In a world of big data and analytics, every brand should have a monthly report to track how the brand is doing through the course of the year. While these reports can feel tedious to write, the 3-4 hours it takes to dig in is a good investment in discipline, knowledge as well as maintaining that touch-feel of managing the brand.
The report serves as a guide for all those across the company to stay on track with the annual plan everyone is committed to delivering. It gives senior management awareness of the grass-root issues, it enables course correction decisions at the senior levels, it exposes weakness and risk. It should carry action statements within the document that serves as a mini-version of the brand plan. And finally, it gives everyone a sense that the brand team has full control of what’s happening on delivering the plan.
The monthly report should answer the following CONSUMPTION questions:
- What’s the one-line story that captures what’s happening on the brand? This is your elevator speech for the CEO.
- What’s the dollar, tonnage or unit share, on a 4-week, 12 -week and YTD basis? Focus on the share that the company uses–it can vary. Having all 3-time breaks allows people to see the trends.
- How’s the brand doing vs year ago, prior periods, vs the category or vs plan for the year? Speak in terms of both % and share point changes. Theory of relativity allows you to tell the story better.
- What’s the competition doing? Trends in the consumption, tracking results related to their brand funnel or potential action that’s rumored in the marketplace.
- What are the top 3 drivers of the brand for the month or year? It can be a combination of consumption trends (sku, regions, channel, account, flavor etc), beneath the surface Brand Funnel scores, program results that are contributing to share, competitive moves. Explain how you’re going to continue these going forward.
- What are the 3 inhibitors and what are you doing about it? These are things that are holding back the brand. Expose weaknesses you’re seeing in the programs, potential distribution gaps, competitive moves that are beating you, changes in consumer behavior etc. Explain what you plan to do about it, giving the assurance that you are running the brand.
The monthly report should answer the following SHIPMENT questions:
- What’s the one-line story that captures what’s happening on the brand? This might be the story that you know you could back up when confronted by the VP of sales in the same elevator. If it’s bad news, they will have to answer to the CEO.
- What’s the overall sales for the month, the quarter and how will it impact the year-end call? Senior management might adjust their own forecast or may change their short-term investment stance based on that performance.
- How are the sales by key account, by skus or by regions? Track on both the month and on a YTD basis. This highlights the strength and exposes weakness.
- What are the top 3 drivers of the brand for the month or year? You want to highlight the accounts, skus or regions that are showing the most growth, explain why and tell what you’re going to do to keep these going.
- What are the 3 inhibitors and what are you doing about it? These are things that are holding back the brand. While the sales numbers are on the chart, start to explain the top line of what’s happening. Connect with the Account lead, ensuring they buy into the statement you’re about to put. This gives you a chance to stay connected to what’s happening on each account. If your account people aren’t great at getting back to you, saying “I’m about to write a monthly report for the President and I want to know what’s going on at your account”. They’ll get back to you. Also, you need answers in the report to show that you are trying to get as much out of the brand as you can. Both short and long-term.
Digging in on the data
As you are analyzing the mounds of data in front of you, you want to dig in everywhere that you can.
- Start at the 4-week share for the brand overall, compare it to the 12-week, then the 52-week and see the major trend. This is the start of the story. Dig deeper on regions, channels, and skus, figuring out the relative differences you start to see–either on the overall share basis (development index) or on the overall growth rate. Do the same with major competitors. That should give you the basis of your 4-week story and you can begin the document.
- You next want to focus on the performance for the overall year. With both consumption and share, you want to give management a good forecast on what you think will happen. This can be in consultation with sales and your demand teams. The story has to be consistently told and shared with the senior leaders. If they sense a disconnect, it will look bad on you.
- If you have good tracking studies, dig in on program tracking (advertising, sampling, in-store, professional recommendations etc) any brand funnel tracking (awareness, trial, repeat, U&A) that can support what’s happening on the consumption and shipments.
- Drivers and Inhibitors are things that are happening in the market, not things that could happen. Ideally, they should match up to the Annual Brand Plan and the objectives of the brand. Think of these monthly reports like 1/12th of your brand plan–not only highlighting how the brand is doing, but what you are willing to do about it.
- Keep it all on one page, forcing your writing style to be more direct. A senior leader should be able to digest it in 10 minutes.
Writing the report
When I was an Assistant Brand Manager, I dreaded having to do the Monthly Report. It was a chore that cut into my life. It took all day to find the data. Even all night. I always wondered if anyone would ever read my report. And, I was awful on my first few attempts. I kept thinking if I can just get promoted to Brand Manager, I will no longer have to ever write a Monthly Report ever again. After a year, I became a master of the report. When I did get promoted to Brand Manager, I re-wrote it for my boss.
And when I made it up to the VP level, I read everyone’s report in detail, even sending back inquiry questions for each of the 15 brands I had under me. I started to do my own version of the report for the regional President. I dug in the same way I had at the junior levels and crafted the story. Not only did it project a sense of control over my business, it allowed me to sleep better because I knew what was going on with my business. I actually was in control.
I always believe, “You run the brand. Don’t let the brand run you.”
When we get out of control, the brand starts to run us. It takes over.
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