Maker’s Mark — on a Sunday no less — decided to end a crisis before it overheated and did so with that most disarming of approaches: The CEO apologized.
Yes, for those of you who just looked up abruptly from filling out your NCAA basketball brackets, someone other than Louisville [in] and Kentucky [out] is making news in Blue Grass country.
The CEO a-p-o-l-o-g-i-z-e-d.
[Thanks to Craig Turner, VP at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, for flagging this great example of responding well to a crisis.]
The company reversed its decision announced nine days earlier that due to supply constrictions it would reduce the amount of alcohol in its prized bourbon from 90 proof to 84 proof. The company posted the apology on Twitter, its Facebook page and web site. And CEO Rob Samuels signed the message below to fans with his email address.
I know, I know, can you believe it? As Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen wrote:
“The Maker’s Mark affair will go down in marketing textbooks as another stroke of Samuels genius. Think about it: if nobody had complained, the distillery would have had more bourbon to sell. When, predictably, customers raised hell, Maker’s Mark got a barrel full of free publicity.”
The Samuels’ message:
Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content [ABV] of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. 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.
The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.
Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.
We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.
As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.
Rob Samuels Chief Operating Officer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Samuels, Jr Chairman Emeritus email@example.com
So many business leaders won’t listen. [New Coke]. They convince themselves that their reasons for a decision outweigh their customers’ feelings and reactions. Just wait it out. They’ll come around. We know what’s best. Our consultants told us. We did focus groups.
This was a human decision. It demonstrates a company and leaders who listen. Surely they were concerned about lost sales and brand negatives. But they responded in ways that usually mean a successfully handled crisis. Fast, with facts, taking responsibility and apologizing.
Why does this formula work, if too rarely is it tried? Because Maker’s Mark just increased its brand loyalty, attracted new fans who discovered a company that actually listens to its customers, and demonstrated what we call transformative leadership in the face of a potential crisis.
Can’t coach smart.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.