Brand Management: How to be a great brand leader

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

It seems that marketing these days is more about “doing” than it is about “thinking”.  

“Activity Based Marketing” has replaced strategic brand management. Marketers are content if they are doing something, regardless if it is the right something. Everyone I interact with is too busy doing stuff, running from meeting to meeting, chasing the to do list. Marketers today are so busy, that they don’t have time to think. If you want to be a great marketer, you need to be carving out time to sit back in your chair and say “what’s next”.   

Are you Strategic?  

I know you want to say yes.  And I’m sure it’s on your Linked In profile.  So you must be. But if you are doing more activity than you are doing the thinking, then you aren’t really operating strategically. You are too busy chasing your own tail. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planners who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in delays. They opt for action over thinking, believing that doing something is better than doing nothing. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They can be frustrated by strategic thinkers. Look back at the past week and ask “are you acting strategically?”

Are You a Fundamentally Sound Marketer?

No matter how bright you are, if you haven’t been properly trained, then you aren’t realizing your full potential.  You likely are struggling with writing your brand plan, you aren’t quite sure what has to go onto the creative brief and you aren’t sure how to give an agency feedback. You’re not sure which media option makes the most sense for your brand. These days, marketing has become a completely “on the job” training ground. There’s very few fundamentals being taught. You are given a desk and a brand and told that “we think marketers learn on the job” and “we think it’s your boss who should be teaching you”. Since there has been a few generation of marketers who haven’t been trained, it’s very likely that your boss isn’t quite sure of the fundamentals of brand management.

If you are a bright, but you think you are lacking the fundamentals, you are not alone.    

Are you running the brand? Do you act like an owner?

Brand Manager has to have a mindset that reflects the CEO, accountable for growth, costs, profit and shareholder wealth. A great marketer runs the brand, rather than letting the brand run them.  The starting ground for running the brand is to have your finger on the pulse of the brand and make sure everything revolves around that pulse. Everything in the company should feed off the Brand DNA. The Brand DNA (many call it the Brand Essence) is the most succinct definition of the Brand.  For Volvo, it’s Safety, while BMW might be Performance and Mercedes is Luxury. The Brand’s DNA has an external and an internal.  Externally, you should be looking at the consumers’ view and the brand personality you’re trying to project outward to them. Internally, the products and the internal brand beacon should help align everyone working on the brand.   

The classic role of Brand Management is that the Brand Leader is at the hub and everything revolves around that Brand Leader. But in reality, they aren’t really revolving around the Brand Leader.  They are revolving around the Brand DNA and it’s just that the Brand Leader owns that DNA and uses it as a lens to judge all the activity around the Brand. That is the starting point of strategy.

Everything revolves around the Brand DNA

The Brand DNA should help frame 

  1. Brand Plan that drives the business for the upcoming year or the next 5 years 
  2. Brand Positioning that connects to the consumer through marketing communications 
  3. Customer Value Proposition that links the consumer needs to the benefits of the brand 
  4. Go-To-Market strategy that frames the distribution and the selling process 
  5. Cultural Beacons that help define the brand internally through values, inspiration and challenge and finally 
  6. Business Results, with each brand offering a unique way that it makes money. Each of these six needs feed off the Brand DNA, look to the definition as a guideline for how to align to the brand.  


When you begin to blow this out one step further, you can start to see where the complexity comes into play with each of the six areas have their own needs that should still feed off that Brand DNA.


Use the Brand Plan to drive the direction of the brand

The planning area should help to frame the Brand Plan, which is a combination of a one year Brand Plan and a 3-5 year strategic plan.  The Vision and Mission provide the future direction, objectives align to the Business needs and Brand Funnel objectives and Strategies and Tactics help to drive towards those objectives.  Included as well should be a Calendar and Budgets.  For a tutorial on how to write a Brand Plan, click on the following link:  How to Write a Brand Plan


From the DNA, map out a positioning statement that can help frame the Marketing Communications plan.  That includes the creative big idea, the media mix, earned media (PR, Events) social media, key influencers (e.g. Doctors or Contractors or Bloggers). As well, the positioning frames the identity which could include logo, language, look and feel and brand book. My hope is that you don’t change this very often.   Looking at the complexity of the Brand Management system outlined here, it baffles me that Brands facing tough times reach for changing their logo so quickly when so many other factors could be driving the issues. For a tutorial on writing Creative Briefs, click on:  How to Write an Effective Creative Brief

Staying on strategy is just as hard as coming up with the strategy 

If you don’t have time to think, then how do you know what you’re doing is the right thing to do?   The Go-To-Market plan should also feed off the Brand DNA and come out of the Brand Plan.  The Distribution strategy and needs should match up to the needs of the brand, including decisions around Key Account focus, pricing, sku mix, promotion and the possible role of new products.  In a fast-moving category like cereal or gum, or a high technology driving category like computers, phones or TVs, both share a high need for product innovation.  For brands that require in store selling, you should also include the In-store experience which could be demonstration, signage or trial as well as possible selling messages for sales people on the floor of the distribution channel.  These messages should feed directly from the brand messages.

The R&D plan should feed off the Brand DNA and develop products that match the brand.  Too many times, R&D is in their own world, trying to invent things that have nothing to do with where the brand sits.  They expect marketing to be able to sell their inventions.  Even in a technology driven business, Apple is driven first by the consumer.  Steve Jobs really understood that you don’t just sell what you have.

Brand also drives the Culture and the DNA should provide a beacon for the People to follow. The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising. Talent management means hiring the right people and providing the right training. Too many companies are cutting back on training. Remember that better people produce better work that drives better results. Keep investing in your people and the business results will come.  Empower your people to get the most from their ideas.  Leverage values, inspirational touch points and processes to inspire and challenge them on achieving greatness.

Managing the Brand

Brand drives the Business Results. The more loved a brand, the more tightly the connection it has with their consumers. This connection becomes a source of power that the brand can wield in the market to drive higher growth rate and profitability. The Brand Leader is responsible for driving the P&L, driving sales and share, managing the forecast and costs for an efficiently run brand. The Brand Leader must figure out the levers of the P&L it can use to drive more profits. For a tutorial on driving profits through your brand, click on:  How to Drive Profits through Your Brand

Leading the Brand

Putting the Brand Leader front and centre will allow you to leverage the Brand DNA into each of the areas of your business, whether that’s marketing, sales, R&D, finance or human resources. The Brand Leader should be at the centre of this hub, with each area looking to the Brand DNA as a beacon of how they can do their job most effectively in helping the brand drive long-term growth and profitability.

Here’s a robust summary on Brand Management that looks at it through 8 areas:  

      1. Beloved = Power = Growth = Profit
      2. Brand DNA and Vision
      3. Brand Promise
      4. Brand Analytics
      5. Brand Plan
      6. Execution
      7. Managing
      8. Leading



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