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In every marketing job I’ve ever been in, I rode the IDIOT CURVE for 90 days The basic rule of the Idiot Curve is: You get dumber before you get smarter.   


At the beginning of each job, there is an IDIOT CURVE we all go through. It’s OK to go through it. The idiot curve lasts about 90 days, coincidental to what most companies call ‘probation period’. 

The Idiot Curve has one basic principle: You get dumber before you get smarter. New jobs are stressful. Exhausting. During the IDIOT CURVE, the first thing to go is your instincts.  With so many new facts in your head, when pressed, you reach for a new fact instead of your instincts. 

The next thing to go is your ability to make decisions.  You are caught like a deer in the headlights, trying to:  

  • Impress the boss
  • Maintain composure 
  • Deliver, even when you aren’t sure how

The third thing to go is your natural strengths. Don’t spend so much time covering up your weaknesses, that you forget to allow your amazing strengths to shine through. The Idiot Curve keeps showing up whether you’re a new ABM, Brand Manager, Director or a VP. The challenge for your is to learn as much as you can, and ensure your curve only lasts 90 days.  

New Assistant Brand Manager:

When you first land an Assistant Brand Manager (ABM) job in marketing, there’s just so much to learn, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day. It’s over-whelming at first, and yet you see all these other Assistant Brand Managers doing the things you are struggling with, it’s even more intimidating.  But the idiot curve is inevitable. No matter how smart you are, how much you try to fight the idiot curve, it’s there.  It shows up differently for each person.  So my advice is instead of trying to fight it, I recommend you just ride the curve.  In the end, the ABM job is a stepping stone to Brand Manager. Many painful days, with constant bumps and bruises as you learn and as you strive for getting promoted.

So what separates the ok ABM from the great ABM that gets promoted? There are two factors that I have seen in a consistent manner: #1: They get what they need and #2: What they need is the right thing to do. Very simply put, great ABMs get both. The rest either fail on #1 or #2. A great ABM is able to tell stories, where others just see data. The great ones take action and moves before being asked. Even in a busy job as a do-er, the best ABMs find a way to put their strategic thoughts forward.

A great ABM is accountable in the ownership of their work–they have to be, because the Brand Manager has to be an owner and if we can’t see you own your work, how can we see you own your brand.  

New Brand Manager:

In the first few months as a Brand Manager, they keep doing the ABM role because that’s what they know and what they are comfortable doing. They keep recommending and acting small rather than start deciding and stepping up to the leadership role. If they have a direct report, they will frustrate the hell out of their ABM by doing the stuff the ABM should do. Don’t tell your ABM this dirty secret, but most managers suck at their first five direct reports.  Now don’t use this as excuse, but the only way you’ll be good at #6 is if you learn from the first five.  I remember a new Brand Manager telling me this his role was to get his ABM promoted, and he would do everything to make sure that happens. I said “what if your ABM can’t do the job, and we have to let them go?” Yes, it’s honorable to do that, but not always realistic. Once you start to show ownership, you’ll be able to get out of the idiot curve. 

You Run the Brand, Don’t Let the Brand Run You: Be thoroughly organized, well planned and know the pulse of your business. In an odd way, the more planning you do, the more agile you’ll be, because you’ll know when it’s ok to “go off plan”Stay in Control: Hit the Deadlines, don’t give the appearance that you’re not in control. Know Your Business and don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. What separates many Brand Managers is the inability and even refusal of some Brand Managers to actually rely on their instincts, instead of just the textbook answer. It’s not easy to sit there without the answer, but sometimes if you just wait a bit longer and keep pushing for an even better answer, it will come to you.

My challenge to you: Revel in ambiguity. Enjoy the uncertainty and find the answers to the unknown. A great BM takes ownership of the brand. The best ones provide the vision and the strategies to match up to that vision. The great BMs learn how to be a people manager and they spend the effort to make their ABM as good as can be. The best Brand Managers learn to show composure in the face of pressure–the pressure to deliver results, hit deadlines, face ambiguity and build relationships.    

New Director

At the Director role, just like they had a hard time they continue to be the Brand Manager. They get nervous where they shouldn’t, whether it’s with senior people in other functions or even within marketing. They prefer to keep doing, and in those moment there is nothing “to do”, they walk around and start doing other people’s jobs. But this is the first role where being a leader is more important than being a do-er.

Ensure a policy of open communication with no surprises: Make sure you keep your team informed and involved.  Keep senior management informed. You are the champion of the team. The best ideas are those that erupt out from the brand team–not from a top down perspective. All the best work I was part of, met a large degree of resistance. You have to expect this and work through it. It will now be your role to make sure the great ideas happen, and that no one beyond you sees the bad ideas.

