Tag Archives: brand

Maker’s Mark illustrates the importance of thinking BEFORE you act

CATEGORY: FoodDrinkIn case you haven’t been tracking along, the folks at Maker’s Mark (which is owned by Beam, Inc.), faced with more demand than they could meet, recently announced that they’d be lowering their alcohol by volume (ABV) from 90 proof to 84 proof. You won’t even notice, they assured us.

The backlash was swift and loud. Makers Mark customers pitched a hissy fit, and at least one marketing analysta (Roger Dooley, writing at Forbeswondered if the company had committed “brand suicide.”

Do you really want to go on the record as saying the palates of your customers are so unrefined that they can’t tell the difference when the whiskey is diluted? In reality, in blind taste tests most people probably can’t tell the difference between similar colas, beers, whiskeys, etc. Nevertheless, brands still strive to maximize their taste differentiation. Can you imagine Coke saying, “We could change our formula a little, or even put Pepsi in our cans, and not many of our customers would notice.”?

To their credit, MM leadership today changed course, announcing in a public letter that:

…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.

Good for them. The thing is, we shouldn’t over-congratulate them because this was a butt-stupid mistake to start with. Dooley had commented on their missed opportunity last Thursday:

Maker’s Mark could have used their looming shortage as an opportunity to make their brand stronger. If they encountered sporadic shortages for a period of years, they could raise prices and leverage the scarcity to take the brand up a notch in prestige.

And all he was doing was stating what every smart marketer in America knew instantly: you never give people less. If the choice is between raising prices or cutting portions, for instance, raise the prices. Customers may not like it, but they react worse when they find themselves getting less for their money. Psychologically, when you do so you are taking something away from them.

Same thing with the MM trainwreck. The shortage was arguably even good news from a brand perspective because the unanticipated shortage (whatever that may say about your forecasting operation) emphasized the demand for your product. You could have responded with something like this:

Wow, folks, you like our product so much that you bought more than we expected. It’s going to take us about five or six years to get caught back up because we will not sacrifice the quality of our fine whiskey, no matter how much it costs us. In the meantime, we’re grateful to our customers and salute their discernment.

Instead, you miss the obvious opportunity, you violate the customer’s trust, and you dilute your brand by far more than the three percent you’re cutting the ABV in your now somewhat less prestigious liquid refreshments.

Given that Makers Mark had committed the gaffe, today’s announcement was precisely the right move. But there was no excuse for the mistake in the first place. Now, thanks to a moment of unfathomable stupidity, they’re faced with the challenge of restoring their tarnished reputation.

Maybe Makers Mark will be just fine. Maybe this won’t even register a blip on their sales numbers – time will tell. In the meantime, though, the company’s need to understand what they have done. Leaving the product as is, running a new ad campaign, dumping money into PR aimed at assuring us that everything is hunky-dory, none of that can undo one simple fact: a few days ago, they announced to the world that they can water down their whiskey with no noticeable impact on quality.

That’s a hell of a brand promise, and it’s a bell that you can never unring.

Think. Act. In that order.

Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy: why haven’t we heard from Komen’s corporate sponsors?

Corporate sponsorship is important for a great many of America’s non-profits, and that’s certainly true of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Of course, any time you strike an alliance with another entity, you can’t help assuming some of their risk. Your partner jumps the tracks, all of a sudden people are looking at you even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I tend to believe that Komen’s sponsors had nothing but the best intentions in donating their time and money to supporting a worthy cause. However, I also can’t help noticing that I haven’t heard a peep out of any of them regarding the foundation’s appalling decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood, an entity that doesn’t harness its public health mission to partisan prerequisites. Continue reading Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy: why haven’t we heard from Komen’s corporate sponsors?

Of tigers and dogs and the howling jackals of the press: what the Woods trainwreck can teach us about public relations

In case you missed it, Eldrick Tont Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, has been up against some pressing PR issues of late. Pretty much nobody is arguing that he’s handled it well. Begin with the official record. While it’s not yet 100% clear what touched off the fateful events of November 27, 2009, everybody is denying that Elin was trying to neuter him with a long iron.

But think about the story we’re being sold: The National Enquirer pubs a story saying Tiger is stepping out on his wife. A couple nights later, at two or three in the morning, Tiger decides to leave the house for no apparent reason. While trying to back out of the driveway – stone sober, the reports insist – he manages to wrap the Escalade around a tree. With me so far? Good. Then his wife comes out and tries to “rescue” him by bashing out the windows with a club.

If none of this smells a tad overripe to you, call me. Continue reading Of tigers and dogs and the howling jackals of the press: what the Woods trainwreck can teach us about public relations

Business and social media: American companies growing up, sort of

Ever since the Internet began gaining popular awareness in the mid-1990s, the topic of how businesses can productively use various new media technologies has been a subject of ongoing interest. Along the way we’ve had a series of innovations to consider: first it was the Net, and the current tool of the moment is Twitter. In between we had, in no particular order, Facebook (not that Facebook has gone away, of course), CRM, mobile (SMS, smart phones, apps), blogging, RSS and aggregation, Digg (and Reddit and StumbleUpon and Current and Yahoo! Buzz and Technorati and Del.icio.us and seemingly thousands more), targeted e-mail, YouTube, SEO, SEM, online PR and, well, you get the idea.

We certainly hear examples of businesses getting it right with new media, but in truth these cases represent a painfully small minority. Continue reading Business and social media: American companies growing up, sort of

Fear is the organization killer

Once upon a time the business world was dominated by hierarchical organizations that derived both their structures and mechanistic management philosophies from military thinking that traces its lineage through Frederic the Great all the way back, literally, to the Roman legions. And by “once upon a time,” of course, I mean “at this very minute.”

The truth is that way too many American companies today act as though their employees are some combination of robot and peasant foot soldier. (Hopefully we’re not talking about the company you work for, but I imagine we’ve all been there at some point – I know I have and so have most of the people I know.) Continue reading Fear is the organization killer