Ten Things I wish I knew when I was a Brand Manager

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

I’m a pure marketing guy, with 20 years in brand management in consumer packaged goods companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, General Mills and Coke.  I loved marketing, yet many times my ambitious got the best of me and I tried to get ahead too fast.  I was a make it happen type guy sometimes pushing too hard to go too fast and leaving a debris of casualties along the way.  I wanted people to know I was smart, so I suffered the “smartest the room” syndrome where I talked more than I listened.  Here the the 10 things I wish I knew when I was in the hot seat of the Brand Manager role.  

  1. I wish I knew that leadership was more about follower-ship.  Too many Brand Managers, myself included think that leadership must be a visible person charging out in front of everyone.  The problem for many is when you turn around, no one is following you.  The power of leadership is when you are able to motivate, inspire and challenge everyone to be as great as they can be.  Realize that everyone on your team wants to do a good job, the leader taps in the personal pride to enable them to reach the full potential of their greatness.
  2. I wish I understood that brand was more than just about messaging to the consumer.  I didn’t realize then that brand did as much work internally as it did externally.  Now, i see the connection internally how the brand idea guides the culture which helps add to the brand experience.  Brand should also guide the R&D team to create new products that fit with the brand idea, rather than just random innovations that we have to figure out how to market.  A beloved brand is based on an idea worth loving and then all the connections of promise, strategy, story, innovation and culture should deliver behind that brand idea.
  3. I wish I listened to my experts more.  At times,  I always thought I had to be the smartest person in the room.  Many Brand Managers face the same issue as they confuse ownership of a brand with dictatorship.  As I moved up and gained experienced, I would actually tell myself im the least knowledgeable person in the room and spent more time listening than talking.  I tell marketers that the subject matter experts you are trying to lead will teach you more than any of your managers.  Listen and learn.
  4. I wish I relied on my own team more.   Many Brand Managers are actually bad managers.  Those poor ABM’s who get some rookie manager that is still thinking more about impressing others than helping the ABM get better.  We all come across that moment when we know it would only take us 15 minutes, but an hour to explain.  While it gets done, no one got better.  Challenge yourself to make your direct reports better.  You have to realize that better people means better work and that means better results.  And I’m a big believer in getting people trained so they have the fundamentals to enable them to perform at their highest potential.
  5. I wish I started with my brand’s consumer and not the product I worked on. When you are assigned to work on a brand, it’s so easy to fall in love with that brand.   And you think more about your product, than you think about you consumer.   I now like to start the other way around, thinking about consumer needs and insights and trying to match them up to what I do best.  Walking in the shoes of the consumer and answering the question of “so what do I get” forces you to shift from features to real benefits.  I also wish I believed more in the balance of building an emotional connection rather than just the rational messaging and strategy choices.  Finding the emotional benefits answers the question “so how does that make me feel?”
  6. I wish I was more grounded in the fundamentals rather than just instincts.  When I came in as an Assistant Brand Manager, I was told that “most of the learning is on the job”.   My first manager was unable to teach me anything so I learned on my own, rather than “on the job”.  I only spent 20 months at the ABM level and with that little training, now I was given an ABM to manage.  Just imagine how little I knew in helping them to get better. The  idea of learning “on the job” is a myth that we need to stop.  There has to be a balance of learning the fundamentals so that Brand Managers are taught how to write brand positioning statements, creative briefs and brand plans, as well as how to judge advertising and media plans.  At Beloved Brands, we run brand training sessions in everything a Brand Manager needs to know:  
  7. I wish I focused more.  As a Brand Manager we all try to do too much.  I wish I tried to do a few things really well, rather than trying to do too many things. Focus is one of the most important things you can learn–you have to take your limited resources (money, people and time) and place all of them against those programs that drive the highest return.  I’m a believer in 3 strategies per brand with 3 tactics per strategy, keeping you focused on the top 9 things you have to do to be successful.
  8. I wish I was able to handle conflict better.  A marketer meets conflict on a daily basis whether it’s with sales, ad agencies or subject matter experts.  One of my best bosses always said “likely, you are both half right” and you need to start from there to figure out where to go next.  I love that idea because not only does it force you to look for compromise, but it forces you to hear out the other person.  Too many times, conflict starts with a failure to listen.  
  9. I wish I wasn’t such an ivory tower marketer.  Time is an easy thing to blame for staying in the office.  But, I should have gotten out more, get in the stores, to the plant, to see customers and to talk directly with consumers. Look at the world through your consumers eyes, walk in their shoes and speak in their voice.  Marketers get caught up in writing the next presentation and working in their office that they turn into the classic ivory tower marketer. And in today’s modern media world, they should be getting on twitter and Facebook to see what people are talking about on-line.  
  10. I wish i wasn’t in such a hurry to move up.  Before I got into marketing, I wanted to be a Brand Manager.  Technically i was only a brand manager for 36 months.  I loved it.  Every part of that job.  And yet i still wanted to move up.  I got my wish, but i think another 2 years at that level would have been ideal.  Be patient with your career, and as long as you are learning, that matters most.  

I hope that you find something in common with this list and that you can challenge yourself to get better rather than just get ahead.  If you have any words of wisdom or tips, please comment below.  

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About Graham Robertson

As the founder of Beloved Brands, Graham has been an advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links, Miller beer, Earls restaurants and Pfizer. He’s helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans, and advertising.Graham Robertson

In his marketing career, Graham led some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills, and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. He has won numerous awards including Marketing Magazine’s “Marketer of the Year”, Businessweek’s best new product award and four Effie advertising awards. His book, Beloved Brands, is the playbook for how to build a brand consumers will love.

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