How to lead a motivating Year End Review for Brand Leaders

BBI Learning LogoThe better the people, the better the work and in the end the better the results. 

As we come up on the year-end, it’s that time of year when we nervously sit down with our bosses and find out how the year went.  For most of us, it’s one of the most dreaded parts of the job, for both those delivering and receiving the news.  But helping to grow our people is one of the most essential parts of the Leader.  No matter how good your strategy or product is, without the greatness of your people you’ll never achieve the results you want.  We all have gaps and we should all be working on closing those gaps.  Performance Feedback is an essential role in the growth of our people.  But without pointing those gaps out and coming up with a plan, then the person will never really improve.

A challenge to you: if there are any surprises during the meeting, then you as a leader are not doing your job.  As the VP of Marketing at Johnson and Johnson, I had one-on-one quarterly performance check ins with all my direct reports.  And when I realized that my directs weren’t following my lead, I made the Quarterly Review process mandatory for everyone on the marketing team.  It’s my belief that marketers can grow faster than we think–but they can only grow with timely feedback.  Those quarterly meetings were honest and informal discussions–which made the year-end review very easy.  I also emailed out the written review document 48 hours ahead of time, giving people the chance to digest all the thoughts and to come prepared ready to discuss each point.

As a Marketing Leadership Team, we spent our greatest efforts around managing the people. We talked people performance in every one of our weekly meetings.  The directors were encouraged to bring up people examples of those who were shining and those who were struggling.  If one of the other leaders were not familiar with those that were shining, we’d set up a process or special project where they could become more aware.  We ranked everyone on the team once a year plus a mid-year check in on the rankings.  You have to be diligent in managing your team.

Skills, Behaviours and Experiences

Marketing Skills: Brand Leaders should be measured on the Core Marketing Skills.  Below, I’ve outlined a Checklist of 30 Core Skills for a Brand Leader that can be used to highlight potential gaps that some of our Brand Leaders may have.  These 30 core skills fall under the areas of:

  • Analytics
  • Brand Planning
  • Briefs
  • Advertising
  • New Products & Claims
  • Go-To-Market
  • Leadership
  • Management

You can use this checklist in a few different ways:  1) to see if someone is meeting the needs of the current job–it could be used to set someone up for a performance improvement plan or as a motivation to push themselves 2) for someone who is close to ready for promotion, but you want to close on a few specific areas before the promotion or 3) for your personal assessment to see what you want to work on.

The rating should compare against their peers.  It helps to highlight skill gaps where people should focus their attention.  Any scores in the 1 or 2 are concerning and need an action plan.  The gap could arise because it’s outside of their natural skills or it could just be because it’s been outside of their experience they’ve had.  It’s tough to be good at advertising until  you’ve worked on a brand with advertising.

Leadership Skills:  Below, I’ve outlined a Checklist of 12 Leader Behaviours of Brand Leaders that can be used to highlight potential gaps that some of our Brand Leaders may have.  These 12 leader behaviours fall under the areas of:

  • Accountability to Results
  • People Leadership
  • Strategic Thinker
  • Broad Influence
  • Authentic Style

In the Leader Behaviour space, we all have blind sides that we just can’t see.  This is where the 360 degree feedback can help people to see how they are showing up.  I know that as a Director, I was a Driver-Driver that caused me to have behaviour gaps around Influence and Style.  I had the attitude of “it’s my way or the highway” and I wasn’t getting what I needed from the strategy and accountability I was hoping for.  Once I was able to identify it and work on it, I was able to see a big improvement in my performance and the results started to pay off as well.   Without closing that gap when I was a director, I would not have been promoted and would have honestly been unable to lead the entire marketing team.

Experience:  Many of our gaps as Brand Leaders comes from not having the experience.  When managing others, expect quite a few mistakes in the first few and you might not get fully there until your 5th direct report. When sitting in the hot seat of advertising, you’ll start to realize just how complex it can be–you’ve got to stay on brief, keep the creative team motivated, make judgement calls at every stage of the process and keep your own management on side.  And at every level, you’ll start to notice that the pressure gets higher–whether it’s push for results, the ambiguity or meeting deadlines through your team.  Each of these takes experience.

