What is a brand manager any more?

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This post sprang out of a Twitter conversation that was started by Graham Brown. Graham felt that the term brand manager no longer had meaning in the modern marketing world. But what to replace it with?

This threw up a number of related questions that I decided to attempt and start to answer here.

brand manager?

So what is a brand? Even answering this simple question incorporated a number of different facets. It is not only about physical items and customer experience, but also about the perceived origins of the brand from Häagen-Dazs faux European name, to the precision engineering of German car-makers, Swiss watch manufacturers and the fine tailoring of Italian men’s suits.

The brand is also affected by context. Audi is a luxury car brand, but for many years in China it has been associated instead as the vehicle of choice for government officials rather than dynamic entrepreneurs or the rich and famous.

I remember going to a mobile phone exhibition a number of years ago and was shocked to see a Japanese lady decked out in a well-tailored suit of Burberry check. In Japan, Burberry was seen as a sophisticated luxury brand, however my perception from experience in the UK was the Burberry is passé through its association with football casuals and copycat ‘townies’.

It could even be the absence of something. A good example of this is the absence of modern farming chemicals in organic food has created an artificial perception of improved health benefits for these products.

So what parts of a brand does a brand manager manage? The design and delivery of their product or service and elements of the marketing mix, such as promotion, distribution and reputation management. But many of those items are in some ways out of the brand manager’s control. You can distribute a product but the way it is presented and sold is often outside your control, you can create advertising but the way stakeholders interact and interpret it is out of your control.

The are things that a brand can do:

  • Coach – providing help and advice to get the most out of a service and celebrate success
  • Pathfinder: a great example of pathfinding is Innocent Drinks and the way that they handled their involvement with McDonalds
  • Curator – highlighting community knowledge and ensuring that it is organised and accessible to all. I was involved in working with colleagues in a former role doing this for HTC through a wiki for their smartphones
  • Community leader – creating partner alliances (for instance Apple’s app store for the iPhone), investor in products to meet the community’s need,  facilitate co-creation with consumers (MyStarbucksIdea) and crowdsourcing tasks with the community (TfL flickr pool)

This has an effect on strategy moving it from a traditional western command and control style business strategy to an emergent strategy based on company thinking, consumer dialogue and behaviour combined with the dynamics of the market.

So a brand manager no longer manages but influences ‘a brand wrangler’ who tries to steer the direction of the consumers, but can’t necessarily stop stampedes in different directions.  It is often easier to steer the company than steer the brand.