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Making Your Mark on a Brand
By: Maryann Fabian
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Remember when a famous brand decided to alter the formula of one of this country’s most beloved beverages? It didn’t go so well.

After less than a week of public — err, social media — debate, Maker’s Mark decided not to lower the alcohol content in its bourbon by three percent. The idea was that with rising demand for the drink and supply constraints, it would cut the bourbon with water to stretch the number of barrels produced. But “ambassadors and brand fans” balked on Facebook and Twitter.
The company quickly apologized. “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,” reads a message still up on the company’s website.

Soon, “#you spoke, we listened” even became popular on Twitter. Consumers felt respected again in record time. “It’s sad when your favorite brand of whisky is a better listener than your wife,” one tweet read.

Ahh, the power consumers now have over brands thanks to social media. But is it really the consumer? Now a backlash against the backlash is brewing. What if it was just a bunch of brand bullies on social media and not really the true bourbon-swilling consumer? After all, the consumer speaks with his or her paycheck, right? And without a new product to try, how could the company really know if it was going to be a flop? What if just the mere mention of adding water, even though it is one of the necessary steps in bourbon making, was enough to get the uninitiated's undies in a wad? Or was it the idea of getting three percent less drunk?

“Allow us to prove that we didn’t screw up your whisky,” says a statement issued early on in the debate by Maker’s Mark. The company also urged customers to “reserve judgment” until they try it. “We validated our own tastings with structured consumer research and the Tasting Panel at the distillery, who all agreed: there’s no difference in taste.” We’ll never know for sure since that product will never reach market.

Remember in the good old days when companies took chances on products and let the market decide? Will companies just float ideas to gauge public response instead of actually making them now? Maybe we'll have infomercials of suggestions of new inventions.

On the other hand, maybe this kind of thinking would have saved us all from New Coke.

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About the Author
Maryann Fabian is a copywriter who has crafted the voice of some of this country's best brands.
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