With  your best people, make sure you identify the experience gaps they have and be fair to them with the next assignment.  It’s far too easy to keep relying on a person’s strengths but it’s more important that you round out that person’s experience.  If they advance too far without covering off those gaps, they may find themselves struggling later in the job.  I’ve known newly promoted directors who had very little advertising experience coming up that all of a sudden found themselves on a desk with lots of advertising.  Their team even had more experience than they did.  Regular people reviews can really help identify the experience gaps that people might have. 

 

Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.  

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising. We do training on all skill levels of marketing, and we provide coaching for leaders wanting to improve.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 

email-Logo copyABOUT BELOVED BRANDS INC.:  At Beloved Brands, we are only focused on making brands better and making brand leaders better.Our motivation is that we love knowing we were part of helping someone to unleash their full potential.  We promise to challenge you to Think Different.  gr bbi picWe believe the thinking that got you here, will not get you where you want to go.  Our President and Chief Marketing Officer, Graham Robertson is a brand leader at heart, who loves everything about brands.  He comes with 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke, where he was always able to find and drive growth.  Graham has won numerous new product and advertising awards. Graham brings his experience to your table, strong on leadership and facilitation at very high levels and training of Brand Leaders around the world.  To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com or follow on Twitter @grayrobertson1

At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

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How to Drive Innovation into Your Brand

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office,  1899

Brand LeadershipWhile that quote from 114 years ago may have missed out on the airplane, radio, TV, microwave, car, computer, internet, nearly every cpg product and of course my beloved iPhone.  Maybe the sentiment of the quote was just about 100 years too early.  In the last decade, most of the great innovation has been relegated to social media and electronics.  I hope this century brings us much more than just Facebook, BBM and Twitter.  In the consumer goods area, we must be on the 197th version of “new” cherry flavoured bubble gum since 1955, we’ve now seen hundreds of “new” peach yoghurt and I hope I never see another “new” laundry soap telling us that their little blue beads get their clothes really clean.  

Generating Love for the Brand

Under the Brand Idea are 5 sources of connectivity that help connect the brand with consumers and drive Brand Love, including the brand promise, the strategic choices you make, the brand’s ability to tell their story, the freshness of the product or service and the overall experience and impressions it leaves with you.  Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers.  It is not just one or the other–it’s the collective connection of all these things that make a brand beloved.

  1. The brand’s promise sets up the positioning, as you focus on a key target with one main benefit you offer.  Brands need to be either better, different or cheaper.  Or else not around for very long.  “Me-too” brands have a short window before being squeezed out.  How relevant, simple and compelling the brand positioning is impacts the potential love for the brand.
  2. The most beloved brands create an experience that over-delivers the promise.  How your culture and organization are set up can make or break that experience.  Hiring the best people, creating service values that employees can deliver against and having processes that eliminate service leakage.  The culture attacks the brand’s weaknesses and fixes them before the competition can attack.  With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one.
  3. Brands also make focused strategic choices that start with identifying where the brand is on the Brand Love Curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and all the way to Beloved status.   Marketing is not just activity, but rather focused activity–based on strategy with an ROI mindset.  Where you are on the curve might help you make strategic and tactical choices such as media, innovation and service levels.
  4. The most beloved brands have a freshness of innovation, staying one-step ahead of the consumers.  The idea of the brand helps acting as an internal beacon to help frame the R&D.  Every new product has to back that idea.  At Apple, every new product must deliver simplicity and at Volvo, it must focus on safety.  .
  5. Beloved brands can tell the brand story through great advertising in paid media, through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media.  Beloved Brands use each of these media choices to connect with consumers and have a bit of magic to their work.

 

New Products can help separate a brand as well as keep it fresh.  For a Beloved Brand, freshness is essential in attacking your own brand before someone can attack you.  New products that truly solve a consumer problem in a unique way are rare.  This is the generation of marketing incrementalism.  On most brand plans I see “launch innovative new products”  sits comfortably in the #3, 4 or 5 slot on the plan, while #1 is fix the advertising and #2 is get more distribution.  

Stages of Innovation

There are four key stages to innovation:  1) Invention 2) Differentiation 3) Experience and 4) Perception.  And the marketing is different at each phase.

