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Brand Marketing

9 Skills Expert Brand Marketing Managers Must Have

July 15, 2021
Kelsey Donk

Brand marketers can help your company connect with its target audience — and avoid ad campaigns that flop. But it takes a knack for competitive analysis, brand strategy and more.

Table of Contents

Remember back in 2017, when Snapchat declared itself a "camera company"

Neither do we. 

It was an example of brand marketing gone wrong. 

“Granted, they were on the cutting edge of developing and applying technologies that took advantage of smartphone cameras in new ways, like AR filters,” brand marketer Jared Rosenberg told MarketerHire. “But take a look at the share price ... to see how that positioning worked.” 

Spoiler: It took more than three years to bounce back to its IPO price — and the rebound had little to do with cameras. 

Source: NYSE

“The stock has only rocketed to all-time highs lately...because the company has performed well in traditional social media metrics: active users, engagement, ad revenue,” Rosenberg said.

A lot of those active users belong to Gen Z — a generation that forms connections with brands they view as authentic, according to an IBM study.

Apparently, they missed Snapchat's misguided attempt to present itself as a "camera company," just like we did.

Not every branding misstep resolves so neatly, though. Some lead to disastrous ads that misread customer interests (and have to be pulled!), or releasing a product no one actually wants.

That's why it pays to hire a brand marketer who really knows their stuff — and understands your company. But how?

We asked three experts what skills set excellent brand marketers apart, and how to know if you’re speaking to a pro.

Meet the experts

What is brand marketing?

“A bad brand consistently shifts their personality or what they look like or what they talk about,” Marom said. “And you’re like, who is this?”

“A bad brand consistently shifts their personality or what they look like or what they talk about. And you’re like, who is this?”

Brand marketing is all about preventing that. Brand marketers create strategic, cohesive personalities for organizations, and figure out how to telegraph them to customers at every touchpoint. 

That involves three core types of work:

  • Market research: This means getting to know a business’s niche. What are competitors offering? What consumer pain points remain unsolved? Have recent cultural shifts created business openings? Brand marketing is the marketing discipline that “has its ear closest to both culture and the consumer,” Marom said.
  • Brand development: To build the company’s identity and connect with consumers, brand marketers lead the development of brand voice, color palettes, logos, taglines and more. 
  • Branded communication: This means ensuring consistency across all branded communications and digital marketing strategies, from paid digital ads to email marketing to new product launches. That way, “customers are much better able to absorb that [brand] story,” Rosenberg said. 

In the end, brand marketing has a simple objective: differentiation. Customers should “be able to pick you out of a lineup and say, ‘They do this differently than everybody else,’” Sullivan said.

6 must-have brand marketing manager skills

To tell a brand’s story and make it cohesive, you need more than Word Art and an Instagram account.

Senior brand marketers have the skills to run competitive analysis, manage projects (and the teams executing them), and build out brand guidelines for new marketing campaigns and channels. 

Our panel of experts outlined six skills a brand marketer must have to deliver standout results.

1. Competitive analysis.

To do this well, brand managers look at all the messaging and historical data from a company, their main competitors and other companies in their niche. 

The idea is to map the landscape around the client, Marom said. 

This is a lot less work in an emerging space (like NFT marketplaces) than in a huge, historic space (like department stores). But it still takes more analytical skills than might meet the eye. 

The best brand marketers analyze audience data and communications from two main types of competitors:

  • Direct competitors, whose products are similar to yours. Think Calm vs. Headspace, Rosenberg said. 
  • Indirect competitors, whose (very different) product solves the same problem yours does for your target audience. An example from Rosenberg: Headspace vs. CBD companies.

This is the most analytical part of brand marketing  — mapping a market, and spotting holes — and it takes a pro to do it well. 

What happens if your brand marketer isn’t up to speed on competitive analysis or marketing analytics tools? You could end up looking and sounding like everyone else. 

Sometimes, brands do this on purpose — “but, in my opinion, [it’s] lazy at best... and usually much worse,” Rosenberg said. 

Another downside of shoddy competitive analysis, according to Sullivan: “miscommunications with consumers that make it harder for brands to earn trust and build relationships.”

Imagine highlighting a strength just because it seems people really want it, even though your brand doesn’t have it. That’s a recipe for disappointed customers. 

