Hard Liquor, Soft Benefits, Real Ownership


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Well, it finally happened. I have my own cask of bourbon whiskey. I received the official certificate in the mail yesterday, authenticating the presence of my name burnished on an properly aged and carefully charred oak barrel, freshly filled with “the good stuff.” In roughly six years or so, in 2017, today’s raw whiskey will emerge from my cask as “the REALLY good stuff”, be bottled and capped in wax as “Maker’s Mark.”

You see, our own Ms. Kelly Hlavinka is a Maker’s Mark Ambassador, and last year she urged me to become one, too. Seems we share not only an interest in all things “loyalty,” but also a sip or two of Kentucky’s Pride on occasion.

How do I actually know that my name is on a cask of whiskey? Because my partners down in Kentucky took an actual picture of it and sent me the link to see my name emblazoned and burned right into the oak itself. Cool.

The really cool thing? Yesterday, my Ambassador’s certificate was sealed with the same red wax bearing the same maker’s mark as the bottles I enjoy–responsibly of course–from time to time. The fine folks from Maker’s Mark also sent me 20 business cards with my title as Ambassador of their brand…and mine.

Okay, okay. An elaborate set of gimmicks, right? Do these silly actions really impress a stalwart skeptic like me? Am I any more loyal to Maker’s Mark than I was before?

I suspect so. I feel more like an insider, like an owner, today than I did yesterday. I understand a little better the mystique of the process. I actually have a small slice of psychic energy down in those dark vaults, as my name rests quietly on the barrel, interacting with the flavinoids–or whatever happens–between that barrel and the booze over the next six years. I am suddenly invested in the future of the company. I can hardly wait until 2017!

Yesterday, I received no coupons. Not even the hint of a deal came in the finely crafted Maker’s Mark mailer. Yet, I can feel the “loyalty effect” developing as slowly and as surely as that bourbon of mine. (Well, it’s actually not “mine” really…just sort of designated for a while as “mine”). If a coupon HAD been sent, I think it might have undermined the magic a bit. Maybe later.

No matter. I’ll have a Manhattan this weekend and it’ll be made with Maker’s Mark.

All this points to the necessary balance between hard and soft benefits we need to incorporate in our loyalty programs to generate true loyalty, as distinct from mere frequency. If the Maker’s Mark people conveyed one thing to me with that expensive mailer it was this: they BELIEVE in their product. I’ll bet it is difficult for them to conclusively prove the ROI on those things. Yet not everything that’s important can be measured. Their belief builds mine.

What is your company doing today that conveys such belief? Comment away, folks. Are soft benefits worth it?

Jim Sullivan
Jim directs the advancement of enterprise loyalty at COLLOQUY, an endeavor guided by his almost 30 years of managing in marketing, strategic planning, business development, innovation, and communications. Jim also assists with COLLOQUY's loyalty workshops, seminars and conferences, and serves as an academic liaison for colleges, universities and thinking institutions performing research on Enterprise Loyalty.


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