Stage 1: Invention of the Core Product:  The challenge of a truly new product is to finding something that is truly different: a new technology, delivery, format or process.   Rarely, do we get to work on a game changing “invention”.  
Stage 1 of a new product usually focuses all of their efforts on launching and explaining why it is needed.  The product at this stage is usually just the core product, not yet perfected, higher costs and limited sales with no profits.   The advertising is about awareness and the message is simple:  you have this problem, we solve that problem.   There’s an effort to the distribution, because many customers are risk averse and afraid of new products.   Consumers are willing to pay a little more to solve the problem, they overlook all the flaws and limitations, and they think “why didn’t I think of this”.  While some consumers love the new product already, most consumers still sit at the sceptical and indifferent stage.  

Stage 2: Product Proliferation means Differentiation:  With a little bit of success in the market comes copy cats.  With more consumers buying, there becomes room for some differentiation, but mostly limited to product still:  new features and added services on top of the core product.  They might have found a way to make things cheaper, easier to use or better tasting.  Prices come down and brands offer more variety.  Distribution becomes a battle ground and getting full distribution becomes the goal.  Customers try to line up behind certain brands–looking for preferential treatment.  The advertising is about consideration and purchase, trying to stake out certain spaces, shifting from product to brand and separating your brand from others. Brands now sell the solution, not just the product.  And consumers start to choose, one brand over another.  While some consumers prefer one brand over another, most consumers are at the like it stage.

Stage 3: It’s all about the Experience:  In order to establish leadership or challenge for leadership, brands begin to talk about the experience consumers will have with their product.  It becomes no longer about the brand or product but about the consumer and how your brand fits into their life.  Brands look to use positioning strategies to separate themselves, focusing on key targets, with unique benefits–a balance of emotional and rational benefits.  Advertising brings the consumer front and centre, trying to establish a routine with your brand in it.  Brands try to move to the love it stage, some do, but most will be stuck still at the like it stage.  Those that get stuck are forced into value and focusing on price, promotions or value.  The brands that reach the love it stage can command a premium, drive share  and establish leadership in the category.

Stage 4:  Managing the Perception:  As the market matures, any share point movements become difficult to gain any traction on real quality so the shift moves to perceived quality.  Strategy shifts to brand personality where tone and manner in the execution are paramount so that Consumers connect with the brand and begin to see themselves in the brand.   Brands push to become a Beloved Brand, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.  The brand becomes powerful, with power over distribution because consumers would switch stores before they switch brands and power over competitors who are stuck trying to establish their own point of difference.  Profits are at their highest–revenue, margins are both strong and spending is focused and efficient on maintaining the relationship.  While at the top of the mountain, with firm leadership in the category, the brand is always at risk of losing that leadership.  Challenge yourself to continuously stay at the top.  Avoid becoming complacent.

Ask Gap Clothing, Cadillac, IBM computers, Levis, Sony or Kodak who have each reached the Beloved Stage only to be replaced by new products and brands and moved back down the love curve towards Indifferent.  Most recently, Blackberry.  Only 18 months ago, people jokingly used the term “crackberry” to describe their addictions.  No longer.

The four stages can easily be matched up to the Brand Love Curve and help establish strategic focus for the brand.  At the Invention stage, consumers remain indifferent until you build awareness and explain how your product solves a problem in my life.  At the Differentiation stage, some like it, but you are now facing proliferation and attack forcing your brand to stake out a claim.  At the experience stage, you need to become part of your consumers life and balance the emotional and rational benefits that can move you to the love it stage.  And finally, you have to tightly manage the Perceptions to become that Beloved Brand for Life stage, it’s about connecting with consumers so they see themselves through your brand.   You need to establish your personality and begin to wield the power of being a Beloved Brand.

But be careful: Without Innovation, very few brands remain at the top for very long.   

To read more about how the love for a brand creates more power and profits:

For a presentation on how to write a Positioning Statement, follow:

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  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Plan:  The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about.  However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise.  Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits

 

Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

 

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To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

How to Manage your Marketing Career from ABM to CMO

Brand LeadershipAt every level you have to adjust to the new role.  Brand Managers fail when they keep acting like ABMs and Directors fail when they keep acting like Brand Managers and VPs fail when they don’t know what to do.  In a classic marketing team, the four key roles are Assistant Brand Manager up to Brand Manager then up to Marketing Director and on to the VP Marketing role.

