ASI Partner VinExpo has been bringing together the wine world for forty years. Over the last two years, as a result of the pandemic, it has been challenged to rethink its business model and completely embrace the digital wine world. With the launch of their Vinexposium Connect digital portal, VinExpo has demonstrated its agility and forward-thinking nature. We asked VinExposium Marketing & Communications Director Anaïs Égré how they have adapted their digital strategy as result of the pandemic and how this has impacted, changed planning for future events.
ASI: 2021 saw Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris hosted on your Vinexposium Connect digital portal. While the global pandemic was undoubtedly an instigator of the decision to go digital was it the only reason/rationale for exploring digital events/communications in a larger way. Was the move to digital in any way part of longer strategy?
Anaïs: Vinexposium, born from the union of Vinexpo and the wine & spirits division of Comexposium in 2020, has inherited both companies’ digital ambition and vision. A year ago, we were far from starting ex-nihilo from a digital perspective as the exhibition industry had already started its digitalization over the past decades, aiming at optimizing the customer journey as well as communicating in the most efficient ways. As an event-organizer, this is in our DNA to go with the flow, to follow the trends, to innovate, to anticipate what’s coming and to enrich, year after year, event after event, our services and communications. Besides, we could only integrate the exponential digital ecosystem as it was getting available.
More importantly, what drives us on a daily basis, and what has always driven our development, are our clients, our community and how we can serve them best. 25-30 years ago, major innovations were taking place onsite, during our events, and very little space was available before and after our events. Today, we spend at least as much time and resources on fueling our community before and after the events as well as during the events, and the digital tools and ecosystem leverage our potential of interactions all year long.
With the pandemic, we’ve faced a harsh context and unknown challenges. And looking at it from a positive perspective, it’s been an accelerator in terms of further digital developments as this was the only way for us to keep on moving forward despite the impossibility of running our physical events as planned. When we were at the cross point of building the long-term strategy of the newborn Vinexposium and had to think out of the box to build alternatives to our physical events, we came back to the core of our business: our clients and community. It became obvious that it was an opportunity for us to integrate our booming digital features as a brick of an ambitious and visionary Vinexposium’s long-term strategy. Thus began the epic of our digital portal as a key leverage to enhance our support to the development of trade and business in the wine & spirits industry by increasing the performance of our physical events and by offering additional 365 days a year services and contents.
ASI: Now that you have experienced hosting digital events, what have you learned? How will you apply these key learnings to future digital or even your in-person events?
Anaïs: These past months, we’ve hosted 3 digital events on our portal: Vinexpo Shanghai goes digital in October 2020, Women & Wine on March 8, 2021 and Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris goes digital in June 2021. We’ve also launched specific talks, webinars and contents available on Vinexposium Connect with a constant leitmotiv: supporting and developing useful services and contents at a time of major uncertainties and upheavals to proactively contribute, at our level, to the wine & spirits industry’s quick adaptation and bouncing back.
In terms of learning, there were plenty of them… I’d say that the most important (and comforting!) one has been to measure how vital our physical events are to the industry. We have received a lot of support from all sides and very interesting insights about what was missing. It clearly results that sharing moments, tasting, chatting, networking, doing good business cannot be fully replaced virtually. We’ve all missed social interactions as individuals, and this has been exacerbated within our industry where conviviality and tasting are fundamental pillars.
More specifically, running digital events requires to adapt everything as no one acts the same way when connecting online in comparison with a physical participation or visit. We usually do not have much time and have plenty of alternatives online, one can also possibly be doing something else at the same time, etc. Therefore, this is quite demanding from both a technical and a marketing standpoint.
