Patrón's Formula for Building a Successful Online Community

Patrón’s objective

I love Patrón tequilas.  I especially love drinking it. I also love tech. So, when Patrón launched a site called the Patrón Social Club last year, I signed up and have been following their progress. This year, they launched an interesting concept called  Patrón Secret Dining Society. It’s a part of the larger Patrón Social Club site, but from the looks of the site, it’s one of their primary drivers of interest. Now, Patrón Secret Dining Society isn’t some snobby club with obnoxious membership dues — in fact, it’s free — but it is definitely exclusive.  For this event, they only accepted 10 people (and their plus ones).  I was lucky to take part and see first first-hand on how Patrón is trying to build an online community.

The emails

At 3:51pm on a Monday afternoon, I received an email.

It said that in 9 minutes, there will be a chance to secure a spot at their next location, Newport, RI. However, there would only be a 30-minute window. I decided to give it a shot. I went to the link at 4pm and was greeted with a question. It asked me: “What ingredient did Brett say brought the whole menu together?”  Well, I have no idea who Brett was, so it effectively forced me to go through the website and find all the information I could.  I found that “Brett” was Brett Mckee, the chef from Patrón Secret Dining Society: Charlotte, but the information on the site didn’t mention the ingredient.  Finally, I stumbled upon the Charlotte video, which was somewhat hidden. About a minute and a half into it, Brett quickly says “Pepper was the ingredient that brought the whole menu together.” By this time it was already 4:23pm.  I’m sure I’ve tried “pepper” before watching that video, but I type it in again. The site shoots back an error message in red, “Incorrect answer.”  I re-watch the segment to make sure I didn’t hear it wrong.  Now I’m trying “black pepper” just in case.  No luck.  Maybe the developers had a typo on their end, so now I’m punching in as fast as I can “peppper” or “ppepper“, or even “ppepperr“.  Incorrect, incorrect, incorrect.

Time was running short. I went on Facebook and asked on Brett’s wall. He had just  posted 5 minutes ago to someone else that wanted a reservation at his restaurant.  I’m hoping he would respond in time.  Didn’t happen. I’m trying all the combinations of “pepper” that I can. It’s 4:45pm now.  I just can’t get that form to accept my answer.  I shoot off an email to Patrón Concierge letting them know that they must have a programming bug, and I then closed the browser, frustrated.

About an hour later, my phone beeps. I check the email — it’s from Patrón. The subject line is “Psst… You’re In“.  Wow. I have no idea how that happened.  The email congratulated me, and also said to “protect the secrecy of the event” they won’t reveal the venue to me until they call me 4 days later, at 2pm, to give me another clue.  The email does tell me to dress in cocktail attire, the 4-hour time frame of the event, and that it’s “Somewhere in Newport, RI“. Very mysterious and interesting. I replied to email to RSVP my spot and got an auto-response back.

The event

On Friday, Patrón Concierge gave me a call with directions to go to Newport Public Library at 12pm the next day, and once I’m there, to text “anejo” to a special number. I’m assuming I’ll probably get a text back. The next day, after arriving at the library, I sent the text.  I was right. Within a minute, I received my next clue.  I must look for “the man in the seafaring watermelon pants with a green bag over his shoulder across the street“, and say “Patrón Anejo“, to get my next clue.  This was starting to feel like The Amazing Race.

We started to notice photographers and videographers hovering as we walked.  They continued to be there throughout the event, taking photos and filming footage. Once we found the man in the bright red pants, we received a book from him with a map to the docks. Where are we going? Anyways, we make our way to the docks and then went on a little boat ride which took us a little ways out to sea.  No one knew where we were going.  Some guessed it to be one of the Newport Mansions, others a submarine. As we approached an area filled with yachts of all sizes, we spotted the Patrón flag flying above a ship called The Arabella.  It was going to be a cruise experience.
Once we arrived, we were handed an amazing tropical Patrón cocktail. Ladies would also come by with different h’oreuvres for us to sample.  The drinks and the appetizers were absolutely delicious.  It was relaxing to also look at the scenery of the Newport Mansions as the yacht slowly moved along the shore.

Inside the main cabin, the tables had our names on little tags. Once seated, I took a look at the menu.  Five-courses with five cocktails.  Before each course was served, the chef and the mixologist would come back out and describe it in great detail. I’m not a food critic so the best I can do is ask you to take a look at the pictures and imagine them made with the freshest, locally bought ingredients.  It was absolutely delicious. I didn’t know french toast could taste so good.