Marketing Roles by Level

In simple terms of each of the roles, here’s a how to for all four levels:

  • Assistant Brand Manager:  It’s about doing; analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.  It’s not an easy job and only 50% get promoted to Brand Manager.  To read a story on how to be successful as an ABM, click on the following hyper link:  How to be a Successful ABM and get Promoted
  • Brand Manager:  It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher.  To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director:  It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.  Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more:   How to be a Successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO:  It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged.  Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success:  How to be a Successful VP of Marketing

One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve which shows up at every level.  The basic rule of the Idiot Curve is: You get dumber before you get smarter.     When you first land the ABM job, there’s just so much to learn, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day.  It’s over-whelming at first, and yet you see all these other ABMs doing it so that’s even more intimidating.  But the idiot curve is inevitable.   It just shows up differently for each person.  No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve.  (But, please fight through the curve; you have to for your survival)  The Idiot Curve normally lasts up to 3 months, and then things just start to click.   And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict. 

But the Idiot Curve shows up again in the first few months of each level.  In the first few months as a Brand Manager, they keep doing the ABM role because that’s what they know.  They frustrate the hell out of their ABM.  They keep recommending and acting small rather than start deciding and stepping up to the leadership role.  At the Director role, they continue to be the Brand Manager.  They get nervous where they shouldn’t, whether it’s with senior people in other functions or even within marketing.  They prefer to keep doing, and in those moment there is nothing “to do”, they walk around and start doing other people’s jobs.  At the VP level,the first few months are lonely as you no longer have peers you can bounce ideas off.  Your peers assume you can do the job, and they don`t want to hear your problems.  At each level, you secretly feel like an Idiot.   You don’t want it to show, but in a way, you should use it to your advantage.

Marketing Values for All Levels

There are core marketing values you should instill and use throughout your career:

