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Table of Contents:
- The Brand Manager’s Struggle
- What Most Brand Leaders Get Wrong When It Comes to Training
- What’s Possible with the Right Brand Management Training
- Leveling Up Your Brand Team: A Framework for Success
- Maximizing the Impact of Your Training and Development Program
- Envisioning a Better Reality for Brand Management Training
- The Best Next Steps to Train and Coach Your Brand Team
THE BRAND MANAGER’S STRUGGLE
Do you ever feel like your brand managers can’t get things quite right the first time?
Every day you find yourself pulled out of big-picture work to make corrections on yet another creative brief, send feedback on a piece of creative, fix packaging, or jump into another meeting that wasn’t on your schedule—all in an effort to make sure a project doesn’t go off the rails.
This scenario is actually very common, although it’s not the team’s fault. ABMs and brand managers don’t get what they really need in school or previous work experience. They spend their first couple of years on a brand team simply trying to figure it out.
If you’re a brand marketing director, VP of marketing, or CMO looking to get off the micromanaging hamster wheel, keep reading. I’m about to share with you the keys to building high-performing brand teams. This is based on my two decades as a CPG brand leader, educator, and global strategy and innovation consultant.
WHAT MOST BRAND LEADERS GET WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO TRAINING
Meet Eric, an embattled CMO who reached out to me for help with several challenges.
His brand team had fallen into a rut of inconsistency… in the approach for strategy development and brief writing, in the frameworks and templates being used, and in how agency work was being evaluated. It was a common story that I’d heard many times before.
As a result, Eric and the other senior leaders were constantly getting sidetracked by the need to fix mediocre work, avert as many disasters as possible, and handle the issues they had missed due to lack of capacity.
It was clear that team members’ backgrounds and skill levels were all over the map. In addition, the department was missing a systematic way to ensure consistent results.
They needed training and standardized tools to get everyone on the same page.
But they found, as many others have, that training options specific to consumer goods or CPG brand management are surprisingly rare.
A lot of time and money is wasted sending people to conferences from which they rarely walk away with anything useful. And even if there’s useful information, it’s up to the individuals to figure out how to apply it in their daily work.
An alternative is the vast array of marketing training courses available both online and in person. But those are problematic, too. They’re either too broad and don’t cover the specifics of brand management, or they’re not practical for use by team members. Either way, limited learning becomes in-actionable.
The logical conclusion might be to rely on in-house training… but that generally doesn’t happen. According to HR Professionals magazine, companies invest only six minutes in training every six months.
Executives know their teams need training and coaching but don’t feel able to prioritize it. They’re tight on capacity and may not know how to build specific training and tools that work.
Here’s the kicker. Sometimes senior brand leaders unknowingly keep themselves stuck in day-to-day work by promoting people based on their ability to execute, instead of their ability to teach and coach. This means they end up with brand directors whose ability to guide and teach others is hit or miss. It becomes a vicious cycle.
The result is that some brand managers get help, and others don’t. Or worse, brand teams get different—and even conflicting—training, so everyone thinks they now know how to do things “the right way,” but there’s still inconsistency in the overall approach.
This is why brand managers have such a notoriously short shelf life, with loyalty becoming more of an issue. They may not ever feel like they can hit the target — or even see it, so they give up and look for opportunities elsewhere.
According to a June 2021 study by Amazon and Gallup, 61% of U.S. workers say the opportunity to participate in an upskilling program is an “extremely” or “very” important factor in their decision to remain in their current role, while 48% of respondents said they were “extremely” or “very” likely to switch roles if their new employer offered upskilling opportunities.
And the merry-go-round spins on.
WHAT’S POSSIBLE WITH THE RIGHT BRAND MANAGEMENT TRAINING
What if you could count on your brand team to take the right actions? What if you could get your time (and peace of mind) back?
Imagine having a system in place that gives brand managers the tools, skills, and knowledge to do their best work and continuously improve, so you don’t have to look over their shoulders.
You’d be free to tackle the more high-level, strategic work on your plate: establishing a strategic vision, creating big-idea campaigns that win awards and recognition, developing long-range new product strategies and roadmaps, or even expanding into new segments and categories.
