I recently read the post over at The Church of the Customer, written by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell (two of the smartest folks in this business), regarding the hoopla over at Maker's Mark. Maker's Mark is one brand under the umbrella of the Beam family of products.
Even our friend over at Raidious, Dodge Lile, chimed in with some astute observations. It seems that Maker's Mark had decided to dilute their product to stretch ongoing inventory, and thereby meet increasing demand. The backlash that the Maker's Mark brand suffered through sharing this decision via their website, and social channels was, well, lets just say I would be drinking more bourbon lately if I were Rob or Bill Samuels.
By most commentary I've read, the Maker's Mark Social Club is now portrayed either as savior, as righteous course corrector, or channels with which to lock in unintended bad decisions. But I have a couple of additional comments, observations, and recommendations. Maker's Mark has most certainly come to the realization that there are brands, and then there are brands.
Many of the products within the product portfolio at Beam would certainly not come under such scrutiny where formulation is concerned. But what about Laphroaig? Ardmore? Courvoisier? All of these are also Beam brands. I can't think of a more incendiary, simple minded decision than to mess with products that have stood the test of time. But wait, is the marketplace aware of changes to these products over the years? Have changes been made without notifying the consumer? I doubt it.
My point is this. Once you have a brand, a product, that you as a provider understand to be almost sacred, do you make significant changes to it, without any interaction and feedback from the consumer? Most great products will have a loyal following long after the marketing executives and their armies of worker bees move on to new brands, to new companies. This is where so many brands fail in how they approach using social media.
They look at social media as just another channel, without building out a community of engaged brand advocates to work closely with the brand. You simply cannot do this through Twitter and Facebook alone, and build a sustainable and useful relationship. Sure, these social platforms can be used as communications channels for the community, but it is critical to build a solid portal, a virtual focus group if you will, and use this as the locus of interaction. Is this the same as crowdsourcing? Far from it. Your brand has little idea of who is in the crowd, and what colors they are wearing.
The Bourbon dilemma also points out one of the critical new realities of marketing in the 21st century. Marketing doesn't exist in a vacuum, sequestered from the halls of product management, customer support, and the executive suite. It must be intimately involved with the key decisions that affect the brand, wherever the brand is interacting with the customer. This is the real promise of how social can and should be used, since the barriers that once existed are now less relevant. However, we shouldn't look at all things social as the driver behind this effort. And to do otherwise is to be highly reactionary in the arena of a socialized world. Maker's Mark was literally forced into a corner, and it put the Beam marketing team in a place that seems contrary to their marketing code.
Advertising and marketing must: “Only display truthful information on alcohol strength and not emphasize alcohol strength as a positive attribute of the brand.” Beam Marketing Code.
Whether you are Maker's Mark, or any brand, take the time, and make the effort to do some hard work behind the scenes, before you rely on the realm of social to solve all of your problems. And drink responsibly.