The Squircle Is A Thing

All day yesterday I was thinking about the shape of the iPhone app icon.

According to Wikipedia the Squircle is a thing ...

squircle is a mathematical shape with properties between those of a square and those of a circle. It is a special case of superellipse. The word "squircle" is a portmanteau of the words "square" and "circle".

Who doesn't love a good portmanteau? 

Also cited in the Wikipedia entry is that Nokia is often associated with the shape, having used it as a touchpad for buttons for years.  As a former Nokian (both employee and loyal user) I can't make an association between the two.

IconAll I know is this past weekend my five year old yelled from the backseat of the car, "Dad! You should download that guitar app for your phone."  He was looking at a billboard for the Garage Band app.  No words.  No context (not placed on the deck of an iPhone).  Just the squircle.

That's all.  Nothing insightful.  Just found it interesting that a pretty common shape - one that another handset manufacturer apparently had some equity with - is so widely associated with Apple.  And that it has such a goofy name.

A Tale Of Two Ads In The Same Category

I can't get over how different these two ads are - both for essentially the same product.

One tells you all the great things you need to know about the product.  

The other tells you a story about the greatness that can come of using the product. 

You be the judge which is which; and which I prefer.



Random Acts of Subversion


If you're even remotely associated with the marketing profession you've sat in a meeting in the last 24 months where someone suggested an idea based on "random acts of kindness."  Like ...

Let's hand out candy canes to people in front of Grand Central.

Let's leave $10 gift cards in New York City taxis.

I'm just as guilty as the next person.  No judgement here.  But it got me thinking.

Yesterday I Tweeted that Small and harmless acts of subversion are good for the soul.

Is there a brand that could own this?  What would it look like?  Could it be pulled off in a tounge-in-cheek way so to amuse but not anger?

Like what if CB2 gave a 10% discount on office furniture to anyone who showed a picture of them sitting in their boss' chair; 20% if your feet are on the desk?

Or what if a hat company gave a discount to anyone who tweeted a picture of themselves performing a photo-bomb (wearing the hat, of course)?

That's all I've got.  Need some ideas.

On Crowdsourcing

Some stream-of-consciousness thinking before the sun comes up today.

I haven't given all that much thought to crowdsourcing, which may be odd given my line of work.  

I haven't given all that much thought to Louis CK, which may be odd given my age and comedic sensibility.

Screen shot 2011-12-16 at 6.56.44 AMI was listening to Louis CK on Bill Simmons' most excellent podcast, and without meaning to they touched on an interesting point about the wisdom of the many versus the wisdom of the few.

As I understand it, Louis has a very successful show on FX.  What's interesting about it is that the network has zero control over it.  They wire him $200K per episode, and from that he creates the entire thing (including taking out his salary).  

This autonomy is very rare.  It's also a relatively paltry sum for an actor as successful as Louis.

But the show is hit, and growing an audience with every episode.

So why is it working?

Louis' position is this (paraphrasing):

The more people involved in making decisions (particularly creative ones) the more watered down an idea gets.  In essence, consensus-building breeds mediocrity.  

By the time Bob from legal, Mary from finance, John from ad sales and Lisa from PR have all given their input, the essence of the idea is lost.  And this is nothing against Bob, Mary, John and Lisa - I'm sure they are good at what they do.  But they are not comedians. 

So you've hired an incredibly successful creative (in this case Louis) for his talent but essentially said to him, "we only trust your sensibility to a certain point."  

The disconnect is that by the time Bob, Mary, John and Lisa have stamped the idea, it's not Louis' sensibility any more.  So why hire him in the first place?

Bringing it back to my world, I do have to wonder out loud: Is the wisdom of the crowd all that wise, or is the real value that it make us (me, you, brands, agencies) feel safer about any given decision simply because it's based on consensus?  And as a result, are we breeding mediocrity?  What constitutes authority on any given topic - deep knowledge, a proven track record and passion?  Or simply a point-of-view, no matter how uniformed or unformed, and an Internet connection?

I genuinely don't know.

But I think of some of the great creative and marketing talents of our time, and how they would view the wisdom of the crowd.  Three immediately come to mind.  Clive Davis - he didn't do any market research before signing a scrawny young singer who eventually became Whitney Houston.  Steve Jobs once famously said, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."  And finally, Alex Bogusky (always a polarizing character) - Crispin is (in)famous for retaining creative control over their clients' work.  And love or hate the agency, you can't deny they've had a pretty killer run.

That's all for now.

