How to be successful at the Assistant Brand Manager level

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

 

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 happen. 

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

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’s 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.

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.

Five success factors for Assistant Brand Managers

  1. Turn data into analytical stories  
  2. Take action before being asked. 
  3. Make it happen through others
  4. Speak out to challenge the strategy
  5. Be accountable for your work

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. 

To read our story on why an Assistant Brand Manager will fail

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Our marketing training programs to help brand leaders reach their full potential

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Our playbooks will show you new ways for how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  1. You will find new strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  2. To define the brand, I provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We show a step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  3. For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the marketing communications plan, innovation process, and sales plan. 
  4. To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution with chapters on how to write a creative brief, how to make decisions on creative advertising and how to lead the media choices. 
  5. When it comes time for analyzing the performance of your brand, I provide all the analytical tools you need to lead a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand.  

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand and be successful in your marketing career.

You can find Beloved Brands and B2B Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Click on any of the icons above to go directly to the page where you can buy our books. 

How you can be successful at the Brand Manager level

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The new Brand Manager mistakenly thinks this role is about managing others because they finally get a chance to manage a direct report. However, the bigger part of this role is the transition from doer to owner. Yes, you will get your first chance to manage someone, but many times that effort can be a distraction from your chance to continue to learn and grow. Many first-time Brand Managers are disheartened to find out they are a disaster with their first direct report. I tell them they should try to improve with each new direct report and then they will feel more comfortable around the fifth direct report. 

I have hired so many potentially great marketers–who were eager for success, brilliant, hard-working and dedicated. But in reality, about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers get promoted to Brand Manager and less than 20% of Brand Managers make it to the Director level. I have given it a lot of thought over the years and here is my view on what makes a great brand manager.

 

There are two factors that make a great brand manager:

1. They know the right thing to do (strategy)

2. They work the system to make it happen (execution).

Simply put, great marketers do both. The rest either fail on either #1 or #2. They might be great on strategy who can’t get it done. Or great on execution, but they don’t know why they do what they do. It sounds easy, but the ability to move from strategy to execution is rarer than you might assume. It takes a unique person to be able to change brain speeds and apply a different type of thinking. Most of us are comfortable in one or the other.

The five success factors for the Brand Manager role

1. Take ownership of your brand

Many Brand Managers struggle are with the transition from being the helper to now being the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away the idea that someone will hand you a project list. Not only will you make the project list, but you should also come up with the strategies that set up the need for the projects. 

Make a shift in how you speak with your boss. Speak with a telling voice, rather than an asking voice. It is ok to ask questions as feelers, but a great boss will want you to tell them what you want to do, and let the debate begin from there. They do not want to do your job. 

People on your team will look to you for the decisions. While they want to be heard and have their expertise recognized, but they want you to make the decisions.  

2. Provide strategic direction

A great Brand Manager create a vision for the brand that can serve as a rallying cry for your team. Let everyone know where you want to go. Make sure the strategic choices and your brand’s execution matches up with your vision. 

As the brand owner, you become the steward of the strategy. Reject everything that does not line up to your vision. Think with three strategic pillars, so you can steer a consistent delivery of the brand through the various functions and agencies who support your brand. 

3. Work the system

Know what you want, and then make it happen.  

See how your organization works and appreciate the motivations of various key stakeholders. Understand the layers of your organization, with varying goals and motivations. Use that knowledge to begin to work the system.

Inspire, challenge and push your key subject matter experts to deliver their best on your brand. Understand their motivations and tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. And yes, you should ask.

4. Handle the 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 for Marketers 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. 

5. Get the most out of your direct report

Most Brand Managers struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self-evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each direct report.

It can be a struggle to shift from “do-er” to coach, as it is tempting to think you can do something faster, so you may as well do it. The problem is you just become the “super ABM.” 

Many Brand Managers fail to share the spotlight, so it becomes hard for you to showcase your Assistant Brand Manager. You must believe the work of your Assistant Brand Manager will reflect positively on how good of a manager you are. 

Provide your direct report with positive and negative feedback, delivered in a timely fashion. Too many new managers are afraid to “go negative” so their ABM is left in the dark or left believing they are doing a good job. Take the time to teach up front, give them room to try it out and then provide hands-on feedback in real time. 

The 10 reasons brand managers fail

  1. Struggle to make decisions.
  2. Not analytical enough.
  3. Can’t get along with others.
  4. Not good with ambiguity.
  5. Bad people manager.
  6. Poor communicators with management or partners.
  7. Never follow your instincts.
  8. Can’t think or write strategically
  9. You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you. 
  10. Sloppy with budgets and timelines.
Brand training

Our marketing training programs to help brand leaders reach their full potential

Marketing training Video
Play Video

You can click on the arrow above to view a quick video outlining our marketing training programs

Our playbooks will show you new ways for how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  1. You will find new strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  2. To define the brand, I provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We show a step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  3. For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the marketing communications plan, innovation process, and sales plan. 
  4. To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution with chapters on how to write a creative brief, how to make decisions on creative advertising and how to lead the media choices. 
  5. When it comes time for analyzing the performance of your brand, I provide all the analytical tools you need to lead a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand.  

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand and be successful in your marketing career.

You can find Beloved Brands and B2B Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Click on any of the icons above to go directly to the page where you can buy our books.