Strategies & Insights

Debate & Discuss with Malte Barnekow, CEO at The 86 Company

Posted: May 25, 2015 by
Linda Casey

As a senior business leader, what do you expect your design and marketing team leads to contribute to the business strategy?

I firmly believe that in business today, more than at any point in history, every facet of what you do is communication. I don’t care if you’re talking to an investor, a vendor, a lawyer or a client, the ethos of what you are doing is going to shine through and will have an impact on your place in the market. There needs to be an aesthetic and cultural consistency in everything from internal memos to marketing campaigns and, as such, the marketing and design team play a crucial role in setting that tone internally.

Strategically, I created some very clear and simple objectives for the design and marketing team that were easy to follow and the resulting design and communication delivered on that. For example, we only want to communicate useful and honest information about our products and omit any fluffy over-marketed slogans. The result has been an award- winning bottle that we are seeing reused in bars and restaurants around the world and information-packed labels that professional bartenders enjoy because we are speaking to them in their language. It’s a question of almost exaggerated honesty, and that pragmatic and transparent approach is what we endeavor to use in our day-to-day business with all our stakeholders as well.

Can you share some tips for improving collaboration with senior business leaders and design and marketing leaders?

Here are my tips for CEOs:

1) Have a clear business purpose that you can translate into actionable marketing and design briefs. The brief is crucial, spend as much time on it as you need, strip it down to its essence, shorten it until you’re left with the bare bones, not until then will you have solid direction. Remember, everybody doesn’t know what you know or have the same belief systems as you.

2) Create a company manifesto that offers strategic direction to your design department on what your brand is and what it isn’t. Create a belief system that is front and center and can be repeated like a mantra.

3) My father once told me that “artists and scientists are never finished.” When you give your marketing and design department a timeline, be extremely strict on deadlines from the very first time, and have the authority to be done when you need to be done (if you can figure out how to do that, tell me how). Always factor additional time that you can resort to if you really need it, because you will.

Here are my tips for design/marketing teams:

1) Always remember your company’s purpose, why you are doing what you are doing and who you are doing it for (not for yourself). If you can follow these basic philosophies, you are less likely to get carried away with unnecessary design and communication that doesn’t speak to your brief.

2) Be purposeful and considered with the design instead of pigeonholing yourselves designing to terms such as luxury, basic and premium. You can always add the cues you need to the design once the core is there.

3) Please respect the budget and timelines. One of the toughest challenges business leaders have is making sure everything runs on schedule and often a company’s cash flows rely on this. If you go over budget and delay the project, you can seriously jeopardize other areas of your business. When you have a business to run and product to sell, the artists’ work needs to be done on time and on budget. This is especially crucial when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures.

How has your current reporting structure helped your company develop amazing brands?

One of the strengths of my design team is they all have practical experience in our industry. These years of experience meant they were already aware of the problems with current packaging and had ideas of how to improve it but they also had knowledge of what was out there and working already. Sometimes the solution doesn’t lie in innovation but can be solved at an overall evaluation of what is already out

there. For example, we tested several innovative bottle necks for functionality before realizing that a patent from 150 years ago had already addressed the issue better than anything out there that was new. We have a design team that is solution oriented and not desperate to innovate where it’s not necessary.

Additionally, they believe in what they do and their place in the corporate hierarchy. This belief is highly contagious and has naturally permeated the entire organization. The message is consequently rendered much stronger vis-a-vis all of our stakeholders. I believe that such passion sits at the core of a healthy company culture and that company culture is the single most important driver of success.

In an ideal world, how would you change your design/marketing reporting structure?

Most of the technical side of our design is outsourced. My current team focuses on delivering the ideas instead of the technical skills to bring them to life. It would be great to have an in-house wizard to execute our ideas. This way, we could create new and exciting designs quicker.

What’s preventing you from making those changes?

Cash flow.

How can the design industry, as a whole, improve to overcome those barriers?

I don’t think the design industry needs changing; it’s the manufacturing industry that needs a serious upgrade!