Once you get past the first 90 days, you have to begin focusing on creating a consistency for your team. You are the leader and they have to understand you. You have to hold them to a consistent hight standard of work. Moreover, you need to be consistent in how you think. You need to be consistent and even predictable in how you show up to your people. No mood swings. No changing your mind constantly, which just creates spin. You need to be the decision maker on stuff, or nothing gets done. At this level, you need to show up consistently to the sales team so they can rely on you as a partner.

New VP

First time at the executive level is difficult. At the VP level,the first few months are lonely as you no longer have peers you can bounce ideas off. Your former peers will treat you differently, almost at arms lengths. Some may even be mad you got the job. But most, now assume their career rests in your hands, and they will treat you as the boss. They aren’t your friends anymore. Sorry. Your new peers assume you can do the job, and they don`t want to hear your problems.

I remember being a new VP, and having a “people issue” on my team, and I was sitting with my sales peer. I thought this was a great bonding opportunity to ask for help and advice from my new peer. He said “we all have problems, good luck on that one”. While your people run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes. I do have a believe that if you focus on the People and the Results will come. You should be spending 50% of your time on people. The counter to this believe is bad people will hold you back. You can’t do their job, nor compensate for their weaknesses. And, you either make them better or move them out. You don’t do anything anymore. At all. Let your people do it, let them own it and let them shine.

Not only do you not do anything, you also don’t really know anything. You should be the dumbest person in every meeting–well, the least knowledgeable. Not knowing the details is actually a power–because you can use your instincts more. And instead of having your head filled with great ANSWERS, it should be filled with great QUESTIONS, If you think you are a powerful leader because you dictate every move on the team, just wait till you shift towards the power that comes from asking questions.  

5 Ways to make the Idiot Curve a little easier  

  1. Say “I’m new” A LOT!!!! And let your guard down and say “I have never done this before, so if you could help me out that would be great” to as many people as you can.  It’s my experience that people are willing to help those who let their guard down a little.  Just not the same person every day, or that one person will think you are the biggest idiot ever. In other words, spread out your stupidity with a little for everyone around you.  
  2. Respect subject matter experts. The oddest thing about marketing is you have to get people with way more knowledge and experience to follow you. Not an easy balance.  But realize, they see so many marketers come and go. Marketers don’t really do anything, but they do get to make decisions on almost everything. When a marketer tells a subject matter expert what to do, they weaken themselves. Be realistic: you don’t know any thing and yet you just ignored the one person that does. Ask them what you should do. It doesn’t take away your decision-making power. They’ll be more motivated to help you.  
  3. Keep reaching for your instincts. Take your time. Even take a breath. Think back to what you would say if you were thinking clearly, free from all that new information that is cluttering your brain. Listen to your inner thoughts, they are in there. Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”. The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away. You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it. You get scared because you’re worried about getting promoted and want to do the ‘right thing’. But your gut is telling you it’s just not right. My rule is simple: if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand. The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”. If you blame your agency or team after the fact, I have a word for people like you: “useless”.
  4. Use questions as a source of power. When you’re new to marketing, ask “how do i do this?” When you’re a Leader, ask your experts “what do you think we should do?” And at the executive level, steer the team by being the one that challenges with well thought strategic questions that make your team think, push for their instincts and make good decisions.  
  5. Make sure your idiot curve ONLY lasts 90 days. The more you push yourself to learn as much as you can in that short 90 day window, allows you to be able to do the job at the end of the 90 days. As you look at the curve again, you have to be as smart at day 90 as you were at day 1. If you are three years into a job and saying “how do i do this?”, it won’t be pretty. Trust me, I’ve managed some, worked along side others and even worked for a few whose idiot curve seemed to last for years. Eventually, it caught up to them.  

 Don’t fight the Idiot Curve. We all face it. Ride it. Learn from it. And then get beyond It.  


To read a presentation on Brand Management Careers:

Articles on the four Levels of Marketing

  • Assistant Brand Manager: It’s about doing; analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future. It’s not an easy job and only 50% get promoted to Brand Manager. To read a story on how to be successful as an ABM, click on the following hyper link: How to be a Successful ABM and get Promoted
  • Brand Manager: It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan. Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report. The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher. To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director: It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing. Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best. Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more: How to be a Successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO: It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged. Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success: How to be a Successful VP of Marketing

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

 Graham Robertson Bio Brand Training Coach Consultant

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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award.

Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics.

Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.

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