If you are from a traditional B2B background and are neither an oenophile nor a new-media geek, the chances are good that you haven’t heard of Gary Vaynerchuk. Twenty years ago that would have been no cause for concern. But if you hope to be a player in the 21st century media business, you need to pay close attention to what Vaynerchuk is doing.
It’s a testament to the profoundly disruptive impact of the Internet that a guy who sells wine for a living should have valuable lessons for B2B professionals. Pre-Internet, Vaynerchuk would have been—and was—a big advertiser and marketer, but not a media maven. But he caught on early to the potential of the Web, starting an online outlet for his business at WineLibrary.com in 1997. His involvement in new media really took off, though, in 2006, when, inspired by Ze Frank’s online video project , he started a daily video Webcast, WineLibraryTV.com.
As seems to be the case with most new-media celebrities, Vaynerchuk’s status has been confirmed by an old-media milestone: the publication of his first book. Released last Monday (Oct. 13, 2009), Crush It! looks to be above all a motivational book for nonprofessionals, but perhaps as well a useful guide to new media.
There will be a full review of Crush It! on B2B Memes soon. But in the meantime, I refer you to this brief ABC News interview with Vaynerchuk. From it can be gleaned the following three lessons on new media.
1. Business boundaries are dissolving.
As he suggests in the interview, Vaynerchuk was hardly predestined to become a new-media pioneer: “I don’t come from a tech background. I’m an entrepreneur, a lemonade-stand kid, a branding guy.” But thanks to technology, he broke through the traditional barriers distinguishing advertisers from the publishing and broadcasting industries, and has himself become a content producer and distributor.
So on the one hand, he embodies the threat new media pose to old—advertisers don’t need you so urgently if they can be publishers themselves. But on the other, he shows how new-media technologies can radically expand the range of business opportunities available to publishers. As he says near the end of the interview, he is now planning a book on building multiple revenue streams. “I was the wine guy, but I surely have created a lot of other opportunities to monetize.”
As Vaynerchuk’s example shows, the new-media transformation creates as many ways to build business as it destroys—if not more. Instead of fighting these changes, the B2B world should be exploiting them, just as Vaynerchuk has done.
2. Passion beats out professionalism.
When Vaynerchuk started his web video effort, he simply jumped in. As you can see in his first episode, he had not tried to make a highly professional product. Though the production values have grown since that debut, the technology behind the show remains simple and streamlined—he has no hesitation in using his Flip Video camera to tape a show from a hotel room.
Vaynerchuk’s huge success with Wine Library TV should tell B2B publishers that their first instincts when they consider doing video—build a studio, buy high-end equipment, make your hosts act like network TV pros—are all wrong. It isn’t professionalism that makes Web video work—it’s passion.
As he says in the interview, this was not the case just a few years ago. But now, though, the technology platforms like YouTube that are available today are “redefining media.” The result is that people, by making use of these platforms, “with a ton of work . . . can build a business around their passions.”
Will an amateur approach limit the mass appeal of your video work? Perhaps. But as Vaynerchuk points out when asked about his nearly 1 million Twitter followers, sheer numbers aren’t that important: “I think somebody who has 2000 people who follow them who care about their brand, or care about their message, could conceivably be bigger than somebody who has 50,000 people that follow them but have no passion behind it.”
The key word here again is passion. Passion in the producer builds passion in the consumer. Professionalism only builds empty numbers.
3. Branding is personal.
You might wisely note that although Vaynerchuk is not a media professional, he has a built-in advantage in his outsized personality, that he’s a natural. But he himself downplays this idea in the interview: “I don’t know that much and I’m not that special.”
His point, I think, is not that he has a special personality, but that he uses the personality he has, along with his passion, to drive his business. In the age of social media, this is a key insight: marketing is personal, and branding is personal. As noted in that key tract of the Internet age, The Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations. Building any brand now means people conversing with one another.
This is a big change for many B2B people. Although people on the sales side have always known their business is about personal relationships, that hasn’t been as true for the content folks. In the old-media world, editors could build a magazine brand—i.e., an identity—while staying largely behind the scenes.
No more. In a world where Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are becoming integral to business, editors have to start stepping onto the social media stage, both to make their own brands and to build those of their products.
In building his own brands, Vaynerchuk has had one enormous advantage over B2B professionals. He came into new media without the burdensome infrastructure, baggage, and preconceptions of our industry. The transition will be much harder for traditional publishers, and it may be led not by companies but by individuals.
Vaynerchuk is one of those leading the way. Are you prepared to follow?
UPDATE (10/16/2009): Just after posting this, I came across a video on GV’s blog in which he talks about these issues and more directly to a media audience at a Media Bistro event in August. Well worth watching if you have an hour to spare.