At the Brand Manager level, you need the right marketing skills, leader behaviors and brand experiences. Success becomes about ownership, strategic thinking and managing others. I have hired so many marketers over my 20 year career who I thought would be amazing. They were all appeared eager for success, brilliant, hard-working and dedicated. But in reality, only about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers would get promoted to Brand Manager and less than 15% of Brand Managers would ever make it to the Director level. What caused the best to stall at a certain level? Leaders should be investing in marketing training of their people to ensure they have the right skills necessary for success in the role.
In terms of the pure Marketing skills, here is the essential check list every Brand Manager must nail.
1. Analyze performance
Great brand leaders must be willing and able to dig deep into data, draws comparisons and builds an analytical story to help draw out the business conclusions. And, they have to able to lead a best-in-class 360-degree deep-dive business review for the brand. This means they understand all sources of brand data—whether that’s coming from sales, consumption, market share, brand funnel data, market research or brand financials. Finally, the great brand leader must be able to write analytical performance reports that outlines the strategic implications
2. Think Strategically
A brand leader must be able to think strategically, by asking the right interruptive questions before reaching for solutions. They must be able to employ 360-degree strategic thinking that looks at 5 types of strategic thinking: your brand’s core strength, consumer strategy, competitors, situation and consumer engagement. Strategic alignment is a crucial skill. They have to be able to lead a well-thought strategic discussion across the organization. Finally, the great brand leader must be able to make smart strategic decisions that are based on vision, focus, opportunity, early win and leverage.
3. Define the brand
A brand leader must be able to define their brand. You must be able to define the ideal consumer target, framed with need states, insights and enemies. They must take a consumer centric approach to turn brand features into functional and emotional benefits. And then, they must be able to bring it all together to find a winning brand positioning space that is own-able and motivates consumers. Finally, the great brand leader should be able to develop a big idea for brand that can lead every consumer touchpoint. There are five consumer touchpoints including the brand promise, brand communication, innovation, purchase moment and the consumer experience.
4. Create Brand Plans
The brand leader must be able to understand and lead all elements of a smart brand plan; vision, purpose, goals, issues, strategies, tactics. Also, they must be able to turn strategic thinking into smart strategic objective statements for the brand plan. They must be strong in presenting brand plans to senior management and across organization. And finally, the great brand leader must be able to develop smart execution plans that delivers against the brand strategies
5. Inspire creative execution
The brand leader must be able to write a strategic, focused and thorough creative brief to inspire great work from experts. They must be able to lead all marketing projects on brand communication, innovation, selling or experience. And they must be able to inspire greatness from teams of experts at agencies or throughout organization. Finally, the great brand leader must make smart marketing execution decisions that tightens bond with consumers.
Whenever I promoted someone to Brand Manager, I kept an eye on their first three months. They usually expected the job to be much easier than it really was. I knew they would struggle. The biggest area where most struggled was in taking ownership. Moreover, Newly promoted Brand Managers kept looking for someone else to make the decisions for them.
Many times, we gave a newly promoted Brand Manager a role without a person under them, because I realized that learning to be an owner and a manager at the same time was really hard. Most people struggle the first time they have to manage someone. In fact, many times, you might struggle with your first five direct reports. Keep learning and improving each time.
I have given a lot of thought over the years to what makes a great brand manager and here the 5 factors you need to be successful at the Brand Manager level.
A great Brand Manager takes ownership over the brand. Many Brand Managers struggle with the transition from being the helper to becoming the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away from the idea of that someone else will hand you a project list. Not only do you have to make the project list, you have to come up with the strategies from which the projects come from.
A great Brand Manager talks nicely in a telling sense, rather then an asking sense. It is perfectly fine habit to be asking questions of your team, but most people on your team are going to be looking to you to make the decisions. They will be recommending and you will be deciding. When managing upwards be careful of asking too many questions of your boss. Once you ask your boss a question, you just gave up your ownership. Your director wants you to tell them what you want to do, and debate from there. I used to tell my Brand Managers, when you think you know the answer, speak in a telling way. When you think you don’t know the answer, speaking in an asking way. This helps set up the right level of debate.
2. Strategic Direction
A great Brand Manager provides a vision and the strategies to lead everyone who works on the brand. As the brand owner, you become the steward of the vision and strategy. You must bring an inspiring vision to the brand that becomes your personal rallying cry for your team that lets everyone know where you want to go. You must choose strategies that match up to your vision. As a leader, everything that is off strategy must to be rejected by you. Learn to think in terms of strategic pillars, with 3 different strategies you can easily communicate. This is a great way to keep the various functions aligned. Each function may only have 1 strategic pillar that matters to them, but they are most motivated when they can see how it all fits together.