Crossing The Conversation Chasm

I was talking to my newest colleague (and likeminded thinker) Alan Kercinik the other day about the missed communications opportunities between when new products are announced and they are actually available for purchase.

I call it the Conversation Chasm.  And yes, I'm sure I'm not the first person to use the phrase.

Just thinking out loud over morning coffee ...

In my own very crude way, I tried to chart it out below.  

The X axis is time:

  1. Pre-sell:  Where very early meetings take place between manufacturer and retailer.  Usually a dark period for manufacturer due to competitive fears.
  2. Launch:  A moment in time.  A press conference.  A stunt.  A trade show. Hope is to make a big splash with buyers, media and consumers. 
  3. Road to sales:  More sell-in to retail, but not much focus on the consumer if we're being honest.  All the big $ is chambered for ...
  4. Sales start: Another big splash moment.  Where media kicks in and everyone tries to out-scream the competition.
  5. Sell-through: Focused on getting products off the shelves.

The Y axis is marcom effectiveness.  I haven't given much thought to what that means for the purposes of this post.  But essentially it's just how well you are doing against your goals. UPDATE: After thinking more about it, the Y axis should be "Conversations."

The purple line represents the way many industries - consumer electronics jumps to mind - approach things.  Big launch splash - timing usually pegged to an industry trade show or a reaction to a competitor.  This activity is usually led by communications.  Followed by a pretty dark period where the marketing folks ready the campaign.  Then sales start - boom!  And finally, sell-through which normally falls to shopper marketing teams.

The green line is a more optimal way of approaching it.  The big difference being the relative plateau (rather than huge valley) between the launch moment and sales start.  I have to think that's the period where social media can shine like no other channel.  And because there's more conversation happening during the road to sales, I'd propose your media dollars will be even more effective once sales do start (since you haven't lost touch with people over the last few months).

The space between the purple and green is missed opportunity ... the Conversation Chasm.

Why is the purple way of doing things so common?  Three things come to mind ...

  1. Communications and marketing still operate in silos.  Communications normally handles product announcements; marketing kicks in for actual sales start.  At times very different messages. Very different agendas.  Not ideal.  How to solve it?  CMO builds a bridge and everyone gets over it.
  2. Retail dependence.  To me the real genius of Apple Stores is not the design and experience control the company has; but rather the timing control.  They don't need to sell in.  They are on their own timeline.  They can avoid the Chasm altogether by virtually eliminating the road to sales phase.  Apple is like Ali compared to everyone else's George Foreman.
  3. Old school thinking. Paradigms are paradigms because thinking otherwise is threatening and scary.  I wrote about the descructivness of this behavior a few days ago.  That's how I feel.

That's as far as I can take it this Saturday morning.  Feel free to chime in.

Bowling v Pinball

Nice point made yesterday at a private event thrown by Facebook to support their Facebook Studio initiative.  Paraphrasing a speaker from Facebook (and adding a bit of my own take) ...

Traditionally, marketers have played a game of bowling:  Take a heavy, well-crafted message and throw it as hard as you can down the media lane, with the goal of knocking over as many customers as possible.  

But today's marketer needs to think more like a pinball wizard: You take a slightly lighter projectile, and still thrust it in the field of play.  But unlike bowling, in pinball the message stays in the play-of-field much longer, taking twists, turns and lucky bounces as it goes.  There's a flow.  A continuity.  A viral element that never existed at scale.

I like the imagery. And let's be real ... do you really want to be like this guy?


The Personality Paradox

[cross-posted on the Ogilvy Fresh Influence blog]

I’ve noticed something lately I can only describe as the Personality Paradox (mostly because I’m a big fan of alliteration).

It’s simple:  When it comes to engaging in social media, bigger brands (alliteration! OK, I’ll stop pointing it out.) tend to have smaller personalities.  This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

In the case of a big brand there are myriad factors that can cause this Paradox.  First off, having a big personality takes a ton of effort and focus.  Add to that regulatory/compliance issues, organizational challenges, multiple marcom agencies, new management and a million other things, big and small.  Or worse, simply losing sight of the customers who got you there in the first place.

The perfect parallel is a rock band.  The unsigned band playing half-filled clubs is going to cherish every fan – no autograph unsigned, no photo request denied, no interview not granted, no Tweet unanswered.  But as that band gains a following and eventually breaks, the demands on their time and attention increase, forcing them to (1) triage inbound requests and (2) start speaking to their fanbase as a whole, rather than as individuals.  Oh, and as their egos inflate, they often quickly forget their most loyal base.


