07 February 2013

Cutting through the clutter. The power of micro communities.

I've been thinking about this for a while. The Internet (especially social media channels) are just too damn loud. Messaging overload is an understatement. We're deluged with communication. Multiple social networks, multiple messaging platforms, emails, phone calls, voicemails, advertising, television, radio - it's a little scary to be honest.

And brands have to play in this mess. They have to find a way to stand out, to "cut through the clutter" as the saying goes. How? By being valuable and useful - sure. By being emotional, remarkable, fun... Sure. But when everyone is trying to be that, it's hard to tell the good from the bad. Which makes it hard to care. Which makes it hard to engage.

I don't know how to solve this problem. Yet. Couple of years ago (back in FNB days) I wrote a strategy which included the trend "Retreat to Niche", where consumers, desperate for value would retreat to smaller communities with more manageable communication levels. Seems I was wrong then - social blew up, everyone has 500 fake friends and a suitably propped up ego. But I might not be wrong now.

Look at international startups like MightyBell. From the one of the Ning founders. You'd think you couldn't get much more niche than Ning (your own private one-click, out the box social network) - but she's succeeded. She's building a micro community platform for "more meaningful messaging". Intimate communities. It's exciting. And necessary.

That's why I'm launching a new test project into the Real Time Wine community. The SuperFAN Club. Here's some context.
  • Wine farms are highly fragmented (4500+ independent producers of wine in SA alone)
  • Wine farms have limited budgets (margins in wine aren't great, fragmentation means building a brand is hard, long and expensive)
  • Real Time Wine has some hyper engaged users.
  • Hyper engaged users love to be treated differently and rewarded for their, err, hyper-engagement.
  • Wine farms need to get closer to wine drinkers at an affordable price.
  • Wine farms can't afford (usually) to compete in the cluttered marketing space. At best, they take long term organic approaches (some highly successful, Warwick for example, some not).

Get my drift?

So. We've set up the Real Time Wine SuperFAN Club. Only accessible to Bottle Bandit status level and higher. If you're a Real Time Wine user, you'll realise how much work is required to get to that level. We have 68 hyper engaged hero users in that group so far. Wine farms pay a small fee and we all get to engage on a mailing list.

Small. Intimate. Personal.

What do I expect wine farms to do?
  • sell wine to the community -  highly engaged users are suckers for a good deal
  • try out new products on the base
  • seed new products into Real Time Wine and social media, pre-release
  • talk to wine buyers about their marketing messaging - what's working/not working
  • chat about how to reach consumers in general
  • ask for feedback on campaigns / events
  • find out what ordinary wine buyers like in a wine / wine brand
  • find out how ordinary wine buyers choose wine and where they're likely to buy
  • find out what offers, specials, packages, deals would appeal to wine buyers & their social circles
  • publicise events, festivals and content through this community & their social circles (get retweets, likes & content sharing started - through the people that actually care)
  • generally chat and engage with SA's wine superfans

It's not a new idea. Jason Calacanis (This Week In Startups Host / Entrepreneur) stopped blogging for quite a while, moving readers onto a private, one way email list. Subscribers hit 30k if I remember correctly. That idea pivoted into the This Week In Startups BackChannel community, of which I'm a paid member.

Will it work? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm tired of the effort required to get signal instead of noise. Micro communities could be the answer.

We'd like to welcome Haut Espoir as the first Wine Farm member of the SuperFAN club. Congrats on being brave. It should pay back in spades.

What do you think?

Get involved. Email the team on info at realtimewine dot com.

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