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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  • Get our ideal Brand Plan in a downloadable PowerPoint file that includes formatted blank slides with key marketing definitions where you can insert your own brand plan.
  • We include slides for vision, purpose, analysis, key issues, strategies, brand positioning statement, and execution plans.
  • You will get the one-page brand plan and brand strategy roadmap. 

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Seven ways that brand leaders can be better in their jobs

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Self-improvement is continuous throughout your brand career and your life. Any moment can be a great time for reflection to think of where you are now, where you want to go next and how can you challenge yourself to get better. In the positive words of T.S. Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” So with that, let’s keep moving to be better.

Here are seven you can try to be better:

  1. Take a walk in your consumer’s shoes.
  2. Ask bigger questions and you will get bigger answers.
  3. Create more love for your brand, and you’ll drive more power and profits for your Brand.
  4. Focus makes your brand bigger, not smaller
  5. With all your marketing execution, ask yourself “DO I LOVE IT?”
  6. Find your space in the market to win
  7. Care more about the careers of your people

#1: Take a walk in your consumer's shoes.

 

See and experience your brand as consumers do. It’s not just about doing research and finding consumer insights. I know it sounds pedestrian, but google your brand, try to buy it, open it and use it. Bring the consumer into everything you do tightening the connection. Consumers do not care what you do until you care about what they want. In 2019, be the type of marketer who represents the consumer to your brand and then watch your work get better.

Most marketers think of the type of consumers they want to attract. To be better, why not change your thinking and go after those consumers who are already motivated by what your brand offers? So instead of asking, “Who do we want?” you should be saying, “Who wants us?”

I use seven fundamental questions to define and build a profile of your ideal consumer target:

  1. What is the description of the consumer target?
  2. What are the consumer’s main needs?
  3. Who is the consumer’s enemy who torments them every day?
  4. What are the insights we know about the consumer?
  5. What does the consumer think now?
  6. How does the consumer buy?
  7. What do we want consumers to see, think, do, feel or whisper to their friends?

#2: Ask bigger questions and you will get bigger answers

 

The best strategic minds see questions before they see solutions.

 

I want to introduce you to my ThinkBox strategic thinking model. I have borrowed this idea from sports. For instance, before a shot in golf, the ThinkBox forces you to look at your golf score versus your opponent, the type of shot that works best with your swing, the wind condition, or how well you are playing that day. Then, use your PlayBox to visualize the golf shot, think and feel your way through your swing, then trust your shot.

With a brand, the ThinkBox, before taking action, you should look at your brand’s core strength, the bond you have with your consumers, the brand’s competitive position, and the brand’s business situation. Once you have done the thinking, use the PlayBox to see the impact, think and feel your way, then trust your instincts.

To be better at strategy, I have set the Strategic ThinkBox up so that each of the four questions uses a forced-choice to make decisions, where you must focus on one answer for each question.

  1. What is the core strength that will help your brand win?
  2. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  3. What is your current competitive position?
  4. What is the current business situation your brand faces?

Start with your brand’s core strength. Decide which of four choices you will lead with: product, brand story, consumer experience or price. Your core strength will change your entire strategy, including the brand messages and the focus of your investment. To be better, use our process for how to choose your brand’s core strength and then show you how to write smart, strategic objective statements around your core strength.

Next, you have to look at your consumer strategy. Start by determining where your brand currently sits on the brand love curve, whether your brand is unknown, indifferent, like it, love it, or at the beloved stage. To be better, use our brand funnel data, the voice of the consumer and market dynamics to determine where your brand sits on the brand love curve. I will outline distinct game plans for each stage.

Regarding the competitive strategy, you must choose from one of four different types of competitive situations you find your brand operating within. The power players are the dominant leader in the category and take a competitive defensive stance. The challenger brands have gained enough power to battle head-to-head with the market leader. The disruptor brands have found a space so different they can pull consumers away from the significant category players. Craft brands aggressively go against the category with a niche target market and a niche consumer benefit. They are small and stay far away from the market leaders. Each competitive situation leads to different strategy choices.

A brand must look at the situational strategy, which starts with understanding your brand health, looking at both internal and external factors. Choose one of four potential situations: whether you keep the momentum going, face a business turnaround situation, realign everyone behind a strategy, or your brand is a start-up. With each situation, it leads to distinct strategies, and even leadership styles to deploy.

#3: Create more love for your brand, and you'll drive more power and profits for your Brand.

The tighter the bond a brand creates with their consumers, the more powerful the brand will become with all stakeholders. Think of brand love as stored energy a brand can unleash in the form of power into the marketplace. You can use that power with consumers, competitors, new entries, employees, influencers, media, suppliers and channel partners.

Power over the consumers

These beloved brands command power over the very consumers who love them, as consumers feel more and think less. These consumers pay price premiums, line up in the rain, follow the brand as soon as it enters new categories and relentlessly defend the brand to any attackers. They cannot live without the brand.

