Career Overview: Brand Management

Posted by The Editors on November 30, 2012


Brand management is difficult to define because the actual job description varies widely across the vast universe of consumer products companies. Many CPG companies have at least one thing in common, though: They're part of huge conglomerates that produce many name-brand products. Size gives them economies of scale, and a diversity of products gives them protection against down cycles. Which is not to say that small mom-and-pop, mail-order pickle-and-jam companies don't crop up every now and then and make a serious go of it. They do. They aren't where the majority of the jobs are, however-at least, not until Unilever or Nestlé takes them over.

The basic analogy for brand management is that brands are treated like businesses within the company, and brand managers are essentially small business owners. The job involves:

. Monitoring the competitive landscape of the category in which your brand resides.
. Developing strategies to exploit market opportunities.
. Executing those strategies with the help of a cross-functional team.
. Delivering the sales volume, market share, and profit projections for the business.

Brand managers craft elegant business plans and submit them to senior management. Then, when the price of the key ingredient in their product goes through the roof because of locust plagues, they rewrite the business plan from scratch with many more contingencies. They focus on the minutiae of a daily sales-volume report, and they dream big dreams when it's time to update the vision for the brand. They approach upper-level management for capital to fund a new product launch or a line extension in much the same way that small business owners go to venture capitalists or banks to fund expansion.


Brand management is considered part of the marketing function, and most aspiring brand managers have had some experience in advertising, promotions, or sales. However, consumer packaged goods companies are very interested in candidates who have honed their analytical and leadership skills in other disciplines, including consulting, investment banking, or strategic planning. If you have no previous experience in marketing, a summer internship can be enormously helpful. Many companies offer summer internships, which often result in a job offer after graduation.

Recruiters look for leadership, analytical skills, problem solving ability, teamwork, and creativity. Successful applicants should have at least an undergraduate degree in business, liberal arts, or a related field. Philosophy majors and engineers are equally welcome to apply, if they can demonstrate skills in the five areas just mentioned. Most companies look for candidates with at least a 3.5 GPA. The more work experience and leadership and teamwork experience (in a sorority/fraternity, school club, or sports team) you can show, the better.

Job Outlook

Record-high gasoline prices and generic competitors able to cheaply replicate brand name goods have stuck CPG companies between a rock and a hard place. These market pressures have led to budget cuts, weakened revenues, and stock declines. Recent product price increases at Campbell Soup, Starbucks, Hershey Foods, Clorox, and General Mills attest to the strain large consumer products companies are under to remain profitable. Yet, at most companies, the increased competition has made brand management more valuable than ever. Brand management was once an exotic practice known only to the CPG industry, but now companies in a wide array of industries are finding value in well-managed brands. Companies are also finding branding useful in more corporate functions. Human resources departments are fretting over the internal branding needed to attract employees and keep them loyal. The boom in new ways to reach consumers-video on the web, satellite radio, and blogs to name the most recent-also requires brand managers to keep pumping branding messages through the endless capillaries of media. And thanks to these increased venues for marketing, as well as more uses for branding within companies and in more industries, job opportunities for brand managers have expanded.

Employment in the field of marketing is expected to increase faster than average-at over 27 percent- through 2014. The BLS says this sustained job growth will be supported by increasingly intense domestic and global competition in consumer products and services. It also cautions budding marketers, however, to expect increased competition for full-time corporate marketing positions as marketing projects (including brand management) are increasingly outsourced to ad agencies and contract specialists.

Brand managers who were able to hang onto their jobs through the most recent recession have been forced to work with drastically reduced budgets, leaving them hard-pressed to deliver the major product wins they need to advance their companies-and careers. On the other hand, brand managers with specialized scientific or industry expertise may find they are better poised to land plum positions with major ad agencies as the economy continues on an upswing.

Career Tracks

The career track at most companies features plenty of opportunities for cross-functional experience and varied work assignments. At some companies, experience in functions other than marketing has become a prerequisite for advancement. One brand management professional reports that in her 25- year career at Procter & Gamble, she has held seven different jobs in departments ranging from marketing to cost accounting to corporate recruiting.

Despite flexibility in career path development, there are clearly defined entry-level positions: marketing analyst (undergraduates), assistant brand manager (MBAs), or sales representative (undergraduates). The path from marketing analyst to assistant brand manager to brand manager is a progression from executing to developing strategy. Continuing along the path involves a shift from participating in cross-functional teams to leading them, and from monitoring a business budget to assuming profit and loss responsibility. At some point along this path, most companies send aspiring managers out into the field for extensive sales training, a.k.a. the "reality check."

The annals of brand management are full of tales of "brilliant" strategy that the sales force couldn't execute in a store. In general, marketing analysts support multiple small businesses or one big one; assistant brand managers run a small business; and brand managers manage one large business or a portfolio of two or three smaller ones. Marketing directors, a catchall term for the levels beyond brand manager, oversee a major portfolio of brands.