I’d highlight the three following best practices as key to success when bringing your clients and community online:
- Focus on the quality and simplicity of your digital infrastructure. Make sure one can connect at every time from everywhere in the world (even in China!) save time and easily get what is expected. At Vinexposium, we’ve launched a first version of our digital portal in October 2020 for Vinexpo Shanghai goes digital, have improved it in June 2021 for Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris goes digital and we will be launching a brand-new version in a few days…
- More than ever, stick and listen to your audience! Make sure that the services and contents offered answer their current and fundamental needs, whether they are eager to entertain, looking for inspiration, in search for bold information, or anxious for new business leads, get to it. At Vinexposium, we surveyed our communities of producers and buyers and designed our offer with distinct features for instance. We listen to them as much as we can and on a daily basis and request feedback and insights from them to adapt our offer accordingly.
- Bring something new and (very) exciting! Make sure that your digital event or session is more attractive than anything else (whether it is posting stories on Instagram, cooking or babysitting, scheduling a meeting at the same time or, worse, participating in another digital events). At Vinexposium, we are designing our digital content with more attention than ever combining exclusive and new information, high-value and trendy subjects, bold and charismatic speakers as well as attractive and diversified formats.
All of this has been a great playing, experimentation and learning field to work closely together with our community, to keep our clients at the heart of our development and to rethink and boost our services and contents. And whether working on physical or digital events, our compass will remain the insights and feedback from the market as well as the evolution of the engagement and satisfaction of our clients and community.
ASI: Now that we see the end of the pandemic – or at least a world with better control over the pandemic – that will allow us to attend conferences and other in-person events, will digital experiences continue to be an important part of your communications and events strategies?
Anaïs: We obviously look forward to our next physical events and to welcoming you all back in Shanghai, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, etc. At this important time of recovery, our digital portal will be further developed to enhance our physical events performances and echo within the industry before, during and after the events but will also provide specific features 365 days a year.
For instance, a producer participating in Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris in February 2022 can get a preferential access to our digital portal during the event with a dedicated visibility, customizable matchmaking options, a pre-scheduled onsite and/or online meeting agenda with a chat to prepare and easily follow-up on its meetings afterwards, and this can be extended 365 days a year. Same mechanism for a buyer visiting Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris, with dedicated and specific options.
And of course, we will share some of our keynotes, conferences, round tables and masterclasses taking place at our physical events on our digital portal as well, adapting the format accordingly. Besides, as soon as February 2022 during Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris where, in addition to our onsite program, we will produce digital content for Vinexposium Connect with exclusive subjects and key international speakers participating to this physical event.
Our digital portal is a powerful engine to better serve the wine & spirits industry, upgrading our physical events efficiency and extending our presence all year long.
ASI: Vinexposium has had prominent sommeliers such as Marc Almert and other former ASI Best Sommeliers of the World participating in various functions. How do you see sommeliers continuing to participate with Vinexposium and its events in the future?
Anaïs: We are very attached to the international community of sommeliers; they are very valuable professionals in terms of education, inspiration and in terms of business within the wine & spirits industry. And beyond, as they are a key driver and influencer towards the final consumers.
For many wine & spirits brands and producers, getting distribution in restaurants and meeting sommeliers is a key objective of their participation in our events. They consider it as one of the best opportunities to educate, promote their savoir faire and better sell their products to the final consumers. Thus, one of our priorities is to create as much meetings and exchanges as possible between sommeliers in their great diversity and producers/brands during our physical events.
Moreover, we’ve been partners of the ASI for quite a long time now. This is one of our historical and most important partnership on the buyers/influencers side within the group as very few professions have managed or have the chance to have such a powerful inter-trade representation. We are working with the ASI and the Best Sommeliers of the World all year long, pursuing two main objectives:
- Support this international and demanding association as well as the valorization of the profession of sommelier within our ecosystem
- Promote and share valuable and inspiring knowledge through high-quality masterclasses, contents and events run by the Best Sommeliers of the World to our BtoB and BtoC community worldwide
From what I’ve seen, all sessions run by one or several Best Sommeliers of the World, whether promoted onsite or online, are a huge success! Their solid reputation as well as high visibility is obviously very attractive. And, in addition to this, whether working on a highly advanced masterclass, making a selection of wines or creating a new event, such as the Vinexpo Challenge launched in 2015, the subject or concept is consistent, ready well in advance so that we can communicate about it. The session is prepared and orchestrated and the live performance goes perfectly well. They gather all the ingredients to a successful session! For instance, Marc Almert – Best Sommeliers of the World 2019 – has been regularly working with us these past years on various sessions and contents and it’s been a great pleasure, a real comfort and some of our top-sessions/contents in terms of performances.
