Explore a Career in Brand Management in CPG - Discussion with Uttam Mukherjee, Brand Manager for Fabric Care @P&G
Learn about a career in Brand Management in Consumer Products and Goods industry, in this discussion with Uttam Mukherjee, Brand Manager for Fabric Care, and ex-Senior Assistant Brand Manager for Tide, at P&G.
Check out the podcast below to listen to the complete discussion!
Some of the areas we touch upon in this episode include:
1. What does a Brand Manager in CPG do?
2. Comparing Brand Management in CPG with Product Management in Tech
3. The end-to-end process of launching a new Brand and what a Brand Manager works on at each stage
4. Importance of consumer insights in Brand Management (Uttam shares an example from a case study on Old Spice)
5. The 4 qualities needed to excel as a Brand Manager
6. Typical Career Path
7. Interesting and Challenging aspects of the job
8. Recruiting tips for interested candidates
Thank you for listening!!
If you have any questions for Uttam or for us, you can email us at or tweet at us @led_curator or like us on Facebook at facebook.com/learneducatediscover
Detailed show notes with timestamps:
Uttam discusses his career path so far. (02:29)
Thought processes when Uttam decided to get into brand management (04:27)
Basic role of the brand manager explained. (07:18)
Discussion on equity of the brand. (09:24)
Metrics to measure brand equity. (10:35)
Example is shared of what a vision of a brand in CPG might look like. (12:15)
Difference between brand and product management. (15:56)
“In the CPG world, you have to do more than change the product for the consumer to experience your brand.”- Uttam (17:03)
Various stages of a project in brand management and levels of engagement is discussed. (18:09)
Importance of consumer insight in brand management. (20:14)
Work of market research teams and procedure of gathering insight. (24:00)
On the GTM side, example of the kinds of discussions or debates brand managers might have. (26:26)
Are brand managers supposed to be an expert in all these areas or a jack of all trades? (29:15)
Typical career path in brand management. (31:46)
How to market the kind of attributes of the product you want to emphasize on the brand. (35:02)
Requirement of a fair amount of creativity and not just analytical thinking to work as a brand manager (35:36)
Developing an understanding of the product. (36:41)
Typical day in the life of the brand manager. (38:26)
With social media and Snapchat, the changing role of a brand manager. 40:42)
Most interesting aspects of the job. (42:50)
“I absolutely love the fact that it balances my strategic thinking with my creative thinking.”- Uttam (42:54)
Brand management is trying to effect change on a weekly basis. (45:50)
Aspects of the job that Uttam does not like. (46:39)
What kind of person would really enjoy working as a brand manager? ( 49:00)
“The four important skills that is strategic thinking, analytical thinking, cross-functional teamwork and leadership.”- Uttam (50:02)
Typical backgrounds in brand managers are discussed. (50:34)
Structure and format of interviews. (51:45)
Methods of applying to a brand management position. (52:50)
Tips for candidates to stand out in brand management. (54:58)
Example of qualities that have struck Uttam from other candidates. (56:18)
“And don't use that additional information space to tell about how you know Excel or Power Point because it's not worth it.”- Uttam (57:35)
“So consider brand management if you want to be a leader of a company and truly understand the whole product, how to go to market and how to own a brand.”- Uttam (58:03)
Transcript of the discussion with Uttam:
Uttam Mukherjee: Hey Sonali, how's it going? Thanks for having me.
SM: thank you for taking the time out for the show. In the East Coast I realise it might be a little late for you for the recording of the show. I guess it might be around 10 PM. And I remember the last time we spoke you were travelling. Are you on the road or are you back?
UM: No I'm finally back after 2 weeks of constant travelling so happy to be home for a few days at least.
SM: Does your job require a lot of travelling?
UM: It’s in spurts. It doesn't need constant travelling but when a project requires travel or if we are constantly doing research that requires us to go to different places then yes.
SM: I guess to talk to customers?
UM: Both. I mean customers meaning the retailers, consumers, the end consumers. It's a mixture of all kinds of people as well as other partners that we work with like our agencies or other people conducting projects for us like contract manufacturers or someone.
SM: so this is good. We will be getting into more details into what is your day to day life but before we go into the details of Brand management, why don't you just give us a little bit of introduction and tell us about your career path so far?
UM: Absolutely. After graduating from Business School from Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business I joined Procter and Gamble as an intern for the summer of 2012. It seems like its eons ago. I interned in that summer for the Tide brand so those of you who are not familiar with the tide brand please go and buy it it's a large detergent. I interned with them and really enjoyed it and came back for full time in summer summer 2013 and was assigned back to the Tide brand. I worked on the delivery side of the business which in our terms essentially means which is currently in market or less than a year away of being in market.
So it was a lot of current business and analytical work, a lot of speaking to customer teams,, a lot of executing projects,, building marketing plans and executing those marketing plans et cetera, we can dive into it a little bit. I I did that for 3 years and got promoted in July of this year and so I am the brand manager right now on fabric care. For those of you who don't know fabric care is essentially Procter and Gamble’s way of defining anything that takes care of your fabric so laundry detergent, fabric softener, scent booster, dryer sheets et cetera, any combination basically. So I am a brand manager in fabric care and I work on the innovation side of the business. I have recently moved into this role which is interesting and I am responsible for a lot of new innovation for the company.
SM: Quick question about your career path. What was your thought process when you decided to get into brand management?