  1. Be Consumer Focused:  Everything Starts and Ends With the Consumer in Mind.  Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and think like them.  Steve Jobs said he never needed research, but he must have been amazing at listening, observing and anticipating how the consumer would react.  I’d still recommend you do research, but go beyond the statistics of the research and learn how your consumer thinks.  Whenever I go to focus groups, I watch their faces.  And when the research results come back you always have to ask “so now what do we do”.  The research helps you, but never gives you the exact answer.  Match up the needs of the consumer to your brand assets to figure out your ideal brand positioning.  The best marketers represent the consumer to the brand, NOT the brand to the consumer.  I always believe that consumers are selfish and deservedly so because they have money to spend.  As a consumer, I don’t care what you do until you care about what I need.  Focus on them, not on you.
  2. Follow Your Instincts:  Gut Feel of Marketing:  Listen to your inner thoughts, they are in there.   Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”.  The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away.  You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it.  You get scared because you’re worried about getting promoted and want to do the ‘right thing’.  But your gut is telling you it’s just not right.  My rule is simple:  if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand.  The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”.  If you blame your agency or team after the fact, I have a word for people like you:  ”useless”.
  3. Revel in Ambiguity:  Be Patient with Ideas.  Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly.  Watch the signals you send that make suck the creativity out of your team.   If you become too predictable to your team, then your work in the market will also become predictable.  Ambiguity and time pressure usually work against each other.  Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline.  Always push for great.  What I have found is the longer I can stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone” the better the ideas get whether it’s the time pressure that forces our thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for our best idea, I always say, the longer I can hold my breath, the better the work gets.
  4. You Run the Brand, Don’t Let the Brand Run You: Be thoroughly organized, well planned and know the pulse of your business.  Every six months, I would find a quiet time to answer five key questions that would help me stay aware: 1) Where are we? 2) Why are we here? 3) Where could we be?  4) How can we get there? and 5) What do we have to do to get started?   In an odd way, the more planning you do, the more agile you’ll be, because you’ll know when it’s ok to “go off plan”  Stay in Control:  Hit the Deadlines, don’t give the appearance that you’re not in control. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other.  Know Your Business and don’t get caught off-guard.  Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge.  Enjoy doing the monthly report because it makes you the most knowledgeable about the brand.   Stay conceptual; avoid getting stuck in the pennies or decimals.Process should enable us, not hinder us:  A good process can force your thinking towards a solution.  If it restricts your thinking, it’s not a good process.  But if it means, you free up your time for strategic thinking, instead of format thinking, we’ll move much faster.
  5. Be the Brand Leader not the FollowerThe more you keep your boss informed the more rope they may give you.   If they don’t know what you’re doing, they may clamp down and micro-manage you. . Ensure a policy of open communication with no surprises:  Make sure you keep your team informed and involved.  Keep senior management informed.  You must be the champion of the brand.  The best ideas are those that erupt out from the brand team–not from a top down perspective.  You have to be a self-starter that pushes your idea through the system, in the face of resistance or doubt.  And you will meet resistance from so many people in the system.  All the best work I ever did met a large degree of resistance.  You have to anticipate this and work through it.  One subtlety to ownership is your tone. When you don’t know something, speak in an “asking way” and openly seek out the wisdom and advice of your agency, your manager or your peers.  Put your ego aside and listen.  But equally, when you do know the answer, speak in a “telling way” that gets others to follow you, including senior management.
  6. Speed, Simplicity and Self Confidence:  a) Speed:  We don’t do things fast for the sake of it; we do things fast so we can take advantage of opportunities that have a window.  If you recognize an opportunity, realize that others are also recognizing the same opportunity.  So speed to market can enable you to win before they get there.  Also, doing things fast does not mean sloppy.  b) Simplicity: I’ve always said, “If you have a complex answer to something, odds are you are wrong”.  Keep it simple enough to explain, and so that the people who need to execute our ideas can really execute them.  c) Self Confidence:  As the brand leader, speak your mind.  After all, we are all just walking opinions.  Find a way within your leadership style to engage your team, agency or your boss in a debate to get to better answers.
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**To download the Free Guide above, click on slideshare and at the top of the document you’ll see a Save/Download button.   
Other Stories You Might Like
  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Positioning Statement.  Before you even get into the creative brief, you should be looking at target, benefits and reason to believe.   To read how to write a Brand Positioning Statement, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write an Effective Brand Positioning Statement
  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits 

Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

Pick your Social Media vehicle and follow us by clicking on the icon below:

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To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

How to Lead a Performance Review for Brand Leaders

The better the people, the better the work and in the end the better the results. 

As we come up on the year-end, it’s that time of year when we nervously sit down with our bosses and find out how the year went.  For most of us, it’s one of the most dreaded parts of the job, for both those delivering and receiving the news.  But helping to grow our people is one of the most essential parts of the Leader.  No matter how good your strategy or product is, without the greatness of your people you’ll never achieve the results you want.  We all have gaps and we should all be working on closing those gaps.  Performance Feedback is an essential role in the growth of our people.  But without pointing those gaps out and coming up with a plan, then the person will never really improve.

A challenge to you: if there are any surprises during the meeting, then you as a leader are not doing your job.  As the head of Marketing at Johnson and Johnson, I had one-on-one quarterly performance check ins with all my direct reports.  And when I realized that my directs weren’t following my lead, I made the Quarterly Review process mandatory for everyone on the marketing team.  It’s my belief that marketers can grow faster than we think–but they can only grow with timely feedback.  Those quarterly meetings were honest and informal discussions–which made the year-end review very easy.  I also emailed out the written review document 48 hours ahead of time, giving people the chance to digest all the thoughts and to come prepared ready to discuss each point.

As a Marketing Leadership Team, we spent our greatest efforts around managing the people. We talked people performance in every one of our weekly meetings.  The directors were encouraged to bring up people examples of those who were shining and those who were struggling.  If one of the other leaders were not familiar with those that were shining, we’d set up a process or special project where they could become more aware.  We ranked everyone on the team once a year plus a mid-year check in on the rankings.  You have to be diligent in managing your team.

