Making Your Mark on a Barrel (Business Brilliance #13)

12 September 2019 | 29 Comments

I’m not much of a bourbon or whiskey drinker. But this weekend I learned about a Maker’s Mark strategy that fascinated me, and I wanted to share it my understanding of it with you (this is secondhand information).

If you go on the Maker’s Mark website, you can sign up for free to have your name engraved on a recently born barrel of bourbon.

Afterwards, you’ll receive a certificate (by mail or email, I’m not sure) with your barrel number on it. You can use that number to track the age of your barrel on the Maker’s Mark website.

Why the tracking element? Because it takes 5-7 years for a bourbon barrel to age to maturity. When that day comes, Maker’s Mark will invite you to Kentucky to claim a bottle of bourbon from that specific barrel and go on a tour to see how it was made. I think you get to personally dip the top of the bottle in red wax there.

I absolutely love this! It reminds me of the personal investment I feel when I back a Kickstarter project–I was there from the start! And I get updates along the way (though hopefully no Kickstarter project takes 5-7 years to fulfill!). Some tabletop projects even offer the option of having each backer’s name printed on the box or in the rulebook.

Even without Kickstarter, I wonder if this is an option that publishers like Stonemaier Games could consider. Like, say we have a new game coming out in spring 2020. As we’re getting close to the production date, what if I shared a few details about the game with our e-newsletter subscribers and gave them the option of entering their name and e-mail on a Google Form. Their names would be printed on the side of the box bottom (only visible if you open the box) or maybe on the inside of the lid or the rulebook.

Over the next few months, I could send those people one update a month that reveals how the game is being brought to life. When the game arrives at our fulfillment centers, they would have a special opportunity to order it (I’m not sure how that would work, as we tend to announce our games to everyone at the same time).

I see this as a win-win situation. For the consumer, they get a sense of ownership and pride in the game, and they didn’t even need to spend any money up front. For the publisher, you get a rough estimate on the number of early adopters, and you increase the chance that they will actually order the game because of the emotional investment.

I may try this on a future game, just to give it a try and see how it goes.

Have you ever done something like this, whether it’s putting your name on a barrel of bourbon, a board game, or something else? How was the experience for you?


This series features innovative strategies from non-Kickstarter, non-tabletop game businesses as they might apply to creators and entrepreneurs.

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

Leave a Comment

29 Comments on “Making Your Mark on a Barrel (Business Brilliance #13)

  1. Jamey this is most often used by charities to raise money, providing special privileges to folks would be a great idea, it would also be a way to leak details! I think you’d need an order system which provides a password so folks could log in and order. Kinda like a members only lounge.

    1. I’d cheerfully put a couple extra bucks down on a game to donate to charity. With or without my name somewhere though having a list of sponsors seems cool.

  2. A couple of years ago there was a satellite being launched to observe the sun up close. Way too close actually. When it was announced they said you could add your name to a database and it would be uploaded to a drive and sent on the satellite. I had my name on there and I had a student of mine, who was having a particularly rough time, also add his name. He told the whole school that his name was going to space. He put it in his class journal everyday for the rest of the year. It was thrilling to see him so happy even though it was such a temporary moment (it being burned in the Sun and all).
    I think your idea is wonderful because it may create an unexpectedly powerful moment in someone’s life.

  3. I like the idea Jamey and went to “Marker Mark” site and completed process. Right after I received the confirmation and which generated even more excitement, and me waiting for the next update. – Kind of like when you start teasing us about a new release that is coming and making me feel great about being a Stonemaier Champion. – Keep up the great work you and Stonemaier Games are doing.

  4. With my first published game, we took ideas from the backers for the various composite sketches for the humans in our group. Overwhelmingly, we received responses which led us to having two females and one male. The racial make-up was also amazing as the females are Hispanic and asian while the male is African-American in appearance.

    Engaging via KS is a great way to stay abreast of the Backers’ wants and needs. Obviously, you’re doing fine without that level of contact, but we kind of miss that engagement we experienced with you via KS.

  5. Leaving your mark is a cool concept. I know some publishers and designers who publish the playtesters’ names in the rulebook, as a public way of thanking them. For instance, I was mentioned in the rulebook for Freshwater Fly, which just started fulfillment, because the designer Brian asked me to playtest a specific aspect of the game, and I completely geeked out when I saw my name in there.

    Others publish the names of their Kickstarter backers if they back at a certain level. Sometimes something simple like that is enough. To know that you’ve made your mark in helping to make the game a reality, and that the designer/publisher was grateful enough to put your name in it. It’s the same reason people used to carve their initials in trees, or write their names on the underside of a bridge.

  6. I really like the idea of personalizing the box a bit, and it might help solve your “damned if you do/don’t” problem of too many or not enough games available for preorder/retail. Even if you don’t print names on the box, having a system like GMT’s P500 to get a rough idea of who’s interested seems like an excellent solution. I’m surprised that hasn’t been adopted by more game publishers.

  7. Jamey, this would tie in with my last post of Champion + in your previous blog post. I updated the idea at the end of your post. Champion + members could be your crowd and they could have that benefit. I think it could be another benefit to committing to supporting Stonemaier for a year.

  8. You could assign everyone who joins in a ‘supporter number’. Once the games are printed, everyone who followed along, that also preordered the game, would receive a copy of the game from the first printing with their supporter number stamped on it.

  9. I’d prefer to submit and read (as an owner of the game) favorite quotes from people. Vetted of course.

    “Some wise or inspirational quote”, submitted by Elizabeth Magie.