(photo courtesy of Arne Hendriks)

As with anything of this sort, there are always exceptions.

Vans is a brand that immediately comes to mind.  And lest you think Vans is a little skate punk operation, they are owned by a holding company (bought for nearly $400mm a few years ago) that owns Nautica, North Face and Wrangler to name a few.  So it’s pretty cool that whether it’s their Twitter handle, blog, Facebook page or any other social profile,  Vans stays true to their skater beginnings – everything from the imagery to the language and content they feature feels totally authentic.  And their community manager, “Nikki S,” is in my opinion one of the best in the business.  Responsive, helpful and funny, all with a little bad-ass attitude.

Vans not big enough for you?  How about Ogilvy client, Ford Motor Company?  Just take a look at how they enthusiastically jumped into Google+, or the delightful and highly personalized way they invited bloggers to an event earlier this year.  I’m biased, of course, but don’t you think this is a great example of a huge enterprise acting like that unsigned band trying to make it to the top?

What are some quick takeaways for big brands?

  • Put a face and name to your social efforts.  Logos are good, people are great.
  • Put as much effort into developing your voice as you do your content.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
  • Always keep an eye on experimentation.  Try new things.  We all fail – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and might engender even more admiration.

What are other big brands (or bands, while we’re at it) that buck the paradox?  What’s their secret sauce?

Anatomy Of A Cocktail Party, In Four Parts*


Guestlist I'd rank guest list as the single most important factor in a successful cocktail party.  Has to be the right mix of people with similar, but not too similar, tastes.  They should be really excited to be there and ready to shake it up a bit.

There are two way to build your guest list ...

The most logical and effective way is usually to network among your friends (or entities like social clubs) to meet a few really interesting folks who will, in turn, invite a few of their interesting friends.  This will ensure a varied, but vetted, mix.

The second way is to buy your guests.  Perhaps you run an ad on Hollywood Blvd inviting people to come.  Or maybe you offer everyone who attends something free (and expensive).  Either way, just make sure you're cool with the fact that many of the guests aren't there to really hang out, and probably won't ever come back.  And also, expect to spend a lot of money in the process.

It's your call.  There's merit in both, depending on your objectives.  If want to throw the BEST party,  option 1 makes sense.  If your sights are set on outdoing the Jones family, option 2 could work.


After the guest list, the host is the next most important factor to a great affair.  You can invite the most interesting (or just the most) people, but if you don't have a host who can get the Images conversation/dancing started, your party is doomed.

As the host, have you thought about your welcoming remarks? Have you poured over your guest list to determine what connections you might make?  Have you thought about how you'll handle an unruly guest, or someone who comes expecting free stuff, and whatever you're offering isn't enough?

*if you haven't figured it out yet, this post has nothing to do with cocktail parties


Interesting Decor is tricky.  You want to make sure the space is visually pleasing, but not overwhelming or distracting from the conversation.  Enough cool things to look at and interact with (and for people to tell their friends about, so they come to the next event).

Not all of us are gifted in this area, but some of us refuse to acknowledge our limitations.  I've been to plenty of otherwise nice parties that fall flat on the decor.  Usually the problem is that the host is hellbent on pushing their style, rather than thinking about their guests.

I tend to include food and beverage in the decor bucket.


So what are you giving people to remember their great experience?  What's that artifact that will sit on their coffee table or office shelf that will remind them of your great event?  Even better, what will get their friends, family and co-workers chatting about the party, and jockeying for an invite to the next one?  You have thought about this, right?

All That Inspires Me

Keith Stoeckeler asked me to guest post on his most excellent blog, All That Inspires Me

As Keith describes it, the blog is about inspiration and creative sparks that often skew towards strategy, advertising, marketing, branding and packaging.

Or in my case, 127 year old restaurants.

Here's my entry.  Make sure you check out others on his site.


He put his hand on my head, like one of those TV preachers.  "You're good people, baby."  

And at that moment, I was healed of all that ailed me.

But this was no mega-church.  And he was no preacher, though he shared the same mega-watt smile.

This was P.J. Clarke's - the original on 3rd Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan.

And He is Doug Quinn, bartender and subject of a 2010 New York Times article. 

For serving cheeseburgers on plain white plates, with no frills.

For not offering "Free WiFi!"

For having one tiny TV tucked in the corner of the bar.

For the meatloaf special.

For serving ketchup - Heinz of course - in a bottle and not a silly ramekin.

For attracting suits, punks, grandmas and newborns.