Skills, Behaviours and Experiences

Marketing Skills: Brand Leaders should be measured on the Core Marketing Skills.  Below, I’ve outlined a Checklist of 30 Core Skills for a Brand Leader that can be used to highlight potential gaps that some of our Brand Leaders may have.  These 30 core skills fall under the areas of:

  • Analytics
  • Brand Planning
  • Briefs
  • Advertising
  • New Products & Claims
  • Go-To-Market
  • Leadership
  • Management

You can use this checklist in a few different ways:  1) to see if someone is meeting the needs of the current job–it could be used to set someone up for a performance improvement plan or as a motivation to push themselves 2) for someone who is close to ready for promotion, but you want to close on a few specific areas before the promotion or 3) for your personal assessment to see what you want to work on.

The rating should compare against their peers.  It helps to highlight skill gaps where people should focus their attention.  Any scores in the 1 or 2 are concerning and need an action plan.  The gap could arise because it’s outside of their natural skills or it could just be because it’s been outside of their experience they’ve had.  It’s tough to be good at advertising until  you’ve worked on a brand with advertising.

Leadership Skills:  Below, I’ve outlined a Checklist of 12 Leader Behaviours of Brand Leaders that can be used to highlight potential gaps that some of our Brand Leaders may have.  These 12 leader behaviours fall under the areas of:

  • Accountability to Results
  • People Leadership
  • Strategic Thinker
  • Broad Influence
  • Authentic Style

In the Leader Behaviour space, we all have blind sides that we just can’t see.  This is where the 360 degree feedback can help people to see how they are showing up.  I know that as a Director, I was a Driver-Driver that caused me to have behaviour gaps around Influence and Style.  I had the attitude of “it’s my way or the highway” and I wasn’t getting what I needed from the strategy and accountability I was hoping for.  Once I was able to identify it and work on it, I was able to see a big improvement in my performance and the results started to pay off as well.   Without closing that gap when I was a director, I would not have been promoted and would have honestly been unable to lead the entire marketing team.

Experience:  Many of our gaps as Brand Leaders comes from not having the experience.  When managing others, expect quite a few mistakes in the first few and you might not get fully there until your 5th direct report. When sitting in the hot seat of advertising, you’ll start to realize just how complex it can be–you’ve got to stay on brief, keep the creative team motivated, make judgement calls at every stage of the process and keep your own management on side.  And at every level, you’ll start to notice that the pressure gets higher–whether it’s push for results, the ambiguity or meeting deadlines through your team.  Each of these takes experience.

With  your best people, make sure you identify the experience gaps they have and be fair to them with the next assignment.  It’s far too easy to keep relying on a person’s strengths but it’s more important that you round out that person’s experience.  If they advance too far without covering off those gaps, they may find themselves struggling later in the job.  I’ve known newly promoted directors who had very little advertising experience coming up that all of a sudden found themselves on a desk with lots of advertising.  Their team even had more experience than they did.  Regular people reviews can really help identify the experience gaps that people might have. 

To read about the four levels of the Marketing Team, read the following document that can help you manage your people’s careers based on where they are:

And for any learnings for your teams on specific skills, I’ve created 14 Learning Sessions for Brand Leaders that can help your team to get better.  Most of these sessions can be done in full day sessions with people applying the skills immediately on their businesses.  It’s worth the investment and will be a highly motivating experience for your teams.  To read about all the marketing roles:  1) Assistant Brand Manager 2) Brand Manager 3)  Marketing Director and 4) VP Marketing

About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth.  To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/   or visit my Slideshare site at http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader.  Feel free to add me on Linked In at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1  or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1

How to Differentiate your Brand through Product Innovation

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office,  1899

The quote above may have missed out on the airplane, radio, TV, microwave, car, computer, internet, nearly every cpg product and of course my beloved iPhone.  Maybe the sentiment of the quote was just about 100 years too early.  In the last decade, most of the great innovation has been relegated to social media and electronics.  I hope this century brings us much more than just Facebook, BBM and Twitter.  In the consumer goods area, we must be on the 197th version of “new” cherry flavoured bubble gum since 1955, we’ve now seen hundreds of “new” peach yoghurt and I hope I never see another “new” laundry soap telling us that their little blue beads get their clothes really clean.  

