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What’s Good for My Brand Is Good for the Company!

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Summary: The brand manager’s ability to step into a position of greater corporate responsibility is thwarted by the brand management system, itself. Brand managers aren’t trained to evaluate inter brand priorities, only intra-brand ones.

What’s Good for My Brand Is Good for the Company!

There is a paradox about brand management that has always bothered me: That the brand manager fulfills at one and the same time a "general'' management function and a "parochial” management function. Let me explain.

The brand manager is paid to be a generalist on his brand; to worry about all aspects of his business from production to promotion, from consumer complaints to quality control. Yet, the brand manager is paid only to worry about one (or perhaps) several brands out of a stable of 10, or 20, or perhaps 100. Thus, the brand manager's sights are very narrow as he is essentially paid to wear “brand blinders.”

A Brand Manger Must Understand Corporate Goals

You might say that he suffers from corporate myopia. Now this isn't necessarily bad, but it isn't necessarily good, either, for several reasons.

First, the brand manager's lack of knowledge and understanding of corporate goals can result in the wasting of countless hours on projects that won't bear fruit.

For example, at a company I once worked for, one of my fellow brand managers spent a lot of time reviewing his brand's profile as related to television viewing. He came to the conclusion that day network was not only the most efficient, but the most effective medium for his brand. He convinced his account execs to the degree that the agency took the time and trouble to develop a comprehensive media plan which supported the logic of the brand manager's position.

Meanwhile, back in the corner office, the VP of marketing had in the back of his mind another new product that was soon to be launched. Night network ‘30s were required in order to launch the new brand with maximum reach and frequency. Inevitably, the day of reckoning came: Our brand man with blinders on, and a magnificent rationale for day network (plus a plan to boot), was called into the corner office and told to partner up on night network with the soon-to-be introduced new product. Our brand manager left the office with a sense of frustration and resentment. His parochial instincts tore him away from the corporate goals.

You might sum up the situation the way a former boss of mine once did: "When I'm paid to think corporately, I'll think corporately.” The question is, will our frustrated brand manager with his day network plan ever get the chance to think corporately? Not too likely if the VP in the corner office knows of his resentment.

The brand manager’s ability to step into a position of greater corporate responsibility is thwarted by the brand management system itself. Brand managers aren’t trained to evaluate inter-brand priorities, only intra-brand ones. Now it might be argued that if you can handle the intra-brand priorities (e.g. advertising vs. promotional spending; one research project vs. another), you can handle the inter-brand priorities (e.g. which brand should receive the major thrust of investment spending this year). And, I’ll grant that this should be the case. But the narrow-minded outlook of a brand manager may well prejudice decisions this same man makes later as a group brand manager.

Should you doubt this is the case, consider this example: I once worked for a group brand manager who was responsible for two different brands—mine, and one he had worked on previously as a brand manager. Whenever there was a conflict of interest on promotion dates, or on which brand was to have "dibs" on the talents of the best on-premise art director first, you know which brand got the better deal—the brand my boss was once brand manager on! I once confronted him about this. His answer: "I didn't mean to be preferential. It's my first love, I guess.”

Sometimes He’s Kept in the Dark

At this point, we might ask what corporate management is doing today to offset this one-sided outlook that is an inherent part of the brand management system. Obviously I'm not privy to what's happening throughout the entire industry, but you might be interested in several approaches with which I have been made familiar.
At a small appliance company, new to brand management, the prevailing attitude is: “Keep the brand manager in the dark.” The senior management of the company, all of whom were formerly salesmen, have adopted the position that brand managers should not be concerned with developments (either on-going or new) involving brands other than their own.
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