The future of brand management
Brand management is a flourishing field. In the US alone, the broad category of advertising, promotions, and marketing managers is expected to grow 9% over the 10-year period through 2024, according to Department of Labor statistics. The work isn’t getting any easier, however.
Cluttered channels, win-now mindsets, and a superabundance of statistics are just a few of the challenges for today’s (and tomorrow’s) brand managers. A role that was once defined by attention to detail and the boundary-setting tools of a comprehensive branding book and voice guidelines is now turning into a wildly diverse and fast-changing set of responsibilities.
“You can’t just implement a program and some tools and expect that everything is going to work,” says Mario Natarelli, managing partner of MBLM. “Brands are fluid, the dynamics of a business and its culture are fluid, and therefore the management processes and tools need to be fluid as well.”
Social media, the disruption that keeps disrupting
There’s only one kind of successful brand manager: the kind that understands how social media impacts brand conversations.
“A brand manager’s role has completely changed in the past five years due to social media,” says Devin Fitzpatrick, CEO of digital strategy advisory CDF Consulting. “Customers don’t want to be told about your brand in mainstream traditional media, they want to feel part of a brand and to do so, they need to connect emotionally.”
That means brand managers must do more than understand how a 1% shift from conventional media to social impacts the brand’s bottom line. It means finding ways into conversations at a time when consumers have an unprecedented ability to skip and hop through channels, and block out brands with the tap of a thumb. And because dominant social platforms are themselves ever-changing to experiment with new branded outreach, brand managers cannot become over-reliant on any single audience strategy on these still-fluid platforms.
Short-term goals are brand manager poison
Most brands are conceived and designed to stand the test of time—even if what that brand stands for radically alters every few years. This puts brand managers in the business of literally building and protecting monuments. That’s a tall order in a win-now business where corporate success is measured in quarters, and campaign success can be scrutinized in real-time.
“Brand managers tend to work on protecting the asset for the long haul, making sure the brand is well-considered and fostered,” Natarelli says. “That’s a tough business to be in when people are looking for short-term gains.”
Carrot or stick?
Brand managers are still tasked with ensuring that their colleagues, contributors, and contractors are all on-message and on-voice when it comes to the brand. How they reach that goal is a crucial strategic question, but with so many opportunities for a brand message to be accidentally mangled or misconstrued, brand managers are having a harder time than ever finding the right balance between carrot and stick.
“Companies struggle with that balance in the brand manager’s voice: is it one of governance, or of assistance and support?” Natarelli says.
Both approaches rely on policing and monitoring, but contributors can also be empowered to come to brand authorities with questions and clarifications. MBLM works with clients to implement what it calls “BrandOS”, which maps familiar concepts from the tech world onto marketing and brand processes.
“The killer app for us is the help desk feature. If you’re not sure that what you’re doing is on-brand, you share it and get feedback from brand managers, legal, product development, and so forth,” Natarelli says. “And that gives you visibility into where your brand is evolving, and where the pain points are.”
Time for some brand management self-care
Like the stereotypical caregiver who burns herself out tending to the needs of others without expending any kindness on herself, brand managers should take a moment to think about not only how they will define the future of their respective brands, but how they will define their own roles.
Fitzpatrick sees the future of brand management in the content marketing discipline, which she believes has created a fundamental shift that is changing the core duties of the brand manager. Her message: Craft the message, don’t massage the media.
“It’s not about media buying, it is about storytelling,” she says. “You have to let them get lost in the world of your brand.”
Natarelli is inspired by brand managers who look beyond the responsibility for P&L and turn their role into an opportunity to make a brand stand for something new.
“I like to see people who are great optimists and evangelists for the brand, but go further than that, to influence the brand promise and culture,” he says. “The great brand managers do that, and that makes for an amazing job.”