CVT Soft Serve owner Joe Nicchi isn’t the only person who’s over the era of influencers. Wine and spirits customers are as well.
For nearly the last two decades, the renaissance surrounding boutique alcohol has been led by professional tasters, influential writers, and outspoken personalities, looking to guide beginning and unsure consumers towards quality and taste and make a career out of doing so. Today, however, with so much information available online, an endless amount of new books on the subject, and social media content overflowing with thought and opinions, consumers are pretty well-versed, and rarely do they fret over making the wrong decision like many anxious customers once did. Today’s drinker is more headstrong, looking to exert his or her own experience into the equation. There’s a reason business leaders are calling this emerging consumer group the “hero generation.” Rather than defer to the “qualified expert” at this point, these drinkers are ready to write their own story, one in which they’re at the center.
For over a decade, I crafted retail marketing that focused on presenting a different level of expertise to our customers as part of a large California chain. We were more than just a booze shop. We were on the road, searching out new producers, traveling overseas to find the best possible wines and spirits. That was the differentiating factor between us and every other wine store. I spent years making sure consumers knew how dedicated we were to our craft by documenting those adventures, hoping that our experience would improve our credibility.
In the year 2019, however; this strategy is moot. Dead. Gone. Bye bye. It’s no longer about us. Customers don’t want to live vicariously through our experiences. They want to experience the adventure first hand. More importantly, consumers in 2019 don’t want to know what you drank over the weekend. They’re more concerned with what they are going to drink over the weekend and how you can best deliver it to them. If you think you’re influencing customers by humbly bragging about all the good stuff you consumed with last night’s dinner, check the likes on your Instagram page. That shit isn’t working. Consumers are too busy posting their own bottle shots to worry about yours. In today’s market, your job is to make them look good, not the other way around.
That’s not to say established influencers have completely lost their influence, mind you. Like an iconic rock band with a core base of fans, there will always be a certain amount of loyalty towards familiarity. It’s just to say that, moving forward, it’s going to be very difficult to cut through all the noise out there. When everyone considers themselves an influencer—posting photos, opinions, likes, and reviews online incessantly—it lessens the impact of any singular voice.
To better understand the psychology behind this phenomenon, look at the backlash on Instagram against users who follow personal accounts without ever interacting, i.e. refusing to like or comment on photos, despite the fact they’re closely observing every post.
Why would someone follow you, look at all your stories, and keep tabs on everything that’s happening in your life without liking one of your photos? Because the people on social media who consider themselves influencers want to be doing the influencing! They certainly don’t want to give off the vibe that they too can be influenced. At the same time, they can’t exist in a vacuum, as an influencer without any followers, so they have to make nice for a short period of time. As soon as they establish themselves, the “social” relationship becomes one-sided, not unlike a teacher who considers himself above the student.
However, when everyone considers themselves the influencer and not the influencee—the teacher and not the student—it creates a wall of content creation without results. It’s all push, no pull. It leads to thousands—if not millions—of people who think they’re increasing awareness, when in reality they’re increasing the level of resentment against their “brand.” It’s like talking without ever listening.
Look at Joe Nicchi, who has been inundated by requests for free products, both online and face-to-face at his ice cream truck, by “influencers” asking him if they can have one of his $4 ice cream cones for free in exchange for a post or a tag.
"I'd stare at them like 'Are you out of your mind?' Nicchi said. "It's all the time, all the time. They love using the word exposure, they use it all the time."
They also love to use the words “I” and “me.” I ate this. I drank that. I was here. I went there. But in order to win over today’s consumer—to influence them without them knowing they’ve been influenced—you’re going to have to stop using first person pronouns and switch over to the second. You can eat this. You can drink that. You can be here. You can go there.
In short, you can be the hero.
But, of course, to convince a certain number of wine and spirits professionals to stop talking about their own exploits is to take away from them the whole reason they joined the industry in the first place. If they’re not doing the influencing, they’re not the hero of their own wine and spirits journey.