How Maker’s Hit the Mark

When the folks at Beam announced plans to reduce the alcohol content of Maker’s Mark last week, a swell of indignation rose within me and I swore off Maker’s Mark for the rest of my bourbon-drinking days. This is Hershey swapping out cocoa butter for vegetable oil, I thought. This is Campbell Soup slipping me a can with suddenly a lot more noodle and a lot less meat. This is just one more example of a company sticking it to their customers in a tough economic climate. And I’m not having it.

I was not the only one.

The public backlash was swift with “ambassadors and brand fans” hurling threats and insults and complaints like a rabble truly, truly roused.

In tough economic times, there’s not much worse you can do than to tamper with a person’s booze.

Here’s how Maker’s hit the mark in its response, effectively protecting its brand and preserving its customers (and perhaps earning a few more along the way):

1. Emphasize the personal. The response is crafted as a personal letter addressed to “friends,” not customers or (even worse) consumers. They slip a bit, however, in reference to “our ambassadors and brand fans,” which frames the relationship in corporate terms rather than personal terms. Seriously, when crafting public statements just slip the marketing folks a couple of bucks and tell them to fetch some coffee and pastries downstairs. The letter even concludes with the direct email addresses of company executives.

2. Acknowledge wrongdoing. What’s interesting here is that the company actually defends its initial decision, saying “we thought we were doing what’s right.” Right for whom? The company? The brand? While the decision to reduce the alcohol content of Maker’s Mark was clearly driven by business factors, the company effectively acknowledges its wrongdoing in letting business factors override customers’ expectations. For that, the company is “sorry we let you down.”

3. Take decisive corrective action. The letter does not wallow in remorse and platitudes. The company said they are sorry and now they’re demonstrating their sincerity by taking decisive corrective action: “So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision…”

4. Clarify the conditions that led to the initial wrongdoing. The company then explains the challenges it’s facing and, while promising to manage these challenges going forward, sets expectations that customers may be impacted by supply shortages in the near future.

5. Establish priorities. Throughout the letter, the company keeps its head bowed in deference to the customer — not out of fear that they may walk to another brand (there is no pleading in this letter) but out of shame that they threatened to compromise something sacred between the company and its customers.

The complete statement is below:

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

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