What is a Brand Manager? And why are they important?
"Brand manager" may seem like a new role for the digital age, but it’s existed since the 1930s. In order for a company or organization to stand out from their competitors, developing and maintaining a uniquely appealing brand is a must. Brand managers make it all happen.
What is a brand? Simon Clift, former Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever, says “a brand is the contract between a company and consumers. A bundle of contracts, in fact. And the consumer is the judge and the jury. If they believe a company is in breach of that contract either by underperforming or misbehaving, the consumer will simply choose to enter a contract with another brand.”
The key responsibility of a brand manager is to ensure that every product, action, and communication an organization puts out supports the brand’s goals and messaging. On the surface, this may sound simple, but it’s a critical and nuanced job.
What is a brand manager?
In 1931, Neil McElroy, a marketer at Procter & Gamble, circulated a three page memo among his colleagues, attempting to convince them that they needed to hire more people — more “brand men,” as he put it. Just as it is today, Procter & Gamble was then a behemoth, composed of multiple brands. McElroy argued that there should be one person fully responsible for each brand in the portfolio, managing their assigned brand’s performance, design, strategy, and tactics.
McElroy on the cover of Time Magazine in 1953.
The responsibilities McElroy laid out 90 years ago are still the basic foundation of any brand manager’s role. A modern brand manager directs a team, ensuring all aspects of the marketing and brand image align with the brand’s values and the customer’s expectations. That team usually includes designers, copywriters, performance marketers, and so on. The brand manager collaborates cross-functionally to ensure all team members work is aligned with a common goal: maintaining and building consumer trust in the brand.
Why are brand managers important?
As the saying goes: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Together, a team can accomplish anything — but teams need leaders.
A brand manager might report to a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), or they might report directly to a CEO. Brand managers are key to success because they define and enforce a brand. They’re the source of truth and key knowledge holder about the brand, especially in regards to creating marketing assets.
As your business grows, scope out when and where to place a brand manager in your org chart.
When a company starts out, and there are just one or two team members doing everything, there isn’t a real need for a brand manager. One of the founders wears that hat, and wears it well, since they live and breathe the company’s brand and messaging. It’s only as a company begins to grow that the need for a brand manager arises. By the time a company has been around for a couple of years, sold millions of dollars worth of product, or built a significant audience, a brand manager becomes necessary.
The best brands build a bond of trust in their customers and it’s the brand manager’s job to build and deliver on that trust. Zig Ziglar, best-selling author, says “If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” Brand managers keep their company accountable to their brand values — trustworthy. They turn potential customers into loyal audience members.
What does a brand manager do?
Big picture, brand managers guide their organization’s brand and act as a single source of truth. But what does brand management actually entail? What does someone in a brand manager position do day-to-day? Here’s an example of what the responsibilities list on a typical brand manager job description looks like:
Oversee the creation of marketing campaigns and initiatives, guiding the development of creative toolkits.
Test, iterate, and measure the impact campaigns have on awareness and optimize for results and KPIs.
Craft brand strategy, brand story and positioning, and develop brand guidelines to ensure a consistent and effective brand message.
Manage branding and creative projects’ timelines, resources, and deliverables
Coordinate with internal and external stakeholders to ensure clear alignment
Work with cross-functional teams and departments
Conduct market research; maintain an understanding of the target audience
This is just a sample of the role’s many responsibilities. Other duties can include budget management, working cross-functionally with other marketing team leaders to plan marketing strategies, and keeping tabs on market trends.
An overview of the Brand Manager role on Glassdoor.
Knowledge and skills brand managers need to have
1. Excellent communication skills
Brand management is about communication. There are two sides to this. The first involves communicating with the brand’s target audience. The brand manager needs to understand what customers want to hear and how to best communicate this message.
The second side is communication with collaborators. Brand managers have to coordinate with dozens of colleagues within their organization. This could mean working closely with a product manager to design a campaign launching a new product, collaborating with the marketing manager on the creation and deployment, and checking in with the supply chain team to ensure the product will deliver on schedule. A good brand manager communicates frequently and clearly with their team.
2. Analytical skills
Brand management is a marketing role, and marketing thrives on data. A good brand manager knows how to collect and interpret the data. They are constantly asking questions like: Which ad creative is driving the most clicks and conversions?
Qualitative analysis is more slippery than quantitative, but still important. A good brand manager has a depth of knowledge not only on their assigned brand, but its market, along with broader trends. They have the ability to gut-check their efforts — is this campaign going to resonate with our intended audience?
3. An understanding of marketing
Again, brand management is a marketing role. On larger teams, a brand manager will have a whole team of marketers and creatives working under them, but they’ll still need foundational marketing knowledge to ensure their team’s efforts are on-track.
Brand managers need to know the difference between various marketing channels and how to capitalize on each; how to use tools to track KPIs; how to correctly iterate and tweak campaigns; and so on.
Amazing brand managers aren’t just data-driven marketers. They’re also highly creative, imaginative people. Brand managers can come from marketing backgrounds or design backgrounds — brand management is the intersection of marketing and creative work.
There are two main reasons a brand manager needs to have a creative streak. One, to properly direct the creatives and designers on their team. Two, ideation. A brand manager needs to be able to come up with fresh, exciting ways to grow and maintain their brand.
It’s right there in the title: brand manager. Manager, director, organizer — you need to be able to see both the little details and the big picture. The capital-b Brand and the team that maintains it. The minute marketing data, the year-long marketing budget, the big rebrand.
The best brand managers always know the what, why, where, when, and how. Whether off the top of their head, or thanks to their organizational tools. Along with communication skills, there’s nothing more important for a brand manager than to be well-organized. Everything else can be delegated, as long as you’re organized.
Not every company employs a brand manager. Other people sometimes take on that work and fulfill the brand manager role. For example, the CEO at a young company will have a strong vision and opinion of what the brand should be. It’s also the job of a marketing manager to build brand awareness and maintain a consistent brand image. At a certain point, though, every company needs at least one brand manager. You absolutely need more than one if your organization contains multiple brands — that’s a fact.