Letters, Oct. 19, 2009

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The future of the brand manager

RE: "Why It's Time to Do Away With the Brand Manager" (AA, Oct. 12). I studied marketing in my undergraduate days and in my MBA classes, and went to work for Frito-Lay headquarters marketing after grad school, followed by a stint as a brand manager for a division of Sara Lee.

The missing perspective from this article is that "marketing" is a broad discipline that works to deliver products to consumers at a good value and make a profit.

There is a reason that classic marketing is based on the Four Ps, as outlined in Kotler's classic marketing textbook. A true marketing manager has to consider the product, price, place and promotion, not just the promotion efforts (and promotion includes sales). Advertising is just one part of the promotion part of the whole discipline that leaders at marketing-driven companies must understand.

It's not just the image of the product that matters, it's the product itself, how it's made, where it's made, what it costs to make and distribute, etc. It's crucial that those decisions about product design and manufacturing, new products, costs, price, distribution, sales channels and more are executed from a perspective informed by what the consumers/customers need and want, not just what the engineering department can produce.

The ultimate question that all companies must ask (as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pointed out in a recent interview) is: Do we make what we can sell, or do we try to sell what we can make? A marketing-driven organization tries to figure out what will sell first, and at what price and through what channels, and then figures out how to make it, deliver it, and promote it. It's a nightmare, and one I've experienced, to try to promote and sell a product that was created by an engineering/production staff that couldn't or wouldn't accommodate the needs and wants of the marketplace.

I now work for a large nonprofit organization, and we have the same problems, but the "product design/program development" division feels even more empowered to ignore what the marketplace will support when it comes to nonprofit organizations than for-profit enterprises.

Promotion, advertising and sales does not happen in a vacuum, of course.

Bottom line, it drives me nuts to hear advertising experts refer to "marketing" without even considering 75% of the true job description. We need to persuade all managers at all companies that "marketing" is not just a promotional campaign added at the last minute to sell a product or service that wasn't designed, priced and distributed right in the first place. If the brand manager is not the one to determine the best features, price and distribution for a product, who is?

Jeff Swan
Lansdowne, Va.

Much of the findings as reported can be summed up in one term: agility.

The problem with many companies today is they are stuck in planning and execution systems built around yesterday's mass-marketing model. Today's brand managers must be more agile on many fronts:

  • Adjusting annual plans to seize opportunities or address issues not envisioned six to nine months ago
  • Optimizing programs by testing and refining digital marketing options with daily or weekly fine-tuning versus quarterly reviews
  • Embracing customers in a real-time manner through social media
  • Refining the product offering based on continuous customer-insight gathering using new digital and social options
  • Many marketing managers spend way too much time focused on internal issues and reporting and too little time connecting with customers. Is brand advocate the right term for the evolved marketer? I'm not sure, but anything that helps improve individual and organization agility is sorely needed.

    John Ellett
    Austin, Texas

    I fully subscribe to Rishad Tobaccowala's belief that the brand-manager model of the future may be adapted from venture-funded startups or political campaigns than established marketers. Companies need to take notice of such successes and begin mapping out changes to their organizational structures now. Such sweeping change is difficult and slow. Companies that resist transformation will perish under the digital wave.

    Scott Schablow
    Provenance Digital Media
    Birmingham, Ala.

    I wonder what "brand" will even mean in 10 years. Will we all live in tiny bubbles filled with personalized brandettes?

    This article touches on a very key point. It's not always clear who is "in charge of" the brand. Looks like it's the consumers right now.

    Ellie Johnston
    Rockville, Md.
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