The best Brand Managers take ownership, provide the strategic direction, work the system, handle pressure and get the most of their direct report.
Most new Brand Managers mistakenly think this role is about managing others because they finally get a chance to manage a direct report. However, the bigger role is the transition from doer to owner.
Yes, you will get your first chance to manage someone, but many times that effort can be a distraction from your chance to continue to learn and grow. Many brand managers are disheartened to find out they are a disaster with their first direct report. Try to improve with each new direct report and then they will feel more comfortable around the fifth direct report.
I hope you love the magic of Marketing. It is easy to lose your passion and try to do what your boss wants or do things to make short-term numbers so you can get promoted. Don’t just go through the motion the job, but do it with all your passion. If you do not love the work you do, then how can you ever expect your consumer to love your brand? Leave your legacy.
Many great Assistant Brand Managers end up being fired or pushed out the door at the Brand Manager level. So, why were they mistakenly promoted?
I don’t want to see anyone get fired, so use this list to find your blind spot and close it before others discover it. Be honest with yourself. Seek out opinions of peers or colleagues. I have advice for each potential reason, hopefully helping you pro-actively address any issues.
Top 10 reasons why Brand Managers get fired:
1. They struggle to make decisions:
Some Assistant Brand Managers (ABMs) shine because they are the “super doer’s,” who made things happen, on time and under budget. All the subject matter experts (forecasting, production, promotions) love them. However, once promoted to the Brand Manager, they freeze. They can do, but they can’t decide. They can execute someone else’s project list with flare, but they can’t come up with their own project list. Instead of providing direction, they keep asking for help, over and over.
Advice: To overcome this problem, work on your decision-making process with tools that force the choice. If you are scared, map out your thinking, use pros, and cons or a decision tree. When faced with an A or B decision, never talk yourself into doing both A and B. A choice should focus your resources to make sure the plan works. If you do both, it divides your resources, and both options fail.
2. Not analytical enough.
Many marketers struggle with math, and it eventually catches up with them. They might have great instincts, but they only scratch the surface on the analytics, and can’t explain what is happening in their brand. If you can’t understand the analytics, you risk solving the wrong problem.
Advice: Just because you are now a Brand Manager doesn’t mean you stop digging into the data. The analytical skills you learned as an ABM should be used at every level in your career right up to VP. Even when I was running a team of 30 marketers, I used to do my own monthly share report to ensure I was digging in and getting my hands mucky with the data. I could tell which of my Brand Managers had dug in as well and who hadn’t even read their ABM’s monthly report yet. However, trust me, it scares your boss even more. Take the time to understand the details of your business. Dig into the data and make decisions based on the depth of analysis you do.
3. Can’t get along with others
The Brand Managers that struggle with sales colleagues or the subject matter experts (SME’s) are at risk of failure. They are the type who speaks first, listens second, and go head-to-head to get their way instead of looking for compromise. Yes, they might be so smart they think faster than everyone, but they forget to bring everyone along with their thinking. They start to leave a trail of those they burned, and when the path gets too big, they get labeled as “tough to deal with.”
Advice:Listen more and make sure to hear them out. The collection of SME’s will likely teach you more about marketing than your boss will. If you don’t use these people to enhance your skill, you’ll eventually crash and burn. Moreover, if they can’t work with you, they’ll also be the first to destroy your career. You aren’t the first superstar they’ve seen. Also, likely not the last. My recommendation to you is to remember that Leadership is not just about you being out front, but about you turning around and seeing people following you.
4. Not good with ambiguity:
Some Brand Managers opt for the safety of the easy and well-known answers. They struggle with the unknown and get scared of ambiguity. Brand Managers that become too predictable for their team create work in the market that also becomes predictable and fails to drive the brand. These Brand Managers are OK–they don’t have much wrong, but they don’t have much right.
Advice: You can put them on safe, comfortable businesses, but you wouldn’t put them on the turn around or new products. Ambiguity is a type of pressure that not all of us are capable of handling, especially when they see uncertainty and time pressure work against each other. Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline. Always push for great. You have to learn to handle ambiguity. In fact, you should revel in ambiguity. Have fun with it. Be patient with ideas. Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. As a leader, find ways to ask great questions instead of giving quick answers. Watch the signals you send that may suck the creative energy out of your team.
When you find a way to stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone,” the ideas get better whether it’s the time pressure that forces the thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for the best idea. So my recommendation to you is to hold your breath sometimes and see if the work gets better.
