30 Aug Base hits win ballgames
Or… the long game is a better way to get to the series
Sports metaphors for life and business are overused to the point of heads exploding across meeting rooms and business seminars in every corner of the country on any given day. But, the idea that doing the little things right. Mastering the fundamentals. Being patient against a powerful opponent and looking for the right opportunities to do the right things right is one of the strongest approaches you can take in baseball, basketball, football, or any ball-sport. In golf, soccer, boxing, life and business, too.
When a brand launches a new marketing effort, it’s usually wrapped up in a test or a pilot project or some small effort to prove efficacy. And once those numbers drop, it’s on to another strategy.
So when one of those efforts celebrates a 20th anniversary with a brand or beyond, it’s something else altogether.
A few days ago, I picked up my mail from my mailbox. The actual mail, not the electronic mail. Not a text or a tweet. The actual, physical mail. I had to smile at finding a small, silver envelope about the size of a birthday card from Loretto, Kentucky.
It was a message from Maker’s Mark “with sincere gratitude and appreciation” promoting me to a Maker’s Mark Ambassador for Life. Inside the card was a wooden business card with a red wax stamp and my name on it.
It wasn’t asking me for anything. It wasn’t selling me anything. It was simply thanking me for being an Ambassador for so long and advising me I now have a lifetime 10% discount on merchandise, access to free distillery tours for life and they’ll be letting me know about more soon. Kinda cool, no?
HOW DID IT START?
In the year of our Lord 19 and 89, I had the singular pleasure of visiting the great state of Kentucky and it’s utterly beautiful, ironically dry, Bourbon County.
My sister was starring in The Stephen Foster story that summer so my parents and I ventured down to see her perform and lend our moral support. Kind of a big, outdoor, tourist musical extravaganza, the show was great fun and I recommend you seeing it if you’re ever in Bardstown in the Summertime.
But after the show and the tour of My Old Kentucky Home and the numerous versions of Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace/boyhood home, we were at a loss at what to do for the rest of the weekend. “Go visit a distillery!”
Yeah… I saw the sign for Jim Beam, says I.
“No, no. Don’t waste your time,” came the expert opinion. “Go out to Loretto and see Maker’s Mark.”
Now at this time, Maker’s Mark was what you might call a small-batch distillery. Their bourbon wasn’t available widely at all. Maybe 35 or 40 stores outside the state of Kentucky. I lived in NJ at the time and there was only one store in my state where you could get it. It was like California wine in the 1970s.
So we drove out through very beautiful Kentucky horse country to the Star Hill Farm to learn about how Kentucky Bourbon gets made. It was one of those blue sky days you dream about that contrasted strikingly against the red barns and deep green Kentucky bluegrass. Ironically, not remotely blue at all.
The tour took us through all the steps of the recipe and the Bill Samuels Sr. backstory about how he launched his own quest to create a whisky that didn’t burn his throat. Note the missing “e” which is also a part of the story. Then the story of his wife, Margie, who created the actual “maker’s mark” logo and came up with the idea of not only sealing each bottle in red wax, but allowing the wax to drip down the sides of the bottle as sort of an antique design choice.
The last steps of the tour brought us through the bottling room where we each had a chance to hand-dip a bottle ourselves. Then in a tip of the hat to Disneyworld, the tour dumped us out into the gift shop where we had a chance to taste the whisky – or an iced tea if we preferred and pick up some merchandise.
I signed my name and address to the guestbook next to the earthenware pitchers without thinking much about it and returned home a day or two later with the pleasant memory of a niche product from a place I’d enjoyed visiting.
It was literally years before I heard anything again.
A CORDIAL INVITATION
Not even two or three years later, it was about 1996, I picked up my mail from my mailbox and there was this beautiful invitation addressed to me. I presumed it was a friend getting married.
It was an invitation to become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador. The first touch I’d had from them for years.
“You are cordially invited to…” I spent a day looking through it for the “sell.” What’s it cost? What are you going to charge me? Turned out, nothing. They just wanted me to show my enthusiasm for their whisky to others.
The package included two sheets of micro-perf business cards with the Maker’s Mark logo and MY NAME on them. Take them with you to your favorite restaurant or bar and if they don’t have Makers, ask to talk to the manager and give them one of these cards, they asked.
So I joined.
And a few weeks later, a package arrived from Loretto. With a small shaker in it. Then a few weeks later, another bit of swag. And a few weeks later. Then just about every quarter, something else arrived from Loretto. An ice tray that made ice globes. Red swizzle sticks. Plastic old fashioned glasses for picnics.
It was incredible. I kept getting free stuff. And with every passing day, I started to see Maker’s Mark in more places. On the bars in more restaurants. Well positioned in movies. And before I knew it, I could get Makers pretty much anywhere I wanted.
And the quarterly gifts reduced in frequency and became annual Christmas gifts. They sent me a bottle sweater that we put on one of my son’s stuffed animals. This was now more years later than I care to admit and the program was still going strong. They put my name on a plaque on a barrel and allowed me to purchase a bottle from that barrel six years later. They invited me to meet ups in New York City. Redheads and Thoroughbreds parties at the distillery and the track for the Kentucky Derby. More and more and all built on simple enthusiasm for the brand.
And last week, they sent me a wooden business card thanking me and promoting me to Ambassador for Life.
More than 20 years on, this program, diminished in swag though it may be, has NEVER disappointed me. It has never failed to delight me.
It’s silly, really. Ambassador for Life. I never applied for it. I never asked for it. I never bought a membership or a subscription. I just liked the product. And I appreciated being appreciated. It was fun and remains so.
No matter how much junk mail may be in the box that day…
No matter how many bills…
No matter how long it’s been since I chose to have a Makers Manhattan straight up…
… an envelope or a little package, or an email from Loretto always makes me smile.
Every. Single. Time.
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