For being the place where my wife and I shared so many unremarkable, yet special moments during our many years in New York.

For not having a hair out of place every time I return for a visit.

For being true to its roots, 127 years running.

For the healing powers of Doug Quinn.

P.J. Clarke's is what inspires me.

NFL Labor Dispute - First of the Social Media Era

Cross posted from Ogilvy's Fresh Influence blog.

Disclaimer:  Due to several conflicts (including children, work, wife, The Office, Jersey Shore and sleep) I had to  schedule this post 12 hours in advance of it going live; meaning I might not have the latest information on the talks between the concerned parties.  However, that has no material impact on my main points.  Trust me, I’m a journalist.

With that out of the way …

By the time you read this the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) will most likely (see disclaimer; and even if there is a 24-hour extension of the CBA, as reported Thursday afternoon, this thing will eventually come to blows) have expired, leaving the two sides without a labor agreement and the 2011 football season - or at least part of it -  in serious jeopardy.

As a sports fan, I’m totally turned off.  As many people will tell you, this is billionaires fighting with millionaires over sums of money unfathomable to the vast majority of fans (Charlie Sheen excluded, of course #winning!).

As a marketer, and one who currently focuses on social media, I’m keen to keep a close eye on how the dispute plays out in public, particularly in social media.  This is the first pro-sports labor dispute of the social media era (the last being the National Hockey League during the 2004-5 season, when MySpace was hardly a hotbed of sports discussion and Facebook was just blooming as a place for Zuckerberg to exact revenge on a girl who slighted him - at least that’s how the movie goes).

It’s 2011 (you’re welcome for that nugget) and I can’t help but imagine the stream of opinions flowing effortlessly from the Twitter feeds of NFL players, owners, media and fans as the dispute moves into the grind-it-out-let’s-pretend-we’re-all-working-towards-the-same-goal-when-really-we’re-just-interested-in-protecting-no-actually-growing-our-pile-of-money phase.   In fact my crack research staff tells me that between February 15-28 there were 11,000 Tweets mentioning “NFL and lockout.”  Just since March 1 there have been the same amount.

The NFL is a public relations juggernaut, second only (in my opinion) to the NBA.  And it’s worth noting that basketball faces this very same situation next year; though as many sports writers have noted, the NBA actually needs a battle like this to realign a really broken compensation scheme; whereas football seems to be in pretty good shape.  In any case, I’m sure commissioner Stern is paying very close attention to the public sentiment as owners prep for battle with the NBA players union.  In fact I bet this post makes his morning clip pack (#DavidStern #Stern #DStern #NBA #TallAndRich #TheDecision #GoBulls).

But while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has proven to be a disciplined voice for the league, he can’t control what has already been, and will continue to be, said on the social web.

But he can influence it.

See what I did there?  Can’t control.  Can influence.

Below are a few tactics I would expect the league to employ, as I would any brand heading into a very public battle.  As a marketer or fan (or fanketer - helloooo Urban Dictionary), what have I missed?

Paid Search
Using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool I took a look at the competition against the search term “NFL Lockout” and found it surprisingly low.  What if the NFL launched a SEM campaign against terms related to the lockout, driving people to either an FAQ on the domain or even a Facebook page?  Seems simple enough, and moderately effective at delivering a message to people actively seeking out information.

Live Listening
I’d be shocked if the NFL doesn’t already have in place an incredibly robust real-time monitoring solution.  The challenges, I suspect, are twofold:  (1) How are they filtering the signal from the noise and (2) What are they doing with the intelligence gleaned from the monitoring.  Which leads me to my next point …

Response Protocol
All the listening in the world won’t do you much good if you aren’t analyzing, looking for opportunities and disciplined about how you do/don’t engage with supporters and detractors alike.  At Ogilvy we often develop bespoke response protocols based on the issue, the client, the nature of the discussion and other factors.  The NFL must be really clear and consistent in their response protocol about what they say, when they say it, to whom they speak and what tone they take.

Conversation Management
Whether it’s to the 2.6 million fans on their Facebook page or their 1.9 million Twitter followers, the league must carefully map out what they are going to say publicly on the matter, where they’re going to say it and how, if at all, they are going to react when publicly challenged (or lauded).  Effective conversation management, very much tied to the response protocol, is kind of the backbone of everything the league is going to do (on social media) during this time.  They must get this right.

Content Creation
You better believe the players are pumping out content to tell their side of the story.  Check out the video below from the NFLPA’s YouTube channel, which has garnered 152K views.

