International wine personality Fabien Laine is about to head Down Under for the very first time. Traci Ayris contacted him in Paris to get the heads up on what delegates can expect from his sessions at the WineDepot Industry Impact Conference in Orange this September.
He’s regularly acknowledged as one of the top 10 wine influencers in the world but, for Fabien Laine, it’s perhaps a gratuitous accolade that, in reality, means very little. “I am just a wine and food entrepreneur,” he laughs, “it’s not about numbers, it’s about what lies behind the numbers.”
In September, Laine will leave his home in the South West of France to travel to Australia for the very first time. A natural raconteur, Laine will challenge perceptions and unleash a “grand sac” of learnings, personal views and wine industry insights at the WineDepot Industry Impact Conference in Orange.
I’m unsure if it was Gallic charm or his innate ability to break challenges down into plain commonsense, either way, Laine quickly had me hanging on every word during our phone interview. He is at once humble yet knowledgeable, entertaining yet informative.
“I actually used to be on the stage, you know,” he jokes. “I worked in restaurants for 15 years as head sommelier and when you spend most of your time in a restaurant, every day is a show!”
While often named by others as an “influencer,” Laine is reluctant to classify himself as such. “The best influencer you can have today is the consumer that visited you. He has paid to get to your winery and possibly paid to drink and eat while there. If he is happy, he will leave your winery with boxes of wine to share and tell your story to others. That is why consumers are the best influencers you can have.”
The conversation drifts to numbers, followers and social media conversion. At one stage Laine had more than 10,000 followers but dropped his #fabienlaine handle when his account was hacked. “So now it’s #creativefabien and I’m back at square one!”
Nonplussed by circumstances which could catapult others into a Kardashian meltdown of epic proportions he adds, “Well, the numbers are growing every day but people who follow me know that I am not on Instagram for the numbers, for me, it’s about pictures and stories. Sometimes there’s not even a story, just the right picture and that’s all there needs to be.”
We move on to chat about his recent travels in Slovenia, Portugal and South Africa, where he works with clients advising on social media, branding, product development and photo and video content. With so many strings to his bow and more wineries jostling for his attention than teens at a Bieber concert, I ask Laine what wine means to him these days.
“Wine is a consumable but for me, it’s all about the experience,” he says. “You can have the best wine in the world but, if you taste it in the wrong setting with the wrong people, it’s always going to taste merde.”
I also get the impression that Laine might just get a bit of a kick out of challenging conservatism in the wine world. “I live very close to Bordeaux and you cannot get more traditional or crusty than Bordeaux,” he laughs.
“They are paying now for mistakes from the past. Those classic Bordeaux labels, you can’t tell them apart on a shelf. These people have been cooking with the same ingredients, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for way too long and, really, once you standardise your product, you lose everything.”
Lane adds that recently he’s been pleased to see that the Bordeaux region has been working hard to get more fresh wines and get back on track.
I asked about his thoughts on common mistakes made in wine marketing today. “They always have the product in the pictures!” He continues, “If you look at car commercials in France over the past 20 years, it used to be that you always saw a car. Most of the time these days you rarely see the car, except at the end. This is what I mean when I say it’s about crafting the story around the experience first, then the product.”
Discussing big-dollar corporate marketing campaigns flows on to the topic of “accidental influencers” such as Gueuleton, who target food, wine and the traditional lifestyle of Southern France. Laine is an enthusiastic supporter. “We could say they are influencers but really, they are just doing what they are doing. They started a simple wine bar and now there are 11 wine bars and 20 food trailers across France.” And, with 32.8k Gueuleton followers on Instagram, Laine’s points about authenticity are underlined superbly.
Laine makes no apology for not buying into influencer-hype.
“Over 90 percent of people who have over 10,000 followers in the wine niche are fake, many of them are simply manipulating the numbers,” he says. No doubt this will be hotly-contested theory when Laine joins Drew Lambert (Wine Wankers), Trish Barry (Mastermind Consulting) and keynote speaker Felicity Carter (Meininger’s Wine Business Magazine) for the Conference’s “Art Of Influence” panel session.
With strong views from all sides of the influencer debate, I begin to wonder if sparks might fly.
When pressed on the point of selecting an influencer he adds, “I would take anyone but a wine person, the wine is so niche in itself that having people talk about a bottle or a wine label makes no sense to 99 percent of wine consumers and that’s because 99 percent of wine consumers are not wine geeks, but put it somewhere in a true life situation and tell a story; I guarantee you will get more traction.”
With an impressive global client base, speaking at conferences is not a role Laine seeks out, but he does relish a good opportunity to debunk social media myths and get businesses working smarter, not harder, in the social media space. “I believe that really, social media numbers mean nothing.”
“People out there are cheating the system to try to be someone and a lot of them have an ego problem.
“It’s not about sending your bottle to someone by post and thinking it’s going to change things, instead, why not try something simple instead? Here’s an example: Instead of watching a shitty TV program every evening, go onto Vivino and see who is drinking your wine and reach out to them, it costs nothing! Maybe they say they say they don’t like your wine, so you ask, why not? Please explain? Everyone should listen and talk to their customers.”
Consumer Engagement strategy is of compelling interest to me, so by this stage, I confess, I’m completely hooked. We spend a further 20 minutes batting back and forth some more “low-cost, little-stress” ideas to increase social engagement, but you’ll have to join us in Orange for those.
So, what exactly will Laine be talking about at the Conference?
“It won’t be a Powerpoint reading session that’s for sure!” he laughs.
“We will target a lot of different things. We will investigate conversation and engagement because there’s a lot of easy stuff to do but people just don’t do it.
“We will touch on data, not to bore them but I’ve got some interesting numbers to talk about. There will also be case studies of big campaigns but essentially it’s about content and how to create it.”
Don’t expect Laine to do all the talking, though, he confesses that he loves a good Q&A session. “It’s not that when you are on stage you are King,” he says, “Everyone is there to learn. They will learn from me, but I’m also looking forward to learning from them.”