The Changing Role of Product Managers and Brand Managers

The Product Manager and Brand Manager functions are very critical to an organization. These are the micro level strategists, the nerve centers at the product or brand level that can engineer the success and failure of a brand or product line.

The product and brand manager terms, though used synonymously, there is a slight difference in them, because the product managers seem to get involved in the product strategy much earlier than brand managers. The brand managers seem to get involved a bit later and some of the technicalities of the product are decided much before they get into picture. This would depend, to a large extent, on how the organizations look at the data. Not all organizations are willing to share all the data with the product managers or brand managers. Therefore, they may keep them out until the product is designed or formulated and the costs are worked out. We can also notice that a product management sounds more generic that include many brands where as a brand is more specific. But brands too have their lines though not as big as product lines.

Whatever may be the term the product and brand manager functions have been recognized as vital functions of an organization, the main liaisons in an organization linking all the functions and coordinating and guiding them to make certain that they remain within the strategic frame work developed based on the market analysis. Thus today, as in the earlier days product managers get involved in the market research, identifying market needs and segments, developing marketable product specifications, keeping quality, cost and profit in mind, develop a positioning and communication strategy, train the sales team and follow up on the launch process until the product gets stable in the market place. This is a daunting task the product managers dealt with. To be effective in technical products, the product managers needed to have technical back grounds too.

Some thought that the Product Manager will fade away as time evolves, but as time passed on, the marketing function got more and more competitive due to increasing number and diversity of the products, the more aware complex manager and the highly aggressive competitors in the market. No sector is an exception to it. It is precisely because of this trend the product manager; brand manager functions now became relevant even in service sectors like banking and finance, tourism and many more.

Product and Brand manager positions may be relevant even today, but have the organizations thought over the relevance of their job descriptions? There appears to be a lacuna in organizations coping up with the new challenges in the ecosystem. It appears that even at the corporate level, organizations are still grappling with the concept of sustainability and seem to prefer to live in the hope that “sustainability” is a fad, a passing notion that will disappear as something new comes up. Looking at the issue purely from corporate profitability perspective, a priority for the share holder, anything that calls for huge investment and risky track will need some deep thinking before a change is made.

The basic questions are -will sustainability disappear, is it a fad that will be run over by another mighty one and can organizations afford to wait? Growing evidence seems to indicate that it would not be possible. Increasing pressure from nations on carbon rating, biodegradability, recycling and environmental consciousness it appears that it would be difficult to whisk them away. The environmental lobbies are stronger now, and the consumer is willing to listen to them. The consumer may be compromising with environmentally insensitive brands and organizations, but deep in his mind there is a preference for more “safe product”. There could be a day when the labeling products with environmental safety index would be a statutory requirement and precautions might appear in the advertisements and labels as subscripts.

This is where corporation need to be alert and slowly begin to implement, if not already done, with more sincerity the “sustainability” thinking and instill it in all functions.

There may be a need for sustainability managers who along with quality manager can promote sustainability, environmental friendliness and green consciousness among the product developers, designers and strategists.

The change will have a substantial impact on the product manager function. The new product manager and brand manager must take into consideration the environmental friendliness and organic component in developing a eco friendly version of the product.

Apart from the ecological challenges the product managers also face a new and emerging challenge from the changing media habits of the consumer. The new consumer is not the earlier consumer any more, getting his information from news paper, magazines or television or movies. It is much more diverse mix now with MP3s, blogs, internet advertisement, U-tubes, mobile phones and social sites exchanging information. Now the brands need to be more ubiquitous in their media presence.

Being merely present is not enough. Here, distinction must be made between” presence” and “present”. Many brands tend to be present than creating a presence for themselves. Creating a presence in this new ecosystem calls for strong ecologically flavored brand values, a clear implementation of the values in the design process and packaging, and communicating them effectively to the consumer. Who can do this better than the product manager or brand manager?

Some might argue that the segment is pretty small to be alarmed about it at this stage. Such segments tend to be small but their impact is high enough to make neutral consumer walkway from the brand towards more eco sensitive, green brand at the retail shelf. Who knows, this could only be beginning of the end.

An experienced business executive, educator and consultant. Many years of experience in industry, as consultant and professor and dean at Indian Institute of Management. Visits Management Institutes and lectures on diverse management issues. Writes on management, education, political and social issues. Active participant of social responsibility and social marketing programs.