5. Bad people Manager
Most first-time people managers screw up a few of their first 5 direct reports. It is only natural. One of the biggest flaws for new Managers is to think “Hey, it will take me longer to explain it to you, so why don’t I just do it myself this one time and you can do it next time”. They repeat this every month until management realizes that these Brand Managers aren’t teaching their ABM anything. They became the Manager that none of the ABMs want to work for because they never learn anything. But as management keeps watching great ABMs crashing and burning while under these Brand Managers, we start to wonder “while you might be smart, but can you actually manage people?”
Advice: To be a great Brand Manager, you have to work on being a better people leader. We expect you to develop talent. Be more patient with your ABM. Become a teacher. Be more selfless in your approach to coaching. Take time to give them feedback that helps them, not feedback that helps you. If you don’t become a better people manager, you’ve just hit your peak in your career.
6. Poor communicators, with management or partners
You fail to warn your boss when there is a potential problem adequately. Moreover, when you leave your manager in the dark, it will upset your boss the information comes to your manager from someone else. If you don’t keep your partners aware of what’s going on, you will leave them feeling confused.
Advice: You have to become a better communicator. Make it a habit that as soon as you know something, you make sure that your boss knows as well–especially with negative news. Share the problem with your boss, discuss what you are going to do, and then make it happen.
7. Never follow your instincts
You forget that marketing also has a “Gut Feel” to it, taking all the data, making decisions and then getting to the execution and believing it by taking a risk. Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it.”
Advice: You have to find ways to use your instincts. 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 your career and you want to do the ‘right thing.’ However, 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.” At every touch point, keep reaching for your intuition and bring them out into the discussion.
8. Can’t think strategically or write strategically:
You are expected to be able to think strategically and be able to communicate strategy through your writing– whether the annual Brand Plan, creative brief to agency, monthly share report or just an email sent up to senior management.
Advice:Be organized in your thinking and map it out. I do believe that every good strategy has five essential elements: 1) set a vision of what you want 2) Invest resources in a strategic program 3) Focus on an identified opportunity 4) Leverage a breakthrough market impact and 5) Performance result that pays back. If you learn to think, speak and write using these five elements, you will show up smarter to everyone who works on your brand.
9. You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you.
Some Brand Managers end up in the spin zone where they are disorganized, frantic and not in touch with their business. Some even take pride in how long they work or how many things they are getting done on their to-do list. They miss deadlines, look out of control and let things just stockpile on one another. The brand is killing them.
Advice:Stay in control, so you hit the deadlines and stay on budget. Dig in and know your business, so you don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. Use processes that organize and enable you and your team, so that it frees you up your time to push projects through and for doing the needed strategic thinking. Stay conceptual–avoid getting stuck in pennies or decimals–so you can continue to drive the strategy of your brand.
10. Sloppy with budgets and timelines
Having someone on the team who is sloppy with budgets and timelines is like living with a messy roommate or the friend who always shows up late. Not only will you look out of control, you will put an added stress on everyone around you. And, like that messy roommate, you won’t know people are talking about you until someone finally loses it on you. When you miss budgets, you mess up the finance team. The bigger the variance to expectation, the bigger the frustration. The worst thing you want is a reputation for someone who is sloppy. That means you can’t be trusted. When you miss a deadline, you likely mess up someone else’s deadline.
Advice: Get your business in order. You are running a live business. You have to be a good project manager, as it only gets more complex as you move up and take on bigger brands or more brands.
Now let’s be honest: You likely won’t be fired for just one of these. You probably will see 3 or 4 of these come together and begin to showcase that you’re just not up for being a Brand Manager. However, even 1 or 2 will keep you stuck at the Brand Manager level, and you’ll notice your bosses are hesitant to put you on the most significant brands or the toughest assignments.
The big question is what do you do about it.
I hope that you can use the list as a way to course correct on something you might already be doing. We each have a few of these de-railers, some that you can quickly overcome but others that will take a few years to fix. Those who seek out feedback, welcome it and act on it will be the successful ones. I hope that your company has a process of giving feedback or that you get lucky to have a manager that cares about your career and is willing to provide you with the robust feedback. However, if not, seek it. Be honest with yourself and try to fix one of these per quarter.
I hope you can figure out the blind spots before your manager does.
Close your gaps to ensure you will be a successful Brand Manager
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Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.