5 key areas Brand Managers should focus on to reach their full potential

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After 20 years of CPG marketing, I have hired so many potentially great marketers–who were eager for success, brilliant, hard-working and dedicated. But in reality, about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers get promoted to Brand Manager and less than 20% of Brand Managers make it to the Director level. I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years and here is my view on what makes great Brand Managers, great enough for them to get promoted to the next level.  

What separates good from great at any level in Marketing:

Before we get into the specific Brand Manager level, here are the expected behaviors in Marketing at any level.

  • Hit the deadlines: Don’t look out of control or sloppy. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other.
  • Know your business: Don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge.
  • Open communication: No surprises. Keep everyone aware of what’s going on. Present upwards with an action plan of what to do with it.  
  • Listen and decide: While it’s crucial that we seek to understand, it’s equally important that we give direction or push towards the end path.
  • We must get better: When we don’t know something, speak in an “asking way”, but when we know, speak in a “telling way”.
  • We control our destiny: We run the brands, they do not run us. Be slightly ahead of the game, not chasing your work to completion.
  • Regular feedback for growth: You should always take feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Not a personal attack or setback.

And when it comes to being a leader and managing others, here are the biggest factors you should look at:

  • Hold your team to a consistently high standard of work in strategic thinking, planning, execution in the market. Consistency in the Quality of marketing outputs: Advertising/Media, Innovation/New Products and In-store/Promotion
  • People Leadership: your team knows the team vision and is consistently motivated by where you want to go. Seen as actively interested in helping your team to manage their careers.
  • Processes: you organize, challenge and manage the processes so your team can execute. Your team gets things done on time. Deadlines, on budget, on forecast.
  • Coaching: Teach, guide and direct your team members for higher performance. Training and Development: provides on-going skills development to make the team better. Motivation and Recognition: you are seen to actively provide positive commentary to team players, one on one and in public.
  • Consistent Communication: Both written and spoken, big and small. Easily approachable and makes time to wander. Actively Listens to Team: asks the big strategic questions, not the small tactical details
  • Leadership during times of pressure: results, ambiguity, change and deadlines.

Slide1To be a great Brand Manager, here are the 5 key areas you should focus on:

1. A great Brand Manager takes ownership of the brand

  • Many BMs struggle with the transition from being the helper to being the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away from the idea of having someone hand you a project list. Not only do you have to make the project list, you have to come up with the strategies from which the projects fall out of.
  • A great Brand Manager talks in ideas in a telling sense, rather than an asking sense. It’s great to be asking questions as feelers, but realize that most people are going to be looking to you for decisions. They’ll be recommending you’ll be deciding.
  • When managing upwards be careful of asking questions—try to stick to solutions. You just gave up your ownership. Your director wants you to tell them what to do, and debate from there. 

2. A great Brand Manager provides a vision with strategies that match up

  • Bring a vision to the brand. Push yourself to a well-articulated 5-10 year brand vision. But a vision can be as simple as a rallying cry for the team. But you have to let everyone know where you want to go.
  • The strategy that matches up to the vision becomes the road map for how to get there. As the brand owner, you become the steward of the vision and strategy. Everything that is off strategy has to be rejected.
  • Communication of strategy is a key skill. Learn to think in terms of strategic pillars, with 3 different areas to help achieve your overall strategy. Having pillars constantly grounds you strategically, and is an easy way for communicating with the various functions. Each function may only have 1 strategic pillar but seeing how it all fits in is motivating.

3. A great Brand Manager spends the effort to make their ABM as good as can be.

  • Most BMs struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each report.
  • Most BMs struggle to shift from “do-er” to “coach. They think they can do it faster, so they may as well do it. They just become the “super ABM”.
  • Many BMs fail to share the spot light, so it becomes hard to showcase the ABM. But the work of your ABM reflects 100% of how good of a manager you are.
  • ABMs need feedback to get better—both the good and bad. I see to many BMs not giving enough feedback. And so many afraid of “going negative” so the ABM is left in the dark or left thinking they are doing a good job.
  • Great BMs take the time to teach up front, give the ABM some room to try it out and then give hands-on feedback in real-time. Use weekly meetings to give both positive feedback and address gaps.
  • Brand Mangers should do QUARTERLY sit down performance reviews with their ABMs, who have the capacity to learn faster than annual reviews allows for.

4. A great Brand Manager gets what they want and need.

  • The organization is filled with groups, layers, external agencies, with everyone carrying a different set of goals and motivations. You can see how the organization works and appreciating what are are the motivations of various key stakeholders. You then use that knowledge to begin to work the system.
  • You are starting to see key subject matter experts giving you their best. You understand their personal motivations and find a way to tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. It might be an odd step, but from my experience a really motivating step. Very few people ask for “your best”.

5. A great Brand Manager can handle pressure: ambiguity, results, relationship and time pressure.  

  • Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures. As a leader, patience and composure help you sort through the issues. The consequences of not remaining composed are a scared team and choosing quick decisions with bad results.
  • If the Results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. Reach for your logic as you re-group. Force yourself to course correct, rather then continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Challenge team to “this is when we are needed”
  • Relationships. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out what motivates and what annoys the person. Understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away.
  • Time Pressure. It’s similar to the ambiguity. Be organized, disciplined and work the system so it doesn’t get in your way. Be calm, so you continue to make the right decisions. Use time to your advantage.

Conversely, here are the 10 factors that are career limiting for Brand Managers

Conversely, here are the 10 factors that are career limiting for Brand Managers

  1. You struggle to make decisions
  2. You are not analytical enough
  3. You can’t get along
  4. Not good with Ambiguity
  5. Too slow and too stiff
  6. You’re a bad people manager
  7. Poor communicators, with manager, senior management or partners
  8. Never trust or follow your instincts
  9. You can’t think strategically and almost equally important, you can’t write strategically
  10. You fail to run the brand, you let the brand run you. 

Always challenge yourself to get better. You run your career and control your personal brand.

We make Brands better.
We make Brand Leaders better.™
We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911. To help brand leaders reach their full potential ask us about our Brand Boot Camp.  

Slide19

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

2 thoughts on “5 key areas Brand Managers should focus on to reach their full potential”

  1. Good stuff Graham … While some of the principles “should” be somewhat intuitive and/or second nature, unfortunately often they are not; or at least not genuinely applied. As a result sometimes ego gets in the way of true impact, results and dynamic brands.

  2. Graham, I appreciate the article. I’m curious what your thoughts are on BM v. Product Mgt. What do you consider the key differences? I ask because I see so much cross-over, typically with PM veiled as BM.

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