4 guiding principles behind Maker’s Mark’s amazing fan community

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If you were setting out to start a fan community, you’d have a tough time finding a better model to follow than Maker’s Mark’s ambassador program.

(In fact, if you’re not a member yet, take 30 seconds and sign up. It’s fun and it’s an ongoing course in fantastic word of mouth marketing.)

At our last word of mouth event, Doe-Anderson’s Todd Spencer shared a list of the guiding principles behind the community and how they do it (Doe-Anderson has been Maker’s Mark’s agency for over 40 years).

His tips:

1. Always treat your customers as friends
2. Your fans own the brand
3. Tell them exactly what to do
4. It’s not about rewards
5. Watch Todd’s video

1. Always treat your customers as friends

Maker’s Mark always refers to their customers as friends, and everything they do goes through this lens. They constantly ask themselves, how would you talk to a friend? What would you say when writing to one? It’s one of the reasons they don’t put fancy graphics in the emails they send to ambassadors — because you wouldn’t do that when you email your friends.

2. Your fans own the brand

Todd and the team at Maker’s Mark borrowed this idea from how the Green Bay Packers allow fans to buy shares. They don’t have Brett Favre, but they do have a lot of barrels of whiskey. So, they put their ambassadors’ names on the barrels (30 names on each) and for six years while the bourbon is aging, they can have a conversation with their customers about how their bourbon is progressing. They also make it easy for these ambassadors to talk with the 29 other people whose names are on the same barrel.

3. Tell them exactly what to do

Maker’s Mark isn’t shy about asking for recommendations and referrals. But they don’t just say, “Hey, please talk about us” – they put tools in the hands of their talkers to help them do it. Every ambassador gets a welcome kit when they join, 20 Maker’s Mark business cards, and little surprises throughout the year (like branded holiday gift wrapping) to help them share Maker’s Mark with friends and family.

4. It’s not about rewards

They don’t tell people up front that, “If you do X, you’ll get Y.” All of the “gifts” ambassadors get are unexpected – they’re “surprise and delights.” Again, see point #1 above: Friends don’t create rewards programs for their friends. But they do send them gifts and surprises from time to time, and so does Maker’s. It’s not about points and rewards, it’s about a community of bourbon enthusiasts who are in it to share their love of Maker’s Mark.

5. Watch Todd’s video

Watch Todd’s case study on Maker’s Mark below. To see more incredible presentations like it live, check out the lineup for our upcoming Word of Mouth Crash Course conference on May 10 in Austin.

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