Power over the channels

Beloved brands have power over channel customers, who know their consumers would switch stores before they switch brands. Stores cannot stand up to the beloved brand; instead, they give the brand everything in negotiations. The beloved brand ends up with stronger store placement, better trade terms and better promotions from retail partners.

Power over the competition

The competitors, whether current competitors or new entries, cannot match the emotional bond the beloved brand has created with their brand fans. The beloved brand has the monopoly on emotions, making the consumer decisions less about the actual product and more about how the experience makes consumers feel. Unless a new brand has an overwhelming technological advantage, it will be impossible to break the emotional bond the consumer has established with the beloved brand.

Power over the media

The beloved brand also has a power over the media whether it is paid, earned, social or search media. With paid media, the beloved brand gets better placement, cheaper rates and they are one of the first calls for possible brand integrations. The beloved brand is considered newsworthy, so they earn more free media via mainstream media, expert reviews and bloggers.

Power over the company’s culture

Beloved brands even have power over employees, who want to be part of the brand. They are brand fans, who are proud to work on the brand. They embody the culture on day 1 and want to help the brand achieve success.

Brand love means brand profits

With all the love and power the beloved brand generates, it becomes easy to translate that stored power into sales growth, profit, and market valuation.

Here are the eight ways a brand can drive profits:

  1. Premium pricing
  2. Trading up to a higher price price
  3. Lower cost of goods
  4. Lower sales and marketing costs
  5. Stealing competitive users
  6. Getting loyal users to use more
  7. Entering new markets
  8. Finding new uses for the brand.

#4: Focus makes your brand bigger, not smaller

 

Focus your limited resources on a distinct opportunity you have identified based on a potential change in the market, including changes to consumers, competitive situations, technology or sales channels.

In today’s data-driven world, everyone has access to the equivalent information and in turn, can see the same opportunities. You must use speed to seize the opportunity before others can take action, and then that opportunity is gone. The best brand leaders never divide and conquer. They force themselves to focus and win. The smartest brand leaders use the word “or” more often than they use the word “and.” If you come to a decision point, and you try to rationalize doing a little of both, you are not strategic. Force yourself to make choices.

Every brand has limited resources, whether they’re financial, time, people, or partnerships. Marketers always face the temptation of an unlimited array of choices, whether in the possible target market, brand messages, strategies, or tactics. The smartest brand leaders limit their choices to match up to their limited resources, to focus on those that will deliver the highest return. 

 

Many marketers struggle to focus

  • Myth 1: The most prominent myth of marketing is to believe that your brand will get bigger if you have a broader target market. Reality: Too many marketers target anyone. I will always argue it is better to be loved by a few than tolerated by many. You have to create a tight bond with a core base of brand fans, and then use that fan support to expand your following. 
  • Myth 2: The second myth to becoming a more prominent brand is to believe a brand stands for everything. Some brands try to say everything possible with the hope the consumer hears anything. Reality: Hope is never a strategy. To be loved by consumers, a brand must stand for something with a backbone and conviction. Trying to be everything to anyone just ends up becoming nothing to everyone.
  • Myth 3: Your brand will be bigger if you try to be everywhere, whether in every sales channel or on every possible media option. Reality: If you went to Las Vegas and put a chip on every square, you would be bankrupt before midnight. The worst marketers lack focus because they fear missing out on someone or something. By trying to be everywhere, the brand will drain itself and eventually end up being nowhere.

Every brand has limited resources, whether they’re financial, time, people, or partnerships. Marketers always face the temptation of an unlimited array of choices, whether in the possible target market, brand messages, strategies, or tactics. The smartest brand leaders limit their choices to match up to their limited resources, to focus on those that will deliver the highest return. 

 

When you focus, five amazing things happen to your brand:

  1. Stronger return on investment (ROI): When you focus your dollars on the distinct breakthrough point or against a program that you know will work, you will see the most positive and efficient response in the marketplace. 
  2. Better return on effort (ROE): You must make the most efficient use of your limited people resources. Find the Big Easy! Focus on the ideas with the most significant impact that is the easiest to execute. Avoid those ideas that are small and difficult to implement. While you may not always have the data to calculate your ROI, you should have the instincts to figure out your return on effort (ROE). 
  3. Stronger reputation: When you limit your audience and brand message, you will have a better chance to own that reputation among that core target audience. 
  4. More competitive: When you focus your message to a specific target audience, your brand will start to create a space in the market you can defend against others from entering that space.
  5. More investment behind the brand: When you focus and deliver business results, your management team will ask you to do that again. They will give you more money and more people resources. Even with increased resources, you must take the same focused approach. 

#5: With all your marketing execution, ask yourself “DO I LOVE IT?”

