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Public Relations Thought Leader

Maker’s Mark gets a lesson in brand identity

They can go without their favorite bourbon for a little while if they have to, but don’t you dare water it down.

That’s the consensus from the recent debacle in which Maker’s Mark found itself. Parent company of the Kentucky bourbon, Beam Inc., announced last week that they were becoming so successful, experiencing tremendous growing interest in their product, they could not keep up with the demand.

Their solution to combat their predicament – to sell the red wax-sealed bottles with diluted whiskey – was not well received.

According to their announcement, it takes over six years to make the batch of bourbon and a time restraint on supply like that would not be able to withstand the demand. In reducing the alcohol content to 84 from 90, they could fulfill their loyal customers’ bourbon supply needs.

Maker’s Mark’s loyal fans didn’t see eye to eye with their favorite distillery on this idea. Thus, a few days of consumer backlash later, Maker’s Mark has announced they are reversing their decision.

A tweet sent out on Maker’s Mark’s Twitter account linking to an explanation on the company’s website.

I don’t drink bourbon and I imagine I’m nowhere near the target market, but I also recognize Maker’s Mark missed its mark with this decision. In today’s world, we make consumer decisions based on more than the product being offered. Maybe the taste wouldn’t have been compromised with the dilution, but whenever they pulled one of those bottles off of a shelf in the future, their minds would drift back to last week’s announcement, remembering its diluted value.

Maker’s Mark has established itself as a well-known, high-quality Kentucky bourbon. I know what Maker’s Mark is and I could draw a picture of the bottle, even if I’ve never personally opened one. If its brand is now cluttered this way in my mind, it is most likely in many others’ too.

In our cluttered world, we are bombarded with messages whether we realize all of them or not. When a company is able to successfully position a brand in our minds and in turn, garner a large amount of customers, it’s not advised to change that message – or recipe.

A supply and demand chart for Maker’s Mark from Thomas Schroder, son of PR owner Chris Schroder. The bottle doesn’t fall far from the barrel with the Schroders. Check out Thomas’ post on Bourbonomics for more insight into Maker’s Mark’s dilemma at www.thomasschroder.com.

For those true fans of the bourbon that have been making purchase decisions based on this brand for some time, Maker’s Mark’s decision to change the quality and keep the price, affected the integrity of the brand. Customers replied to Maker’s Mark that they would withstand a shortage if they had to but they would not accept a diluted product.

Fortunately, Maker’s Mark heeded their customers’ outcries and kept their public relations blunder to just the one brand identity flop. By listening to their customers, they avoided diluting both their product and their brand.

From a business standpoint, an increase in demand and inability to increase supply isn’t necessarily a good thing. But from a public relations standpoint, there are good ways to address the problem without compromising your brand.

Hopefully other brands will take note as well: When your message is getting through loud and clear, don’t tone it down!

– Bailee Bowman


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