Maker's Mark: Hit a bullseye or missed the mark?

Maker's Mark: Hit a bullseye or missed the mark?

Maybe you heard about the Maker’s Mark brew ha ha where the company announced that they would be watering down their bourbon to keep up with increasing demand – and then changed their mind. I wanted to sip on this for a while before I wrote about it.

Maker’s Mark is a small-batch bourbon whisky that is distilled in Loretto, Kentucky. What you may not know is that Maker’s Mark is owned by Deerfield-based Beam Inc.

In general, more people buying your product is a good thing, but in this case, due to the years of aging required for bourbons, Maker’s just didn’t have enough in production to satisfy forecasted demand. They needed to do something.

After testing several options, they decided that adding a little water to the mix didn’t substantially alter the taste and would enable them to produce more bottles to better satisfy demand.

What they didn’t count on was the extremely vocal reaction of raving fans that urged senior management to re-think that decision.

Some folks misinterpreted this about face as weakness and poor decision making, but I think this is a PERFECT example of a big brand doing social media right.

Let’s dissect and discuss.

Planning for questions

Maker’s Mark Ambassadors were notified in advance and provided with talking points, thus potentially maintaining control of their messaging and brand.

Managing uproar from raving fans

The announcement set off a firestorm on social media, and ultimately the company backpedaled and said that their customers had spoken, and they would go back to the original recipe.

(Want to know how to build a community of raving fans? I highly recommend Sarah Robinson’s book Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities.)

Listening and responding

Maker’s Mark posted an announcement titled, “You spoke. We listened.” Here is an excerpt:

 “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.”

According to this post by ABC News, “The statement on Maker’s Mark’s Facebook page drew more than 14,000 “likes” and 2,200 comments within two hours of Sunday’s announcement.”

Within two hours? Talk about an engaged community!

Gaining multiple benefits

Maker’s Mark handled the whole process very well. Do they wish this hadn’t happened? Maybe. But I think the company made some big gains in the process. And it is a great case study of smart crisis communication from a hands-on management team.

Because the company was LISTENING and ENGAGING, they avoided a potential public relations catastrophe. They could have ignored the vocal responses and stayed with the initial decision.

I think that this business strategy misstep will actually prove to be a good thing for Maker’s Mark.

I think their raving fans and brand evangelists feel valued and respected, and will continue to drink Maker’s and tell their friends. (I know I will.)

A minor embarrassment for senior management may yield a strong shot of consumer enthusiasm, big gains in brand recognition, and additional sales for years to come.

Not a bad result from a “mistake.”



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  • fb_avatar

    I LOVE the way Maker's Mark handled this. And I agree with you - it will make the community stronger, not weaker. That's the trick isn't it? To be able to listen to and respond to your brand community in a way that acknowledges how important they are. So easy to say; so difficult to do.

    And thanks for the shout out about Fierce Loyalty. :-)

  • Thanks, Sarah! I couldn't help but think of you and everything you teach as I was watching all of this progress. I think this should be a case study on big brands using social media right. And also it clearly is a great example of how to build a fiercely loyal community.

  • fb_avatar

    A terrific case study. In fact, it underscores not only HOW to be on social media, but WHY to be on social media. It is the business case personified: you need to be there to keep up with the competition, its good for your employees to be listening, and is prevents the strategic faux pas of moving ahead blindly

  • I couldn't agree more, Diane. So many people think social media is about broadcasting and they forget that one of the biggest benefits is being able to LISTEN to your customers, enabling you to give them what they really want.

  • fb_avatar

    I'm not a bourbon drinker although I did win a bottle of Maker's Mark a while ago and enjoyed it! Their senior management recovered nicely and quickly, better than Netflix who made a similar decision and had to backtrack but not after more damage was done. Social media is meant to be two-way and more marketers need to use it as such. Maybe the old "don't ask permission, ask for forgiveness" doesn't work as well on line. Ask first!

  • You are so right, Mary. Netflix had a similar bad reaction to a management decision and handled it very poorly, pissing off a lot of their customers. I don't know if companies will get to the point of asking permission, but adjusting on the fly is going to be a best practice going forward I would think.

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