 

We can never settle for O.K. Each time we reject O.K., the work gets better. It makes our expectations higher. When you have to love your work, you will fight for it, with your agency, your boss or anyone in the way.

No longer can we think about consumers in a strictly functional or logical way. The best brands of today, like Tesla, Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Dove or Airbnb have found a way to capture the imagination of their consumers and take them on a journey of delightful experiences that fosters a deeper emotional and lasting relationship.

Brands must treat their most cherished consumers with the respect that establishes trust, enabling consumers to open up to a point where they replace thinking with feeling. The logic of demand evolves into an emotional state of desire, needs become cravings and repeat purchases progress into rituals and turn into a favorite moment in the day. Consumers transform into the most outspoken and loyal brand fans and ambassadors.

#6: Find your space in the market to win

To be better at strategy, you need to find the competitive space in which your brand can win, I introduce a Venn diagram of competitive situations.

You will see three circles. The first circle comprises everything your consumer wants or needs. The second circle includes everything your brand does best, including consumer benefits, product features or proven claims. And, finally, the third circle lists what your competitor does best.

Your brand’s winning zone (in green), is the space that matches up “What consumers want” with “What your brand does best.” This space provides you a distinct positioning you can own and defend from attack. Your brand must be able to satisfy the consumer needs better than any other competitor can.

Your brand will not survive by trying to compete in the losing zone (in red), which is the space that matches the consumer needs with “What your competitor does best.” When you play in this space, your competitor will beat you every time.

As markets mature, competitors copy each other. It has become harder to be better with a definitive product win. Many brands have to play in the risky zone (in grey), which is the space where you and your competitor both meet the consumer’s needs in a relative tie. 

There are four ways you can win the risky zone:

  • Use your brand’s power in the market to squeeze out smaller, weaker brands.
  • Be the first to capture that space to earn a reputation you can defend
  • Win with innovation and creativity to make your brand seem unique
  • Build a deeper emotional connection to make your brand seem different

Sadly, I always have to mention the dumb zone (in blue) where two competitors “battle it out” in the space consumers do not care.  One competitor says, “We are faster,” and the other brand says, “We are just as fast.” No one bothered to ask the consumer if they care about speed. Both brands are dumb.

#7: Care more about the careers of your people

To be better at the marketing leadership position, the best way to connect with your team is to care about their careers. If you are authentic with how you approach their development, they’ll listen to your advice, follow your lead and give more effort than ever. And when they feel they are getting the training and development needed to be successful, they’ll likely stay longer with your company. If you help them add skills and motivation, their on-the-job performance will be even better. When the work gets better, the brand’s results will be better.

For you the equation is simple: Smarter people lead to better work, which leads to stronger growth for your brand.

The best brand leaders are always looking for ways to be better

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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

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How to land your first marketing job

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

To land your first marketing job, you have to want it more than anyone else. There are more people who want to be the entry-level Assistant Brand Manager than there are jobs. So how bad do you want this job? Do you want it more than everyone else? Will you do what it takes to get that job? 

Years ago, I interviewed so many times before I got the job. And, I must have gone through 100 interviews before I finally landed a position. I remember one time, after 3 minutes the hiring manager looked at my resume and said: “you have zero marketing experience, this won’t work.” That one still stings after 25 years but made me want it even more. 

Persistence has to be the key. If you are only half trying, then I have minimal sympathy. If you are completely immersed in the effort, trust me, you will eventually break through and land your first marketing job.

Landing a Marketing job

How to set yourself up for success

MBA:

MBAs are one of the biggest sources for recruiting the Asistant Brand Manager (ABMs) which is the first marketing job in most companies. When I was recuriting, going after MBAs gave us the chance to have a consistency in our recruiting efforts, allowed us to have a focused timing for the hiring and even a consistency in starting dates so we could measure and compare ABMs.  One of the silent secrets no one can say is that an MBA ensures that ABMs are the late 20s, rather than 22–which makes it easier for them to work with the sales teams. Now, people always ask me: “Do I need an MBA?” My answer is “No, but it sure helps.” It allows you to be part of the formal recruiting process, get in the front door and be judged by that very process, rather than just a one-off hiring manager who is in a panic and doesn’t know what they want. My question to you is “Can you do an MBA?” because if you can, I’d recommend it.

 

Headhunters and Recruiters:

 

Recruiters were our second source for ABMs, especially when we needed ABMs outside of the formal recruiting process. Some Headhunters specifically fill ABM roles, and you should make sure you connect with them. If you are lucky, you can get a headhunter who gives you tips on your resume or feedback on your interview. Ask for the input. And stay in touch regularly.

