How to be successful at the Brand Manager level

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The new Brand Manager mistakenly thinks this role is about managing others because they finally get a chance to manage a direct report. However, the bigger part of this 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 first-time Brand Managers are disheartened to find out they are a disaster with their first direct report. I tell them they should try to improve with each new direct report and then they will feel more comfortable around the fifth direct report. 

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 have given it a lot of thought over the years and here is my view on what makes a great brand manager.


There are two factors that make a great brand manager:

1. They know the right thing to do (strategy)

2. They work the system to make it happen (execution).

Simply put, great marketers do both. The rest either fail on either #1 or #2. They might be great on strategy who can’t get it done. Or great on execution, but they don’t know why they do what they do. It sounds easy, but the ability to move from strategy to execution is rarer than you might assume. It takes a unique person to be able to change brain speeds and apply a different type of thinking. Most of us are comfortable in one or the other.

The five success factors for the Brand Manager role

1. Take ownership of your brand

Many Brand Managers struggle are with the transition from being the helper to now being the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away the idea that someone will hand you a project list. Not only will you make the project list, but you should also come up with the strategies that set up the need for the projects. 

Make a shift in how you speak with your boss. Speak with a telling voice, rather than an asking voice. It is ok to ask questions as feelers, but a great boss will want you to tell them what you want to do, and let the debate begin from there. They do not want to do your job. 

People on your team will look to you for the decisions. While they want to be heard and have their expertise recognized, but they want you to make the decisions.  

2. Provide strategic direction

A great Brand Manager create a vision for the brand that can serve as a rallying cry for your team. Let everyone know where you want to go. Make sure the strategic choices and your brand’s execution matches up with your vision. 

As the brand owner, you become the steward of the strategy. Reject everything that does not line up to your vision. Think with three strategic pillars, so you can steer a consistent delivery of the brand through the various functions and agencies who support your brand. 

3. Work the system

Know what you want, and then make it happen.  

See how your organization works and appreciate the motivations of various key stakeholders. Understand the layers of your organization, with varying goals and motivations. Use that knowledge to begin to work the system.

Inspire, challenge and push your key subject matter experts to deliver their best on your brand. Understand their motivations and tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. And yes, you should ask.

4. Handle the pressure

The unknown of ambiguity and the time pressure of deadlines can work against each other. Figure out how to work them to our advantage, as they evoke the right balance of patience with ambiguity and persistence in getting things done. Be organized, disciplined and work the system, so it does not get in your way. 

Another significant pressure for Marketers is when the results do not come in. It can be frustrating but is a reality we face. Force yourself to course correct, re-examine the underlying issues, and regroup with your team to look at other options, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat.

There is pressure in relationships that many Marketers feel, but are unable to fix. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out the motivations and frustration points in those you work with before they become a problem. Common ground is usually not that far away. 

5. Get the most out of your direct report

Most Brand Managers struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self-evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each direct report.

It can be a struggle to shift from “do-er” to coach, as it is tempting to think you can do something faster, so you may as well do it. The problem is you just become the “super ABM.” 

Many Brand Managers fail to share the spotlight, so it becomes hard for you to showcase your Assistant Brand Manager. You must believe the work of your Assistant Brand Manager will reflect positively on how good of a manager you are. 

Provide your direct report with positive and negative feedback, delivered in a timely fashion. Too many new managers are afraid to “go negative” so their ABM is left in the dark or left believing they are doing a good job. Take the time to teach up front, give them room to try it out and then provide hands-on feedback in real time. 

The 10 reasons brand managers fail

  1. Struggle to make decisions.
  2. Not analytical enough.
  3. Can’t get along with others.
  4. Not good with ambiguity.
  5. Bad people manager.
  6. Poor communicators with management or partners.
  7. Never follow your instincts.
  8. Can’t think or write strategically
  9. You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you. 
  10. Sloppy with budgets and timelines.
training programs

Our brand manager training will help you realize your full potential

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This type of thinking is in my book, Beloved Brands

Learn how brand leaders should think, define, plan, execute and analyze

  1. You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  2. To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  3. For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  4. To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. When it comes time for the analytics, 
  5. I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Kobo and Apple Books

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