Brand Management

How I could possibly be excited about the prospect of selling toothpaste, barbecue sauce, or toilet bowl cleaner day in and day out? Ask a number of my HBS friends. For me, the decision is easy-regardless of the product, I will be responsible for running my own business; making decisions about marketing, price points, trade promotions, product positioning, budgets, and forecasts. And most importantly, I will be able to see the results of my efforts.

While many students say they have an interest in becoming an entrepreneur in order to run a business, in my opinion what better way to learn about the fundamentals of running a business than by doing it within a large company that provides training, a support structure, decision-making authority, and, above all, AN EXISTING VIABLE BUSINESS! Kelly Lee, a Pepsi summer intern, noted, “The best thing about brand management is it gives you the opportunity to run your own business without ever having to deal with venture capitalists.”

What is brand management? The concept of brand management was first developed by Procter & Gamble in 1931, but is currently used by most packaged goods companies as well as industrial and high tech companies. Brand managers are essentially general managers responsible for the on-going success of a branded product. The brand equity becomes the focal point rather than the product itself. Brand managers are typically responsible for coordinating advertising, promotions, market research, R&D, packaging design, purchasing, manufacturing, finance, and sales. Based on his experience at P&G this summer, Andy Archer said, “Brand management is a great opportunity if you view your long-term career as a general manager.” Most of the best brand management companies treat their marketing managers as focal points for key decisions in moving the business forward.

And of course, working with all of these functions makes teamwork a critical skill for a career in brand management. Elaine Lum, a summer intern at Clorox, stated, “Working in a brand management organization is a lot more team-oriented than I thought. As a former consultant, I thought I had a lot of experience working in groups already. But in brand management, you’re constantly interacting with people who are functional experts from different parts of the company and working with them to make something actually happen. Creating real output-not just analysis-is key.”

My own experience this summer at General Mills confirmed my belief that working in a brand organization provides great general management training ground in a fast-paced, team-oriented environment. There was never a dull moment juggling a variety of different projects at once. The day would fly by because I was running around meeting with people, sampling product formulations, critiquing advertising, giving input on a photo shoot, analyzing business results, meeting with manufacturing, and presenting to Marketing Directors. Although the day was busy, come 5:00 or 6:00 pm, it was usually time to go home.

Lisa Friedman, who worked at Bazooka Gum, had a similar experience: “The bubble gum business caters to kids, a very energetic, fast paced and lively audience. Being in that environment everyday keeps you young and fresh, and for me, each day was fun, fun, fun. Of course, a perk of working on a bubble gum brand is that it is okay to chew gum in meetings. In fact, at times you had to!”

The rewards of brand management are often really tangible. Ashley Gigandet, a summer intern at P&G, said, “I worked on the Oil of Olay brand and really enjoyed it. The coolest part of brand management is seeing your work end up on the shelves of a supermarket or on television. For example, every time I walk down the soap aisle at Star Market, I will see one of my projects actually on the shelf. I really get a psychic paycheck every time I see it.”

In talking to some of my peers who also did brand management at different companies for the summer, I found that although the fundamentals were similar, we each enjoyed a variety of distinct experiences. Caniece Thomas, who worked at Frito-Lay this summer, had a unique task. “Where else could you spend an entire summer developing a program to reduce tortilla chip breakage? Yeah, it might sound humdrum or illicit “Who cares?” responses at first, but I did have fun visiting plants, going on sales runs, working with the promotions agency to create an incentive program called C.H.I.P.S.-Chips Have Integrity, Protect, and Serve-featuring Eric Estrada from the CHIPS television show.”

As a summer intern at General Mills, Jen Cohen also learned a bit about sports marketing. “I worked on Wheaties last summer-a brand with a great sports heritage-and got to coordinate a promotion for the Minnesota Twins baseball team, to identify potential Olympics champions to put on the Wheaties box, and to go to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. My brand team was great, and I really bonded with the product by the end of my internship… Which is kind of weird. After all, it IS only cereal.”
Allison Oaks, who worked for P&G this summer, sums up brand management. “Brand management is great for three reasons. First, you have the opportunity to really learn about the consumer. You go to focus groups and sit behind a two-way mirror and eat M&M’s while listening to people pour their hearts out about how and when they brush their teeth. It sounds crazy-but you really do come to an understanding of what the consumer wants, and then you can go about making money while satisfying them at the same time. Second, you get great general management experience. You manage cross-functional teams and get to know how finance, sales, manufacturing, and other departments actually work-which is phenomenal knowledge for when you’re a CEO. And third, you get lots of free stuff! I have more hairspray than I’ll ever use. ’nuff said.”