 

Networking with your marketing peers:

 

As the economy has gotten worse, some companies have cut back on the use of Head Hunters and opted for using a “finder’s fee” to employees that recommend someone. So if you can connect with ABMs that already work at the company, they have an incentive to get you hired. The advantages to networking are they’ll tell you the hiring manager, process and interview tips. They’ll also alert you to when someone quits. Keep in mind, the ABMs in the roles have also landed their first marketing job recently and will have real-time tips for you. 

I would recommend you write down the 10-20 companies you want to work for and get networking with other ABMs, BMs or the HR manager.

 

Gain experience in the company:

 

A generation ago, many started in sales and then moved over to marketing. It still can happen, but it’s becoming less common. Many today are starting their first marketing job in subject matter roles, whether as a digital or social media specialist. They might also take on a project manager role or customer marketing role.  If you try this route, push to get over the marketing quickly, so you don’t get stuck in a role you don’t want.

 

Job posting:

Don’t wait for the postings, or you’ll be missing out on most of the jobs. The HR department puts up the job posting, either because the company has exhausted all other methods. The posting doesn’t always mean there is a job, but HR using it to fill the résumé bank. The new process of hiring is to go on to Linked In and put “We are Hiring” in job groups.

The marketing interview process

On average, you’ll need 4-5 interviews to land the job–likely one with HR, a couple at the manager level and a couple at the director level. If it’s part of the formal recruiting process, then you need to realize you are being judged at every moment, from the on-campus event to the potential dinner/lunch during the interviews and even how you act between interviews. If they give you a mentor to help you, that person will also have influence. In our debrief about candidates, there were just as many comments about things beyond the interviews as there were the interviews themselves.

Many interviews are moving to the behavioral style where they might say: “tell me a time when you had a conflict…” You need to translate all your strengths and weaknesses into stories that show you have experience in the given area. Write down your answers in the form of Situation Action and Result. Learn how to tell the stories so that it answers the question and showcases your strengths.  Even if people don’t ask you the “tell me a time…” questions, it can be powerful for you to answer in that method.

You will still get asked, “what’s your weakness?” It’s such a cliché question now, but it still gets asked. I once had a candidate tell me they hated ambiguity, which was pretty much the death-nail. Avoid the BS style “I’m too hard on myself” or “I work too hard.” You sound annoying. The safest option I would recommend is “I’m not very good at negotiating” which is a skill that’s not that important for marketing. 

Here are the marketing interview questions that I used to ask:

Tell me a time you used numbers to sell an idea?

You better have your story tight because your answer will be questioned one or two more levels to see if you know your stuff. Great Marketers can tell stories with analysis.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?

It doesn’t matter what it was, but how far did you push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the creative solution.  Your passion for your idea should come through.

What’s the one thing that makes you proud?

When I read your résumé, I want to see significant accomplishments beyond your work experience or school. Football, chess, traveling the world or charity work. I want to hear your story and your pride come through. Great Marketers accomplish things, and I want to know that you have a history of accomplishments. Don’t tell just what you did, tell me what you ACCOMPLISHED!

Tell me a time when you’ve convinced your boss of something they thought wouldn’t work.

I want to see if you can make it happen. This answer should show your leadership, selling skills, and willingness to push. A great Marketer can get what they want..

If you were Justin Bieber’s agent, how would you maximize his value as a spokesperson?

I always took something in the pop culture news and asked how you would handle it. I was looking to see how curious you are and how you could make something with very little subject matter expertise and put together a plan. A great Marketer has a curiosity and can form opinions quickly. This answer lets me see your thinking. Pop culture is a great area that goes beyond books.

If you were on a team that solved a severe healthcare problem for society, what factors would you use to price it on the global level?

This answer is a very complicated question with many issues, especially adding in the global problem. I want to see you think through those issues and layer those issues into your answer. How do you handle the differences between North America and the Third World? How important is profitability vs. R&D vs. compassion? Moreover, how would you leverage government, key influencers and where would that fit into your answer. Great marketers can handle ambiguity, and there is a lot within this case.

From your previous interview with our company, what’s the biggest mistake you made and how would you now change that?

Great marketers are continually pushing themselves to improve. That starts with your assessment. I want to see that you have thought about it and now see a better solution. It also puts you under a bit of unexpected pressure to know how you handle that.

What questions do you have for me?

To me, this is one of the most critical sections. It demonstrates how engaged you are in the process. The quality of your questions will help to separate you. Have five great questions done ahead of time, ask about 2-3 each interview. Ask deep questions, not surface questions. Turn each answer into a conversation starter.

Act like you want that first marketing job

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

To purchase Beloved Brands or B2B Brands, click on the icon where you buy your books 

Beyond the MBA is our virtual brand management training program designed for the real world

You will learn how to think strategically, figure out brand positioning, write brand plans, make decisions on marketing execution and analytical skills.

This is your opportunity to gain access to world-class brand management training

marketing training
Play Video

Click on the arrow above to view a quick video outlining our brand management training program