Back in 1997, Gary Vaynerchuk wanted to turn Wine Library, his family's liquor store in Springfield, N.J., into a major Web retailer. Nobody thought he could do it, but over time he proved them wrong.
Today — thanks to his early adoption of social media and his offbeat wine video commentary — Vaynerchuk sells $60 million worth of wine a year. His new book, The Thank You Economy, is part memoir, part handbook for success.
Vaynerchuk tells NPR's Michelle Norris that when he first put Wine Library online, he was exploring uncharted territory.
"I launched WineLibrary.com and people [weren't doing] that in 1997 — you didn't have a local liquor store in New Jersey [with] a website," he says.
But the site was a success and in 2006, Vaynerchuk launched Wine Library TV, a video wine blog in which Vaynerchuk would taste wines, spit them out into a New York Jets football helmet and deliver his review.
"That led to a lot of people watching and buying wine from our business as well," he says.
In The Thank You Economy, Vaynerchuk shares the philosophy behind his success. He says the "thank you" in the title represents a return to the kind of personal attention mom-and-pop-type businesses used to give their customers.
"When you pay forward, I really believe that there's a return on investment — especially now that word of mouth is on steroids," he says.
Vaynerchuk says the word "economy" in the book title is meant to underscore the business potential of new digital platforms.
"Most people are grossly underestimating the impact on business that all these new apps and gadgets and websites are going to have," he says. "We live in a world with Facebook and Twitter and other platforms where we're sharing thoughts we never would have picked up the phone and called about, and it's my belief that every business needs to humanize and overcare for the customer if they want to be successful going forward."
One way businesses can start "overcaring" for customers, Vaynerchuk says, is simply by following what customers are saying on Twitter and Facebook. So if a new customer is a big Chicago Cubs fan on Facebook, you can thank him for his business by sending tickets to a Cubs game.
It's all part of creating a truly meaningful connection, which is hard to do if you're pushing too hard.
"For the last hundred years ... we've all been pushing," Vaynerchuk says of classic radio, TV, print and billboard ads. "What these platforms have done is actually allowed us to listen."
These days, he says he'll search Twitter for, say, "merlot" to start a conversation.
"We don't try to sell them a merlot when they say on Twitter, 'Thinking about having a nice merlot tonight,' " he says. "What we do is we say, 'What kind of merlots do you like?' And all of a sudden we become a service and try to help them pair that wine that evening with what they're eating."
Some users are receptive, while others aren't — and that's OK, Vaynerchuk says. The important thing is for a business to be as polite and genuine as possible.
"There's always a place for a heartfelt everything, whether it's a hug or a handshake or a gift basket or even a head nod — even a wink on Twitter," Vaynerchuk says. "Consumers' BS radars are much better than we think and they're going to continue to get better in this transparent world."