A time for Champions!


As a marketer you can tell a lot about a company and its aspirations by the titles it bestows on its marketing team.  Take for example the titles; Brand Manager, Product Manager and Category Manager.


For me when I see the title Product Manager it raises a red flag as a brand marketer because it tells me the company is focused on products not brands.   By using the title Product Manager the organization gives the impression it is likely to be production led rather than brand and marketing driven. This in turn leads me to make an assumption it  is more  executional rather than strategic with regards to its  marketing efforts.  Similarly when I see the title Category Manager, particularly given how organizations are being flattened, I see it as a sign that for this particular  company brands within a category are  potentially interchangeable.  While this is not necessarily the case in all instances you nevertheless are often looking at a financially driven enterprise that is looking to optimize their financial results through category management rather than building brands for the long term.


Then there is the title Brand Manager.  This is the first signal that a  company has a commitment to building brands to build their business.  As Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands points out in his white paper Building a Marketing Career, a Brand Manager becomes involved both with the ownership and strategic thinking of the brand(s) within his or her responsibility.  I used to tell my MBA students “a Brand Manager has responsibility for everything and control over nothing.”.   The Brand Manager should be the steward of the brand but all too often they have little control over critical key elements of the day to day execution of the brand’s strategy.  Finance tells them the costs and often dictates their Marketing budget, Production produces the brand and Sales sells it for them, often controlling the price at which it is sold to the customer (or at a minimum the feature price)  without regard to the impact on the brand’s image or identity.


Perhaps the time has come to change the Brand Manager’s title to something else.  I am not an advocate of some of the new “creative” titles you see such as “Chief Disruptor” or “Customer Advocate” but I recently saw a posting by a former client of mine, Great Western Brewing for a Brand Champion and I was intrigued by it.  In part it read as follows:

“The Great Western Brewing Company’s Brand Champion is a key member of the Marketing Team who passionately will drive enhancement of the GWB product portfolio with a focus on building brand equity and generating profitable and sustainable market share growth.

The Brand Champion will lead the development of the GWB corporate and portfolio strategy within the various markets and segments of the Beverage Alcohol Category while understanding category dynamics, trends and market conditions.

The Individual will use their Entrepreneurial Spirit, Leadership Skills, Strategic Thinking, and Marketing Instinct to enhance and optimize our portfolio. The Champion will need to be able to obtain a strong understanding of the beer consumer and the category.”


Now Great Western Brewing is a relatively small company by beer company standards and as a result has a relatively small marketing group.  Hence their “Brand Champion” is in fact a category champion in that they are responsible for championing all the brands in their portfolio, not just one, but I believe they are on the right track here.  The detailed job description goes on to talk about being an advocate for the brands within all functions  of the company and fostering a brand culture of excellence in all areas from production, to finance, to sales and administration.  They may not have Shopper Marketing Managers or Consumer Insights Managers or Brand Strategists but they do have a Brand Champion to provide overall corporate leadership for their brands.


It can also be argued that the Brand Champion should not be at the Brand Manager level in an organization, particularly where a brand dominates the organization.  A Brand Manager is simply too junior for such a critical role in the organization.  Here the most senior person in the organization should play this role.  Take for example Apple.  Prior to Steve Jobs death he was the Brand Champion of Apple and was recognized as such by all concerned.  This lives on to this day where every Apple misstep (Apple Maps anyone?) is met with the comment “Steve would never have allowed that to happen”.  However Jobs himself told Tim Cook in 2011 “I never want you to ask what I would have done” but rather do what he saw best for the Apple brand.  The problem is that Cook has not yet stepped up and clearly demonstrated he is the Apple Champion and demonstrates Jobs obsession with the brand, its identity and its image over everything else.  The result has been infighting in the organization and apparently a lack of brand vision.


What brands need today is fewer Product Managers, Category Managers or technocrats running them and more Brand Champions.  In other words brands need people who are not just conversant hot areas of marketing such as trade marketing, shopper marketing or social media but rather they are also strong advocates for their brands.  They live and breathe their brands and are forceful advocates for them both inside and outside the company.  They can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work in the belief that their brand is the best and they need to both communicate that to all concerned and to find ways of making their brand even better in everyone’s eyes.  They in short are people on a mission to build their brand in every stakeholder’s eyes.

One thought on “A time for Champions!

  1. tomblackmore

    good blog..the problem really starts at compensation. every one is judged and rewarded based on sales and margin and profit…as that is an easy benchmark to establish..Long term brand value building is quite different..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *