View Full Version : Distillery Customer Associations
I know about a couple of these clever marketing ploys.....Jack Daniels Tennessee Squires association (which, among other things, entitles them to 1 square inch of land in Lynchburg, TN) and Maker's Mark Ambassadors, who have diplomatic immunity in the town of Loretto, KY.
So, are there any other customer associations out there that distilleries have formed for their faithful legions? And what tactics do they employ to instill loyalty in their members? (e.g. Jack Daniels sends folksy letters to members about their plot of land - like apologizing when a pack of hounds tromp over their plot in an afternoon rabbit hunt. Bill Samuels periodically conducts online chat sessions with Maker's Mark Ambassadors)
Oh yeah J.R. there's Wild Turkey's Rare Breed Society; Jim Beam's Kentucky Bourbon Circle, and Heaven Hill's Bardstown Bourbon Society. There's not much in the way of serious inside information in these publications as they are more tools for loyalty cultivation, but they're free.
For real inside information subscribe to Chuck Cowdery's Bourbon Country Reader.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
Tennessee Squires is the granddaddy of these organizations. It was established in the 1950s when aged whiskey was in short supply and JD needed to keep people loyal to the brand when they were unable to find it in the stores. In those days, squires got really nice stuff, like barware.
Eventually, all of these programs run into the same problem: too much success. They become costly to maintain and the manufacturers wonder if they are really worth the trouble. To some extent they are being replaced by web sites and e-mail.
On the other hand, manufacturers may be short-sighted in discontinuing these vehicles. Whiskey consumers are hard to reach with other media. In my opinion, the problem with most of these organizations is that they don't really give their members anything very interesting--no meat--so it's hard to see why consumer behavior would be influenced by them. In other words, I agree with Linn (thanks for the plug).
Apparently, the distilleries all have my number, because everytime I sign up for one of these things I get like maybe one issue of the newsletter and that's it. I don't know why they don't want to send me the stuff, they send me plenty of press releases, but that has happened with everyone of these things I have joined.
<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>
I just wonder how effective those marketing schemes are. I'm sure there are rabidly faithful fans of each whiskey, but I wonder if an industry insider would have an idea what percentage of their customer association is truly brand loyal.
I would think that these associations would be a valuable resource for each distillery to gain some market intelligence....like giving away something (coasters, rocks glasses, whatever) in return for an in-depth survey response.
Ya know, ask questions like...what other bourbons/whiskey do you enjoy? Why? - good quality to price ratio, taste (describe favorable characteristics), etc.
What events do you associate with bourbon drinking? College/Pro Football, barbecues, etc.
All that I've noticed are communications like.."Here's what's happenin' back at the ranch (read distillery)" cutsy type stuff.
My dad is a Tennessee Squire, but his tipple of choice is 10yr. Old Charter (although he does have some JD Single Barrel).
I'm a Maker's Mark Ambassador, and I do have a bottle of Maker's but it sits next to a larger bottle of Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams Single Barrels '89 & '91, Jack Daniels Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rye, and Old Potrero.
A few years back I emailed some website suggestions to Maker's Mark (me being in the web design/maketing biz, albeit for a different industry) and I got a handwritten thank you card from Bill Samuels....nice touch.
So there's the story behind my Ambassadorship. The single thing that peaked my interest was the opportunity to have first dibs on specialty bottlings of Maker's, supposedly an Ambassador perk. But so far that hasn't happened. (which reinforces Mr. Cowdery's opinion that some "real meat" would make these clubs worthwhile).
You make a very good point. It is a fact that it is more efficient (costs less) to keep a loyal customer or even keep them drinking (using) your brand part of the time than the cost to gain a new user. The ability to maintain a list of users (database marketing) and communicate with them (relationship marketing) is a very great advantage. Yet, my experience is that many firms do not use it very wisely. You are correct about the ability to gain market research info. There is one problem. Many people are just so nice that they won't admit in a survey that they use another brand. However, these clubs are a powerful tool and likely more can be made of them
Greg the 'suits' at Jim Beam surely need to take your course. In the past several issues of the Kentucky Bourbon Circle there have been a few things that just left me cold. They have a section called the 'Connoisseur's Corner'. While you might expect to find bourbons reviewed there you would be wrong. In vol.8 issue 2 El Tesoro Paradiso is touted, while in issue 3 Dalmore 30 y.o. "The Stillman's Dram' is the subject. How dumb can those guys get?
Here's another example of how dumb they think their readers really are - - In each issue there is a 'Member Profile'. In the latest issue they couldn't be bothered to call up a real member to profile so editor Jim Kokoris simply profiles himself as if no one would notice.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
Personally, I like being courted by distilleries. To me it says they care about
how they're percieved. It's also nice to get little trinkets to put next to my
library of bottles... the certificates and pins and such things. The Aberlour
distillery sent me a set of tasting glasses and some leather coasters, and
I'll tell you, that makes me much more willing to to a chance on new offerings
from the distillery, and more likely to replenish my stocks when the bottles
It seems to me that these "customer associations" are a great way to really
manipulate your brand image (which is a lot of what people pay for these
days). I don't know how the cost pans out compared to, say, magazine
I'd say that anything that brings you closer to the brand helps the brand. For
instance, I'm a big fan of Julian's whiskey (*especially* the 13YO rye!),
but I'm even more of a fan since I got the book _But Only Fine Bourbon_.
I have to say I was a little cheesed off at the recent Bourbon Country Herald
(Bardstown Bourbon Society of Heaven Hill). To quote them "Truth is, making
the kind of whiskey those old moonshiners made wasn't very complicated. Of
course, their whiskey wasn't very good either."
I would say that (1) many old moonshining rigs were more complex than any
of Heaven Hill's modern linear industrial bourbon factories. You can do a lot
of clever things on a small scale that are difficult to scale up. And (2) there's
plenty of 'shine that's better than Heaven Hill's Georgia Moon.
(Despite my opinons of Heaven Hill's newsletter, I will continue to be a fan
of the Elijah Craig 18YO Single Barrel. And Georgia Moon!)
two quick points
First you are right. Brand loyalty is slim and tends to drift today toward a loyalty to a set of brands (e.g. I'd drink either Coke or Pepsi and buy the one that is on sale). Generally good relationship marketing programs are costly overall but still cost less per loyal person than broad advertising campaigns evaluated on a per person basis looking at actual customers.
Second, to help us all, could everyone who is a member of one of these clubs post here the name of the club and how you joined? I'd like to get some trinkets, too!
I'm a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Circle (Jim Beam Small Batch) but all I get is a newsletter. For those interested you can join it on their web site.
I checked for web sites for a couple of other 'clubs' mentioned here and could not find them.
How did you get the goodies from Aberlour? I'm an official "Companion of Aberlour" but have nothing to show for it.
I haven't tried the A'bunadh yet. I'm hoping someone will get me a bottle for my birthday next month.
Email me your address and I'll send you a Maker's Mark "Ambassador Discovery Card". Excluding the Charter Ambassadors (and we have a certificate to show for it) :-) the way in is through another Ambassador.
We get the typical mail I'm sure any other association sends out about latest events at the distillery, but there's also a secret portion of their website for Ambassadors only, occassionally there are online chat sessions with Bill Samuel or their master distiller, there are special tours at the distillery for Ambassadors (I don't know the details of the tour), and there are Ambassador only trinkets...but you have to pay for them.
I am a member of of one called "The Dickel Water Conservation Society". Standard marketing stuff.
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