2. Brand positioning.

If competitive analysis is understanding the globe, your brand position is a pinpoint on that globe.

Brand positioning is made up of three key components, Rosenberg said:

  • Audience, or who your brand is uniquely speaking to
  • Value props, or what you're uniquely offering to them
  • Voice and persona, or how you're communicating that

“Being skilled at positioning just means you know how to take the insights from competitive analysis and translate that into a clear, accurate, and succinct positioning statement that guides messaging and visual identity,” he said. 

If competitive analysis is a more data-driven task, this is a creative one, where originality is key.

“Simply put, you don't want to look and sound like other brands speaking to your audience,” Rosenberg said.

“Simply put, you don't want to look and sound like other brands speaking to your audience." 

Being different isn’t enough, though, Rosenberg noted. Case in point: Under Armour.  

The athleticwear brand has clung to its performance image, even as the broader athletic fashion industry (and its customer base) has turned to athleisure. 

Rosenberg suggests looking at the three-year stock performance comparison to see how that’s turned out for Under Armour — compared to brands that have embraced athleisure, like Nike, Lululemon and Adidas.

Source: TipRanks

(That’s Under Armour down at the bottom.) 

Successful brand managers don’t just help you stand out — that’s just one facet of positioning work. They also identify holes in the market you can profitably fill.

Typically, a brand marketer presents their positioning recommendations with their competitive analysis, in a document that’s actionable and succinct — not 1,000 pages.

“A good analysis makes you feel like, okay, here are 1, 2, 3 things I go and do,” Marom said. 

If you read a positioning memo and feel confused, that’s a warning sign. The analysis is probably weak. 

3. Brand strategy.

A brand marketer with a strong skillset in brand strategy builds out overarching guidelines that ensure your company’s short-, medium- and long-term plans support your brand position.

Basically, “it's making informed guidelines from your data,” Marom said.  

An easy way to see excellent brand strategy in action: full brand turnarounds, like Carl’s Jr.’s. 

After its 2005 ad featuring Paris Hilton, the burger brand was associated with supermodels and sex—or sexism and objectification, depending on who you asked.

In 2017, Carl’s Jr. pivoted to reject bikini models and its party image and return to an image as “Pioneers of the Great American Burger." The burger chain modernized its logo, cleared out the cartoonishness, and redefined its central values. 

The Carl’s Jr. ad announcing the change depicted Carl Jr.’s father wresting the brand away from his son, Carl Jr, replacing glamour shots of bikini models on the walls of HQ with glamour shots of... food.

That was an epic brand strategy pivot, but not all brand strategy work is so dramatic. In some cases, it’s more about codifying what’s already there to keep the marketing team and everyone else “rowing in the same direction,” Marom said. 

Done well, brand guidelines are digestible, clear and rooted in market research. They should be available to everyone at the company — ideally, they’re integrated into onboarding, Marom said. 

4. Brand management. 

Brand strategy takes holistic thinking, but brand marketers are detail-level thinkers, too. They’re skilled at brand management, which involves implementing brand guidelines at a more department-by-department and case-by-case level. 

Brand management deals with questions like: 

  • Is partnering with this influencer on-brand for us? 
  • Is this actor right for this commercial’s message?
  • Is a rainbow logo really the best way to showcase how we feel about Pride

“Knowing how to execute, produce and actually make change happen based on those insights — that for me is what makes you really genius at brand,” Marom said. 

That’s brand management.

“Knowing how to execute, produce and actually make change happen based on those insights, that for me is what makes you really genius at brand."

When it’s done well, “it looks like smooth sailing,” Rosenberg said. “The brand will build and maintain successful rapport with its audience.” 

When it’s done badly, a brand ends up scattered, delivering half-hearted or off-brand results across way too many projects and channels.

“Brand management is a lot of what a brand is not,” Marom said. “There are so many options, so many spaces and so many tactics that you can do — it's easy to scatter and [have] misplaced priorities, which is very hurtful for a business.” 

A skilled brand marketer keeps marketing initiatives aligned with the brand’s top priorities and core values. 

5. Internal communication. 

To do their jobs well, brand marketers must be able to sync with key stakeholders and team members across the company on vision, goals, creative hunches, origin stories and individual personalities.

Ideally, when they talk to senior leaders, they “bring them through the brand journey that the customer is going on to help them understand where and why these could be pain points for a customer,” Sullivan said.

