Marketing career game plan for Assistant Brand Managers

In my 20 years of my CPG Marketing career, I must have interviewed 1,000 people for the Assistant Brand Manager marketing job. I was lucky to have hired some of the best, who have gone on to have significant marketing careers and I became notorious for asking for some of the toughest questions, some even bizarre. I always asked an analytical question to see if they could piece together lots of data and tell a story that made sense. I’d ask a creative question to see if they had a certain flair and pride in the output. I’d ask a problem-solving question, some very hard, no real right answer, but I wanted to see how they think. Finally, I wanted to know that they had done something at a very high level–it didn’t matter what–but I wanted to know they could make it happy.

A marketing career is very challenging and competitive. At the entry-level role, only about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers will get promoted to Brand Manager. The percentages go down even more at each level.

Brand management career

On a classic brand management team, there are four key levels:

  • Assistant Brand Manager
  • Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director or Group Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO.

In simple terms, the Assistant Brand Manager role is about doing, analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future. 

At the Brand Manager level, 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. 

When you get to the Marketing Director role, it becomes more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.

And finally, at the CMO level, you must create your own vision, focus on your people to make them better and shine, drive the business results, and run the processes.

Entry level marketing roles

My advice to the new Assistant Brand Manager

The most eager first-time marketers want to change the world. The role is a reality check where you learn before you can run. Too many new marketers want to focus on strategy right away, but the ABM is a “doing” role. You will be executing programs, analyzing results and learning how to be a project manager. Through the execution, send signals you are capable of thinking and leading in the future.

  • What separates the average from the great ones that get promoted? The best seem to figure out the right thing to do and then make it happen.
  • Some figure out the right thing to do but struggle to work the system to make it happen.
  • Others can work the system, but they forget to think through what is the right thing to do.

The Assistant Brand Manager role can feel frustrating. Many times, it will inhibit your creativity and even your ideas. Fight through it. It provides a foundation and discipline you will use throughout your career.

Assistant Brand Manager

Five success factors for Assistant Brand Managers

1. Turn data into analytical stories

The Assistant Brand Manager role starts with a ton of data with market share results, tracking scores, or test results. Look for patterns or data breaks, ask questions, and start putting together stories. The analytical stories show you know what it means, helps sell recommendations, and support the action you will take. Never give a data point without a story or a recommended action, or you risk letting someone else (your boss) take your data and decide. 

2. Take action before being asked

On day one, your manager will set most of the projects for the Assistant Brand Manager. When you are new, it is comfortable to wait for your projects. But don’t get in the habit of waiting for someone to create your project list. As you mature, start to push your own ideas into the system and create your own project list. Start making smart decisions, on your own, and communicate those choices with your boss. Don’t ask permission, but tell them what you want to do and look for the head nod. Know what’s in your scope and align with your manager. 

3. Make it happen through others

Instead of just functionally managing the steps of the project, find ways to make each project better, faster, or deliver more significant results. You need to understand each critical milestones to hit and manage bottlenecks. Every marketer meets resistance; the best knock can down those resistance points.

Figure out the task with the longest completion time and the most important element, as both will impact the entire project. You will need to push people to get things done. It would be best if you found a bit of magic by inspiring people to give their best ideas, put in their best effort, and deliver their best work. 

4. Speak out to challenge the strategy

The Assistant Brand Manager must stay on strategy. Show you are always thinking, and feel confident in your strategic thoughts. Avoid just falling in love with an execution tactic that is not aligned with your brand’s strategy. It is so easy to get lost in your own “cool” projects. Ask the right questions. Challenge the strategy to make sure you understand. Silent marketers never last. Show you are always thinking, and feel confident in your strategic thoughts.

5. Be accountable for your work

Accountability is the first stepping stone to ownership, which sends a signal you are ready to be a Brand Manager. You have to find the right balance by motivating experts to give their best and knowing when to step in to avoid letting things slip or miss. Never allow your team to get stuck. Stay on top of timelines and lead your project teams. Be action-oriented and solution-focused. Be the hub of communication for all team members, and keep your manager aware. 

Read our post on Ten reasons why Assistant Brand Managers may fail with tips on how to overcome.

Managing your marketing career

How to manage your marketing career from Assistant Brand Manager up to CMO

At every level of your marketing career, you have to adjust to the new role. Brand Managers fail when they keep acting like ABMs and Directors fail when they keep acting like Brand Managers and VPs fail when they don’t know what to do. In a classic marketing team, the four key roles are Assistant Brand Manager up to Brand Manager then up to Marketing Director and on to the VP/CMO role.

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Phone: 416–885–3911

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