And you would be able to focus on leadership—inspiring your brand team and gaining alignment from other senior leaders on strategies and projects.
This isn’t just a dream. It’s perfectly doable. To show you what I mean, here’s what we were able to help Eric’s department achieve:
- We established a baseline of knowledge, skills, and approaches across brand teams and markets that leveraged consistent frameworks for key areas.
- Senior-level directors and VPs were much more consistent in how they taught these skills and much clearer in what was expected of their reports. As a result, their capacity was freed up to focus on higher-impact meetings, strategies, and projects.
- Eric’s team’s work with creative departments and agencies became stronger and more impactful… even board members applauded the difference in the work that was appearing in the market.
- Employees reported being happier in the workplace and more likely to stay.
- The organization responded to these positive trends by placing increased value on proper training and development and by allocating additional resources.
Eric now feels that he and his senior leaders are being responsible stewards, doing all they can to make their team, themselves, and the company more successful. He feels confident in his team’s capabilities, allowing for more trust and greater autonomy among directors, brand managers, and ABMs.
So How Did We Do It?
Let’s back it up a minute. You’re probably wondering how we got there.
Eric knew his company needed a training program for consumer goods brand management and that they didn’t have the time to develop it. The expertise to create such a program was lacking as well—brand managers and even senior-level brand team leaders’ ability to teach the proper skills was spotty. Some even needed to sharpen these skills themselves.
So we worked together to develop a new CPG brand management training program, beginning with a focus on the creative development process. This was a specific sore spot that we quickly addressed.
We started with a multi-day live training event to level-set all brand team members. The session included live practice in brief writing, evaluating creative, role-playing between agency and client, and providing proper feedback. The initial session was the highest-rated training the company had ever run and ignited a huge boost in morale and enthusiasm.
Through the engagement, we created new central frameworks and templates that merged best practices with custom case study examples from within their own industry and rolled them out as the new standard across all brands and markets within the company.
We also created a system for ongoing development that included several approaches:
- We provided live 1:1 coaching/feedback after the session to help brand team members implement the learning on individual projects or challenges.
- We captured each live training and course on video for the company to use with anyone who was not able to attend.
- We facilitated an ongoing cadence of training sessions and courses to provide the same baseline training to new employees annually, as well as allow veteran employees to “refresh” their skills as necessary.
By building a clear framework, providing adequate training, and customizing coaching to make sure everyone on the team understood it and could apply it, we changed the entire culture, and results, of the department.
LEVELING UP YOUR BRAND TEAM: A FRAMEWORK FOR SUCCESS
Brand management is largely a generalist role. The best brand leaders operate as general managers for their business. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean your team shouldn’t have a good dose of knowledge and expertise in certain areas.
Let me explain. You rely on specialists and agency partners to go deep when it comes to marketing the business. Guess who’s directing and evaluating that work? You got it. Your brand managers and ABMs.
Your team needs to have the right skills in the right competencies to effectively run the brand… even as generalists.
Set them up for success by demonstrating that you believe in them. Give them a clear framework to follow; standardize the knowledge and tools they’re expected to possess and use.
The framework I share below stems from over 20 years of marketing experience across consumer goods categories, clients, and agency/consulting work.
I’ve seen up close how industry-leading companies have been able to use certain fundamental concepts to systematize their brand operations and consistently deliver outstanding work.
Whether you’re a small team that’s more hands-on or a larger team with big agency budgets, these are the four areas your team members must become proficient in to effectively run a productive, growing business.
1. Strategy and Planning
From long-term strategy to brand positioning, strategic thinking is the lifeblood of good brand management. Truly proficient brand managers will bring creativity, vision, and strategy to bear in their work.
They know how to mix all of the existing ingredients together to create new strategies, sell a vision that motivates cross-functional stakeholders, and tell great stories that compel customers to act.
Key skills and deliverables for any brand management training focused on strategy and planning must include:
- Long-term strategic planning
- Competitive brand positioning
- Brand architecture and portfolio structure creation
- Line review development and presentation
- Competitive, category, and trend landscape analysis
- Brand finance/P&L management
2. Media and Communications
A great strategy is useless if it doesn’t have clear direction for those expected to pick up the ball and run with the execution of it.
