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Annual reviews and goal-setting often come around this time of year. And if you ask most ABMs and brand managers what their goals are, chances are more than a few of them will mention their goal is to get promoted.
Most managers will quickly recognize that this is a poor choice to put on your goal-sheet for the year. It’s not something an employee (or even their manager) has control over, and it’s also the same thing everyone else who works in a company also wants.
What often follows is a lot of confusion around how promotion actually works (or doesn’t). And managers are put in an awkward position of explaining why, despite their direct report doing good work, being promoted may not be an appropriate measure of success.
So, today’s newsletter aims to clear up some of the confusion. Here I’ll walk through three of the most important factors in getting promoted. You can use this information to guide your own development, calibrate your expectations, or if you are a manager, have the right conversations with your direct reports.
1. Demonstrate “Next-level-up” Performance
If you want a higher-level job, then you need to demonstrate an ability to operate at that next level. So, if you are an ABM that does excellent ABM work, that’s usually insufficient to warrant a promotion to brand manager.
Your manager (and their manager) need to feel confident that, if they promote you, you’ll succeed. That’s not to say you should do a higher-level job for lower-level pay. But you do need to find opportunities in your work to exceed the performance expectations and show that you can, in fact, do the next job up.
To illustrate, for the moment let’s assume you’re an ABM hoping to become a brand manager. This means that instead of just doing supporting analysis/slides for your manager’s marketing plan, you need to shift to developing and leading the plan from objectives through tactical recommendations. Instead of tactically supporting new product development, you need to develop and lead the pipeline strategy.
In addition, there are four development areas that you should try to demonstrate leadership. Good brand managers gain experience in all of them:
- Strategic planning (long-term)
- Innovation (pipeline development)
- Media and marketing planning/execution
- Culture/talent development
2. Establish Contextual Variety
To ensure success at the next level, you need experience in a variety of different situations. Have you worked on a variety of product types/lines? Have you worked on multiple different brands? Have you managed a growing brand that’s innovating? What about a dying one with profitability challenges?
Senior management needs to know that, regardless of the exact situation you are placed, you have at least some experience to draw upon. This experience is often gained by rotating between different brands, pillars and/or business units.
You may not have control over this. But if you feel that you’ve performed well on your current business and want to broaden your horizons, it’s perfectly ok (and encouraged) to talk to your manager about getting experience on other businesses.
3. Business Need Alignment
This usually boils down to one of two things:
- Does the business have an open role at the next level?
- Is there a business need that justifies creating/adding a new position?
Without at least one of those two scenarios you will have a hard time getting promoted, even if you’ve done an unbelievably stellar job.
Simply put, timing matters. And you usually have little control over timing.
That said, I think it’s a good idea to have proactive conversations with your manager (and their manager) so that you are top of mind as organizational planning discussions take place. There may be times where you can influence decisions even if you aren’t directly in the room.
And a little patience goes a long way.
Be Proactive But Also Self-aware
Of the three promotion factors, demonstrating next-level performance is arguably the one that a brand manager has the most control over. Unfortunately, many ABMs and brand managers have a myopic view that this is the only factor that (should) matter.
Yes, you should have proactive conversations with your manager about your desire to work at higher levels. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being overly demanding and not recognizing that timing matters.
Self awareness matters, too, as many talented brand managers fail to recognize they haven’t quite demonstrated “next-level-up” performance across different business contexts. Consistency is key.
If you can consistently demonstrate your ability to do the next job across contexts, you’ll put yourself in the best position possible when the timing is right.
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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.