What’s troubling, from the league’s standpoint, is that a pretty sophisticated YouTube user (me - don’t laugh) can’t seem to find the NFL’s official YouTube page after about 30 seconds of searching.  And guess what - I give up.  So the message here is that not only do they have to consider a content creation strategy, but just as important a distribution and optimization one as well.  By the way, not just video but also photos, written content, etc. - anything that can be indexed by The Google and helps the league put forth their perspective.


This entire episode will be interesting to watch play out.  As a fan I truly hope they resolve it sooner than later so we can get on with a great 2011 season. 

False Sense of Say

Whos_in_charge_tshirt-p235488282589977843qixv_400 Conventional wisdom is that a brand shouldn't ask for customer feedback unless it's at least willing to entertain implementing some of the suggestions [not all, but at least some].  I agree.

But I've noticed a twist on this lately - one that disturbs me. 

It's my policy not to slam brand behavior on this blog, particularly when my beef is based on nothing more than suspicion.  So without calling anyone out by name ...

The Twitter handle for one of my favorite brands recently announced they were discontinuing a very popular product.  That immediately set off alarm bells.  Why would they do that - there was an immediate disconnect.  But what really got me wondering was when they started Tweeting out statements that seemed to fish for customers to request the item be reinstated.  "We've discontinued our XXXXX.  What do you think about that?"

If I were a betting man, I would give it a few more days before the brand announces "XXXXX is back by popular demand. You spoke, we listened."

Pretty manipulative, if that's the plan.  What do you think about this?  Within the brand's right, or a recipe for backlash?

The Forgotten Consumer Touchpoint

FireShot capture #361 - 'TouchpointGraphic_jpg (JPEG Image, 440x429 pixels)' - www_theambertheatre_com_images_TouchpointGraphic When people talk about consumer touchpoints they are generally referring to every point of contact before-during-after a purchase [many of which are depicted on the spider chart]. 

One bubble I never see on these charts is recruiting

It's the forgotten touchpoint yet how a company deals with a job candidate undoubtedly impacts the candidate's relationship with the brand.

I'm not in HR and I have nothing terribly insightful to offer.  But what I do know is that every time you interview a candidate you should consider her in five ways:

  1. As a potential employee
  2. As someone who could one day be your boss [I have seen it happen more than once]
  3. As a current customer
  4. As a potential future customer
  5. As a word-of-mouth advocate/detractor

My advice is common sense, but I've been around long enough to hear my share of horror stories.  Think about how your behavior before-during-after the recruiting process impacts ALL candidates, and remember you're dealing with much more than just a potential employee.

What do you think - am I making too much of this?

Social Media Is Not A Moment In Time

I was thinking today how hit and miss social media can be if you base your approach on reaching people at a specific moment of time. 

It simply doesn't work to say, let's Tweet this on Thursday to coincide with our widget launch


What if President Obama stubs his toe on Thursday ... no one will care about your widget launch.  Less dramatically, what if your most influential brand fans happen to miss your Tweet [which in the fast-paced world of Twitter streams and Facebook updates is likely to happen]? 

If your approach doesn't account for these scenarios, you'll almost certainly miss chances to engage the people most likely to champion your message.

It comes back to the mantra we're all familiar with by this point ... social media is a conversation not a campaign.

Marketers interested in capturing a moment in time should buy the Super Bowl or Oscars.  And to be clear, I do think in some cases this is a smart approach.  But barring that kind of budget, you better think about a calendar of conversations over a period of time.

Though I suppose a few marketers in Cupertino would tell you that all it takes is a few years of speculation and a bunch of Apple loyalists to make a single press conference a massive social media happening.

I just wouldn't count on it for your widget launch.

Paid Media = Scale for Domino's Pizza Turnaround

A lot of talk over the last few days about Domino's Pizza's "Pizza Turnaround" - equal parts blog | website | Twitter aggregator.  The effort is centered around Domino's transparent re-engineering of its signature pizza offering.

I like the spirit of this ... good talk-value; makes me want to keep following along; most importantly, makes me want to give Domino's another shot.

One of the most talked about features of the campaign is a short documentary [produced with help of Crispin Porter + Bogusky].  At the time I write this [Dec 28 @ 5:30pm CST] the video has logged nearly 328,000 views [in just a few days, over the holidays].

I noticed today that Domino's is running paid media units on YouTube's homepage. 