If you give your team the perfect roadmap, do they have the knowledge and skills necessary to critique any creative work presented to provide actionable feedback?
Key skills and deliverables for brand management training focused on media and communications must include:
- Communication strategy development
- Writing a clear and inspiring creative brief
- Evaluating creative and providing useful feedback
- Marketing plan development
- Media planning
- Core components of branding
3. Innovation and Research
New product planning and development is the lifeblood of any growing brand. Unfortunately, most innovation fails within the first three years of hitting the market.
Whether you want to launch line extensions, pursue new target consumers, or enter completely new categories, you need to produce great ideas that not only make it to market but also stand the test of time.
Key skills and deliverables for brand management training focused on innovation and research must include:
- Compelling concept writing
- Ideation design and facilitation
- Power claim generation
- Research methods 101 and innovation application
- Innovation learning plan development
4. Organizational Leadership
The best of plans will fail if your team can’t influence and lead stakeholders.
From keeping projects green-lighted to making the case for entirely new scopes of work, your brand managers must be able to tell your story and gain alignment across the entire organization.
Key skills and deliverables for brand management training focused on organizational leadership must include:
- Storytelling and vision-crafting
- Structuring and leading successful projects
- Managing up and aligning key stakeholders
- Navigating conflict and having difficult conversations
- Coaching, teaching, and managing others
Each of these topics could be further expanded into its own ultimate guide; however, my goal with this one is to give you a starting point and a framework for organizing and prioritizing training topics.
As I mentioned earlier, many marketing leaders have found this list helpful. They’ve used it to pull back from the crisis of the moment to consider what skill or knowledge their team might be missing. With that level of awareness, they’ve been able to take steps to identify gaps and provide appropriate training. You can, too.
MAXIMIZING THE IMPACT OF YOUR TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
We’ve just looked at the four key knowledge areas your brand teams need to master to run your brand as efficiently and effectively as possible. But information is valuable only if it’s utilized in productive ways.
The other crucial aspect of a successful training program lies in the delivery and anchoring methods of the content. Below are four core training principles that will help ensure your program gets the intended results.
1. Workshopping Beats Lecturing
Simply reading books or slides isn’t enough to change behavior. Make the information immediately useful and relevant by including interactive activities during the session to anchor critical concepts.
Experienced facilitators and trained educators can help — ideally those steeped in the subject matter themselves. Case studies also make theory more relevant and immediately useful.
2. Real-World Practice
It takes personal experience and in-context practice to truly develop new skills and master professional frameworks. Go beyond courses to include opportunities to practice on the spot with a trained facilitator providing feedback.
But that’s just the beginning. Ensure your team can continue practicing in real business settings. Be sure to structure project roles, and assign tasks and leadership opportunities, with the skills they are developing.
3. Ongoing Individual Coaching
Individual coaching is the most effective way to help someone develop. It’s a win-win. The brand manager or ABM gets the opportunity to air concerns, struggles, and questions while asking for specific help. You get the opportunity to respond with specific feedback, direction, frameworks, advice, and assignments while also pointing them in the right direction for answers from other leaders.
All of this helps prevent the members of your team from running around “blind,” wasting time searching for answers in the wrong places, misapplying skills or frameworks, or asking for help from the wrong people. They will also feel like they have your attention and you are committed to them, which increases trust and loyalty in you and the business.
4. Training Must Be Timely
There’s often a disconnect between training topics provided, and what the team actually needs at that time. For example, you could teach your team how to develop a new campaign with an agency now, but it won’t do too much good if they aren’t actually developing work with an agency until nine months later. Similarly, if your team needs to learn how to create a line review story for a meeting next week, they don’t have time to wait for training scheduled six months later.
Don’t get me wrong, live training and workshops are great tools for development. But they should be complemented with relevant on-demand courses and topics. This maximizes the effectiveness of learning and allows team members to get what they need, right when they need it.
ENVISIONING A BETTER REALITY FOR BRAND MANAGEMENT TRAINING
Imagine coming into work, walking through your brand team “bullpen” and feeling an excited buzz in the room about the key meetings happening that day. Your team members look confident—there’s no hint of the fear or anxiety that used to be so common.
