I love Jack Daniel’s whiskey! I don’t just like Jack Daniel’s whiskey, I love it! Now, I’ll be completely honest with you. I am not a big drinker. I only drink on weekends… and, during the week! Seriously, if I’m at a social event where adult beverages are being served and they don’t serve Jack Daniel’s whiskey, I usually just get a glass of club soda.
I have not always been a super loyal fan. I have always thought Jack Daniel’s was good whiskey. But, something changed. They didn’t change the price or the product or their quirky advertising pitch. They changed the experience! But, I am getting way ahead of myself.
A few years ago a friend recommended me to be a member of the Tennessee Squire Association; it’s kind of a Jack Daniel’s fan club. A few weeks later I received in the mail an impressive certificate plus an actual deed to part of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I assumed it might be a piece of land the size of a postage stamp and dismissed it as a very clever marketing ploy. That is, until I received a K-1 to attach to my income tax return indicating I had a loss of 29 cents due to flood damage on my ‘property’ in Lynchburg.
Then, I began getting letters from folks who lived in Lynchburg, like I was a real neighbor. There was one from a fellow who ran the local hardware store wanting to take horseweed worms from my property to use as fish bait. The County Executive of Moore County, Tennessee wrote me requesting an easement across my property so locals could take a shortcut past the distillery to reach Spencer Hole, a popular recreation area. My favorite came from a guy trying to raise a herd of Black Angus cows. He kept getting calves with white faces; he claimed he spotted a white-faced bull on my property and wrote me for ideas on how to correct the situation.
I am pretty sure I was a part of the taste test for Gentleman Jack, a new brand for Jack Daniel’s they brought out several years ago. Before it was on the shelves everywhere, the liquor store owner nearby gave me a taste and wrote down my comments. Jack Daniel Distillery once wrote me to request I write my congressman to influence a particular piece of legislation they were trying to get passed. I’ve gotten calendars, coasters, and catalogs for ordering JD paraphernalia.
What is it that Jack Daniel Distillery is doing to stir my ardor and other customers like me? What principles are they employing to turn satisfaction into loyalty and loyalty into advocacy? Five key factors are constantly at play in their management of the customer experience–they listen, include, teach, protect and surprise!
Jack Daniel Distillery seemed to use the liquor store owner and staff to get feedback…up close and personal; and, without any defensiveness. The company also sponsors Jack Daniel’s tail gate parties at major athletic events–sort of the JD version of Harley-Davidson’s HOG (Harley Owner’s Group) gatherings—as a chance for fans of Jack Daniel’s to assemble for fun and camaraderie. The company communicates the details on their website and uses these “snack with Jack” type gatherings as a chance to build customer advocacy, introduce new products, and gather feedback.
Lydia, the sales clerk where I buy Jack Daniel’s, is always asking me about my devotion to Jack Daniels as she suggests new ways to use the beloved sour mash whiskey. She’s always telling me little tidbits about the Jack Daniel’s brand–like, did I know that the founder, Jack Daniel, created a musical band to draw people to Lynchburg, TN and to his two saloons, the White Rabbit and the Red Dog.
When Jack Daniel Distillery invited me to write my congressmen, they used inclusion as a customer advocacy strategy. Advocacy toward an organization can ratchet up dramatically when customers get an opportunity to put some “skin in the game.” One time they asked those of us who are Tennessee Squires to vote on-line on whether we thought Moore County, TN (the county in with the distillery is located) should be wet or dry. Now, it was not a real vote since most Squires don’t live in the Lynchburg area. But, it sure made us feel like we do!
Another time they asked all the Tennessee Squires who lived in the State of Texas to vote on whether we thought the Jack Daniel’s race car that would be running in the Texas 500 in November should be painted red, white or blue (we picked red). Again, the act of reaching out to solicit participation…even if symbolic and on-line…makes customers feel like true owners.
Jack Daniel Distillery uses its colorful website and mailings to teach customers everything from “How to sip Jack” to “Recipes with Jack” to “How they actually make Old Number 7.” There are great stories about the iron-free water used to make Jack Daniel’s coming from a nearby cave, or how they make the charcoal filtered taste by pouring the sour mash through ten feet of coal from a burned stack of sugar maple trees grown nearby.
One of their best selling items is their collection of unique cookbooks. I like the barbecue cookbook the best. I found in it a “Little Bubba’s sauce” which is perfect for barbecuing venison. I even learned about a recipe for cooking chicken-fried beaver and roast possum. Organizations able to implant wisdom into the customer’s experience will turn customers into advocates.
Jack Daniel’s puts great emphasis on building trust in their product and brand. They look for ways to protect customers from anxiety and uncertainty. Log on to jackdaniels.com and your first step will be to type in your birthday to access the site. The first words you read once you enter their website read: “Your friends at Jack Daniel remind you to drink responsibly.”
The Jack Daniel’s on-line store carries the warning, “This special collection of Jack Daniel’s goods is intended for adults of legal drinking age.” Jack Daniel Distillery knows that trust in the eyes of customers is a moving target—a verb, not a noun—and must be regained and reaffirmed with each new experience. They nourish marketplace trust as carefully as they do the white oak trees used to create the large barrels in which their whiskey is stored to age.
Every letter I get from my “neighbors” in Lynchburg is a creative masterpiece. I tear it open faster than a check from the IRS. I know it’s mostly fantasy but it sure is fun! You can log on a section of their website called “Here’s to You,” select specifically how you enjoy your Jack (I like mine on the rocks), click on that icon, and actually hear them pouring your Jack Daniel’s just the way you like it. It brings new meaning to the phrase “channel management.” Regardless of the modifier, service with a surprise builds customer advocacy.
Jack Daniel’s whiskey might seem like an odd exemplar of remarkable service. I am certainly not advocating the irresponsible consumption of adult spirits. And, I am not on the Jack Daniel’s payroll or a stock holder. Jack Daniel’s is a compelling demonstration of how a product based company can build advocacy through a provocative collection of remarkable experiences.
There is another powerful fact. Like many manufacturers, they use a multi-tiered distribution system. Yet, they have found a powerful way to directly reach the consumer without upsetting the wholesaler or the retail store owner in their “factory to consumer” distribution chain.
What the Jack Daniel’s story suggests is that remarkable service is first and foremost bold, imaginative and stimulating. It has a kind of joyful “wake-up call” dimension that makes the customer sit up and take notice. It can be daring, but might not be. It can be assertive, or it might be quietly provocative. It always ends up a “shining moment” in the memory of the customer. Its boldness lies in its capacity to stir the emotion of the recipient. Consider this: if a company in the business of making an object can so effectively delight their customers, think of the unlimited potential of organizations in the business of making memories.
The path to customer advocacy is not complex. But, it is by no means easy. It begins with treating customers in new ways. If you understand them, include them, teach them, protect them from anxiety, and occasionally surprise them in a charming way, they will reward you with their advocacy and their funds.
Note: The references to the Tennessee Squire Association are used with written permission from the good folks at Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN.