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What makes a good brand manager?

Posted by Nkaroleng Matjie on June 17, 2021 at 8:29 AM



There are a few things that separate a decent brand manager and marketer from a dismal one. Pernod Ricard, one of the largest producers of distilled beverages in the world; think Jameson Whiskey, Chivas Regal, Martell and G.H. Mumm Champagne, acquired a majority share in Inverroche, joining forces with the latter’s founder and CEO, Lorna Scott.

The gin, which is currently exported to 17 different countries – the US, UK, Australia, Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Seychelles, Mauritius, Canada and Denmark, I’m certain did not come cheap.

But how did a craft gin from Still Bay in the Cape attract the eyes of an international giant in just a few short years? Lorna Scott is an intelligent lady and honours the few basics of brand building. Distribution aside, which is key to growth of any brand or business in the beginning stages, how did she take things to the next brand level?

Inverroche takes its name from the combination of two words that pay homage to the Scott ancestry, referencing both their Celtic and Gaelic backgrounds; the Scottish word Inver meaning ‘a confluence of water’ (where two water sources join and become one if you’re still lost) and the French word Roche meaning ‘rock or stone’ are the very elements that have come together in Still Bay to create the conditions necessary to make these world class, one-of-a-kind gins.

This brand story is not only special because it reflects her own personal heritage through the language of the brand name, but its amazing because it also speaks to the Cape heritage where two oceans meet, and table mountain being the most famous rock in the land. To take it a step further, within the gin and whiskey category, provenance is key to positioning a product in the luxury space, so she knew she had to make this part of the intrinsic qualities of what she’s building, and certainly one of the considerations of Pernod Ricard to determine the appeal of the product in European and Asian markets in future.

A foreign example of brand management gone wrong is the story of Snapple, which was sold to Quaker from the Snapple founders in 1994 for $1.7billion and in only three short years was subsequently sold to Triarc Beverages for $1.4billion US in 1997. To lose $300M in three years is the nightmare of any brand manager. Quaker weren’t quacks in the game of beverages brand management, after all they at the time were successfully managing Gatorade. However they ignored classic brand management basics and tanked the brand. Triarc began to rebuild Snapple's brand equity after purchase, and eventually its sales, by going back to its heritage and management fundamentals. By 2000, sales were back to pre-Quaker levels and the brand was bought by Cadbury Schweppes for $1.4bn.

Locally there are more recent success stories such as Yuppiechef selling to Mr Price for R460million earlier this year (about 1% of Mr Price’s market cap at the time) in a cash deal. There are 4 parties who benefited from the deal from Yuppiechef’s side, and two of them are founders. Brilliant management on their end to scale the business and protect the brand value in doing so.

Understanding what makes brand special and using that understanding to drive business is critical in brand management. No two brands are alike nor should they ever be treated like that.

How exactly then can one be a good brand manager?

Firstly, a brand manager is forever customer focused to the point of paranoia. Ethnography is a good brand manager’s favourite thing in the world because they know they don’t know anything about the consumer. They listen to the consumer and respond through their brand.

A good brand manager always does research before strategy. Each and every year a decent brand manager will go through both qualitative and quantitative research. After a while, they might even start writing their own questionnaires. And the research gathered always feeds the strategic planning approach. They never do the one without the other.

Great brand managers are choosy SOB’s. Seriously. They know their resources are limited and know they can't go after everyone, nor do they want to because their brands usually stand for something. And when you stand for something you don’t go for everything. That means decide who your brand is not for. Your targeting must flow from segmentation, but segmentation is just marketing, its not really strategy. Targeting is when the strategic job begins and every brand manager must be chief custodians of their brand strategy within their business.

The next choice brand managers must do is tight customer orientated positioning. Get it down to 3 words if you can. You don’t need fancy frameworks and onion circles and spirals. And do the work to move away from language such as “transparency”; “trust”, “innovation”, “partner”, “growth” and so on.

Whatever words you land on when trying to position your brand make sure they are ownable. If you want your brand to be remembered by consumers keep the words to as few as possible. Have a simple concept.

Good brand managers know the story of their brand and use it disrupt their market consistently time and time again. Never obey the category norms. Be noticeable. Nandos is a brand that does this perfectly, McDonalds is about happiness, Nandos is about cheekiness. Why play it safe with your brand when you have the power to stand out?

Good brand managers are also killers. In fact they’re more killers than creators. And I’m not talking about killers of creative concepts. No sir, no ma’am. They’re killers of brands. Like the Norwegian hamster, which is known to kill the weakest offspring within its litter when distressed, hungry, or needing nutrients to feed the rest of the litter and stay alive. In many instances if a manager had to audit its portfolio it would find that 20 percent of their brands bring in 80 percent of revenue and profit (otherwise referred to as the 80/20 rule in marketing). Learn to be a killer in order to feed your successful brands, and to keep the overall business healthy and alive.

Ford is a global brand that executed this so well. In 2006 when Alan Mulally arrived, the company was losing 12 billion dollars and after introducing the OneFord strategy sold the majority of brands in the stable in 2014, including Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin as well as reduced their stake in Mazda. The number after 2014 was pretty much the same, but now without the minus sign in front of it.

Good brand managers are sceptical about social media. Social media isn’t the holy grail of communication. It should be weighted much the same as any other media. Yes its shiny and new, but the rules of the game haven’t changed. What media you should prefer should always be based on target, positioning, objectives and effectiveness.

Good brand managers are integrated communications marketers. They do not prefer one media over the other. There should not be special budgets for certain types of media. They don’t really care whether they engage their audience through TV, digital or radio – they just want to engage them effectively.

Finally, good brand managers use brand tracking. An absolute must. And this relates to the first point on customer orientation. They are constantly gathering feedback on their activity and are using it to keep moving forward.

Do all the above and no doubt as a brand manager you will rise above the obvious stench of bad brand and marketing management.


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