Bill Samuels Jr. is the president of Maker's Mark, a bourbon distillery based in Loretto, Kentucky. Here, he answers an entrepreneur's question about event sponsorships.
Q. My online ticket company recently sponsored a party thrown by Playboy at the Super Bowl. Is sponsoring such events worthwhile?
Randy Cohen, CEO, Ticketcity.com, Austin
Bill Samuels Jr. responds:
My father, Bill Samuels Sr., the creator of Maker's Mark, always believed that friend-to-friend recommendations trump advertising when it comes to building a passionate customer base. I agree with Dad. Sharing a happy-hour cocktail with a group of loyal customers at a Maker's Mark party sure makes more sense to me than paying good money to put up a sign at someone else's event, where the host is the star of the show.
Our event dollars are sharply targeted toward creating a friendly environment that allows us to interact with our customers. That means we often look past traditional brand-awareness activities, such as event sponsorships, which are too vague for us. Instead, we host our own parties, most of which center on our Ambassador program. Customers who sign up to be Ambassadors put their name on a barrel of our bourbon. Every year, our master distiller and I host about 60 or 70 happy hours around the country for our Ambassadors. We keep the parties as impromptu as possible, holding them in bars that are centrally located and large enough to hold a crowd of between 100 and 500 people.
You'd be amazed at how much we've learned from our customers at these events. We've had 24 consecutive years of double-digit sales growth. We don't know exactly how much our happy hours have added to the bottom line. But I believe that every time we enhance the likelihood that our customers will tell their friends about us, we've been successful.