Making a Mark Like Maker’s

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Posted At: March 1, 2013 8:45 A.M.
by Casey Rogers

You may have read about the popular bourbon titan, Maker’s Mark, and the backlash in response to the company’s announcement to reduce the alcohol content. This media attention might become a public relations nightmare; however, it also points out just how paramount of a brand has been created.

After a week of uproar, Maker’s Mark formally reversed its decision and publically apologized to brand patrons.

“You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down,” said Bill Samuels Jr., current president of Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc., in a public statement posted on the Maker’s Mark website.

Samuels also stated, “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your Brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.”

Through the years, Maker’s Mark has implemented many simple, yet effective advertising campaigns and has created a brand that speaks for itself. The brand is more than a name; it represents years of quality, compassion and loyalty to its consumers.

The first bottle of Maker’s Mark was officially bottled and hand-dipped in the recognizable red bottling wax in 1958, and the bourbon giant hasn’t looked back since.

The name Maker’s Mark is unlike most other whiskey brands names based on the age-old practice of using the family name. The Maker’s Mark name actually originated from the accomplished silversmiths and pewtersmiths at the time who only put their personal mark on their very best work. This seal was called their marker’s mark, a perfect fit for a brand dedicated to producing only the very best bourbon whisky.

The recognizable circular seal also tells a brand story. The star represents Star Hill Farm, the family farm in Bardstown, Ky. The “S” was added to stand for the Samuels family name and the “IV” was added to signify the fourth generation in the family line of distillers.

“Maker’s Mark goes against the grain to make its mark. Bill Samuels started from scratch and established a brand of superior quality with a fine image,“ said David P. Garino of The Wall Street Journal (as cited in “Maker’s Mark — My Autobiography” by Bill Samuels Jr.).

The Samuels family’s Scotch/Irish heritage not only determined the spelling of “whisky” (which is typically spelled “whiskey”), but it also influenced making its bourbon in small, manageable batches of no more than 1,000 gallons each.

Today, Maker’s Mark is the only handmade bourbon in the world. Because of its time-consuming aging process and rapid brand growth, Maker’s Mark’s distribution has recently been squeezed and been forced to curtail shipments to some overseas markets.

To keep up with supply and demand, the company decided to reduce the alcohol content of the historic bourbon whisky, igniting much buzz that ultimately led to the reversal of the decision. Company officials said that much of the customer feedback came from Twitter and Facebook, with the Facebook page drawing more than 14,000 “Likes” and 2,200 comments within two hours of the announcement.

Reversing the decision after obvious concern from loyal patrons reiterates the quality and loyalty that the Maker’s Mark brand was founded upon. The unanticipated dramatic growth rate is an incredible problem. Some might ridicule Maker’s Mark for recent decisions, but in my opinion, being able to not only bounce back after this kind of seemingly negative PR, but also thrive speaks wonders for the brand.

It takes a renowned brand with incredibly loyal customers to speak out in favor of possible distribution shortages and price increases in order to maintain a brand consistency.

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