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What’s Going On at Beam?

Today when Jim posted his infographic about beer brands I remembered that I had seen a generational graphic on the Jim Beam Web Site that talked about the Beam family history and how 7 generations of Beam descendants had left an indelible mark on the Bourbon industry in America.  This was a web like graphic that included the family tree, and other information about which distilleries Jim Beam descendants had been master distillers at, and their impact on the industry as a whole.  That graphic no longer exists on the site, and there are a lot of other changes as well.  First off is their logo.  It is changing.  The graphic above shows what it will look like when it is implemented on all their bottles.  Not bad, but not traditional either.

If the logo was the only change I could live with it, but based on what I saw on the web site it looks like the entire company is going through some sort of metamorphosis, and probably not for the better.  There is a link on their heritage page that says that the Beam family has influenced over 60 major Bourbon brands, and that is the link that used to take you to the inforgraphic.  That link now loops you back to their “other” brands which includes their green label 5 year whiskey, their rye, and their 7 year old beam whiskey, and that is all.

What is more disturbing is that there is no mention on the main site at all of their very good, premium Small Batch whiskies.  No Knob Creek, Bookers, Bakers, or Basil Hadens anywhere on the site.  They still exist, but they are now at a completely new site called www.smallbatch.com.  There is no link from the main Beam site to this site, and there is no link from the Smallbatch.com site back to the Beam site.  It is as if they never existed and have no relationship.

What makes me suspicious is this all comes at a time when Beam is going through some major management changes.  For the first time in the company’s history there is not one member of the Beam family in the executive management structure of the company.  What’s more is they are hiring a new Marketing director for their bourbon line of spirits (Beam Global now sells all kinds of spirits) from SC Johnson Co.  He has no bourbon experience at all.

This is all leaving a very bad taste in my mouth right now.  I don’t know if this is part of a larger corporate restructuring, or if it is a symptom of fragmentation that is happening to Beam as it grows beyond Bourbon.  Whatever is going on, I have one sincere hope…The bourbon doesn’t suffer, but it usually does and it probably will.  I wonder if by separating the Small Batch offerings off of their main site, that Booker and Fred Noe (Beam Descendants) are preparing to splinter off from Beam Global.  I think I would be ok with that.

What I hope is not the case is that they are still part of Beam Global, but a part that is largely ignored and no longer supported.  That would be a shame and I’m sure we would see things beginning to crop up like shortages and quality issues.  Whatever is happening at Beam, I hope it all turns out good in the end.  I would hate to see an American tradition since 1788 die a slow and painful death.

-Don

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10 Comments on “What’s Going On at Beam?”

  1. johnking82
    August 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Just sent a note to my neighbor to check out your blog, maybe he can chime in…

    • Don
      August 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

      That would be great. Hopefully he has some insights.

  2. August 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    From a branding standpoint, it might make sense to distinguish high-end stuff from the Beam mass-market whiskeys, especially if you see a group of budding connoisseurs who might view the Beam name as not having enough cachet. Just like Jim’s post earlier, large companies sometimes hide ownership of high-end things to avoid brand dilution.

    But you’re right, in the context of changes, this is scary stuff. Taking a more sales-driven approach at companies like this can really ruin them if tradition and quality are marginalized for the sake of some bottom line.

    And, while it may be an American tradition, replacing family management and quality with corporate douchery and groupthink is hardly a proud one.

    Like Goose Island, I’ll hope for the best.

    • Don
      August 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

      Distinguishing a high end brand is one thing, jettisoning it to its own corner of the world quite another. I understand that they want to distinguish it, but Whiskey isn’t like beer. The major brands in Whiskey have a long standing tradition of supporting and making great bourbon. Sure, their flagships might be a bit pedestrian, but they have always had higher end brands associated with their name. This just feels wrong to me, and I’m afraid that things are getting very corporate, and much less family oriented at Beam. Oh, and if you love Makers, they are now owned by this same company, so hopefully they will continue to thrive as well.

    • August 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      Well said!

  3. August 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    This all started happening a couple of years ago. I don’t know any more details than you do. We did work for Beam and I worked on the site for a spell. We may have even done the graphic you speak of I think. I know we did the spinny, interactive oak tree and related elements one that used to be on the home page for sure.

    A couple of years ago our marketing relationship with them started getting weird for no apparent reason. They let us go, siting consolidation. Ever since, I’ve seen odd changes on their site. But hey, they’re not paying us to help them anymore.

    I venture to guess they are segmenting their product lines more. Makes sense to me. And it appears that their evolving the brand look to be more contemporary/global than heritage/regional. I can also see this as a smart (but risky) move. Have to be careful with that big of a branding move for such an established brand.

    I suspect that you’ll see the higher end products pop up someplace else. Another website perhaps. There own individual sites. Or a microsite off of the main site. Though it’s strange that they haven’t already done it and implemented the changes together, at once. To just have them drop from the site until we figure out where to put them is bad marketing. People, usually their biggest fans start saying, WTF!? And rumors run rampant across blogs, facebook and twitter. Not good.

    Like you, I hope we’re just seeing some sloppy digital marketing taking place here and not a fundamental change in how they feel about, make and market their better product lines.

    • Don
      August 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Well Chad, I did mention in the post that they do have a web site for their higher end products at http://www.smallbatch.com. But there is no linkage whatsoever between the two sites. You wouldn’t even know that Smallbatch.com was a Beam site, as they aren’t mentioned anywhere! I would think that you would want to associate with your best (Flavor wise, but not selling) products. To me it smacks of corporate positioning to make the most $$ but not the best bourbon, which to us connoisseurs is sad.

      • August 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

        Ah yes, missed that. Sorry. At least they have something up. Your right. You’d think they’d want to associate their best stuff with the Beam Brand and stick a http://www.smallbatch.com ad somewhere on the main website. Preferably somewhere somewhat prominent. Tell fans where to visit for that info.

        Again, trying to think of why they wouldn’t. Doesn’t make sense. Unless, as you suggest, family members want to take the small batch brands and run from the parent because they don’t want to be associated with what’s happening now. Or there’s often infighting between product groups in large organizations like that. Maybe the two groups don’t get along and want to go their separate ways. Hard to say. But definitely strange.

  4. Ben
    August 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    I dunno–seems like this is par for the course for premium brands. I just went to the cabinet to double-check, and yep, my bottles of Pappy and ER 17 give no indication whatsoever that they came out of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. KBD products are notorious for their lack of transparency. It seems like the marketing strategy for a lot of the high-end stuff is to pretend that it comes out of some tiny, obscure, distillery with no connections to any big corporate entities. I’m not entirely sure this is a great strategy (at least with Buffalo Trace, knowing that something comes from them makes me more, not less, likely to want to try it), but clearly the marketing wizards think this is the way to go.

  5. Steve Beam
    August 30, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    I’d like to thank John for directing me to this blog.
    I don’t really follow what goes on over there, my dad’s generation were friends with Booker ( my uncle was the best man at his wedding).
    To me they are just distant cousins.
    I do have a theory as to why the family tree is no longer there… I always joked that they were going to have to update it and put me on there… so I guess rather than put me on the tree … grand dad and uncles were already there
    …they took it down, damn foiled again

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