Once all the courses had been served, we were able to enjoy the scenery from the deck. There was a hot tub but sadly no one dared to use it.  The cameramen were taking the time now to do interviews, pulling some of us aside. Before leaving, we were told that  the Patrón Secret Dining Society arranged transportation in case we drank a little too much.  Wish they told us before making us drive there!

Patrón’s strategy

While the event was fun from a participant’s perspective, let’s dive into the strategy behind the concept. Patrón’s approach to building an online community is through novelty and exclusivity.  By spending roughly the same amount they would have spent on a large event, they instead focus on an extremely small group of people while increasing their impact.  Most liquor-company sponsored events are like a flash in the pan — it’s a party held in a local club that you’ve probably been to before a dozen times, except this time there’s the liquor company’s banner, and the alcohol options are limited to that company’s.

Contrasting that with Patrón’s approach of unique events (the dinner before Newport was held at the Embassy of Finland with the Ambassador and his wife), and an online social site, Patrón is primed to capture and extend the effect of events that they organize.

Patrón’s formula:

  1. Announce exclusive event to your fans via email marketing.
  2. Fans browse the site for an answer to a question required to apply.
  3. Choose 10 from all applicants.
  4. Bring in photographers and videographers to the event.
  5. After the event, gather up all media assets created.
  6. Create a video and photo gallery using the media assets.
  7. Put it online to generate more interest of these events.
  8. Repeat.

In effect, the few that were chosen to participate simply become raw material for photos and camera footage.  The interviews conducted with the participants perpetuate the allure of the event.  They usually discuss the mystery and the fun of the event.  This is a prominent part of the video so that when it is put online a couple weeks later, it will help convince others that this is an event worth going to.  So they eagerly await the inevitable email inviting them to spend some time to apply, and the loop continues.

The video is one of the key parts of this loop.  Patrón disabled video embedding so you have to go to their site to see the video (age verification through dropdown required).  Generally watching it should, at the very least, pique your interest, if not fully make you feel like it is an event you want to take part in.

What can Patrón do to improve?

There are definitely missed opportunities that Patrón should be seizing.

For instance, I only visit the Patrón Social Club site when I get an email, but never other times.  Patrón has a neat but almost completely overlooked feature on their site where you can put in your Patrón bottle’s ID number and find the history of the bottle, revealing information like where your particular bottle was manufactured, where the ingredients came from, etc. But there’s no incentive to continually register your bottles — the novelty wears off after you register one or two bottles.

Patrón should find ways to reward a much larger percentage of their fans that they are actively marketing to through email.  They should also leverage their bottle ID feature and innovate in that area through recognition of their loyal fans such as discounts, points, or even badges.

It’s clear Patrón wants people to use their site, but they need to align the marketing with the user behavior they want.  They need to implement an engagement driver.  A winning combination would be leader boards that reset to encourage constant activity, rewarding your fans that earn different badges of recognition for registering bottles, and the continuation of the exclusive events that are free, but randomly picked from the leader boards.

My proposed plan for Patrón:

  1. Generate Patrón recognition for bottles registered among other activities on the site.
  2. Create a leader board with different categories for that recognition. It should reset monthly.
  3. The leader board will show the top in Most Bottles, Most Patrón Variety, etc.
  4. Create incentives to interact with your friends on the site.
  5. Reward fans with gifts for placing in the top of the leader boards.
  6. Still hold the exclusive events to your fans, except this time encourage them to use the site more, with the chosen few to be picked from the leader boards.

Imagine how many more fans will be pleased if they knew that by using the site they will get rewards through activities such as registering bottles, or uploading pictures or otherwise just being social on Patrón Social Club.  And how that usage also gets them the chance to be invited to take part in the exclusive Patrón events.  This provides a very strong incentive to Patrón fans to continually use the site, and as a result, the website would see their engagement significantly increase.

It’s a direction that I hope they take.  In the mean time, if one of these Patrón Secret Dining Society events do pop up near you, give it a shot.  You might just get lucky.  If you do, don’t forget to look for the man in the seafaring watermelon pants.

Thanks to Jason L. Baptiste and David Yee for reviewing drafts of this post.


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