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What Do You Do At The Office, Daddy?

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Summary: The brand manager is like the president of his brand in the way that he might be if the brand were the only product at a small, independent company. The successful brand manager knows what part of the "investment” can be most realistically built upon in order to achieve the greatest dollar profit out of incremental investments in his brand.

My five year old Bryan is a questioner, and nearly every week I get the same question: "What do you do at the office, Daddy?"

Most often I tell him I write things, but once I told him I was a brand manager. He just looked at me quizzically. Funny thing, at cocktail parties I get the same quizzical look in response to the same question and answer. In fact, a credit company clerk didn't believe anyone could be a ''brand manager" and accordingly she changed my application to read "branch manager.”

In view of the mystery that seems to surround the brand management function, it seemed like a good idea, to tackle the problem of what it is that we brand manager types do to earn our keep. In the past 11 years, I've been exposed to a number of different brand management type job descriptions. Let me reveal several of them to you.

The first description was given to me about three months after I got into brand work by a tight-lipped VP, Marketing who hated to waste a word lest his perennial pipe fall from his mouth. Here's how he defined the brand manager's job in just a dozen words:

"To maximize the future return on the cumulative investment in his franchise.”

If this definition sounds a little esoteric, at first, it really isn't. What my pipe-smoking VP seemed to be saying in his typical tight-lipped manner was that:

Brand managers are charged with the responsibility for making and executing plans that result in the greatest amount of profit long-term for their brands.

To do this, they must respond effectively to the corporate cumulative investment in their franchise. To respond "effectively,” brand managers must recognize what this investment is. It surely isn’t money. It could be a strong brand preference, an appealing scent, a design or distribution advantage, or a very desirable consumer image of the product’s effectiveness. The successful brand manager knows what part of the "investment” can be most realistically built upon in order to achieve the greatest dollar profit out of incremental investments in his brand.

Another interesting job description of the brand management function was presented by a highly political brand manager (now merchandising manager) to a group of proprietary salesmen attending a national sales meeting. Here's what he said:

"The brand manager is like the president of his brand in the way that he might be if the brand were the only product at a small, independent company.”

The implications of the presidential title define the job: The innovator of new activity; the administrator; the final decision-making authority on his brand; the ultimate person responsible for brand profit.

I personally don't care for the description. While it is obviously true that the brand manager is the planner of, and coordinator on, activities concerning his brand, there are some equally obvious differences between president and manager, such as:

No one reports directly to the brand manager—except his assistants. In reality then, the brand manager does not exercise the leverage that the president does over the sales, manufacturing, purchasing departments, etc. Beyond this, the brand manager does not have the “final decision making authority” in the way that a president might. Even at the most loosely structured brand operation I know (a major appliance manufacturing company), key packaging and advertising decisions are subject to the close scrutiny of general management.

Finally, brand managers rarely, if ever, exercise full control over their brand's P&L—since corporate profit demands, sales department goals, etc., often blur the specific recommendations of brand managers. The “president" definition, then, might be okay as an oversimplification for a group of salesmen, but in my book it doesn't hold water for us as a job description.

A third definition of the brand manager's role I stole out of the handbook of a major foods producer: “The brand manager is responsible for evaluation of a brand’s current competitive position; establishing realistic marketing objectives; and for planning and implementation of future marketing strategy designed to achieve these objectives.”

At first, this definition might seem limiting. Not necessarily. I think any brand manager worth his salt feels that marketing planning encompasses a great deal more than advertising, sales promotion, sampling or publicity. He believes it includes the product’s acceptance level by category users, the packaging, pricing, level of promotional support, etc. In short, he considers that marketing strategy means coordinating every element of a brand's complex structure in an effort to achieve a well-defined, viable position in the marketplace. Given this perspective, the "evaluation/goal-setting/planning/implementation of marketing strategy" definition isn't half bad. In fact it's damned good.

What Brand Managers Are Paid For?

Several common threads run through the three definitions we looked at. First, brand managers are paid to have 360° vision: to be responsible for all elements of the business they administer. In that sense, they are the "generalists" of the business world, a title usually reserved for top management. Second, brand managers are paid to be totally involved, to have a vested interest in their brand. This aspect of the job can be explicit (maximize the future return) or implicit as our "president of an independent company" who obviously cares more than anyone else about the success of his venture. Either way, vested interest is there. Third, brand managers are paid to be three kinds of people in one:
  • Evaluators of the present situation.
  • Creators of the future plan.
  • Administrators of that plan’s implementation.

To close this, let's look at two real jobs that pose under the guise of brand management:

1. The international division of one of the top cosmetic companies in the world is divided into three functions: An advertising manager responsible for creative and media decisions on all brands; a sales promotion director responsible for creation and execution of all displays, promotions, etc.; and a brand manager responsible for evaluation of the marketing situation for each product, and development of product and packaging innovations consistent with these evaluations.

2. A well-known East Coast coffee and tea manufacturer divides its marketing staff in two: Brand management which is responsible for product, profitability, packaging and pricing; merchandising management which is responsible independently for advertising, sales promotion and product publicity.
In the light of the brand management definitions we looked at, I can only speculate that the "brand managers” both at Company 1 and at Company 2 are pathetically bad, or pathetically sad. Certainly they aren’t involved in brand management as I know it.
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