8 simple ways to be a better brand leader

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

As we push to be great Brand Leaders, here are 8 ways to push yourself to be better. This is from the 20 years of hiring, training, encouraging and even firing Brand Leaders. Here are 8 things that separate amazing from OK.

A great Brand Leader takes ownership of the brand. I’ve seen many Brand Leaders struggle with the transition from being a helper to being the owner.  As you move into the job, you have to get away from the idea of having someone hand you a project list.  Not only do you have to make the project list, but you also have to come up with the strategies from which the projects fall out of.  A good owner talks in ideas in a telling sense, rather than an asking sense.  It’s great to be asking questions as feelers, but realize that most are going to be looking to you for the answers.  They’ll be recommending you’ll be deciding.  When managing upwards be careful of asking questions—try to stick to solutions.  “I think we should build a big bridge” instead of “any ideas for how we can get over the water”.  You just gave up your ownership.  I’d rather have you tell me what you want to do, and we debate from there, rather then you ask me what we should do.  I’ll be better able to judge your logic, your passion, and your vision. 

A great Brand Leader provides vision & strategies to drive results. Vision is sometimes a hard thing to articulate. It’s sometimes easy to see times when there is a lack of vision.  You have to let everyone know where you want to go.  The strategy that matches becomes the road map for how to get there.  As the brand owner, you become the steward of the vision and strategy.  Everything that is off strategy has to be rejected and your role is to find ways to steer them back on track.  It’s easy to get side-tracked by exciting programs or cool ideas, but if they are off-strategy then they have to be rejected.  The communication of strategy is a key skill.  Learn to talk in strategic stories that can frame your direction.  Learn to think in terms of pillars—which forces your hand around 3 different areas to help achieve your strategy.  Having pillars constantly grounds you back in your strategy, and is an easy way for communicating with the various functions—they may only have 1 strategic pillar that matters to them personally, but seeing the other parts makes them feel as though their work is worth it.

A great Brand Leader gets what they need. The organization is filled with groups, layers, external agencies, with everyone carrying a different set of goals and motivations. Working the system entails taking what you have learned about ownership one step further.  You understand the organizational components, and then you go get what you need.  Again communication becomes key—you can’t let missed communications cause angst or concerns. Also, it is crucial that you get the best from everyone.  I have found it useful upfront to ask people for their best. It’s a strange step, but I have found it useful. If you really have someone that’s good, you know they’ll respond to this. The good news is that only 0.1% of people ask them, so it’s not like they’ve heard it that many times. 

A great Brand Leader can handle the pressure. There are Four Types of Pressure that Brand Leaders Face

  1. Ambiguity is one of the hardest.  This is where patience and composure come into play as you sort through the issues.  The consequences of not remaining composed is likely a bad decision. 
  2. If the results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. Reach for your logic as you re-group.  Force yourself to course correct, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat.  
  3. Relationships.  Be pro-active in making the first move. Try to figure out what motivates as well as what annoys them.   Most times, the common ground is not that far away. 
  4. Time Pressure.  It’s similar to the ambiguity. Be organized, disciplined and work the system so it doesn’t get in your way.   Be calm, so you continue to make the right decisions. 

A great Brand Leader can Hold your team to a consistently high standard of work: Rather than being the leader by example, I’d rather see you establish a standard and hold everyone and yourself to that standard. For a new Brand Leader, this is one of the harder areas—how to balance the freedom you give with the standard you demand. You need to organize the team and build in processes in a way that produces consistent output, your team hits all deadlines, stays focused and keeps things moving.  But it can also show up in the quality of brand plans, execution, and interactions with everyone specifically sales. Be the control point of the team, and not let slips, errors or delays show beyond the team. Delegate so you motivate your stars, but never abdicate ownership of how your team shows up.

A great Brand Leader is an outstanding leader of people by leveraging Consistent People Leadership and Management. Newly appointed Brand Leaders have taken on more leadership roles.  You have to let your team breathe and grow. There are likely future superstars within the ranks.   We know you can write a brand plan, roll out a promotion super fast and make snap decisions on creative.  But can you inspire your team to do the same?  Junior marketers have high ambitions–constantly wanting praise, but equally seeking out advice for how to get better.  Brand Managers are still learning to be brand owners, many times younger than they should be.  It becomes the director’s role to manage the talent–giving equal praise and challenges for how to get better.  A great  Brand Leader should be meeting quarterly with each team member one on one to take them through a quarterly performance review.   Waiting for the year-end is just not enough. Be passionate about people’s careers–anything less they’ll see it as merely a duty you are fulfilling.  

A Great Brand Leader shows up Consistently to the Sales Team:   As a Brand Leader, you have to be seen as one who is willing to listen.  Great salespeople challenge marketers to make sure their account wins. I’ve seen many sales teams destroy the Brand Leader because they don’t listen, and they stubbornly put forward their plan without sales input. Great Brand Leaders should informally meet with all key senior salespeople on a quarterly basis, to get to know them and let them know you are listening to their problems.  With this forum, you’ll get more of the bubbling up of problems–not just waiting for problems to explode. If salespeople feel they’ve been heard, they are more apt to follow the director’s vision and direction.   Many times, the debate can be healthy and help the salespeople frame the story they need to tell with their accounts.  Be the one Brand Leader that consistently reaches out and listens. They’ll be in shock and stand behind your business.

A Great Brand Leader Delivers Consistent Results:  A great Brand Leader hits the numbers and yet when they don’t hit them, they are the first to own it and put forward a recovery plan before being asked. They have an entrepreneurial spirit of ownership, rather than just being a corporate pencil pusher. Proactive communication upwards and with your own team. Reach out for help across the organization.  Know your business and let everyone know what you know. Be the leader that makes everything perfectly transparent–everyone will follow you.

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Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  

Other Roles You May Be Interested In
  • Brand Manager:  It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher.  To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director:  It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.  Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more:   How to be a Successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO:  It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged.  Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success:  How to be a Successful VP of Marketing


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I run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

To reach out directly, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.