Marketing career game plan for Brand Managers

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.

If you are an ambitious marketer who is looking to advance your career, our Mini MBA program will teach how to think, define, plan, execute, and analyze. 

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.

How to be a successful Brand Manager

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. 

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 marketing plans. Use our one-page plans to keep everyone aligned in our marketing plan template. 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. 

Brand Management Mini MBA

Invest in your future. If you are an ambitious marketer, looking to solidify your marketing skills, our Brand Management Mini MBA will teach you about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, advertising decisions, and marketing analytics. 

Have a look at our brochure on our Mini MBA program

Use  >  to move through the brochure or  x  to see the full screen. 

You get 36 training videos and our Brand Toolkit ($200 value) that has over 120 PowerPoint slides you can use for presentations on brand plans, brand positioning, and business reviews. We provide key chapters from our Beloved Brands Playbook, and a Brand Management Workbook with exercises to try in real-time. Earn a certificate you can use on your resume or LinkedIn profile. 

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.

brand manager
why brand managers fail

Read our top 10 reasons why brand managers fail with tips for how to overcome. 

Brand management career path

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.

Click to read our post on how to manage your marketing career

Brand Management training

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It is time for your marketing team to step up!

When you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills to succeed. As a result, you will see them make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth.

What will your marketing team get out of our marketing training?

We’ll work with your team to help them learn more about the five core marketing skills: Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. Most importantly, your marketers will learn new tools, concepts, and ideas to trigger new thinking. To help their skills, we get participants to take each tool on a test run. Then, we give feedback for them to keep improving. 

Get the right marketing training for your team

Our brand management training programs are offered in three streams: 

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To help the participants, we use relevant brand examples for each course. As a result, this helps your marketing team understand and apply their newly developed skills to their business. 

To explore how our marketing training programs can help your team, click below

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With our Beloved Brands playbook, you will learn how to think strategically, define your brand positioning, write a marketing plan, make execution decisions, and analyze your brand. Our readers tell us they reach for Beloved Brands as a reference tool to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand. We are proud that 89% of online reviewers have given Beloved Brands a 5-star rating. As a result, Beloved Brands has been a #1 bestseller in brand management. We also have the B2B Brands playbook and our Healthcare Brands playbook

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We have designed our marketing training program to build the fundamental skills that will help your team reach their full potential. We will work with your team to help them learn take on Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. 

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