Wineries - Shaded By The Spotlight


Last Sunday I felt good as I walked around my hometown of Calistoga in Napa Valley. Favorite jeans, winery boots, nice quirky T-shirt from a Scottish brewery, and that virtuous sensation that comes from having exercised early that morning. I nodded and nudged, gossiped and informed, all my way down Lincoln Avenue. When I got back to my truck, I realized my pant flies had been open the whole time and I was mortified. Of course, this sensation is predicated on the bias toward believing that people even noticed. In order to survive we need a healthy dose of self-interest and this has some drawbacks. Being continuously at the center of our own stories, we develop an over inflated idea of how noticeable we are in other people’s daily lives. This is sometimes called The Spotlight Effect.

Drifting around the digital ocean I came across the paper from 2000 by Tom Gilovich et al about this psychological phenomenon. Basically, he had people wear an embarrassing (to them) T-shirt and go into a room filled with people. In the study it was an image of Barry Manilow, in Napa it might a White Zinfandel label, or perhaps that rather eerie picture of Jean Charles Boisset that gets used everywhere.

The T-shirt wearers estimated that if it was a room of 20 people at least 10 of them would notice the shirt image. The reality was that only 4 did. They conducted the same experiment with a more neutral persona on the T-shirt and at most only 2 people would remember it.

It can be deflating to realize that no-one notices your beautiful new shirt. But it can be liberating when you wonder how many people noticed your fly was open.

As I sat in a winery meeting with a team agonizing over where to put a decorative item, this concept came back to me. As wineries I think we work lot under the spotlight effect. It’s sobering to think how little we imprint on our guests and how forgettable we are in their day, life, or e-mail Inbox. This is important because if we accept the truth of The Spotlight Effect, we must also assume our wineries, our brands, and brand stories, are making much less of impression than we think they are. 

With that in mind, we probably have to magnify what we do if we want to make a more memorable impression. Some or all of the following: Bigger personalities, stronger reasons to exist, bolder relationships, simpler messages, more generous gestures, more emphatic positions, and pop up the volume in our language and communications. It doesn’t mean becoming brash; it just means making a conscious decision about how different, interesting, or worthwhile we are going to have to be to get remembered. In short, if we haven’t reached a point in our discussion of feeling uncomfortable about our volume, we probably haven’t reached where we need to be.

As a story led agent of change and winery consultant, (I ought to simplify that) I look for new clients who are a good fit. I could use another in my portfolio just now. Why the gap? In reflecting on my self-marketing, I’ve dipped my hand into the material I’ve created and felt the undercurrent of an assumption of noticeability. Naively believing my nuance, wit, and experience “speaks for itself.” This stance is pulling me out to sea, and not up the beach. This led me to revisit my web site design with a very useful book in hand called ‘Building A Story Brand’ by Donald Miller. He skillfully addresses the basics and I did a kind of story audit. I think it helped. If you decide to do this without professional assistance, find someone to ‘Sue.’ Sue was the person who looked at my handiwork and gave me real time customer feedback on what resonated and what was wasted space. A savvy soul like this helps diminish your Spotlight Effect. 

In conclusion and to be blunt, if your brand narrative describes how sold your company and entered the wine business because the land you purchased “spoke to you”, and that your first Chardonnay is named after your daughter - you do not have anything memorable. That’s almost everybody around here. As your doctor, I must tell you that you might be suffering from The Spotlight Effect. It’s very hard when we are told that we are not as noticeable as we think we are, but your winery/business will be better for it, if you allow this thought to percolate. It’s curable, get a fresh perspective on your story.


VINFABULA – Profit from Powerful Storytelling.  Because the strongest brands have the best stories