Most new brand managers mistakenly believe this role is about managing others. But, now is the time in your brand management career for you to transition from do-er to owner. Yes, you will likely 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.
I will boldly say that I loved being a brand manager. My only regret is I was too ambitious to stay in the role. Missing the job has consequences as you may continue to act like a brand manager, even after you are promoted up to the director level.
1. Take ownership of your brand
As you move through your brand management career, this is a crucial step for you. Many new brand managers will struggle with the transition from being the helper to now being the owner. No one will hand you a project list. Not only will you make the project list, you will come up with the strategies that set up the need for the projects.
Balance using an asking voice with a telling voice. Prior to a decision, ask as many probing questions to understand what your experts know. Once you feel comfortable with your direction, your experts want you to decide. They want to be heard and have their expertise recognized. But, they know they recommend and you decide.
When managing upwards, be careful you don’t ask your boss what you should do. A great boss will want you to tell them what you want to do, and let the debate begin from there.
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2. Able to provide strategic direction
It is time for you to start to visualize a clear vision and lay out a set of aligned strategies. Your vision becomes the stake in the ground and serves as a rallying cry for your team. Let everyone know where you want to go. As we discussed in our strategic thinking and brand plan chapters, everything you do should match up to your vision. The key issues address what is in the way of your vision. The strategies map out options for how to achieve your vision. And, every tactic and execution needs to be aligned with your vision. Anything that is off must be rejected.
At this stage of your brand management career, you become the steward of the strategy. Build strategies that allow you to steer, control, inspire, and manage the various functions and agencies that support your brand. Make it clear through your plans. Use our one-page plans to keep everyone aligned. Even with a wide-ranging collection of people behind the brand, you are the one who will make sure their agenda matches up to your brand strategies.
3. Know how to work the system
The best brand managers know what they want, and then go get what they want. At junior levels, every organization appears to be a collective mess, filled with functional groups, layers of personalities, and agencies. Everyone brings a different set of goals and motivations, appearing to resist everything you want. As you gain more experience, you will begin working that system to your advantage. Get to know your experts, listen to their issues, and tap into everyone’s unique motivations to ask for their best work.
One secret that took me many years to figure out: If you want someone’s best work, ask for it. The reason it works is very few ask. When you say, “This is a crucial project, and I will really need your best,” you hit the right nerve that connects with their ego to deliver greatness on your behalf.
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4. Achieve success while dealing with pressure
The unknown of ambiguity and the time pressure of deadlines can work against each other. Figure out how to work them to our advantage, as they evoke the right balance of patience with ambiguity and persistence in getting things done. Be organized, disciplined and work the system, so it does not get in your way.
Another significant pressure at this stage of your brand management career is when the results do not come in. It can be frustrating but is a reality we face. Force yourself to course correct, re-examine the underlying issues, and regroup with your team to look at other options, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat.
There is pressure in relationships that many Marketers feel, but are unable to fix. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out the motivations and frustration points in those you work with before they become a problem. Common ground is usually not that far away. At this level, you must demonstrate you can handle the pressure of a leadership role. The four pressures include ambiguity, time management, relationships, and results.
The unknown of marketing can be stressful
Marketing is filled with ambiguity, and the inability to deal with it will eat you alive. Will this ad work? Will the buyer like this idea? Can we increase our forecast for our Q3 promotion? There are so many unknowns until they are known. As the leader, you have to stay comfortable with the unknown to let it play out, because if you panic, you will back the team into an inferior answer.
The daily pressure adds up
When it comes to time pressure, show up organized, disciplined, and work the system, so it doesn’t get in your way. The pressure of ambiguity gets exponential when it conflicts with a time pressure. If you can figure out how to work time and ambiguity together, you can apply the right time pressure to get your experts to provide their best answers. It can be a dangerous game, as you may risk panicking your team. But, when played well, you can get the best from your team.
People relationships add stress
As you move up through your brand management career, you will feel the relationship pressure when leading many cross-functional peers, who may be significantly older and more experienced than you are. Be pro-active in building the relationship. Try to figure out the motivations and frustration points in those you work with before they become a problem. Know where someone stands before you can figure out where you can move them. Common ground is usually not that far away.
The pressure for results
Another significant pressure is when positive results don’t come in. It can be frustrating, but it is a reality we all face. Force yourself to course-correct, rather than getting fixated on your one answer. Step back, reexamine the underlying issues, and regroup with your team to look at other options, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. The pressure for results will increase at each level.
5. Managing others
From my experience, most new brand managers struggle with their first five direct reports. With each new report, look to tweak and improve your management style. At first, you bring your biases of how you wish you were treated. That works for you, but it might not work for your direct report.
Be flexible so that you can adjust your management style. Keep self-evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each direct report.
You will struggle with shifting from “do-er” to coach. It will always tempting do it yourself in five minutes, rather than spend an hour to show your new ABM. Be the manager who gives feedback. I see too many brand managers not giving enough feedback. I have always been amazing that even those who thrived with feedback as an ABM leave their direct report to squirm. Many are afraid of “going negative,” so the ABM is left in the dark or believe they are doing a good job.
Take the time to teach up front, give the ABM some room to try it out, and then provide hands-on feedback in real time. Use weekly meetings to give both positive feedback and address gaps.
The 10 reasons brand managers fail
- Struggle to make decisions.
- Not analytical enough.
- Can’t get along with others.
- Not good with ambiguity.
- Bad people manager.
- Poor communicators with management or partners.
- Never follow your instincts.
- Can’t think or write strategically
- You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you.
- Sloppy with budgets and timelines.
Read our story on how to manage your marketing career from ABM 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.
Learn about brand positioning
To find your ideal brand positioning statement, you want to find the space that is most motivating to consumers. And, find the space that is most ownable for your brand. Our brand positioning statement process starts with a defined consumer target your brand will serve. Then, we focus on the emotional and functional benefits that differentiate your brand. Further, we use support points to help differentiate your brand from competitors.
Learn about marketing plans
A strategic marketing plan gets everyone on the same page, including senior management, sales, product development, customer service and your agency partners. So, we have a one-page brand plan to help. That way, everyone drives against the same vision, key issues, strategies, and tactics. Throughout this article, I will show how to write a marketing plan, with a few marketing plan examples. And, we have a marketing plan template you can purchase.