Milan Kundera famously suggested, ‘Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation’. Either you’re busy creating an innovative product or service, or you’re talking about it. The issue is that somewhere along the line we have forgotten that marketing is simply about connecting with people, in a way and via a medium they find entertaining, educational or inspiring. It’s not about forcing people to buy from you, but attracting them to the qualities that make your business unique.
For Bonnie Ashley, who, together with her husband Neil Downie, created the textiles studio Bonnie and Neil in 2010, understanding whom she wanted the business to attract was the first step in successful marketing. ‘When we first started the business, we didn’t really have a defined marketing strategy in mind. As the creatives behind the brand we just knew the product we wanted to create, we road tested it with family and friends and thought we’d give it a go!’ The main aim, says Bonnie, was to ‘get our product in front of stylists and magazines editors – we wanted to get our product in print’.
Flash forward seven years and Bonnie and Neil has become a favourite for editors, design enthusiasts and boutique owners across the globe. So great is the demand for their products, that Bonnie and Neil are stocked in the world’s leading textiles and home stores, such as Liberty (UK), La Bon Marche (France) and Anthropologie (US). Yet, despite all the acclaim, Bonnie says marketing the business was a series of small experiments, working with minimal budgets and calling on their own creative networks to help spread the word.
‘Our first foray into marketing was attending our first Life In Style trade show in Melbourne. We created flyers for the event ourselves and did our own product photo shoots,’ says Bonnie. Marketing wasn’t an area she or Neil knew much about and she admits, ‘we had a love-hate relationship with advertising. Knowing it was something we would eventually need to explore, but not having the background to understand how best use it was a bit daunting.’
To ease their initial uncertainty with marketing, Bonnie and Neil sought advice from their own networks before hiring staff. ‘We sought advice from friends, especially those who work in creative industries and other small businesses we have met through trade shows and other events’. In 2014 the duo took on a marketing consultant who is now their full-time General Manager. ‘We were also part of PWC’s Small Business Program where we worked closely with their consulting team on a business plan and marketing strategies to support our business growth.’
Today, collaborations are a key focus for the brand, with Bonnie and Neil counting Qantas, T2 and Anthropologie as partners in 2017 alone. ‘Over the years we’ve worked on a few collaborative products but this area has really grown for us over the past 12 months,’ says Bonnie. ‘Working on the collaborations has been rewarding, says Bonnie, ‘but has also given us the opportunity to reach new audiences who might not always know about our brand’.
Given their success, what’s next for this creative business? ‘It’s hard to believe it’s Spring again!’ says Bonnie, ‘2017 has been a busy year for us so far, in between the usual trade shows, collection releases and travel, we have purchased, renovated and moved into our new studio in Reservoir, worked on some amazing collaborations and now we’re working on the 2017 Spring Racing carnival, as well as opening up a new showroom within the studio space later this year.’