We were recently asked by an MBA marketing grad, “How can I successfully use the creative skills I have learned in the real world?” We responded with the biggest lesson we learned while building the Barefoot wine brand. It’s the lesson that is rarely taught in school, and it’s the lesson that many large companies still don’t get. We said, “You really don’t have the world of all possibilities available to you as a creative marketer. In fact, you are very limited. In marketing, a good solution is more of a discovery than a creation.” Discovery is one solution to many limiting factors that, if overlooked, can render the creativity in your marketing designs ineffective.
The top-down view of marketing is just plain wrong! You cannot impose your creative ideas on a marketplace that already has its own well-established conventions in place. First and foremost, you must humbly discover what little you can do in the way of creativity. Your marketing program has to operate within a confined set of rules, so it is better to spend some time learning about what you can’t do before you get too excited about what you think you can.
When Picasso created his now famous paintings, they were completely revolutionary! But they were painted on canvas and framed in rectangles and hung on the wall just like all the other paintings. If he wanted to take his radical creations and frame them in a radical way, he would have had a much harder time being accepted. In that regard, he was very conventional.
Unfortunately, many companies have elevated marketing above sales. This gives the marketing people the idea that their creations are going to be executed by the salespeople no matter what. Many times this is not the case. Some marketing designs simply can’t be executed because they are impractical. Marketing regularly fails to take into consideration the realities of the marketplace and the rigors of distribution. We found a better way of directing the marketing department was to ask salespeople what they needed. Salespeople know what’s allowed, what’s new, what works and what doesn’t, all from hard-knocks experience in the marketplace.
In the beverage industry, for instance, many products are packaged in glass bottles. Because they have curved surfaces, the label has only about 2 inches of readable horizontal space, even if the label is 5 inches wide. What if your label is designed on a flat screen and everybody in the marketing department thinks it’s killer? Guess what? It can’t be read on the shelf. What if you think you’re going to be cute or fancy with your font? Now it fails because it can’t be read from 4 feet away (Where the customer’s eyes are, not by your side looking at your screen)! What about advancing versus receding colors in dim lighting? What more do you need to know about how your creation is going to be used in the market before you dare draw the first line? What room for creativity do you really have to be effective?
Sure, go ahead and be creative. It’s fun, and it’s certainly easier than selling, but when you are using all those creative skills, make sure it’s your salesperson who is right next to you at the screen – not your best friend, office staff, or marketing folks. Salespeople want to help you make your creative skills effective in the real world of sales. And they know what it takes to get a product to market, and to make sales.
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders