lounge’ and Barossa ‘HQ’ – set up live stream sites where wineries pre-arranged a special event or theme, such as wine and food matching or wine tasting, then invited consumers to join them online.

In all three projects, consumers would log in and interact with the chosen host and fellow viewers typing in their questions and joining live chat forums.

The format was different for each project, but the results Dr Veale said were all very similar and better than originally expected.

The overall findings from the research project will be published in a six-part report via the GWRDC later this year but some of those results showed viewers were more likely to:

  • increase word of mouth and positive endorsement of brands
  • more likely to seek out the wine or visit the winery cellar door, and
  • increase how much they were willing to pay for the wine.

‘Consumers were captivated and enthralled by the opportunity to interact freely with those close to the wines presented, often their creators’, Dr Veale said.

‘I knew (from the literature) that consumers want to “co-create” experiences and are more and more resistant to traditional “selling” messages – so it made perfect sense that the winemaker (as the creator of the product) is going to be the brand’s best selling tool.

‘But – the reaction was much stronger than expected. And the chemistry between consumers and winemakers was quite extraordinary – for both the consumers and I think the winemakers too.’

Dr Veale said the results showed some of the best marketing assets are in-house for wineries.

‘I hope that wine brands will give this a go. It should convince brand owners of the importance and power of engaging directly with consumers on equal footing – and away from relying solely on distributors and third party tools, such as Facebook and Twitter.

‘This is the kind of strategy that builds loyalty through engagement.’

The final costs and technical requirements were carefully monitored and form part of the final report, but Dr Veale said overall the financial costs and time needed to develop a “virtual community” is comparatively low and well within the reach of small-to-medium wineries.

‘All brand building strategies take time and investment. Most take a lot more money than this’, she said.

‘This research has shown that co-creating wine experiences directly with the consumer online makes time and distance irrelevant and you can see strong results as a result of only one experience.’

For more information contact Kate Harvey, GWRDC General Manager,

Image: Schild Estate’s Scott Hazeldine and Alex MacClelland on the couch at the Barossa HQ.