Most new brand managers mistakenly think this role is about managing because they finally get a chance to manage a direct report. However, the bigger part of this role is the transition you need to make as you move from do-er to owner. Yes, you’ll get your first change to manage a direct report, but many times that effort can be a distraction from your chance to continue to learn and grow. Many brand managers are disheartened to find out they are a disaster with their first direct report, but I always remind them that they’ll finally get better by the fifth direct report.
Here are the five success factors for Brand Managers:
A great Brand Manager takes ownership of the brand. Many BMs struggle with the transition from being the helper to being the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away the idea of having someone hand you a project list. Not only should you have to make the project list, you should come up with the strategies from which the projects fall out of. A great Brand Manager talks in ideas in a telling sense, rather then an asking sense. It is great to be asking questions as feelers, but realize that most people are going to be looking to you for decisions. They will be recommending you will be deciding. When managing upwards be careful of asking questions—try to stick to solutions. You just gave up your ownership. Your director wants you to tell them what to do, and debate from there.
2. Strategic direction
A great Brand Manager provides a vision & strategies to match up to. Bring a vision to the brand. Push yourself to a well-articulated 5-10 year brand vision great. But a vision can be as simple as a rallying cry for the team. But you have to let everyone know where you want to go. The strategy that matches up to the vision 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. Communication of strategy is a key skill. Learn to think in terms of strategic pillars, with 3 different areas to help achieve your overall strategy. Having pillars constantly grounds you strategically, and is an easy way for communicating with the various functions. Each function may only have 1 strategic pillar but seeing how it all fits in is motivating.
3. Managing others
A great Brand Manager spends the effort to make their ABM as good as can be. Most BMs struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each report. Most BMs struggle to shift from “do-er” to “coach. They think they can do it faster, so they may as well do it. They just become the “super ABM”. Many BMs fail to share the spot light, so it becomes hard to showcase the ABM. But the work of your ABM reflects 100% of how good of a manager you are. ABMs need feedback to get better—both the good and bad. I see to many BMs not giving enough feedback. And so many afraid of “going negative” so the ABM is left in the dark or left thinking they are doing a good job. Great BMs take the time to teach up front, give the ABM some room to try it out and then give hands-on feedback in real time. Use weekly meetings to give both positive feedback and address gaps. Brand Mangers should do QUARTERLY sit down performance reviews with their ABMs, who have the capacity to learn faster than annual reviews allows for.
4. Working the system
A great Brand Manager gets what they want and need. The organization is filled with groups, layers, external agencies, with everyone carrying a different set of goals and motivations. You can see how the organization works and appreciating what are are the motivations of various key stakeholders. You then use that knowledge to begin to work the system.You are starting to see key subject matter experts giving you their best. You understand their personal motivations and find a way to tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. It might be an odd step, but from my experience a really motivating step. Very few people ask for “your best”.
5. Dealing with Pressure
A great Brand Manager can handle pressure: ambiguity, results, relationship time. Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures. As a leader, patience and composure help you sort through the issues. The consequences of not remaining composed are a scared team and choosing quick decisions with bad results. Another big pressure is when the results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. Reach for your logic as you re-group. Force yourself to course correct, rather then continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Challenge team to “this is when we are needed” You will see pressure in relationships. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out what motivates and what annoys the person. Understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away. At every level there is time pressure. It is 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. Use time to your advantage.
The ten reasons that Brand Managers fail:
- Struggle to make decisions
- Not analytical enough
- Can’t get along
- Not good with ambiguity
- Too slow and stiff
- Bad people Manager
- Poor communicators, with manager, senior management or partners
- Never follow their Instincts
- Can’t think strategically or write strategically
- They don’t run the brand, they let the brand run them.
The reality is everyone will have 1 or 2 of these potential points, just naturally. You have to use your time as a Brand Manager to work on closing them. Especially if they come up in your performance review. At the Brand Manager stage, I hope you love the magic of marketing. Let it breathe and let it come to life. It is easy to lose your passion and try to do what your boss wants or do things to make short term numbers so you can get promoted. Those don not really work long term. My advice is do not just do the job, do it with all your passion. If you don’t love the work you do, then what consumer would ever love your brand.
Brand Manager role should be an amazing experience for you. Make the most of it.
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I wrote my book, Beloved Brands, as the playbook for how to build a brand your consumers will love.
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