    Requiring a magnifying glass to read them, as mentioned by Michael above, sounds very cool.

    Just having a name on the box without merit would have no impact for some personalty types (and a significant impact for others).

  10. NASA offered boarding passes for the 2020 Mars mission. They produced a boarding pass with your name on it and some fun mission details (launch site, rocket type, arrival site, scheduled departure, even miles for “award points”). It’s a bit silly but I enjoy it – something as simple as a fake NASA boarding pass – and keep track of the mission.
    Depending on the game theme, you could create some sort of ID, ticket, etc. with non-spoiler teaser info on them. Periodic targeted e-mails could go out with status updates (like with with airline flight updates) -naturally- things would ramp up as the release date gets closer.

  11. Recently the exploding kittens team made a game called throw throw burrito. As a special thank you to backers they added a special feature to the kickstarter edition. A tiny film with microscopic names printed and built into the box. There was no extra cost. They did it just as a thank you for the support.
    Nice extra little feature

  12. I think I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, since my role today was trying to “break” my own game while playtesting.

    ***Everything written is in a funny way, in no way insulting, more like preventing***.

    Sure, the motive behind the idea is nice and altruistic, BUT what if I, who bought the game just for the sake of those names printed, got a mass amount of people interested in Stonemaier products (specifically: gamers, tend to order online, reminds of Kickstarter?) and want to use them as targeted audience for my upcoming released title that is SIMILAR to Stonemaier games?

    It took me $50-70 to get it, few hours to decipher every name, search for their social media trace and voila! Jamey Stegmeier himself helped me build a very specific audience for my own product! His sweat and effort will not go to waste.

    Waaait a moment, isn’t that spreading private information against GDPR since May 2018? So Jamey could be accused that he offered me or ANYONE private info for personal/business uses? Well… that’s not my business, I got what I wanted. And cheap. And fast and accurate.

    ***I may overreact, but I do think the example you used should not be as it is, I would modify it if not change the concept entirely***

    With all my love and full support! You know how I admire your innovative ways, buuut this time I (personally) do not agree. Maybe I am in the wrong (I hope I am wrong) but better safe than sorry.

      1. You wrote ” Their names would be printed on the side of the box bottom (only visible if you open the box) or maybe on the inside of the lid or the rulebook.” That was my base of thinking.

          1. Exactly, data mining could be involved there. Anyway, I knew you did not mean printing INDIVIDUALLY every name for every specific customer, as it creates a logistics chaos, so that was my only objection.

          2. Maybe if you were to just print first names. Or print the names in the rulebook under a special thanks section…

      2. Oh GDPR.
        Four letters to set off many an over reaction.
        All that is being printed on the box is a name, there is nothing to say these are real names, but also it is not like there are many people who’s names are freely available out there, pick up any game rule book and there are designers, artists, playtesters, all with their name listed.
        Your name has not suddenly developed mystical powers like in some fiction where knowing someones name (“true name”) grants the holder of that information special power over the person.
        The final nail in the GDPR gambits coffin is that all those people have given Jamie permission to use their name on the side of a box, nothing else, not there email address, phone number or physical address, just their name and I refer you to the previous paragraph.
        I know you are playing devils advocate and I hope my rebuttable does not come across too harshly.

        1. Fair enough Paul. Of course there are designers, artists, playtesters, all with their name listed in every rulebook . I am not going to study every rulebook out there, but in a game (let’s say Tapestry) where I know beforehand it had tens of thousands of preorders, so potentially 10K names in the box, half of them are real and half of that half has a FB account , it results in 2500 targeted audience in FB ads. That WOULD BUY. Or, from the same 10K, with an appropriate tool or person or whatever, get their emails.

          Of course all of it is fiction. GDPR was my second thought, my main concern was someone slacking off on Jamey’s shoulders while gaining benefits he shouldn’t.

          I appreciate that at least 2 people took their time to counter that! No hard feelings, thanks!

  13. I think the idea has merit. It would be especially good if the game type lent itself the concept of lots of people. Two of your recent games I am thinking of for that would have been Charterstone and Tapestry.
    With legacy games like Pandemic and Charterstone you get characters to name. I know the group I play with never use our own names, we are RPG’ers as well so there is an element of choosing the name to fit our perception of that character. Others may not be as creative and so what could be better than having a bunch of names on the box that you could choose from.
    With something like Tapestry, the large number of names – I have no doubt there would be a large number – would maybe add to that sense of these are the people who were part of your civilisation, or could be.

  14. A little different, but when I was pregnant with my daughter and Haba was about to release my Sleepy princess game, I asked if I could dedicate it to my girl. It is in the rulebook. The game has had many reprints, and recently an updated re release. It makes the game extra special, knowing that many people can and will read that and maybe feel extra connected. As due to that the designer is not just “a designer or a name” but a real person with feelings and feeling love for another person. just that makes it more special than all the other games with my name on the box.

  15. OMG I did this close over 12 years ago I had a barrel with Hoolio on it. I was give the day it would be available to go and buy from it. Never did but i was a Makers Mark Ambassador and got a martini shaker set, and a bunch of promo stuff. Also a Champion here lol

    1. I think this would be fun! Playing off of the Maker’s Mark wax idea, it could be cool to incorporate personalized initials in an emblem. For example, a customized coat of arms, or buddy rich style drum logo, depending on the theme.

  16. It might be a good way to gauge interest inbeforehand, but I’m a little worried about the space you’d need for the thousands of names. :)

© 2020 Stonemaier Games