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What is Brand Management? Answering 3 FAQs

Sep 30, 2019
Discover what a brand manager does and how to land a full-time role after graduating from an MBA program

By Heream Yang

When most people hear the term “brand management,” they picture a creative role immersed in fonts, colors, and graphic design. In reality, brand management encompasses a much broader set of responsibilities that involves working across a company’s finance, product innovation, and sales departments to bring the brand’s vision to life.

If you’re wondering “what is brand management?” here’s a quick primer on what the field is and how MBA graduates get full-time jobs in it, starting with brand management internships.

What does a brand manager do?

Brand managers often work with consumer packaged goods (CPG)

Brand managers act as mini-CEOs of a brand or brand portfolio, leveraging analytical insights to make strategic decisions that ensure long-term success. The most common title for post-MBA brand management roles is Assistant Brand Manager or Associate Brand Manager. These entry-level positions involve rigorous data analysis and cross-functional collaboration. 

“I’m looking at everything from… a general manager perspective,” said Elizabeth Treadwell (MBA’17), Associate Brand Manager for Greenies at Mars Petcare. “I’m (asking), what innovation do we want to launch in two years, in five years, in ten years? Are we making smart business decisions from a financial perspective? Does our innovation have the right margin on it? Is it something that’s appealing to consumers?”

Due to the constant evolution of consumer demands and industry trends, brand managers must be prepared to address new challenges as they arise. “No day is the same,” explained Jon Hartmann, Brand Manager for Tostitos at Frito Lay. “Whatever’s in front of you is what becomes your primary focus… It’s a very project oriented role.”

Brand managers must also be skilled at working and communicating with teams from many different departments and synthesizing all the information they take in. “I work with a cross functional team… so I have my insights partner in our analytics department, and I have my research and development copilot working on our formulas and our recipes that go into all of our products,” Treadwell said. “My role is to take all of that information, manage it, and then make a decision on whether or not it’s right for us to move forward with an idea.”

How do you become a brand manager?

Elizabeth Treadwell interned at Mars Petcare and now works there full-time

While there is no single path to a career in brand management, many positions prefer applicants with MBA degrees. A brand management internship is an important step to securing a full-time position in the field, not to mention a valuable opportunity to determine whether the job is a good fit. 

“The internship is really important, especially if you’re a career changer,” said Amanda Fend, Senior Associate Director at the Career Management Center. “If you don’t intern in brand management, I’d say it’s almost impossible to get a full-time role… As with a lot of MBA jobs, it’s a very specific path, so… the internship is an awesome time to test it out.”

From Coca-Cola to Disney to Nike, the options for brand management careers are quite varied, so the brand management internship provides an opportunity to evaluate fit with a specific brand and industry.

“I realized that CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) was going to give me the most impact in a consumer’s life, but it was also important to me to find a category and a brand that I truly cared about… Petcare is really where my passion was,” said Treadwell. “I used my internship to not only verify my hypothesis about the company in terms of what they stood for, but also that the work was going to be interesting and challenging — and so far, it absolutely has been.”

What skills do you need to become a brand manager?

Brandon Kieffer (MBA’19) during his internship at Kellogg’s Snacks

Brand managers rely heavily on data to make informed decisions that drive the performance of their brand. To be successful, brand managers must go beyond basic number crunching and find a story in the data. 

“One of the most important skills early on is being able to take data and tell a story out of it,” Treadwell said. “It’s one thing to know that 25% of dog owning households feed their pets treats, but it’s another thing to say, ‘Okay, I have that statistic. Now how do I take that and turn it into something that’s useful for my business?’ Probably 70% of what I do every day is take all of these different points of information that we have and pick apart what’s important and put that together to tell a story to help my projects forward.”

Because brand managers act as CEOs of their brands, they must be able to adopt a big-picture perspective in the decision-making process. “You really need to be an adaptable generalist to do this job,” Hartmann said.

“There’s certainly an element of fun and creativity — like a TV shoot — but the reality is, that is maybe 10% of the job, and the rest of it is a lot of creative problem solving,” he continued. “Having an understanding and ability with analytics really helps, because we’re always looking at consumer data and broader category trends to understand what our best decisions are going to be… At the end of the day, it’s incredibly results oriented, so being able to do what it takes to meet your numbers (is important).”

We hope this answered your questions about what a brand manager does. For more information about landing a brand management internship or job, check out our recruiting timeline for Brandon Kieffer (MBA’19), who interned at Kellogg’s Snacks and now works full-time as an Associate Brand Manager at Amplify Snacks.

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