The Next-Mark leadership team often shares stories of brands and companies that have influenced our perception of the marketing industry and shaped the way we do business. Our focus tends to center around the start-ups that beat to different drums, color outside the lines and embrace the unconventional. These companies create the inspiration – the “AHA!”

Deep in the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon country – in the tiny town of Loretto – the small-batch bourbon distiller Maker’s Mark has been providing its premium bourbon whisky (note the lack of an “e” there) since the 1950s. The creation of the Samuels family, Maker’s Mark is all about tradition and (at least according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) “whisky” is the official spelling … not to mention that Whisky Creek runs smack through the Loretto distillery property.

Maker’s Mark works hard to maintain its fiercely loyal following, both within the distilling process and beyond it – from its trademark black rick houses (barrel warehouses) with red shutters to its iconic square-shaped, long-necked bottles, each individually hand-dipped in red sealing wax.  Unsurprisingly, this extends to the marketing world as well.  And that’s where the Ambassador program comes in.

By recruiting its customers to become good-will ambassadors, Maker’s Mark turns them loose to spread the good word far and wide – globally, in fact.  (The distiller was recently acquired by Suntory Holdings Ltd., a privately-owned Japanese company.)  Now, this isn’t the only such program out there, but Maker’s Mark diligently massages these avid followers to maintain interest and loyalty.

A visit to the distillery will get an ambassador the white-glove treatment, a special nametag and repeated hearty greetings from distillery employees throughout the visit.  But, that’s only the beginning. Ambassadors also can have their names added to a barrel of bourbon and – since Maker’s Mark is one of the few remaining distillers to rotate its barrels – are regularly notified of its progress through the six-year aging process when the barrel is periodically moved around the rick house to absorb the environmental differences in temperature.

When their barrel matures and the bourbon is ready to be bottled, ambassadors can come by the distillery for the opportunity to buy a couple of personalized bottles and hand-dip them in that red wax. (Ambassadors are known to make that trip without hesitation.)  Periodic emails and a password-accessed area on the distiller’s website keeps ambassadors in the know about events such as its annual Thoroughbreds & Redheads horse racing weekend coinciding with the Kentucky Derby.

Other premiums, such as DVD’s, etc., occasionally pop up in ambassadors’ mailboxes just to keep them up to date on news, bourbon and distilling in general.  Every Christmas, a special ambassador gift arrives as well – Maker’s Mark wrapping paper, bottle cozies, ice cube molds and glassware are recent examples.  All this attention helps market the product, but also makes customers feel not only valued, but part of the family. And that’s what it’s all about.

According to those who watch these things, strange days may be ahead in the business world. For instance, in the spirit of everything old is new again, Megan McArdle, blogging over at Bloomberg, noted recently that, well, old folks may rule. Swimming against the tide of conventional wisdom that advertisers aren’t interested in fogies, CBS (or at least CEO Les Moonves) apparently believes the young demographic is “highly overrated.” McArdle explains that this may be because “(y)oung people are a shrinking percentage of the population, and thus represent a shrinking percentage of the nation’s disposable income. And right now, a lot of them are living at home and working intermittently ….”  Skeptical? You’re using your DVR to record your favorite programs for later viewing so you can speed through the commercials, right? (Don’t bother denying it!) That may be partly so you can avoid all those ED ads and other pitches that are filling the airwaves and are directed at the end of the spectrum longer in the tooth. Take a quick survey some evening of the commercials out there and you will see what we mean.

And, yet, Justine Griffin writes in our hometown Sarasota, FL, newspaper that Gen Y millennials are so important to the market that retailers are focusing on them and trying hard to please these finicky,  tech-savvy shoppers. Griffin points out brand promotion targeted at this group, but it goes far beyond that. While coupon-clippers may still approach shopping scissors in hand, the smartphone set long ago embraced the digital age and now have stringent demands for barcode scanners and shopping apps.

So, who’s right? Maybe both? There’s no reason old dogs can’t learn new tricks and a brave new world of cross-generational wired and wireless shoppers eagerly awaits. The response of the market is and will continue to be entertaining.


Panel Van


By now, many of you have seen the Internet images of one premium coffee vendor’s panel-van logo mishap. When the van’s sliding door was opened, the company’s logo was inadvertently shortened to, well, something else. This embarrassment-by-van syndrome has since spread to another vendor, the second involving a certain kind of mushrooms.

In the spirit of the fact that everything tells us something, this is a corporate life lesson in ensuring that your message gets through the way it was meant to be, no matter what.

That’s why, when all is seemingly said and done, we here at Next-Mark like to slide open the doors, take a step back and view the product from outside the box … just to be sure.


On May 9, pollster and columnist Michael Barone used the example of higher education’s bubble bursting to show the market’s natural tendency to right the ship.

However, he also pointed out that unnatural influences on that tendency can delay natural correction. This is a reminder that, while the road to market share is always paved with good intentions, it’s a good idea to make sure we’re using the right touch before taking the wheel.