This can be a challenge — and requires serious communication skills. It’s almost like being a brand therapist, Rosenberg said. Leaders throughout the organization may have their own ideas of who the customer is and what the messaging should be. 

Brand marketers need to be able to listen to everyone with different job titles — from public relations to SEO and social media marketing — understand them and manage contradictory opinions.

An expert brand marketer can “balance client needs with your own expertise and knowledge and being able to manage that communication,” Rosenberg said. “That’s a very delicate thing.”

6. Project management

Brand marketers need to get projects across the finish line. That takes project management skills and systems thinking.

“You have to absolutely be 100% clear on your process in order for it to be efficient,” Rosenberg said. 

“You have to absolutely be 100% clear on your process in order for it to be efficient."

Without a structured process and clear deliverable parameters, things can go awry. 

That’s especially true because brand marketers often collaborate with other roles — from graphic designers to content marketing pros and email marketers — and spearhead projects that span departments  — like helping sales craft their messaging or setting strategy with founders. 

At the same time, brand marketers shouldn’t cause bottlenecks with excessive rigidity. They “also be able to be flexible enough to quickly make sure [unexpected issues] get addressed,” Sullivan said.

3 nice-to-have brand marketing manager skills

The work of a brand marketer already requires a fair bit of analytical and strategic know-how. But it can be enhanced by a few optional (but very useful!) skills. Here are the top three our experts mentioned. 

1. Customer persona creation. 

Customer personas are composite sketches of your potential customers — and when done well, they help teams zero in on target markets, empathize with customers, understand their psychology, and communicate with them effectively.

“They’re the foundation for understanding what messaging concepts and tone of voice will make marketing most resonant,” Rosenberg said. 

Some brand marketers know how to craft customer personas based on a quantitative analysis of existing customers, qualitative case studies, and analysis of your product’s use cases. 

That requires a lot of customer data, though. Most companies don’t have enough data for useful customer personas, according to a recent MarketerHire survey — which leads to vague ones, based mainly on guesses and approximations. 

No one wants brand marketers doing a red herring project that wastes their bandwidth. That’s why we think of this skill as a bonus. 

2. Creative execution skills.

Brand marketers aren’t responsible for writing copy or designing graphics, but if they have experience doing these things, that’s a big plus — especially when it comes to making creative briefs. 

Those briefs often cover messaging, Rosenberg said, but they also cover tone, objectives and target audience. Execution experience helps brand marketers communicate these parameters in language creatives can act on. 

In a pinch, execution experience can also help brand marketers fill in for missing specialists on tiny teams. If a first draft isn’t quite right, a brand marketer can also make their own tweaks, editing copy or updating a color palette to get closer to their vision. 

3. Trendspotting. 

It’s almost always advantageous to be the first mover. We’d rather be Spotify than Apple Music — or worse, a company stuck in the age of the CD. 

Trend forecasting is its own job, but a brand marketer who can spot a trend comes in handy. 

They might use your audience data or insights from competitors to spot a font or copywriting style that will be on-trend next quarter — or connect your business with up-and-coming talent and marketing channels. Knowing what the future trends and different reports are going to be down the line” — that tees a brand marketer’s clients up for success, Sullivan said.

Take branding for a spin

Marketing trends may come and go, but according to our experts, brand marketing is starting to take up a larger slice of marketing budgets. 

“People love spending money on growth [and] performance marketing,” Marom said, “but everything is pointing away from that.” 

“People love spending money on growth [and] performance marketing, but everything is pointing away from that.” 

It’s not just the iOS14.5 launch — Marom said that the pendulum has been swinging away from performance marketing for years. At MarketerHire, our hiring trends reflect that. 

Source: MarketerHire

In June, we saw twice the demand for brand marketers that we saw in May. 

Our rigorously-vetted brand marketers can elevate your company’s image — and we can match you with a hand-picked candidate within 48 hours. Try MarketerHire today

Steve Relyea contributed to this story.

Kelsey Donk
about the author

Kelsey Donk is a writer at MarketerHire. Before joining MarketerHire full-time, Kelsey was a freelance writer and loved working with small businesses to level up their content. When she isn't writing, Kelsey can be found gardening or walking her dogs all around Minneapolis.

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