In my 20 years of CPG marketing, I must have interviewed 1,000 potential Assistant Brand Managers. I was lucky to have hired some of the best, who have gone on to have very strong marketing careers. I became notorious for asking for some of the toughest questions, some even bizarre. I always asked an analytical question to see if they could piece together lots of data and tell a story that made sense. I’d ask a creative question to see if they had a certain flare and pride in the output. I’d ask a problem solving question, some very hard, no real right answer, but I wanted to see how they actually think. And finally, I wanted to know that they had done something at a very high level–it didn’t matter what–but I wanted to know they could make it happen, whatever it was in. Getting that first ABM job is NOT EASY! I had many failed interviews over the years that I began to wonder if it would ever happen. I remember one interview ended after about 8 minutes when she found out I didn’t have any experience. Thank god, I stuck with it.
But even after gruelling interviews, only about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers get promoted to Brand Manager. 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.
Keep in mind there are some core marketing values you want to adopt over the years as an ABM that will serve you well in your career.
- Hit deadlines: Never look out of control or sloppy. Marketers have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other. In Marketing, there are no extensions, just missed opportunities.
- 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: It is crucial that we seek to understand and 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. Proactively look for opportunity in the market, and work quickly to take advantage.
- Regular feedback for growth: Always seek out and accept feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Not a personal attack or setback.
The Five Factors that Separate Ok ABMs from the Great ABMs are:
- A great ABM is able to tell stories, where others just see data: There is tons of data all over—share results, tracking, test scores, etc. One of the most critical skill an ABM can work on is developing stories with the data. It’s one thing to have the data point, but another to have thought it through and know what it means, and what action you will take on this data. Look for patterns or data breaks, ask questions, start putting together stories and challenge the stories. Use stories backed up by data to sell your recommendations. Never give a data point without a story or action. You risk letting someone else take your data and run with it or tell a story different from yours.
- A great ABM takes action and moves before being asked: Most of the projects for ABMs are already set by your manager. When you are new, it’s comfortable to wait for your projects. But don’t get in the habit of waiting for someone to create your project list. But a great ABM starts to push ideas into the system and create their own project list. Some of the best ideas come with a fresh set of eyes and we need a continual influx of new ideas. We also start to see the ABM making good decisions, on their own, and communicating to their boss. Not asking permission but telling what they want to do and look for the head nod. Know what’s in your scope and align with your manager.
- A great ABM can get what they want: Instead of just functionally managing the steps of the project, great ABM’s “make it happen”: faster, bigger and better. Faster means you understand what are the important milestones that need to be hit. Manage the bottle necks: the task that have the longest completion time, that impact the entire project. Sometimes you need to push with an inflexible but motivating fist to get it done.
Bigger means you want to do more than is required. You find that magic to make it even have a bigger impact. Creative solutions or motivating others to do more. Better means you have to take the same people and get them to give their best ideas or their best effort or their best work. Guaranteed you will meet many points of resistance. Every project will. Solving these and still getting the most you can, is what separates the great ABMs from the rest.
- A great ABM puts their strategic thoughts forward. You need to be a strategic thinker—asking the right questions to ensure you are focused on the right area, where you can gain a positional power that leads to higher growth and profit for your brand. Ensure you are staying strategic and not just falling in love with some execution not aligned to your brand’s strategy. It’s so easy to be lost in your own “cool” projects. At the ABM level, showing that you can keep things aligned to the strategic is just as important as being strategic. Speak up and represent your strategic thinking. Standing up for your thoughts shows that you are in the game, that you are thinking, and that you believe in your strategic thoughts. Silent ABMs never last.
- A great ABM is accountable in the ownership of their work: Accountability is the stepping stone to ownership. And the ownership of the brand is a sign you can be a Brand Manager. We need to see that before giving you your own brand.
Great ABMs motivate but don’t delegate. If you have to step in, then jump in. You cannot let things slip or miss. You have to stay on top of the timelines and lead those on your project teams. You have to be action oriented, and solution focused. You can never allow your team to get stuck. Be the hub of communication to all team members, and to key stakeholders, including upwards to your manager.
If you can do those better than your peers, then you’ll get promoted. Conversely, if you’re missing any one of these, you might not get there. I hope your boss gives you a quarterly review because I believe ABMs can grow so fast that you need those regular check-ins. If you just get an annual review, you won’t go as fast. Ask for feedback, cherish it, and use the next 90 days to build on a strength or eliminate a gap.
One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. The basic rule is: You get dumber before you get smarter.
When you first land the ABM job, 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 ABMs doing it so that’s even more intimidating. But the idiot curve is inevitable. It just shows up differently for each person. No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve. (But, please fight through the curve, you have to for your survival) The idiot curve normally lasts up to 3 months, and then things just start to click. And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict.
ABM roles are hard, but all the work you do now will pay off the rest of your career.
Here’s a presentation on how to have a successful Marketing Career.
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