"I don't drink. I'm just here for the phenomenon."
That's what I told someone at an impromptu Gary Vee party the other night in San Fran. I don't have any issues with it--just never got into it and prefer not to start. To each their own, right?
So, the fact that I'm blogging about a wine videoblogger who owns a wine store in Springfield, NJ should mean something.
I first heard about Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk) at this year's SXSW. When the sponsored parties in Austin got too crowded, Gary (conveniently sporting several cases of wine) threw an impromptu party at the Marriot. The buzz was immediate... and my first thought was "Who the f is Gary Vee?"
Caroline McCarthy summed it up best when she said that Gary was the "Jay Gatsby of SXSW".
At first, I was pretty disinterested in the buzz. By nature, I tend not to like stuff that everyone else likes. I never saw Titanic and a big part of the turnoff for me was that everyone else did. Plus, like I said before, I don't drink, so why should I care about a wine guy?
But the buzz grew... and what I started to realize was that it wasn't really about the wine. It was about people. The other day, Gary inspired hundreds of people to just say something nice about someone else as part of "Good People Day."
That was it. Just talk about good people, and link to them.
So now I'm thinking, "Either this guy's a nutball, or maybe he's on to something."
Turns out, it's both. He's a bit nutty, but what convinced me that he was onto something was meeting him in person and seeing him in action.
Alex is kind of a foodie and so he got excited when Twitter started buzzing about Gary's trip to the Bay Area. Gary was speaking at Google and planned to get a party going that night. Alex and I were hanging out with Rachel, and we all decided to check things out.
After some Twitter debate, Eos was chosen as the location. We were some of the first to arrive. Little by little, folks with that "I'm looking for someone I know from the interwebs" look started poking around.
"Are you here for... um... "
"Yeah... When's Gary coming?"
The staff reaction at Eos was funny. Apparently, they didn't know we were coming.
"How many people are coming?
"Well, it's tough to say... You see, there's this thing called Twitter... and... um... somewhere between 10 and 5000 I'd say is a safe bet."
Soon, there were at least 50 people and the party moved upstairs. Everyone was really excited and when Gary arrived, things became crystal clear.
It wasn't about Gary at all.
It was about the wine... but... it wasn't really even about the wine, because it's what wine really represents. Wine is people... it's people celebrating, it's people socializing. It's getting to know a good wine and a good person... and that's what Gary does. He doesn't promote wine. He promotes people... other people... the company of others.
The only time I actually heard Gary say the words Wine Library was when one of the restaurant staff asked him if he was a critic--trying to figure out who the heck he was. Points off for them for owning a a wine bar and not knowing, but either way it was only then that he gave her his card. Other than that, he mixed with the crowd--people he knew and people he didn't. He welcomed us and was genuinely excited to see us.
There were no logos, no pitches or speeches. No "sponsor sessions". It was just a great time and Gary footed the bill for the whole thing.... easily a few grand... quite easily. All that wine, some food, and my Sprite. :)
What I was left with was a great experience and the desire to talk to others about it--exactly what every single brand out there is trying to do and almost all of them are failing at miserable at.
And don't tell me it's easier with wine, because I don't even drink the stuff and here I am talking about it to 2500 people.
All the hot air that gets blown around about social media, community, blogging, branding, etc... and very little of it can hold a candle to what this random wine guy in Jersey does every single day.
And what does he do? He's just passionate about what he does and loves people. Notice I didn't say loves his customers, or loves wine drinkers. He loves people. That's critical, because most people aren't there aren't your customers. They're just people, and if you don't show them some love first, forget about ever being lucky enough to call them customers.
And its making him money, too. Wine Library does over $50 million a year in business, with internet sales increasing $10 million in the last two years alone. But, all that seems like an afterthought, really.
So this meandered a bit. You want key takeaways?
Here's what I've got:
1. It's not about Gary. He promotes other people and encourages people to promote each other more than he ever pitches himself.
2. He takes it to the streets. You want people talking about your brand in person? Talk with them about it--in person. The sheer amount of people Gary meets in person is astounding. How many people a year does the face of your company meet? Does your company even have a face--and not just a face, but does your company have a handshake, too?
3. Stay positive. If you needed to feel better about something, who would you rather get a phonecall from? Gary Vee or Mike Arrington? The guy just overflows with positivity--and that attracts people. People want to feel good. They don't want to get dragged into blogwars, flamewars. Gary doesn't say that his competitors "must die." In fact, he probably shops at his competitors. There's already enough problems out there to get people down each day--people are going to tire of you pretty quickly if you don't immediately make them feel good.
4. Give it away. Do whatever you can to put your product in people's hands... even if you have to give it away. It gets people talking... and they can't talk about your product unless they have it.
5. Get off your high horse. By videoblogging about wine, Gary brings a somewhat sophisticated, maybe a little "insider" activity down to the level that everyone can understand... and he clearly wants everyone to understand it. This isn't the kind of brand that says, "We don't want our ads next to user gen content" or "We only want a certain type of clientele." Gary screams "join in... everyone!"