Ask the software sommelier

I've recently been using the analogy of selecting wine to describe the challenges of selecting software. To my delight, the analogy is catching on - to the point that within the Twitterverse, I've been dubbed a "content management sommelier". I'm a foodie to the extreme, and having spent several years of my life in France, have always believed that matching wine with your meal and daily "requirements" is part of everyday life. (It's hot, I'm grilling king prawns with Thai spices, I want a light and refreshing wine.) As such I've been thinking more and more about the parallels between this process and that of selecting software.

Many of us have faced that daunting prospect of the multi-page or novella-length wine list at a restaurant. Wine lists and wine stores are organized in a myriad of ways: by region, by grape variety, or in a more modern trend - by flavor profile. I'm a big advocate of the latter, as it's very approachable and doesn't require you to inherently have knowledge of what wines from a specific region, vineyard or producer tend to be like stylistically. Categorizing wine as "big, bold reds" (favored by my colleague Tony Byrne, perfect with one of his loves - a peppery steak), versus "acidic, dry whites" (adored by yours truly, with some shellfish, please) - makes selecting the wine a lot easier. You don't have to know that Australian Shiraz and Alsatian Riesling taste like they do in order to make an appropriate choice.

One reason I'm in favor of the modern trend of organizing wine lists (and stores) by flavor profile is because it's most indicative of how people experience wine. It makes wine easier to match with individual tastes and requirements. ("I know my buddy is making blue cheese bacon burgers, I need a big red wine that will stand up to that"). Consider the approach of Best Cellars. You can walk into one of these stores and buy a wine that's fresh, light and juicy without having encyclopedic knowledge of where such wines come from. If you're in a restaurant, you can always ask the sommelier the same question. That's why they're there. And that's why we're here.

We categorize vendors in similar ways, indicative of the experience you're going to have working with the vendor and the tool. Some software is complex, expensive, and requires a lot of work to understand - let alone install. Other software is simple and more "plug-and-play". Some are good matches for companies with .NET or JAVA skills, others require you've got Python somewhere on the menu.

We do not, however, award points. In steakhouses where men like to whip out their Platinum cards and testosterone, wines are sometimes highlighted on menus with points, based on what famous wine critics have awarded a wine. The same is true in wine shops, where "shelf talkers" boast this wine was awarded 96 points from this publication, 99 from another. Then someone can order or buy the wine that most impresses their friends or clients, not unlike the CIO who says over dinner, "I just did a million-dollar deal with EMC." It's so much more status-elevating than "I just inked a $50k deal with Canto."

Well, sometimes the inexpensive, simple wine is the best choice for what you're about to eat, to enjoy with the friends who are coming over who don't care how much you spent on that bottle. And sometimes, Canto is perfect for your workgroup, ad agency or small-company DAM implementation. It's not about the score. It's not about the vineyard or vendor brand name. It's about what's right for you and the situation.

As such, I've realized that perhaps no description of my job has ever been more accurate - a software sommelière. (That's the feminine moniker for a wine expert, for the non-Francophiles among you.)  It's what we all do at The Real Story Group - help our customers select software products that are the best fit for a given situation.


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