The top ten reasons why brand managers fail in their job

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Most new Brand Managers mistakenly think this role is about managing others, but more importantly, you must transition from do-er to owner. 

The five success factors for Brand Managers include 

1. Take ownership of the brand

2. Able to give strategic direction

3. Know how to work the system

4. Achieve success while dealing with pressure

5. Managing others

Yes, you will get your first chance to manage someone, but many times that effort can be a distraction from your opportunity to continue to learn and grow. 


Here are the top 10 reasons why Brand Managers fail  

1. Struggle to make decisions

Some Assistant Brand Managers (ABMs) shine because they are the “super do-er’s,” who made things happen, on time and under budget. All the subject matter experts (forecasting, production, promotions) love them. However, once promoted to the Brand Manager, they freeze. They can do, but they can’t decide. They can execute someone else’s project list with flare, but they can’t come up with their project list. Instead of providing direction, they keep asking for help, over and over.


Advice: To overcome this problem, work on your decision-making process with tools that force the choice. If you are scared, map out your thinking, use pros, and cons or a decision tree. When faced with an A or B decision, never talk yourself into doing both A and B. A choice should focus your resources to make sure the plan works. If you do both, it divides your resources, and both options fail. 


2. Not analytical enough


Many marketers struggle with math, and it eventually catches up with them. They might have great instincts, but they only scratch the surface on the analytics, and can’t explain what is happening on their brand. If you can’t understand the analytics, you risk using your creativity to solve the wrong problem.


Advice: Just because you are now a Brand Manager doesn’t mean you stop digging into the data. The analytical skills you learned as an ABM should be used at every level in your career right up to VP. Even when I was running a team of 30 marketers, I used to do my own monthly share report to ensure I was digging in and getting my hands mucky with the data. I could tell which of my Brand Managers had dug in as well and who hadn’t even read their ABM’s monthly report yet. Your lack of analytics scares your boss. Take the time to understand the details of your business. Dig into the data and make decisions based on the depth of analysis you do. If you try to skim your analysis, it will catch up to you. 


3. Can’t get along with others


The Brand Managers that struggle with sales colleagues or the subject matter experts (SME’s) are at risk of failure. They are the type who speaks first, listens second, and go head-to-head to get their way instead of looking for compromise. Yes, they might be so smart they think faster than everyone, but they forget to bring everyone along with their thinking. They start to leave a trail of those they burned, and when the path gets too big, they get labeled as “tough to deal with.”


Advice: Listen more and make sure to hear your experts out. The collection of SME’s will likely teach you more about marketing than your boss will. If you don’t use these people to enhance your skill, you’ll eventually crash and burn. Moreover, if they can’t work with you, they’ll also be the first to destroy your career. You aren’t the first superstar they’ve seen. Also, likely not the last. My recommendation to you is to remember that Leadership is not just about you being out front, but about you turning around and seeing people following you.  


4. Not good with ambiguity


Some Brand Managers opt for the safety of easy and well-known answers. They struggle with the unknown and get scared of ambiguity. Brand Managers that become too predictable for their team create work in the market that also becomes predictable and fails to drive the brand. These Brand Managers are OK–they don’t have much wrong, but they don’t have much right.


Advice: You can put them on safe, comfortable businesses, but you wouldn’t put them on the turn around or new products. Ambiguity is a type of pressure that not all of us are capable of handling, especially when they see uncertainty and time pressure work against each other. Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline. Always push for great. You have to learn to handle ambiguity. It would be best if you reveled in ambiguity. Have fun with it. Be patient with ideas. Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. As a leader, find ways to ask great questions instead of giving quick answers. Watch the signals you send that may suck the creative energy out of your team.


When you find a way to stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone,” the ideas get better, whether it’s the time pressure that forces the thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for the best idea. So my recommendation to you is to hold your breath sometimes and see if the work gets better.


5. Bad people Manager


Most first-time people managers screw up a few of their first five direct reports. It is only natural. One of the most significant flaws for new Managers is to think, “Hey, it will take me longer to explain it to you, so why don’t I just do it myself this one time and you can do it next time.”  They repeat this every month until management realizes that these Brand Managers aren’t teaching their ABM anything. They became the Manager that none of the ABMs want to work for because they never learn anything. But as management keeps watching great ABMs crashing and burning while under these Brand Managers, we start to wonder, “while you might be smart, but can you manage people?”


Advice: To be a great Brand Manager, you have to work on being a better people leader. We expect you to develop talent. Be more patient with your ABM. Become a teacher. Be more selfless in your approach to coaching. Take time to give them feedback that helps them, not feedback that helps you. If you don’t become a better people manager, you’ve just hit your peak in your career.


6. Poor communicators, with management or partners


You fail to warn your boss when there is a potential problem adequately. Moreover, when you leave your manager in the dark, it will upset your boss, the information comes to your manager from someone else. If you don’t keep your partners aware of what’s going on, you will leave them feeling confused.


Advice: You have to become a better communicator. Make it a habit that as soon as you know something, you make sure that your boss knows as well–especially with negative news. Share the problem with your boss, discuss what you are going to do, and then make it happen.  


7. Never follow your instincts


You forget that marketing also has a “Gut Feel” to it, taking all the data, making decisions, and then getting to the execution and believing it by taking a risk. Too many times, people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it.”


Advice: You have to find ways to use your instincts. The problem is that sometimes, your instincts are hidden away. You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done, and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it. You get scared because you’re worried about your career, and you want to do the ‘right thing.’ However, your gut is telling you it’s just not right. My rule is simple: if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand. The worst type of marketer is someone who says, “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad.” At every touchpoint, keep reaching for your intuition and bring them out into the discussion.


8. Can’t think strategically or write strategically


You are expected to be able to think strategically and be able to communicate strategy through your writing– whether the annual Brand Plan, creative brief to agency, monthly share report, or just an email sent up to senior management.


Advice: Be organized in your thinking and map it out. I do believe that every good strategy has five essential elements: 1) set a vision of what you want, 2) Invest resources in a strategic program, 3) Focus on an identified opportunity, 4) Leverage a breakthrough market impact, and 5) Performance result that pays back. If you learn to think, speak, and write using these five elements, you will show up smarter to everyone who works on your brand.


9. You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you.


Some Brand Managers end up in the spin zone where they are disorganized, frantic, and not in touch with their business. Some even take pride in how long they work or how many things they are getting done on their to-do list. They miss deadlines, look out of control, and let things stockpile on one another. The brand is killing them.


Advice: Stay in control, so you hit the deadlines and stay on budget. Dig in and know your business, so you don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. Use processes that organize and enable you and your team, so that it frees you up your time to push projects through and for doing the needed strategic thinking. Stay conceptual–avoid getting stuck in pennies or decimals–so you can continue to drive the strategy of your brand.  


10. Sloppy with budgets and timelines

Having someone on the team who is sloppy with budgets and timelines is like living with a messy roommate or the friend who always shows up late. Not only will you look out of control, but you will also put added stress on everyone around you. And, like that messy roommate, you won’t know people are talking about you until someone finally loses it on you. 

When you miss budgets, you mess up the finance team. The more significant the variance to expectation, the bigger the frustration. The worst thing you want is a reputation for someone who is sloppy. That means you can’t be trusted. When you miss a deadline, you likely mess up someone else’s deadline.

Advice: Get your business in order. You are running a live business. You have to be a good project manager, as it only gets more complicated as you move up and take on more prominent brands or more brands.

Read our story on how to achieve success at the Brand Manager level

Or to keep pushing yourself to the next level, here's what it takes at the Marketing Director level

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