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February 17, 2013
Maker's Mark listens to customers, reverses course on diluting bourbon
Almost one week ago, Bill Samuels Jr., son of the founder of Marker's Mark bourbon, told customers he had made a giant mistake. He failed to forsee a worldwide surge in demand for premium bourbon when he was in charge of the brand six years ago. He said, as a result, Maker's Mark was going to be diluted to 42 percent alcohol by volume, from 45 percent, so more of the whiskey can be bottled to meet demand. That's a cut from 90 proof to 84 proof. He embarrassly admitted, "I was the forecaster in chief around here. ... I must have been asleep at the wheel.” He, and his son Rob, the CEO of Marker's Mark, assured customers that they wouldn't notice the change. Even Maker's Mark professional taste testers couldn't tell the difference, Rob Samuels said.
However, customers were pissed. Comments like this one began pouring in on the company's Facebook page:
"so now you're saying no will notice because you ASSUME your customers use [Maker's Mark] in mixed drinks instead of neat??? wow not only are you cheapening your product you are insulting your customers...count me out, time to try some other bourbons who still value quality"
After a week of listening to customers' negative comments about the change on their social media sites and through email, Maker's Mark management changed course. Today Rob and Bill Samuels told fans in a letter on their website and Facebook page:
We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.
You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.
So 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.
Read the entire letter here.
Every company makes mistakes. The way Makers Mark's handled this situation -- by listening to customers concerns and quickly changing course -- is a model for other companies to follow. With their Ambassadors program, Maker's Mark has long been a company that understands loyalty. Today they showed that that loyalty goes both ways.Tweet
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Thanks for this post, Jackie. I heard of this briefly on the news, but didn't catch the whole story until now. It's a great business lesson about assumptions and quality. Would people notice the taste difference? Maybe not, but the core fans wanted the product they always supported, and MM listened. Kudos to them.
Then last night I saw a report on some meat companies diluting their beef with horse meat(!). Clearly, some people don't take their relationships seriously.