You head to a morning presentation with your lead creative agency to review their new campaign ideas. Your brand manager kicks it off by smartly recapping the creative brief before work is presented. The brief itself is stellar—sharp and strategic, it provides clear and inspiring direction.
Because they had such a great brief to work from, the agency’s ideas are killer. And even better, the ABM and brand manager provide excellent feedback focused on the bigger strategy and key takeaways from the brief. They artfully deliver the feedback in a way that makes the agency reps receptive and even excited to deliver the next round. You don’t have to say a word in that meeting. It is almost too easy.
Next, you head to a board of directors meeting, where one of your brand managers has been given the opportunity to present on a few competitive challenges the business is facing. She shows a solid command of the facts, translates her analysis into a clear and compelling story, and presents a brilliant go-forward strategy to take market share. The board members look engaged during the presentation and give her great feedback afterward.
In the afternoon you head to a presentation with your top customer who is visiting to discuss next year’s planogram updates with your sales and brand teams. This meeting goes smoothly, too, because 18 months ago your brand manager ran a productive internal ideation session and wrote new product concepts that beat your historical benchmarks on the first round of testing.
Today’s line review conversation is easy because you were able to launch sooner, and you have data that clearly says consumers will buy the product and that it will make the retailer more money.
You spend the last hour of your day thinking and whiteboarding your way through key elements and story points for updating your long-term strategic plan. Just before you wrap up for the day (on time), one of the board members stops by your office on her way out.
She mentions how great your brand manager’s presentation was earlier and how impressed she’s been with your team — crediting their quick development to your leadership. She thanks you and mentions she can’t wait for the next board meeting, when they get to see the new creative work from the agency. You honestly can’t wait either. But now, time to clock out and head home for some quality time with the family!
These might sound like dream scenarios, but they are completely possible—even likely when you develop your team and give them the skills and frameworks they need to be great brand leaders.
It’s OK to Ask for Help
Balancing your roles as coach and manager can be tricky. You don’t want to micromanage or do the work for the team. Instead, you want to guide and point them in the right direction so they can learn, practice, and develop real understanding and experience.
You might be thinking: “Yes, this kind of training and coaching system sounds like it would really make a difference, but my organization doesn’t have anything like this and there’s no way I have time to create or deliver it (let alone provide ongoing coaching)!”
My experience has shown me this is often a miscalculation. The truth for many executives faced with the challenges we’ve been talking about is that they can’t afford not to invest in development for their team.
To break this down even further, here are your choices:
- Make the time to invest in the training and development of your team, which will lead to a greater ROI than you can possibly imagine.
- Find someone to help plug capacity (either work or coaching).
- Allow your team to continue feeling underinvested in, burned out, and ready to leave your company the first chance they get.
The further you move up the corporate ladder, the more your time shifts from doing work (even through others) to coaching and developing your team into leaders who can operate autonomously.
Leaders who shift their thinking can find their way off the hamster wheel and gather the resources and support they need to improve the situation for everyone.
THE BEST NEXT STEPS TO TRAIN AND COACH YOUR BRAND TEAM
I understand the tension of wanting to empower your brand managers to do great work yet having a team that needs skill development in key areas.
That’s actually what inspired me to start Gurulocity. It’s my mission to help senior marketing leaders like you unlock your consumer brand team’s potential.
I was going through these same issues each and every day with my teams until I realized that the best way to get out of the weeds was to promote subject matter mastery. So I did. I created a culture in which directors and middle managers are expected to teach, coach, and develop others—and gave them the resources to do it consistently.
If capacity is a constraint that’s keeping you from spending enough time developing people, we’re here to help. Here are a few options to get you started:
- Brand Management Accelerator Membership—a unique training program that combines everything brand managers need, including in-depth training workshops and courses, community and expert support, and live events.
- Live Brand Team Training Workshops—in-depth, customized workshops on the critical skills brand managers need in order to be successful.
- 1:1 Brand Leadership Coaching—the direct help and guidance ABMs and brand managers need without taking time away from senior managers’ already-busy schedules.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.