MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
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NORRIS: Back in 1997, our next guest wanted to turn his family liquor store called Wine Library into a major force in online sales and nobody thought he could do it. But over time, he proved them wrong. And today, Gary Vaynerchuk sells $60 million a year worth of wine, in large part thanks to his early embrace of social media.
He's written a new book which is part how-I-did-it memoir and part you-can-do-this-too handbook. It's called "The Thank You Economy." And he joins now to talk about it. Welcome to the program.
Mr. GARY VAYNERCHUK (Author, "The Thank You Economy"): Thanks for having me.
NORRIS: Can you explain the title? Let's start there. What exactly is a thank you economy?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Basically what it is is that when you pay forward, I really believe that there's a return on investment, especially now that word-of-mouth is on steroids. You know, we live in a world with Facebook and Twitter and other platforms or we're sharing thoughts we never would've picked up the phone and called about. And it's my belief that every business needs to humanize and over care for the customer if they want to be successful going forward.
And so what the thank you economy is is thank you stands for you're welcome and what can I do for you and what's wrong and what's bad. And I could have called the book manners marketing, for example, but I wanted to use the word economy because this is a big culture shift.
I think a lot of people listening right now understand these things are happening. But I do believe that most people are grossly underestimating the impact on business that all these new apps and gadgets and websites are going to have.
NORRIS: Now, help me understand how this changed your business. You were an early adapter, I guess we could say. You jumped in at full force.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Yeah. I mean, I launched Winelibrary.com and people didn't do that in 1997, you know. You didn't have a local liquor store in New Jersey have a website. You know, what happened was we launched e-commerce. We went all in. We didn't hedge. We didn't say, let me see somebody else do it. And we executed that well. We did an email service that was early back then. Now it's, you know, not only is it the norm, people are probably over it. And we did all those things.
And then in 2006, I launched Wine Library TV which was educational and entertainment and that led to a lot of people watching and buying from our business as well. So, I think...
NORRIS: And I should say - can I just jump in here?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Yeah.
NORRIS: I should say, pretty simple.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Very.
NORRIS: I mean it's sort of like close-circuit television almost. It's like you sitting in front of a camera.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: It's super ghetto.
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Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I mean there's nothing, you know, these tools are bringing us back to old school rules, small town rules where the end user is the game again.
NORRIS: So it's like the mom and pop shop that you remember, where you walked in and they remembered, isn't your daughter in the fourth grade now? Weren't you going on vacation to Idaho or something like that?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: One-hundred thousand percent. Yup. And that meant something, right? You had a connection. Customers are putting out details about themselves that we've never seen before. We have so much information about who they are. And this is why it's small town rules.
We can now do that again because the data is out there flowing and it's up to companies to scale that data. You can probably even tell my energy is a little bit more excited answering this question. That to me is going to be the real battle forward.
The fact that you're going to flat out, when somebody buys something on your website knows so much more about that person outside of what they bought, you know they bought this kind of, you know, these kind of flowers and they're really expensive, so, oh, this might be, you know, an affluent customer.
But when you then are attaching that email to the data and finding out what they're saying on Facebook and Twitter and you find out they're huge Cubs, you know, Chicago Cubs fan. And you can send them two tickets to a game saying, thank you for becoming a new customer. Now you're creating that context that really matters.
NORRIS: What actually brings you closer to your customers? How do you reach out and build some sort of relationship with them through social media?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: You listen instead of talking. For the last 100 years, this format, radio, print, television, billboards, direct mail, email services, we've all been pushing. We tell our story, right? Come to Wine Library, we've got this deal. Come to Wine Library, we have this selection. Wine Library has this wine at this price.
What these platforms have done is actually allowed us to listen. So what we do now most of the time is we use search.twitter.com and we listen to what people are saying. We listen to somebody saying chardonnay or merlot or pinot grigio and we become a service, not a merchant. We don't try to sell them the merlot when they say on Twitter, thinking about having a nice merlot tonight. We don't say, well, free shipping at Wine Library, here, come here.
What we do is we say, well, what kind of merlots do you like? And all of a sudden we become a service and try to help them pair that wine that evening with what they're eating and all of a sudden they go, well, who are these people? And because we've created context of bringing in value, not trying to sell down their throat, we think that we've established a better opportunity to do business with those people.
NORRIS: If someone is online on their Facebook or tweeting about merlot or vouvray, should you assume that they want to hear from someone like you with a suggestion?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: You know, I would assume that 85 percent of the people do, right? It's really the similar thing that we see and have always saw, which is that some people will be receptive to something, some won't - and then that's fine. The job of the business, in my opinion, is to try to be polite - to not try to be over intrusive and you move on to the next opportunity.
NORRIS: Is this not just about influencing people or making friends? Is it also about making sure that you take care of people who didn't have a good experience? Because if they didn't have a good experience, they have this huge platform and they can tell all kinds of people about it.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: You know what's so funny? That's what everybody has naturally done. I think the customer service stuff is very interesting and I use it quite a bit and, yes, you're absolutely right.
However, I think that's playing defense. I'll tell you what I think this has really done and what this is opening up. I think this is an opportunity to take care of the customers that are actually happy with you.
You know, we're always taking care of the squeaky wheels, right? Somebody tweets out, oh, I had a bad meal at XYZ, that company's quickly, like, oh, come back, free dinner, da, da, da. How about all the people that are, like, wonderful meal, this, that and the other thing? We never take care of those people.
And the fact that we have data now on them because they didn't complain or call the 800 number, they were just saying something to another friend on the social Web about their good experience, I think it's businesses' jobs to start taking care of the anti-squeaky wheel. And that's something I'm very passionate about. I think that social brings that opportunity as well.
NORRIS: This book caught my attention in part because I'm obsessive about thank you notes. It's perhaps because I was raised by two postal workers, but there's nothing for me quite like an old-fashioned thank you note on a nice piece of stationary. Is there still a place for that in the thank you economy?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Well, listen, I'll be honest with you, I think that's kind of like a passing fad. I think the last six months to a year have been the golden era of, you know, the handwritten note. It's unbelievable to me how a handwritten note gets brought up every single day because it's such an anomaly, so much so that I think people are now doing it as a tactic, not because they actually mean it.
NORRIS: But there's always a place for a heartfelt, handwritten note. If you meant it, then you should've put on a stamp on it.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: There's always a place for a heartfelt everything, right? Like, whether it's a hug or a handshake or a gift basket or, you know, even a head nod, even a wink on Twitter. If you meant it, if you meant it, I think it's going to matter because I think consumers' BS radars are much better than we think, and they're going to continue to get better in this transparent world.
NORRIS: Gary Vaynerchuk, it's been great talking to you. Gary Vaynerchuk is the author of "The Thank You Economy." Gary, thank you.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Thank you so much.
NORRIS: And Gary is also director of wine operations at Wine Library. And given his expertise, we asked him for three perfect wines for a warm spring evening. To see his recommendations, go to npr.org.