10 Success Factors for Managing a Trusted Brand
by Rob Wolfe – Connected Places Global
At the core, a successful brand manager needs to know the product/service, know the target market, know the existing clients, and know your business and the client’s business. I have come across and learned from several valuable lists of the top product management mistakes. On the flip side, over the years I have compiled my own list of best practices for brand management through my own experience. I’ve asserted in the past that the key to brand management success is communication and transparency. Here, I’d like to reiterate that point and share what I consider the other 9 critical success factors for building a reputation as a trusted brand manager.
- Practice 365/360 communication (i.e., 365 days, 360 degrees). Communication is the key which drives all the other critical success factors for brand management. Only through effective communication can brand managers align with clients and business leaders to build and nurture trusting relationships with all stakeholders. Ramakrishna Arni, Product Manager at Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, recommends this approach for analyzing your communication network for your products: Create a diagram with each department/stakeholder (including clients) represented as a circle and connect them to show the existence, mode, frequency, direction, and audience of existing communication. Identify where the gaps are and modify communication channels and strategy as
- Ensure all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the business case for your brand or product changes/enhancements. This requires understanding of not just the client problem that needs to be solved, but why it’s important to the client, how solving the problem adds value to the client, and how it impacts (both operationally and financially) the client’s business.“ Getting buy-in at the earliest stage about the [offering and target market] is probably the biggest nut to crack,” says Leake Little, Marketing and Strategy executive at InfoMotion Partners, LLC. “Influence and personal power are at the heart of…success in any organization.” (A good lead-in to the next success factor.)
- Use your powers of influence, negotiation, leadership. Tony Lewis, Marketing Manager at The Caravan Club advises, you need to “hold a good sphere of influence internally.” I agree, and add that it’s important to know where in your business the control lies for each vital activity.You cannot relentlessly manage scope, schedule, and budget without knowing who holds the control among all your stakeholder groups. Huei-Wen (Alyssa) Yang, Business Development Manager at Redrover Distributing, believes leadership plays an important role. “The reason you communicate with others is to influence them to achieve your business goal,” she says. Amit Pawar, Power Product Manager at Eaton Corporation, adds, “The ability to influence others requires excellent relationships.” And, I say, relationships are forged through 365/360 communication.
- Provide everyone every opportunity to speak up and ask questions throughout the entire branding life cycle. If no one is asking questions, you can’t assume everything is perfect. Often, someone will hold out asking the important question until late in the game, and you’ll wish they had asked sooner. The brand manager must be a consistent presence both internally and externally, and must initiate frequent two-way communication. People feel more accountable if they are repeatedly publicly pronouncing how things are going, and the more often everyone is hearing it, the more likely someone is to ask the question that must be asked.
- Manage expectations of all stakeholders, from conception to development and through the product launch. Do everything possible to ensure everyone is on the same page, and get sign-off on all decisions. Ensure clients know what to expect before they interact with your brand, and address any expectations that won’t be met (out of scope product features) before the brand launches. The goal: No surprises.
- Prepare a contingency plan. Things will go wrong, so always have a backup plan from initial development through branding launch and beyond. Since the business case will likely involve some assumptions, be sure to tie contingencies to those assumptions. Douglas Hartung, Director, Financial Products at H&R Block recommends that the plan include “what we all agree to do about it” if something goes wrong. “This can be very helpful after launch when emotions can start driving decision making.”
- Be an advocate for both your clients and your brand. Michelle DeLalio, Product and Marketing Management at CalBizCentral suggests, “Talk to them, meet with them and listen. You can then work internally as their voice.” The brand manager is a liaison between the business (developers/engineers, marketing, finance, execs, etc.) and the client. In that role, you must ensure all stakeholders understand things from the client’s perspective, and also must enforce the brand image among all stakeholders. The words of professor Ralph Oliva, Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) resonate deeply with me: focus like a laser on the brand and don’t allow anyone to compromise the brand identity.
- Don’t confuse yourself (or innovation) with your client (or value). This is a tough one. As branding experts, we like to think we know what’s best for our clients, what we ourselves want or expect as a client, or which cool marketing innovation will make our product stand out from the competition. However, we must always remember that we are not the clients. Our clients have unique and evolving needs and they don’t necessarily match our own. According to Scott Draeger, Product Manager for Dialogue at HP, “Reality is the silent stakeholder. The world changes quickly and in subtle ways. We have to always check to make sure the plan for the [brand] matches.”
- Understand the financial drivers of the brand. Make sure you know what effect each brand management activity has on profits. “You can have every tool that is possibly out there, but if you can’t leverage them smartly to increase revenues or reduce expenses you’ll be just another run of the mill [brand] manager,” says Sudhir Narayana, Senior Product Manager at CPA2Biz Inc. “You should be able to map every activity of yours to one of the 2 buckets: revenue increasing tasks or expense reducing tasks.”
- Always deliver on your promises. This is how you inspire trust, and trust is the basis of long-term relationships. If there’s a chance you can’t deliver it, then don’t promise it. As Leslie Miranda, Product Marketing Manager at Sungard, points out, “The market has a very long memory.” Yes, and so does every stakeholder tied to your brand and to you.
Do you feel there are any critical pieces of advice missing from this list to manage a trusted brand? Do you have any stories to share about lessons learned from not following any of these guidelines?