Watering Down the Message: 3 Marketing Mistakes from Maker's Mark
Bourbon fans across the country spilled their drinks last month when Maker's Mark announced that it would begin diluting its liquor in order to increase volume and meet demand. The company said it would add more water to the formula that has been unchanged for more than 50 years, reducing the proof of the spirit from 90 to 84 proof, or from 45 percent to 42 percent alcohol. An immediate backlash occurred, with nationwide press and diehard fans saying they'd never buy the wax-sealed bottles again. A week after announcing the decision to dilute, the company recanted, backtracking on the move and saying it would resume producing the liquor at 90 proof effective immediately.
Bad business moves that lead to negative press are not new (critics immediately called this Maker's Mark's "New Coke moment"), but the Internet age allows those mistakes to spread exponentially far and fast, and gives users the ability to make their displeasure heard en masse. The bourbon producer reversed its decision quickly, but sometimes brands are permanently hamstrung after making the wrong call: in 2011, Netflix lost 800,000 customers and $9 billion in market value when it raised prices and launched the ill-fated Qwikster brand.
The success of both Maker's Mark and distributor sales hinge upon offering a premium-quality product or service, and anyone in promotional products sales can learn something from the liquor company's missteps. Here are three mistakes made by Maker's Mark that you can easily avoid to keep your, and your client's, reputation strong.
1. It's Not About Money
You aren't doing your job out of the goodness of your heart. For you it's about the money, but it shouldn't be for your customers, especially when it comes to a top-shelf product or service. Fans of Maker's Mark thought the company was dedicated to producing the highest-quality product; by diluting the bourbon to increase volume and sell more, the company told its loyal customers that it was driven by the dollar. The customers, in turn, were driven away. When talking with your customers, don't let bottom-dollar, commodity-based selling cheapen your image-insist on offering a best-in-class service. If you have standards and stick to them, and your clients will stick to you.
Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.