Most people are promoted up to Brand Manager because they are really smart and get things done. From my experience, they get stuck at the Brand Manager level mainly because they are bad at managing people, or can’t get along with the sales force. Promoting them up to Marketing Director just becomes too risky to the organization–they can’t afford to lose key talent, and they can’t afford to lose touch with the sales team.
Many Marketing Directors fail if they can’t stop acting like a Brand Manager. They are too hands-on and makes all the decisions. They smother the team and never lets them have their day in the sun. One rule is at every level 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.
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.
The 5 success factors for marketing directors
The Marketing Director role becomes less marketing and more leading. Your role is to set the consistent standard for your team and then hold everyone to that standard. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best. Sometimes you’ll need to teach, guide and challenge. Sometimes, you’ll have to put your foot down to stay fundamentally sound and other times you’ll have to follow creative ideas you might not be so sure will win. Let your best people shine, grow and push you. It’s their time.
1. Set a consistently high standard for your team
Hold your team to a consistently high standard of work: Rather than being the leader by example, I’d rather see you establish a high standard and hold everyone and yourself to that standard. Shift your style to a more process orientation so you can organize the team to stay focused, hit deadlines, keep things moving and produce consistent output. Consistent quality of brand plans, execution and interactions with everyone. It’s about how to balance the freedom you give with the standard you demand. Delegate so you motivate your stars, but never abdicate ownership of how your overall team shows up.
2. Behave predictably and consistently
A great marketing director becomes the consistent voice of reason to any potential influencers, acting on behalf of the brand team. The director becomes the usual point person that the VP, sales team, agency, each turn to offering their thoughts on the brands. Yet the director has to allow their BM to own the brand. As the team’s voice of reason, a great marketing director must continue to ground all potential influencers in the brand plan with the strategy choices, consistently communicate the brand’s direction and back up any tactical choices being made by the team.
3. Be a consistent people leader
Newly appointed directors have to stop acting like a “Senior-senior brand manager” and let your team breathe and grow. We know you can write a brand plan, roll out a promotion super fast and make decisions on creative. But can you inspire your team to do the same? It becomes the director’s role to manage and cultivate the talent. Most brand managers have high ambitions–constantly wanting praise, but equally seeking out advice for how to get better. Be passionate about people’s careers–anything less they’ll see it as merely a duty you are fulfilling. A great marketing director should be meeting quarterly with each team member one on one to take them through a quarterly performance review. Waiting for year-end is just not enough.
4. Show up as the consistent voice to the sales team
Marketing directors become the go to marketing person for the sales team to approach. Great sales people challenge marketers to make sure their account wins. I’ve seen many sales teams destroy the marketing director because the director refused to listen and stubbornly put forward their plan without sales input. Be the director that consistently reaches out and listens. They’ll be in shock, and stand behind your business. If sales people feel they’ve been heard, they are more apt to follow the directors vision and direction. A great marketing director should informally meet with all key senior sales leaders on a quarterly basis, to get to know them and listen to their problems. This informal forum allows problems to bubble up of problems and be heard, before they become a problem.
5. Consistently deliver great work and strong results
As it is a business, a great marketing director is expected to make the numbers. They have a knack for finding growth where others can’t. And yet when they don’t, they are the first to own the miss and put forward a recovery plan before being asked.You must have an entrepreneurial spirit of ownership, create goals that “scare you a little but excite you a lot”. They reach out for help across the organization, making those goals public and keep the results perfectly transparent. And everyone will follow you.
Hopefully, you noticed the word “consistent” show up in all 5 factors for success. Stay Consistent. That is a trait I would encourage every director to take: show up with consistency in standards for your team, strategy, people management, dealings with sales and owning the numbers. With a bigger group of people who you influence, with a broader array of interactions across the organization and with a bigger business line on the P&L, anything less than consistent will rattle your core team and rattle the system built around you. No one likes an inconsistent or unpredictable leader. They will mock your mood swings in the cafeteria. You will become famous but for the wrong reasons. The sales team will not be able to rely on your word–and to them, that’s everything.
Senior leaders will struggle with you–and will not want to put you on the big important business because it just feels risky. Your agency will be uncertain as to what mood you will be in, when you show up to meetings. With your maturity and experience, now is the time to start to craft a consistent version of what you want to be.
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.
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