Case Study: Maker’s Mark — live from Word of Mouth Supergenius

3:00 — Jim Lovelady introduces Todd Spencer of Doe-Anderson.

3:01 — Todd takes a quick to poll to see who knows about Maker’s Mark and asks if any Maker’s Mark Ambassador’s are in the room (most are familiar with the brand, and there are even a few Ambassadors in the room).

3:03 — Todd: We literally call our group “Ambassadors,” and we’ve been doing this since the year 2000.

3:04 — Todd: It has to be in the DNA of the brand to do this — and it really is in the DNA of Maker’s Mark.

3:05 — Todd: A lot of companies think the way to market to the world is to get your message out there and hope it gets picked up by a few advocates, but we actually start with the advocates — the people who really care about your brand.

3:06 — Todd shares their guiding principles:

1. Think of your consumers as friends, not just customers.

Todd says they refer to their customers as friends to ensure that whenever they’re talking to them or engaging with them, they’re doing it like they would a true friend.

2. Recognize and understand that your friends (consumers) really own the brand — not you.

Todd explains how they could sit and talk about what they do that’s different in their distilling process, but consumers aren’t really interested in that. Instead, Maker’s Mark does things like put your name on a barrel and talks to them about what’s going on with their whiskey.

3. Clearly define and articulate the purpose.

This goes back to transparency, explains Todd. We’re clear with our ambassadors and tell them they have a job to do. We’re not shy about telling them that as an ambassador, your job is to go out and tell other people in the world how great Maker’s Mark is.

4. The effort must be driven from the top down.

One of the leading philosophies from the executive leaders at Maker’s Mark is that if someone really likes it, they’ll tell others. Todd says that they’ve been lucky at Maker’s Mark, because their leader, Bill Samuels Jr, has driven this mentality from the top-down.

5. Everyone in the organization must play a role, and they must embrace their role.

Todd shares photos of people from Maker’s Mark and explains that from the leaders to the front-lines, they understand they have a role in delivering an experience.

6. Always strive to exceed expectations.

Todd points to Andy Nulman and reiterates his big idea from his author session: You have to find ways to surprise people and exceed expectations.

7. “Surprise and delight” is more powerful than a reward.

Todd explains that they prefer to send fans surprising, delightful things rather than rewards. Todd: A surprise and delight is way more powerful than a reward.

8. A peek inside the tent creates the conversation.

Todd says that when you give fans information they’re looking for — the peek inside the tent — they’re happy to go out and share it. Todd goes on to talk about how much emphasis they place on tours and says that everyone gets into it to welcome their visitors.

9. It’s not the stuff, it’s the experience.

Being associated with something Maker’s Mark fans are proud to be a part of is everything, explains Todd.

10. You can’t be halfway in the game.

Todd warns against starting something like this if you don’t expect to continue to deliver on it a year or two from now. Todd says when they first created their original plan, it was based on 5 years.


Q: How do you identify who should be your ambassador?

A: Bill Samuels Jr. responds saying that when they started this program, it was part of their DNA. Bill explains that his father didn’t like marketing. When they asked him what their target audience was, Bill’s father finally responded it was someone who had a distinct interest in great tasting whiskey — someone you would invite home to dinner. They’ve since used this philosophy to guide their marketing, and Bill explains that their Ambassador Program is truly a self-selection process.

Q: What are a few of the details behind the program?

A: The program was originally started because, as Bill said, his father’s original mindset was to only talk to people who talked to them. Consumers began writing in in the mid ’90s, but we had no way to respond. It was all stories of how they were introducing Maker’s Mark. They began their program by just giving people a chance to get their name on a barrel. The idea of the program is that once your name is on a barrel, it ages for six years — and over that time, we talk about what’s going on with their whiskey.

Q: What happens when I sign up?

A: You first get your welcome kit and take your pledge on being an ambassador for the brand. After 9 months, you get your name on a barrel and receive your business cards. Then when your name is put on a barrel (with 29 other names) we take a photo of that, and you’re given the ability to connect with your other 29 barrel mates. The program has since actually launched another level of the Ambassador Program, where members can opt-in to become a Senior Ambassador.

We also send regular emails — they’re not flashy or image-based, because friends don’t send you flash-based emails — that Bill Samuels Jr. types out himself. Also, every mailing that goes out helps Ambassadors introduce the brand to others.

Todd continues by talking about a set of stickers they recently sent to Ambassadors — one that thanked the restaurant for serving Makers, and another set that thanked the restaurant and asked them to serve Maker’s Mark next time.

Q: How do you overcome the chocolate problem?

A: When we first started this, we weren’t sure we could keep someone engaged for six years. In a recent survey, we asked members if they would continue to be a participant, and 100% replied “yes.” We also recently launched the Senior Ambassador Program to give members a higher level to seek.

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  1. Live coverage recap from yesterday's Word of Mouth Supergenius - December 17, 2009

    […] Maker’s Mark — with Doe-Anderson’s Todd Spencer […]

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    […] Maker’s Mark — with Doe-Anderson’s Todd Spencer […]

  3. Resolution Inspiration from Maker’s Mark | Virginia Miracle - January 1, 2010

    […] Bill was in attendance at the December 16 WOM Supergenius conference in Chicago where I along with some other old WOMMA friends including Jake McKee, Spike Jones, and John Moore was speaking at the invitation of Andy Sernovitz and his team from Gaspedal.  While all the sessions were great, Bill’s was the only one where I broke out a pen and started trying to capture what was being said word for word. […]

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