Marketing Analyst
The marketing analyst or assistant position is the entry level for recent college graduates. Supporting a few brand managers or assistant brand managers, a marketing analyst must balance tasks to keep everybody smiling. You may work on one major brand (say, Diet Coke) or a group of smaller brands. Most of your work will involve poring through reams of data. Yes, you will have the opportunity to sit in on divisional meetings and strategy sessions, but the bulk of your work will be more "tactical," a euphemism for number crunching. Know how to balance a budget? Yearn to construct a competitive analysis? Ever wonder who tracks how many premiums consumers order? Duties such as these will soon consume your life. Successful marketing analysts execute assignments efficiently and accurately. Big-picture strategy work comes later.

Typical Responsibilities:
. Assist in business reviews, including competitive analysis
. Benchmark competitors
. Manage budgets
. Proofread advertising copy
. Run errands
. Get signatures
. Inventory the supply closet
. Teach the divisional VP how to make PowerPoint slides

Assistant Brand Manager
With MBA in hand, you're ready to conquer the world. Sorry, but you'll have to postpone those grandiose plans. For now, you'll spend anywhere from two to four years discovering the wonderful world of consumer product marketing and learning the way business is done at your chosen company. As an assistant brand manager, it's your job to coordinate the various marketing functions-including packaging, advertising, promotions, and public relations-to execute the marketing plan.

The good news is that you are the one person at the company ultimately responsible for that one product. The bad news is that the buck stops at your desk. In the course of executing the marketing plan, you will head up a number of cross-functional teams that work on various parts of your business. For example, a product improvement project may bring together R&D, marketing research, packaging, finance, and operations. A change in your consumer promotion plan might require a coordinated effort between representatives from promotions and operations. Operations? You don't want to change the dates on a coupon drop without checking with operations to ensure that the factory is producing enough product to cover the increased demand.

Don't worry, you will have an opportunity to develop marketing plans of your own, but a tremendous amount of your time is spent carrying out the previous manager's "big ideas" and responding to directives from upper management. You'll understand your place in a big company very clearly after your marketing director slashes your carefully crafted consumer promotion plan in the back half of the year to cover the costs of a coupon redemption overrun on another brand in her portfolio.

Assistant brand managers shift gears all day long. One minute they're brainstorming new promotion ideas, the next they're wading through monthly volume projections.

Typical Responsibilities:
. Lead cross-functional teams that carry out the daily work on the business
. Manage marketing analysts and administrative assistants
. Develop marketing plan to review brand performance and meet volume and profit
. Participate in the life of the company by interviewing prospective candidates, attending recruiting functions, sitting on planning committees, and volunteering in corporate outreach programs
. Demonstrate leadership and analytical skills to senior management
. Manage qualitative and quantitative market research projects

Brand Manager
Congratulations! You're now responsible for the performance of a major brand or a portfolio of two to three smaller brands. You also take on additional responsibilities at the business unit, division, or corporate level. These responsibilities might range from serving on a companywide task force that is reviewing trade spending across different brands to leading the recruiting team at your alma mater. You are also responsible for the performance of the marketing analysts and assistant brand managers who work on
your business.

In fact, at some companies, up to 50 percent of managers' performance evaluations can be devoted to assessing their contribution to their subordinates' development. In addition to an increase in salary, freshly minted brand managers often receive attractive performance incentives that tie year-end bonuses to a combination of their brand's performance and the company's performance. Critics argue that these performance incentives lead managers to sacrifice long-term brand-building initiatives in favor of short-term profit-taking, but no one predicts a change any time soon.

Typical Responsibilities:
. Assume leadership of the cross-functional team working on a major brand or group of smaller brands, and accept profit and loss responsibility for the business
. Segue from executing tactics to developing strategy to selling it to senior management
. Participate in companywide initiatives, such as steering committees and policy review boards
. Manage assistant brand managers, analysts, and administrative assistants

Marketing Director
Ready to run a business? Then you're right on track to become a marketing director. In this role, you'll be responsible for a whole business unit, guiding overall strategy by coordinating the efforts of brand managers and assistant brand managers and ensuring that the brand teams remain focused on the key strategic issues. It's your job to communicate with the executive wing, and to ensure that your brands receive the resources and capital they need to grow. Because you're responsible for the business unit's P&L (that's profit and loss), the workload can be heavy at times, but your generous compensation package justifies the effort.

You'll be expected to make big-picture entrepreneurial decisions as a marketing director, and your company will hold you responsible for the outcomes of those decisions. As a marketing director, you'll make key contacts in ad agencies, the media, consulting firms, your industry, and the marketing field in general, and these contacts will serve you well as an entrepreneur or consultant. Through them you'll gain access to the services, people, research, ideas, and exposure you need to make your own company or consulting ventures successful. A marketing director position is one of the best-paid, most rewarding opportunities for on-the-job training you'll find in the business world.

Typical Responsibilities:
. Strategy development for entire business unit and/or product division
. Managing portfolio of brands, and shouldering profit and loss responsibility for the business
. Budget allocation and oversight, with responsibility to reallocate resources as necessary to track financial goals across a brand portfolio
. Managing a team of brand managers and assistants responsible for cross-functional teams that develop and implement appropriate brand strategies
. Determine acceptable business unit profit and loss, and make course corrections, where needed, to track financial and strategic corporate positioning goals

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