Dominos on YouTube

While I have no knowledge of this brand's spend, I have looked into YouTube packages and can tell you this is no small financial commitment.  What I suspect Domino's has figured out - that many brands have not yet - is that paid media, as a compliment to 'social' media, can give your brand's blog | video | Facebook page | etc. the push it needs to scale to a larger audience. 

Interested to watch this unfold.  The one thing I really hope is that Domino's doesn't cave to the inevitable snarkiness that many marketing and social media 'gurus' will heap upon it.  Stay the course, Domino's!

We Must Do Away With "Social Media"

We've got to kill the term social media as a way of describing what we do.  

Picture 1

You suffer from serious lack of situational awareness if you haven't noticed the eye-rolling at the mere mention of the phrase.

How dare you Ian??

Really?  Watch the videos and visit the websites.  I'm not making this up.  This is happening.  It's funny, right?  Hopefully it makes you a bit uncomfortable [it did for me]. 

I know I'm not the first to raise this concern.  And I sense the drumbeat getting stronger.  

I realize it's been widely socialized, and thus won't go awayovernight.  But I'm encouraged that some other really annoying terms that were once popular are rarely used these days [e.g. "dandy" and "slacks"].

Rather than crowd-sourcing a new catch-all and beating it into the ground, I propose we develop our own lexicons ... our own way of describing the discipline.  And that might involve a more nuanced approach than a convenient phrase like social media.

Hi, I'm Ian Sohn.  I'm a communications specialist, counseling brands on how digital conversations in online communities drive business results.

Not quite there, but better.

How I (Don't) Manage My Online Brand

I was recently asked my how I manage my personal brand in social media.

I don't.

Picture 1
Well, not entirely true.  I don't behave any differently online than I do in the real world.  It's common sense, right?  Some of the rules I live by ...

  • Look presentable:  Yes, I take pride in how I put myself together in the morning.  Just like I take pride in how my blog looks and what my profile pics say about me.
  • Be nice to strangers:  I appreciate every blog comment and re-tweet, and am happy to return the favor any time - regardless of whether you're my college roommate or someone I've never met.
  • Be multidimensional:  I'm a proud dad, professional, Cubs fan. Why would I be anything different on Twitter?  My blog, Facebook and Twitter feeds are each a mix of all those facets of my life.
  • Take responsibility for your actions:  I own up to what I say and do - online or otherwise.

What are some other rules that fit into this list?

5 Marketing Lessons from Wine Country

Disclaimer:  Don't worry ... I have no intention of fashioning myself as the next Gary the "social media sommelier" Vaynerchuk [for those of you who are not familiar with Gary, check out for a truly unique experience].

I recently returned from my first-ever trip to California wine country [specifically Sonoma].  In addition to pristine weather, post-card vistas, incredible wine and some of the best food I've ever had, I also picked up a few lessons that might be useful for any marketer.

Lesson 1 - In sea of uneducated consumers, free is a good starting point:  If you're like me you haven't the faintest idea why one winery is better than the next.  The ones we ended up visiting our first day were largely based on free tasting passes [a $10-$20 value] passed on by our concierge.  Not the most sophisticated method of choosing, but a starting point.  I'm not advising marketers give away their product [who do you think I am, Chris Anderson?] but I do think trial is crucial, and free is as powerful driver of that behavior. 

Lesson 2 - Get your story straight, then tell it with passion: My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit with a guy called Stewart Dorman who runs a winery called Adrian Fog.  Stewart has a great story [former wine writer ... left to pursue his passion ... spends his days toiling in the vineyards or perfecting his blends ... only makes 1,000 cases barrels a year ... etc.].  It's not so much Stewart's story [which is awesome] but the passion with which he tells it.  We walked away from our conversation with two bottles of relatively expensive wine - I wanted to take part of Stewart's story home with us.

Lesson 3 - Create a captivating and differentiating experience: Of all the places we visited, we only joined one wine club - and it wasn't necessarily the best wine we had [but it was damn good].  Rather, it was the winery that did an elegant snack pairing with their tasting flight, spent an hour talking us through the flight, answered our questions, told us their history ... they were the anti-wine snobs.  And it made their tasting room different than the others, and a really fun experience.  The winery is Williamson Wines.

Lesson 4 - "Limited edition" can be a powerful sales tool: I quickly realized that most wine for sale was not available for distribution [meaning only sold direct or via a wine club]. So the pitch is: You can't get this anywhere else other than buying it right now.  Wouldn't it be a shame to get home and think to yourself, 'too bad I didn't get that wine when I had the chance'?

Lesson 5 - Search is king:  Found on every street corner in the town of Healdsburg.  Charming, no?