Changing the Wine World One Badge at a Time
Can the 100 point system be overthrown? In a recent post, “You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap,” we debated the fact that most people, whether through points, grades, stars, glasses, or even the basic like don’t like system, score wines. It is clear that the 100 point system is severely flawed and should be executed, BUT it is also clear that it is firmly in place and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There are a few factors that contribute to the 100 point dominance:
- Those who use it continue to hold the most influence. People like Robert Parker, Steven Tanzer and The Wine Enthusiast crew wield a great deal of wine power and until their publications become obsolete or they change, we’ll continue to see the scores.
- Wineries and PR firms perpetuate the problem. Don’t believe me, go into any tasting room and you’ll probably hear someone behind the bar say, “This wine received 92pts in the lasts Wine Enthusiast magazine.” When wineries move away from this as a marketing tool the 100 point score will go the way of the dodo.
- 100 point score is identifiable. Customers, especially those who are confused by wine (which is the majority of people), can identify with the rating system. Actually, any rating system whether it is A-F or 1-5 or 1-10 can be related to fairly quickly.
Is a Wine Scoring Revolution Coming?
Recently a group of bloggers have launched an effort to buck the traditions. A new wine badge system attempts to knock down the dominance of the 100 point scale. Is their attempt a mere pebble against the wall or is it the stone that could take Goliath down? Are these renegade mavericks onto something new or will we find the system floating in the river, another victim of the 100 point mafia?
Paul Mabray of VinTank says the badge system lets you “create a category for a wine that you believe in and assign a badge to it, explain the criteria openly and transparently, and only give those wines that you appreciate fit that category a badge. Simple, elegant, but more importantly a TRUE representation of the quality you admire in the categories you create. A wine fits or it doesn’t.” Badge ratings have currently been employed by Ward Kadel (DrXeNo), Mark de Vere (MdV MW), and more recently Steve Paulo (Notes from the Cellar). Steve currently has 9 badges while the other two writers have implemented 5.
First off let me just say, kudos to the idea and the effort to change the way consumers think about wine. While wine is complex and can have several layers of aroma, flavor and texture, it is not a science deserving of being critiqued on 100 point scale. The visual indicators created by this trail blazing group of bloggers serve as a stamp of approval for their readers. Each of these writers has developed what Mark de Vere calls “taste tribes.” These are people who know like and trust the author and have aligned themselves with their likes/dislikes. Implementing badges for your taste tribe seems to be a strong alternative to numerical scores. The badge conveys a wine category along with a recommendation from the reviewer.
Several challenges present themselves when launching an attack on the status quo. For me, the badge system has potential but needs to keep the following in mind to be the new sheriff in town.
- Identity – As I mentioned earlier people can easily and quickly related to a score. 4/5 is better than 3+/5. Two thumbs up are better than one thumb up. In order to have relevance to readers beyond your taste tribe the badge image needs to register. Ward Kadel’s “Awesome” badge is a good example of this. Awesome is identifiable and recognizable. Ward likes that wine and it is worthy of trying. Identity challenges arise with badges like “New World” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Brunello.” The image without the context of the description isn’t as easily identifiable by the customer. Badge users should keep identity in mind when creating their category and image.
- Consistency – A tandem to identity is consistency. With 3 reviewers using badges there are 19 images representing about a dozen different categories. The 100 point system solidified its place by being a consistent product. While 93 points from Parker may be different than 93 points from Robert Dwyer (Wellesley Wine Press) there is still a consistency that the consumer can relate to. Badges could take greater hold if more standard categories and images took hold…but that would go against the grain of individuality that bloggers love so much.
- Marketing – PR firms love marketing hooks. Scores / awards can become a lazy way to sell wine, but they can help establish a baseline to a confused consumer. 93 pts holds some weight when correctly displayed on a shelf talker. For badges to be successful at unseating the 100 point scale they need to be easily transferred to the marketing world. Right now, it’s easy for a marketer to put, “91 Points Steven Tanzer, December 2009.” How would this look? “Ward Kadel gives this the New World badge.”Steve Paulo’s badge, “Legit Juice,” has some good marketing potential. IF (and that’s a big if) PR people took the time to use a well crafted identifiable badge image on a shelf tracker or promo piece, that would carry some marketing muscle.
- Influence – The fourth challenge in front of badges ruling the world is influence. This won’t happen overnight and will gain momentum as the first three items are worked out. Brands like Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits carry a lot of influence. While it may be true that the wine blogging world has more readership than these three traditional media pieces, the trouble is that it is divided over 1000 different portals. I applaud the early adopters mentioned in this article. In order for a tipping point to occur several influencers, including 1WineDude, Dr. Vino, Vinography, and more would have to jump on board.
The revolution is beginning. The warriors are starting to don their armor. Personally, I think it’s a good direction to head and a worthwhile road to travel down. I would consider implementing badges on DrinkNectar but would want to do some market research first. I’ve recently implemented a visual indicator for my scoring system. It gives more clarity to 3/5 or 4+/5. I think it provides more visual awareness to a wine rating, but I haven’t done any voice of customer surveys. Another barrier for me is design. I’m not a graphic whiz. If I created a badge, it would probably end up being cheese fest.
What do customers want to see? I’ve seen pro and con comments from the blogging world but in the end, these badges are for consumers to help make better informed buying decisions. I encourage you to take some time to research what’s happening on the sites mentioned here. Leave them your feedback or leave some feedback here.
Do wine badges have the potential to overthrow the 100 point scoring system?