New products that truly solve a consumer problem in a unique way are rare.  This is the generation of marketing incrementalism.  On most brand plans I see “launch innovative new products”  sits comfortably in the #3, 4 or 5 slot on the plan, while #1 is fix the advertising and #2 is get more distribution.  

There are four key stages to innovation:  1) Invention 2) Differentiation 3) Experience and 4) Perception.  And the marketing is different at each phase.

Stage 1: Invention of the Core Product:  The challenge of a truly new product is to finding something that is truly different: a new technology, delivery, format or process.   Rarely, do we get to work on a game changing “invention”.  
Stage 1 of a new product usually focuses all of their efforts on launching and explaining why it is needed.  The product at this stage is usually just the core product, not yet perfected, higher costs and limited sales with no profits.   The advertising is about awareness and the message is simple:  you have this problem, we solve that problem.   There’s an effort to the distribution, because many customers are risk averse and afraid of new products.   Consumers are willing to pay a little more to solve the problem, they overlook all the flaws and limitations, and they think “why didn’t I think of this”.  While some consumers love the new product already, most consumers still sit at the sceptical and indifferent stage.  

Stage 2: Product Proliferation means Differentiation:  With a little bit of success in the market comes copy cats.  With more consumers buying, there becomes room for some differentiation, but mostly limited to product still:  new features and added services on top of the core product.  They might have found a way to make things cheaper, easier to use or better tasting.  Prices come down and brands offer more variety.  Distribution becomes a battle ground and getting full distribution becomes the goal.  Customers try to line up behind certain brands–looking for preferential treatment.  The advertising is about consideration and purchase, trying to stake out certain spaces, shifting from product to brand and separating your brand from others. Brands now sell the solution, not just the product.  And consumers start to choose, one brand over another.  While some consumers prefer one brand over another, most consumers are at the like it stage.

Stage 3: It’s all about the Experience:  In order to establish leadership or challenge for leadership, brands begin to talk about the experience consumers will have with their product.  It becomes no longer about the brand or product but about the consumer and how your brand fits into their life.  Brands look to use positioning strategies to separate themselves, focusing on key targets, with unique benefits–a balance of emotional and rational benefits.  Advertising brings the consumer front and centre, trying to establish a routine with your brand in it.  Brands try to move to the love it stage, some do, but most will be stuck still at the like it stage.  Those that get stuck are forced into value and focusing on price, promotions or value.  The brands that reach the love it stage can command a premium, drive share  and establish leadership in the category.

Stage 4:  Managing the Perception:  As the market matures, any share point movements become difficult gain any traction on real quality so the shift moves to perceived quality.  Strategy shifts to brand personality where tone and manner in the execution are paramount so that Consumers connect with the brand and begin to see themselves in the brand.   Brands push to become a Beloved Brand, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.  The brand becomes powerful, with power over distribution because consumers would switch stores before they switch brands and power over competitors who are stuck trying to establish their own point of difference.  Profits are at their highest–revenue, margins are both strong and spending is focused and efficient on maintaining the relationship.  While at the top of the mountain, with firm leadership in the category, the brand is always at risk of losing that leadership.  Challenge yourself continuously the stay at the top.  Avoid becoming complacent.

Ask Gap Clothing, Cadillac, IBM computers, Levis, Sony or Kodak who have each reached the Beloved Stage only to be replaced by new products and brands and moved back down the love curve towards Indifferent.  Most recently, Blackberry.  Only 18 months ago, people jokingly used the term “crackberry” to describe their addictions.  No longer.

The four stages can easily be matched up to the Brand Love Curve and help establish strategic focus for the brand.  At the Invention stage, consumers remain indifferent until you build awareness and explain how your product solves a problem in my life.  At the Differentiation stage, some like it, but you are now facing proliferation and attack forcing your brand to stake out a claim.  At the experience stage, you need to become part of your consumers life and balance the emotional and rational benefits that can move you to the love it stage.  And finally, you have to tightly manage the Perceptions to become that Beloved Brand for Life stage, it’s about connecting with consumers so they see themselves through your brand.   You need to establish your personality and begin to wield the power of being a Beloved Brand.

But be careful: very few brands remain at the top for very long.   

About Graham Robertson:  I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do.   My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  I do executive training of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability.  I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc and can help you find the love for your brand.