Gary Vaynerchuk understands the viral power of the internet to build personal and consumer brands as well as anyone. At only 37 years of age, Vaynerchuk is a New York Times, Associated Press and Wall Street Journal Best-Selling Author with his books Crush It! Why Now Is The Time To Cash In on Your Passion (2009) and The Thank You Economy . He has close to a million followers on Twitter. He is a regular keynote speaker at entrepreneurial, social media, and business marketing conferences. He has given a TED talk. He is a regular on media outlets having been featured on everything from Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Ellen DeGeneres Show to CNN, CNBC, NPR and MSNBC. He was listed in Decanter Magazine’s 2009 Power List, which profiles the most influential people in the wine industry, and he was also one of Askmen.com’s Most Influential Men of 2009. As Co-Founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, Vaynerchuk helps Fortune 500 companies and professional sports franchises like Campbell Soup Company, PepsiCo, Green Mountain Coffee, the NY Jets and the Brooklyn Nets create digital brand presence using social media.
Vaynerchuk wasn’t always this influential. His story is a perfect case study of the viral power that social media channels on the Internet can create to leverage and propel a brand or product, when that brand or product is embraced by an Internet-based community or tribe and deemed valuable. Vaynerchuk’s education or social background didn’t give him any advantages in the online world. Originally from Belarus, his family immigrated to the United States in 1978. As a young man times were tough and money was tight. When his family first arrived in Queens, New York, their first home was a studio apartment that housed not only his mom and dad but also his grandmother and great-grandparents. Within a few months of their arrival, Gary’s father’s (Sasha) construction job, which he had arranged before the move, disappeared. Nevertheless his parents were driven, hungry, entrepreneurially minded, and willing to do whatever it took to build the life for their family in America that they had dreamed of in Belarus.
Sasha Vaynerchuk found a job as a stock boy in a liquor store in Clark, New Jersey. It didn’t take him long however to work his way up and become manager, eventually saving enough money to purchase his own store. He was able to later purchase another store, “Shopper’s Discount Liquors”. Vaynerchuk jokingly suggests in his first book, Crush It, that the store “looked exactly what you think a Shopper’s Discount Liquors should look like.”
As is the case with most family businesses, Gary learned the ropes (perhaps against his will at times) bagging ice, dusting shelves and manning the cash register. At times, when the store was slow, he would flip through the pages of Wine Spectator magazine. Although the family store was not known for its fine wines, and the bulk of their sales was from hard liquor or beer, Gary, at a young age, started to realize the “cultural cachet” of wine. Also, unlike the hard liquor buyer, a wine consumer was usually open to influence in terms of the brand that they would purchase. He notes,
“I started to notice a pattern: people would come in to buy their Absolut or their Johnnie Walker and I knew that I or any staff could talk until we were blue in the face about the other brands, they were still walking out their their Absolut or their Jonnie Walker….The wine buyer, though, would often walk in looking a little lost and spend ten minutes tentatively peering at labels as though hoping a bottle would jump out and spare them from making a decision”
Since the wine customers were open to suggestions, Vaynerchuk knew there was an opportunity. Then on November 14, 2005, his thirtieth birthday, while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, he had his ultimate “aha” moment. He had noticed that sites like MySpace and Flickr and YouTube were becoming popular. These sites had nothing to do with business but were about people sharing things they found interesting with other people. There it was for him. He would launch a video blog to build an online wine community. In February 2006 www.winelibrary.tv was born.
Vaynerchuk understood the power of the Internet to develop brands and create communities. Intentionally, winelibrary.tv was not created to sell any wine. This is something that traditional entrepreneurs sometimes struggle with when using the interest to promote their brand or product. They may feel that time spent on an indirect marketing endeavor, one that may not result in direct sales, is a waste of time. As a result, they default back to the “push” marketing concepts that they are familiar with, such as buying ad space to directly promote a product. Push marketing doesn’t have viral potential however. People don’t want to share the ads they see on the Internet. If anything they want to ignore them, or block them. The consumer is king on the Internet. A marketer cannot force himself on anyone by having more money or by buying more valuable space. On the Internet, people must choose to participate in what you have to offer. If you don’t present them with value then they will simply ignore you.
So Vaynerchuk decided that he would be the wine guy who would “tell it as it is”, instead of “spouting the same classic terminology every time, how the bouquet was rose petals or the finish was silk”. He notes,“I would stick my nose in my glass, suck in a mouthful of air and wine, and the only thing running through my head would be, ‘Man, this really takes like Big League Chew’ or ‘If this isn’t a Whatchamacallit bar, I don’t know what is’.” He was trying to take an experience that many people find frustrating or unfamiliar, and make it familiar and fun. It worked.
His unique and individualized approach, really just a matter of cutting through pretention, telling it as he saw it, and being real, created a viral trend. His video logs describing wine in real, and understandable ways, became very popular with a tribe of consumers would could relate to the confusing wine buying process. He connected with a community. The community found value in his message and they shared his videos. Not only did his family business thrive (and significantly reduce their advertising budget in the process) but Vaynerchuk became a bit of an internet celebrity, with many media, book writing, speaking and consulting engagements just around the corner. He never went to school to become a “marketing expert”. He does not have a fancy MBA from a prestigious school. He was just authentic. He created a unique value proposition that was embraced by others. This value proposition was shared using social media channels, thereby creating a community of loyalists. This is the power of the Internet to create new careers.