Lee Applbaum | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lee Applbaum


Patró​n Tequila is a luxury tequila and spirits brand crafted in Mexico. Lee Applbaum has served as its chief marketing officer since 2013.

The Mistake:

When I started in marketing after grad school in the mid-90s, there was a lot of emerging emphasis around consumer segmentation in marketing. I had a tendency to fall in love with this idea of really robust consumer segmentation. It wasn’t just gender, ethnicity, age or geography. It was all of those variables plus all of these behavioral variables. What is it that a consumer likes to do? What is the consumer clicking on, etc.?

[But] the fact of the matter is, what this intense amount of data and consumer segmentation did, is it forced me to forget the fact that we have far more in common than we are different. And [usually] we’re creating products and services that are unnecessary. Looking for the similarities in consumers, rather than the differences, in some ways is harder, but it is much more powerful.

Creating products and services with hyper-segmentation, you can generate sales. The question is, are those sales incremental? That’s really what the learning was, not that we introduced the wrong product for this consumer. It’s, if we didn’t have that product or service, did we already have something in our portfolio that could have addressed the needs of this consumer? We were just thinking about its appeal the wrong way.

I think so many marketers and so many organizations, when they’re driving for growth, think that they’ve just got to create another product, another service. It’s not necessarily about that. Sometimes it’s about re-framing that product or service in a way that the consumer understands. And it may be that the communication strategy has been off, rather than the product or service itself.

Consumers evolve very slowly and I think patience is really important.

The Lesson:

Simple is hard. We want to show early on in our careers how smart we are. I think we tend to believe that we show our intellectual prowess by showing how we can handle complexity and how we can make things bigger and richer. But what’s really skillful is to show how you can make the complex simple.

Marketers tend to be young, and we tend to be very impatient. Consumers evolve very slowly and I think patience is really important. Particularly when you’re a publicly traded enterprise. You have a lot of pressure from your shareholders to deliver quarterly results. When you’re a marketer at the sharp end of the stick, oftentimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction to ignore that patience is a virtue and change direction. But what I always preach to my team is patience. 

Also, know when to recognize failure and move on. It might sound contradictory that on one hand I’m preaching patience, but on the other hand, part of the ability to be patient is the ability to recognize ... the fact that there are moments where for all the patience in the world, you’re not going to will something to work.


Follow Lee on Twitter @leeapplbaum and Patrón Tequila @Patron

Photo courtesy of Lee Applbaum

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