Advintage Havelock North

Online wine business is all about digital marketing savvy

A needs-must year at Vidal’s Winery while creating his first software startup company was the catalyst for Mac (John) Macpherson to figure out a way to be part of the wine industry he had fallen head over heels for. Fifteen years and a successful software business later, Mac thought he had just the idea to do it. He opened Advintage in 1999, and became New Zealand’s first online wine seller in 2000.

People told him, ‘this Internet thing, it’s just a flash in the pan. It will never stick. It’s never going to be here for the long haul’. Unlike a lot of online businesses at the time, Advintage was also a bricks and mortar store, which in a New Zealand setting gave him a great competitive advantage.

Mac says, “New Zealand is such a small market that it comes down to referrals, word of mouth marketing. We make sure to offer the best product for the best prices, we’re the gate keepers of quality and value.”

Moving online in the early years was a natural way to take the business from local to national. These were the days that people actually liked to receive marketing emails and it was easy to get referrals. With his tech background Mac was comfortable in the advent of the digital marketing space.

It’s been a successful formula until recent years, when suddenly technology changed at a very rapid rate and the days of old where people liked receiving marketing emails, were all but over.

“Now the digital space is incredibly complex, it’s like a warzone to get cut through. The biggest challenge for any small-medium business is to get value in any digital marketing. Sometimes it feels like burning dollars, it has been so tough. I consider myself a generalist, but now I’m a dinosaur! It’s hard getting growth digitally and hard to sustain,” says Mac.

For several years Mac was left wondering what to do, what he could try next that would successfully grow the business. He knew it still had potential that was unfulfilled, but the marketing concepts they had used in previous years were now hitting brick walls.

The digital marketing firm that Advintage had partnered successfully with was also undergoing huge changes. A large multi-national Australian end-to-end digital marketing company, Asia Pacific Digital (APD), was buying them out.

APD could see that although Advintage was in their terms a small company, it punched above its weight. What transpired was a unique opportunity, with Advintage becoming a venture partner. This also gave APD the chance to prove their business model with skin in the game.

Alongside him in this journey has been Howard Padman, the accountant that Mac knew was a good bloke because he played in a band! Mac says, “Howard’s great skill is that he talks to you in your language and he’s really good at explaining things. His door is always open. I’ve even seen him on a Sunday morning when I’ve had a business drama. He’s just a good guy,” says Mac.

With good advice and gut instinct on his side, Advintage is now rolling out a very sophisticated digital model. Mac says it’s once again an exciting stage of his business and he’s back into a hard-core learning phase.

He’s still doing what he loves and he tastes a lot of wines. His top pick for a nice drop when you get home from work this spring is the ockburn Stolen Kiss Rosé. He says, “It’s not cheap, but it’s bloody good!”


Published Spring 2015.

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