3. Managing others
A great Brand Manager takes the time to make their Assistant Brand Manager (ABM) as good as they can possibly be. From what I have seen, most Brand Managers struggle with their first five direct reports, yet they somehow expect to be perfect on their first. To get better, you must keep self evaluating and looking for ways to improve on your own management with each report you lead.
Most Brand Managers struggle to shift from the ‘do-er’ role that made them successful into a ‘coach’ role that will make their direct report successful. Instinctively, they think they can just do it faster, so they may as well do it. Sadly, each time you do what you ABM should do, you just become the ‘super ABM’. Also, many Brand Managers fail to share the spot light, so it becomes hard to showcase the ABM. As you mature, you have to realize that the great 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 too many Brand Managers not giving enough feedback. They become so afraid of ‘going negative’, the ABM is left in the dark or worse, they are left to believe they are doing a good job.
Great Brand Managers take the time to teach up front, give the ABM some room to try it out and then great Brand Managers give hands-on feedback in real time. Use weekly meetings to give both positive feedback and identify gaps the ABM needs to be addressing. Brand Mangers should also do QUARTERLY sit down performance reviews with their ABMs. I believe a great ABM has the capacity to learn faster than annual reviews allows for. There should be zero surprises on the annual performance review. Or else, you have been negligent in your management of the ABM.
4. Working the system
A great Brand Manager gets what they need. The organization is filled with a complex system of functions, groups, layers of bosses, various goals and external agencies. Everyone comes with their own set of goals and motivations. You must be able to see how the organization works and appreciate the motivations of the various key stakeholders on your team. Also, you must get the most out of your key subject matter experts. You must understand everyone’s personal motivations and then find a way to tap into those motivations as a way to to ask people for their best. The best brand managers actually ask people for their best work. One other thing I learned over the years is to say “you should be proud” instead of “thank you”. This helps acknowledge the subject matter expert helped themselves, not helped you.
5. Dealing with pressure as a Brand Manager
A great Brand Manager can handle pressure. The four key pressure points are ambiguity, results, relationship and time.
Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures to deal with, because we cannot see it.
But we can certainly feel it. As a leader, patience and composure helps you sort through the unknown. The consequences of not remaining composed is that your team behind you will feel scared. Not being able to deal with ambiguity can lead to quick decisions that deliver bad results. Stay patient and calm. I relish ambiguity. It is where the best debate can happen, where choices for direction are made and where a calm leader can set themselves apart from those in panic mode.
If the results do not come in, it can be highly frustrating.
There becomes this “what happened” and potential blame game. This is the time to reach for your logic as you re-group, not your emotion. Do not change your vision, but be open to change your plan for how to get there. Force yourself to course correct, rather then continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Keep your team motivated through the turnaround, with a thought of “this is when we are needed the most.” Listen, then decide where you go next.
The other big pressure point for Brand Manager is the relationships around the office you need to maintain.
You need to have great relations with sales, supply chain and your agencies. Any friction is on you to resolve. Be pro-active in making the first move to reach out and build a strong relationship with everyone around you. And, you should ask people what motivates them and what annoys them. Understand their concerns and reach for common ground, which most times is not as far away as either of you might initially think. And, you should be open to debate, rather than just shutting people down. Listen for their input. I had a boss who always said “whenever people are fighting, you are usually both half right”. You must listen to figure out which part they are right and how that can impact your choices.
Time Pressure can be very demanding.
A great Brand Manager must be organized, disciplined and be able to work the system so it doesn’t get in their way. Just because you feel overly-busy, you still need to stay calm and make the right decisions. Learn to change brain speeds, so that you think slowly with strategy and quickly with execution. Also, you should organize your week, to fit your own thinking time. I always used Monday mornings to get things done. Moreover, I used Monday afternoons to check in with my team. I liked having Wednesday or Thursday to either do the creative or strategic exercises with the team. Your week might look different than mine. Have you ever organized your week to fit how you like to work?
You can also use time pressure to your advantage to push to get things done. Just make sure you are calm in how you push, not panicked. Lastly, if you want to know why I insist that your brand plan should only have 3 strategies and 3 tactics for each strategy, the decisions you make to narrow your strategic focus on what really matters, will make sure your to-do list is do-able and does not kill you. The hero that tries to complete the biggest to-do list, will never get promoted to Director.
Ten reasons 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.
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