The opportunities and synergies between us are endless and totally win-win.
ASI: What do you think the future is for sommeliers in the digital landscape? Will sommeliers need to become digital communicators to support their brands, their restaurants and have their voice heard in the wine world?
Anaïs: Well, from what I can see, all or part of the sommeliers along with their brands and restaurants have already joined the digital landscape, in particular through social media such as Instagram or Facebook. And, since the pandemic, I noticed an increasing presence of this community with bolder and regular contents. Some of them finally took the stage and the chair of ambassador of wine & spirits knowledge towards the community of wine lovers, which is a very good news!
Nevertheless, there is a big room for improvement and a real space to reach the sommeliers and sommellerie awareness. The sommeliers have everything in hand to transform into stars and to embark the wine & spirits industry into this dynamic with a growing attention from a larger audience. The food and gastronomy universe has done a fantastic job putting their starred chefs into the spotlight, putting on stage charismatic and inspiring personalities, and organizing the transfer of their knowledge and passion to a large audience through all possible communication channels, not only but including the digital ecosystem. The creation of the Bocuse d’Or in 1987 certainly symbolizes the start of the (r)evolution of the sector. Social networks and digitalization have accelerated the change and enlarged the influence of both three-stars chefs but also of the new wave of young chefs which have gained an amazing popularity. It has taken them 20-30 years but it is one of the most attractive, inspiring and bankable sectors today. Food has never been so trendy!
Wine & spirits have a similar potential and sommeliers, along with winemakers and chefs, are a treasured channel for our own (r)evolution. Thanks to their demanding training program and field experiences, sommeliers are well prepared to be on stage and to share their knowledge in a qualitative and inspiring way. And the digital landscape provides them with powerful tools in terms of formats and channels to spread out the message towards today and tomorrow’s wine professionals and wine lovers.
ASI: What’s next for Vinexpo in terms of digital events/communications?
Anaïs: To be franck, we are very excited at the idea of opening physical events again! We have a very exciting and dense calendar from Shanghai to New York, stopping by Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Bordeaux, Amsterdam and New Delhi.
And, with our physical events now poised to resume, we are all-set to offer an augmented digital experience to our trade community across the globe. In a few days, we will be announcing the launch of our new version of Vinexposium Connect with new functionalities (marketplace, networking and matchmaking tools…) designed to increase business opportunities during our physical events and beyond.
At this occasion, we are putting all our webinars and talks available on-demand for free on our portal and will release new CEO Talks and Women Talks. We are also working on a digital event dedicated to a wine region, probably the first of many to come, which might take place this autumn. More to come… And we will of course follow the rhythm of our dense events calendar (available here: www.vinexposium.com) with intense promotion plans, dedicated programs and augmented functionalities to boost the performance and the echo towards our community around the globe.
About Anaïs Egre
Anaïs started her career in the wine & spirits over 15 years ago and has since explored many facets of the industry. From the rich universe of Cognac to a vibrant journey into a marketing and design agency, punctuating her path with international experiences and travels around the globe, she has fueled a deep passion and knowledge for the men and women, savoir-faire and marketing challenges specific to the wine & spirits sector. Reuniting her taste for gatherings and for demanding projects, she joined Comexposium in 2014, took the lead of the marketing & communications department of the newly-created wine division in 2018 and orchestrated the launching of Wine Paris in 2019. In 2020, she enlarged her scope to Vinexposium, the newly-born world’s leading organizer of wine and spirits industry professional gatherings, with a portfolio of iconic and recognized events.