Maker’s Mark, the handmade whisky brand from Loretto, Kentucky, has one of the best loyalty programs I’ve seen. Since 2001, they have been connecting with their loyal fans through their Ambassador program. When customers sign up to be an Ambassador, they get a welcome kit that contains custom business cards with their name on them, identifying them as an official Ambassador. The welcome kit also contains a “Barrel Dedication Certificate” explaining that your name has just been engraved on a barrel of bourbon that will age for six years in the historic distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Along with the barrel number, the certificate proclaims that your name is on the barrel “in recognition of loyalty, outstanding dedication, in-depth knowledge and service as an honorable Maker’s Mark Ambassador.” When the barrel is done being aged, Ambassadors receive an invitation to come to the Loretto distillery along with their barrelmates to sample a batch made from their special cask.
Longtime Ambassadors know to update their mailing information on the Ambassador web portal because Maker’s Mark is known for the holiday gifts they send Ambassadors. Some of the more memorable gifts over the years have included an ice-ball mold for making giant spherical ice cubes for drinking chilled bourbon, and a knitted green, red, and white holiday sweater emblazoned with reindeer that fits perfectly on one’s Maker’s Mark bottle.
This year is no different. Last week, I received a special Maker’s Mark knitted holiday scarf to put around my bottle. The scarf was accompanied by a letter from Rob Samuels, Ambassador-in-Chief, and grandson of the founder, Bill Samuels, Sr. The note asked for Ambassadors to share photos of the scarf on social media using the hashtag #decktheneck. A quick search of social media shows thousands of #decktheneck results with people decking the necks of their Maker’s Mark bottles, but also their dogs, cats, babies, and even a pet pig. I saw many instances of the brand commenting on the photos and engaging fans.
This is a wonderful example of how to get one’s fans to raise their hand and showcase their fandom, in this case sending fans something physical and and asking them to tag posts using a hashtag. There are hundreds of thousands of Maker’s Mark Ambassadors out there and the cost of the scarf, packaging, and postage had to be a very expensive marketing campaign for the brand. But the word of mouth value on everyone sharing a physical representation of the brand (beyond the bottle) on social media channels is worth every penny. The fans did the marketing for the brand.
I don’t actually drink whisky, but my dog Bela very much enjoyed wearing the scarf!!
So for next year, think about how you can get your best customers to raise their hand and proclaim their love for your product or service. Social media is a great medium as it’s easy for customers to post. Showcase these posts on your own social media channels.