There’s a lesson here for marketing, as well, where a lack of finesse can be seen in messaging that is layered on too thickly in an attempt to hit the right note.

That’s why, at Next-Mark, we keep in mind that message overkill isn’t the answer; rather, it’s the right message and timing of it that matters.

Back to Barone’s point: Helping the market toward course correction isn’t a bad thing as long as the hand on the tiller doesn’t overdo it.

Otherwise, you wind up turning in circles – and losing sight of your charted course.

Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of “My Reality Check Bounced,” gives presentations on how the various generations communicate. This is important for organization as, for the first time, four generations are working together in the marketplace. Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute attended one of those lectures and took it further, noting that this phenomenon has great impact on how we market to this wide variety of people. According to Pulizzi, Dorsey explained the current generations as:

Generation Y (born 1977–1995)

This group has grown up with the feeling of entitlement, which has created, in many of them, the idea of delayed adulthood and a belief that one truly becomes an adult at the age of 30.

Generation X (born 1965 – 1976)

This group is naturally skeptical. Its members believe that actions speak louder than words. Gen X is also the most loyal generation, not to brands or organizations, but to individuals.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

Mantra: Baby Boomers judge success by work ethic. How hard do you work? How many hours do you work in a week? Baby Boomers believe there are no shortcuts to success.

Traditionalists (born before 1946)

Mantra: Extremely strong military connection. Traditionalists are, and always have been, comfortable with delayed gratification.

So how do you communicate to these disparate groups in the ways that foster relationships and convey your understanding of them?

Honing in on Gen Ys, Pulizzi notes that they are the texting generation, advising that companies start there and then go to email – though this group generally only reads the subject line. Whatever you do, however, don’t call them, as they see it as an invasion of privacy, and don’t use calls to action that ask them to call YOU, as real friends text.

There’s more, of course, as Gen Y and every other generational group learns and consumes information their own ways and with their own preferences.

This means that now, more than ever, you have to ask: To whom are we communicating and are they getting our message? And, as always, the multi-generational Next-Mark can help.

These days, it’s all about your company or brand’s “story,” which (perhaps mercifully) has replaced the 60-second “elevator speech” in communicating what an organization or its brand is all about and, most importantly, creating a relationship.

In that regard, PR News recently offered some suggestions, including:

– To get a feel for your brand, ask yourself which character it would have been on the TV show “Friends.” Then ask yourself why.

– Expand your vision. It’s not just about your products and employees, but how you can help people in the larger scope of your business and/or expertise.

– Look around you, mining the stories from all departments and business units, including customer service – the frontline when it comes to knowing what consumers want to know.

– Get personal, using profiles of the people behind your products and anecdotal lead-in to your stories.

– Take every opportunity you can to establish your brand as the subject-matter expert in your realm.

Admittedly, you might have problems picturing your company in a “Rachel” haircut, but you get the idea. Stories are about people. People relate to people. Get them to relate to you on a personal level.

Pinterest, the latest thing in social media, reportedly has grown 226 percent in the past three months.

In case you missed the memo, Pinterest is a “pin-board” type social image-sharing site. Starting out with an emphasis on women posting about recipes, fashion and celebrities, it is now spreading to topics – and users – of all types.

Not only are businesses getting on board but also the U.S. Army, Navy and National Guard, with the General Services Administration currently negotiating terms of service for federal agencies to jump in. And the Obama 2012 campaign made its entry on March 28.

The point is that Pinterest – the site the Washington Post once called “digital crack for women” – is gaining street cred as a dynamic viral medium, as people who share a common interest view, re-pin images or share them via email, Facebook or Twitter. It’s also a juggernaut in directing referral traffic to websites.

Is it a tool that would work for your business and reach your target audiences? We can help you decide. First, though, if you haven’t already, you might want to check out Pinterest and determine for yourself if it’s all it’s “cracked” up to be.

Stay tuned for our very own, Next-Mark, Pinterest..

On January 18, a number of online search engines suspended operations for 24 hours to protest federal legislation introduced ostensibly to fight piracy.  The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate represent the latest action in the conflict between the demands of users for unfettered access to information and the need to protect personal property rights.  (While U.S. laws already exist to restrain domestic piracy, SOPA and PIPA are aimed at foreign abusers.)

It is an echo of the music industry’s struggle to protect the intellectual property rights of musicians and composers in the face of unpaid music downloads and file sharing and at first blush may seem a no-brainer.  But online protests such as yesterday’s already are eroding initial support for the federal measures.

The subject is a touchy one.  How much control is too much and how much freedom constitutes abuse?  Absent protected intellectual property and the shelter of the profit motive, what incentive do developers have to devote the months or even years necessary to create online technologies that users crave – indeed require – in our wired and wireless world?  After all, everyone – even developers and other creative types – must eat.

Despite first impressions, it is actually difficult to see how the protesters fail to win this one – at least in the short term.  Their victory, though, could very well carry the seeds of its own demise if it chokes off or cripples the technologies being demanded.