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Wineries look for ways to turn data into sales


NAPA — When Miles Ward worked on President Barack Obama's 2012 election campaign, he helped build a computer system that processed $400,000 in donations per minute.

The challenge Ward faced, which he described to an audience of winery executives on Tuesday, is one that many companies encounter, if on a different scale: How can I build a computer system that can successfully handle so many transactions?

"We were collecting $1 billion of donations using this system, so it's really important that the system doesn't go down," Ward said. "There are like three commas in that number. It's staggering to look at. With my checking account, I can't fill it in when there's a missed day."

Ward, a solutions architect for Amazon Web Services, spoke at the ninth annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium held in Napa on Tuesday, where executives traded ideas on social media strategies, targeted messaging, data mining and managing web services in "the cloud."

Working on the Obama campaign, Ward helped build the 30th biggest ecommerce site in the world, with a small budget and a staff of developers that was two-thirds volunteers, in less than a year.

"There's a real fundamental change in the way businesses are using technology, and probably more importantly, the way that businesses are using data," Ward said. "We are constructing data this week at a greater rate than all data in history, ever. We will build more information and store it permanently than what was ever created in the history of mankind. Which is nuts."

Ward described the challenges companies face uncovering from that ocean of data valuable information about what people do when they visit a website or a store. Everyone has a phone that's smarter than the computers that put the space shuttle into space, and operates in the context of an exponential growth rate of information, Ward said.

The growth of social media platforms presents another opportunity for companies to learn how their brands are perceived. Any mentions of brands should be monitored and analyzed, said Jonathan Good, senior SRM solutions consultant at Oracle.

"One of the greatest challenges of listening properly is the massive volume of conversations and noise that's going on," Good said.

Consumers choose which wine to buy based largely on recommendations, and wineries should keep that in mind when developing their social media strategies, Good said.

"Everyone thinks it's so new, but it's really just P.R (public relations) ... and customer service in one piece," Good said.

Attendees also were urged to use analytics services like Google Analytics to find out more about the people who visit their websites but leave before making a purchase.

For example, Maigari Jinkiri, director of account development for Illinois-based analytics firm Stratigent, was asked by an airline client why so many potential customers were leaving its website without buying tickets. They found that many of those lost clients were referred there by the website kayak.com. After the shoppers clicked through to the airline's website, their search criteria was buried under other promotional material. So they redesigned that web page.

"They were able to actually push the search criteria to the top," Jinkiri said.

Wineries can also use analytics to better target customers using email, said Ahin Thomas, president of Vintners' Alliance. They can find out which customers clicked through a promotional email to the winery's website, and then send additional, different emails to those who didn't buy.

"If I saw that the exit rate on my email campaign was really high, I would think there's a problem with my email campaign," Thomas said.

If someone leaves the website without making a purchase, a company can send them targeted ads that show up while they're surfing the web. But it's best not to do that after about two weeks, Thomas said.

"You can make this as complicated as you want, but it doesn't have to be complicated at all," Jinkiri said.