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Tech, Wine & Human Business



Alder Yarrow embodies the cross pollination mindset of Harvest Summit, a tech executive by day at Cibo where he is CXO and a prominent wine blogger by nights and weekends at Vinography.  Alder was an early adopter of using tech to share his wine passion and become one of the first wine blogs with a prominent following, starting in 2004.  Today Alder has achieved success both personally and professionally in both realms, having been nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013 and a monthly columnist for acclaimed wine journalist and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson. At Cibo, Alder has helped grow the business founded in 2010, bringing deep capabilities in traditional marketing and advertising together with cutting edge expertise in digital experience design, emerging marketing technologies and cross-platform brand storytelling.  We sat down with Alder to talk tech and wine, and what he’s learned from his passion for both.

What do you think the tech industry and the wine industry can learn from one another or have in common?

The wine industry definitely has a lot to learn from the technology industry. I generally say that the wine industry is about six years behind the rest of the world when it comes to technology adoption. In part I think that stems from a tendency to look at technology as an expense rather than as an investment. Of course most wineries face the dual problem of not having much money to invest in the first place, as well as a lack of people who really understand technology and what to do with it in the wine industry. It’s a tough situation.  But if small businesses all across the globe have figured out how to use the internet and social media, the wine industry can too.  

As for what the tech industry can learn from the wine business, well, the wine business is great at telling stories and building community, and the tech world can always get better at that.

What have you learned from your role in both industries?

You mean besides how nice a glass of wine is after a day of meetings with C-level executives? Actually, there’s something at the core of both industries that remains the same, and that is the customer’s desire for an authentic, meaningful experience. Both industries seek to provide their customers with a great experience, and the principles for doing that are exactly the same, because the human beings on the other end of the transaction are the same in terms of what they care about.

Tell us about your role as Chief Experience Officer at Cibo?

Cibo is a brand and customer experience agency, and we help our clients think through the entirety of their brand experience — namely every interaction they have with their customers — and then design them to be sources of competitive differentiation in the marketplace. In practice that means we’re doing a bunch of strategy and then a ton of design work across many different media, web, mobile, apps, packaging, advertising, tradeshow, immersive experiences, etc.  My job at Cibo involves defining and steering our strategy work, and the user experience design practice at the company. As one of the four owners of the company, I also help to manage day-to-day operations.

What makes a client great to work with?

The best clients are those who know what they want to achieve, and trust our skills and experience enough to tell us only what problem to solve, and let us figure out the best way to solve it. Apart from that, the quality of the work we do ends up being heavily influenced by the company’s culture. If the company has a culture that is truly oriented around helping its customers and producing value for them in addition to producing value for the company’s shareholders, then we can do great work. Companies can only deliver the quality of customer experience that their cultures are capable of supporting, and in some cases, that culture is a problem that can’t be overcome by good design

How do you help brands find their “authentic” voice, and how does being real in business pay dividends?

Business is short for “human business” and understanding the meaning of that is the first step. I don’t care if you’re a 50 billion dollar BtoB industrial company, at the end of the day, you’re doing business with human beings and those people don’t know how to relate to a business, they only know how to relate to other people. That understanding is the root of authenticity in business or in branding. The journey to understanding what that means specifically for a given company is one of the most exciting parts of what I get a chance to do with my job. It involves a lot of philosophy and introspection on the part of executives, as well as a deep understanding of the customers and their world. Being real in business is the only way to keep customers in the long term, especially in this day and age where the traditional means of competitive differentiation are so easily commoditized. Apart from intellectual property that you own, everything else in your business — features, service level, functionality, geographical reach — they can all be duplicated with relative ease by competitors in a fairly short period of time. A great and genuine customer experience on the other hand is difficult to create and sustain, and therefore represents a real competitive advantage.

How do you encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and growth on your team?

Curiosity, plain and simple. You hire curious people and you tell them that a good part of their job is to exercise that part of their brain. 

What technologies and brand experience opportunities are you most excited about?

Augmented reality is going to have a huge impact on the world. First in more narrow business and industrial applications, but then for consumers in a pretty major way, first in vehicles, then in homes and wearables that will make Google glass look like a middle-school science project. I’m pretty excited about that in part because of the entirely new user-interaction paradigms that will be involved. Gestural and voice interfaces are the future, and I can’t wait for them to arrive.  Add to that the increasing proliferation and shrinking size of sensors and drones, and we’ll be well on our way to the best parts of a future with computing technology that were imagined in movies like Minority Report.

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