Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maker’s Mark Magnificent Marketing Move

Sometimes a company gets it so right, it boggles the marketing mind.  Maker’s Mark is a is a small-batch bourbon whisky that is distilled in Loretto, Kentucky, by Beam Inc. It is bottled at 90 U.S. proof (45% alcohol by volume). To meet demand, the company announced plans to cut the alcohol content in its bourbon to 42 percent (84 proof).

Consumers were not amused. They got really mad and communicated that they would rather deal with a shortage of their favorite bourbon than a shortage of alcohol in their bourbon.
Maker’s Mark listened and learned. The company tweetedYou spoke. We listened,” with a link to a public apology from COO Rob Samuels and his father, chairman emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr.
The text of this letter should be included in any marketing or MBA course.

Dear Friends,
Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.
You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.
So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.
The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.
Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.
We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.
As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.
Rob Samuels Chief Operating Officer
Bill Samuels, Jr Chairman Emeritus

Although the reversal was primarily business-driven, it is an elegant marketing move. It shows that Maker’s Mark’s leaders are human and can make bad decisions. (To err is human, toforgive, divine).

From a marketing perspective, it is short of brilliant. The company didn’t defend its motives but acknowledged that it let down it loyal customers. Furthermore, the company made a commitment to return to the original recipe although it would result in more product shortages. The well-crafted letter reminded its fans that Maker’s Mark is still a family business.

This case teaches us marketing professionals several things:
  • When something goes wrong, let customers vent.
  • Emphasize that you listen.
  • Show that you reacted to your customers’ opinions (social media are perfect for this).
  • Be sincere in your apology.
  • Be transparent.

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