UM: It was honestly by chance. I had come from KPMG and I was doing process consulting and interned a lot in those kinds of things before my business school. I honestly thought I wanted to go back to management consulting just to see what that sort of world was like people going from …….., McKinsey. I am naturally attracted to that kind of job profile but when I first joined Business School and I was speaking to a second year student who had just finished his Summer Internship in Tide also and there was something about the work that he did that attracted me to marketing in general and brand management. I think it was the combination or the duality of strategic thinking, creative thinking as well as kind of layered with analytical approach to problem. So it was that kind of perfect mixture that was interesting to me. I like to believe I'm more of a creative person but I lost track, so I was craving for that kind of combination.
And also coming from the consulting world before, I didn't feel like I got to implement projects, just got to write recommendations and that sort of things. I love kind of seeing a physical product right now, I love seeing it in market and end to end almost. And so I think that was what attracted me to brand management. I think what people don't understand about brand management at least in CPG is that the industry is a truly general management track, the center of the hub, that is where the layers of the company will come out from- the brand management and marketing organization. That was really interesting to me.
SM: What you are saying makes a lot of sense. I was in consulting myself and now I am at Google and I know so many consultants and I felt the same way that you miss out on the actual operation and execution piece of the thing so you come up with all these grandiose plans than be involved with the actual fruition of the plan. If that's the kind of thing that interests you, that's missing in consulting. I am glad you brought up the whole how brand management is on the general management track cause as an outsider if I hear the term brand management, it is not immediately clear to me that this is sort of more of a GM/owner kind of role as opposed to someone who is purely focused on the brand. And I know when you and I chatted about this broadcast you brought this whole brand management role in CPG as sort of the product management role in tech. So can you talk about what does the brand manager in CPG do?
UM: It's even more confusing because in a lot of companies even in P&G, it used to be called marketing. And marketing to a lot of people is TV advertising and that is such a small portion of what we do. P&G internally is also trying to rebrand the function into a brand function. It’s no longer called marketing.
So what we are responsible for at the end of the day is brand house which is the equity of the brand also the P&L of the brand. So on a day to day basis we are managing anything that touches those two portions of the business. So whether it is equity in the in the mind of consumers, how are you showing up on shelf store or online in digital and social media, TV, print etcetera as well as the P&L portion- how much are you selling, where are we selling, what’s our share relative to competitors portion, what's driving the growth, what is driving the lack of growth, how to accelerate growth, et cetera. All of this matrix we constantly look at on a day to day basis. At the end of the day the brand managers are responsible for the strategy and vision of the brand so it means on a daily basis we are working with all of our cross-functional partners whether that is our consumer research people, R&D people, our PR people, and our sales organization. All those people we are working with them on a day to day basis to ensure we're bringing to life all our vision and strategy that we want to for the brand.
SM: So when you say equity of the brand you are looking at 2 key pieces- The equity of the brand and the P&L of the brand. So equity of the brand what does that mean?
UM: It's the health of the brand. If you have value a business today whether it's Uber, Google et cetera they always take into account revenue, profits but they also take into account equity. Basically what does the brand stand for and its value in the eyes of the consumers- what the consumer is willing to pay for the brand? For brands like P&G the equity is so strong whether is Gillette, Pampers, Old Spice, Venus etc. all of us have very strong brand equity. That's a sign of the health of the brand and what kind of premium we command in the market for our consumers as well as our retailer partners also.
SM: I see what you're saying. Google and Uber have very strong brand equity and are associated with a lot of valuable brands. But do you use a metric to measure brand equity?
UM: So we do have equity scores we run, equity health check on a month to month basis and how our consumers are perceiving the brand. For example, without being aided in the response do they recall that Tide is one of the top notch detergents? Yes, great that is unaided awareness. Purchasing Trends all those kinds of metrics go into a brand health equity check which is the score we look at every month. The other things that also help this are things like how many people brought our brand today, did we grow in that many houses that we are in, is our health just getting better and better which also impacts because it is closely tied to the P&L and revenue also.
SM: So as a brand manager you are tracking the brand score on a regular basis and if there is any change why did the change come about. I am sure you have a team working with you to help you figure that out. P&L is pretty straightforward I guess with the market share, the growth and how you can improve on all of this fronts. So overall as a brand manager you are responsible for coming up with a strategy and vision for your brand and making sure that that gets executed upon in a given time frame. Can you give us an example of what a vision of a brand in CPG might look like?
UM: I can give you an old case study that might help you to paint a picture. So Old Spice a couple of years ago was a brand that was struggling, it was not growing, the household penetration always also low, wasn't growing revenue, wasn't good in terms of sales, customers were not happy with the brand and it was not been given shelf space. In general it was a brand that older man enjoyed and it had grown old with those men. The issue was getting more consumers at the entry level. Younger boys, younger men etc. so that the brand could keep on growing and they would grow with the brand. So the strategy would have been how to grow household penetration with male consumers 18 to 34. The brand rallied around that and it came up with the ‘Smell like a Man’ Ad campaign with Isaiah Mustafa.
So for example in that, the case study goes like they knew they wanted to track males 18 to 34. But if you think about that that segment, you can divide it into 2- one is college students and the other is young professionals who were just out of college and working for the first time. The college students, they were not doing their purchases, their mums were generally doing their purchases at least for the first time and before college also their mums doing it. And for young professionals, ifs they’re in a relationship it’s generally the women that is buying the products at home.
So when they had their insight, they went to market with a commercial strategy of marketing to women instead of the man. If you look at the commercial that is speaking to the woman and what they are asking the woman to do is to ask themselves if they wanted their men to smell like men or not. And if they did not, they could smell like women because the other end found that these men were actually using women's products in the shower. It was kind of a combination of the vision, the strategy, and the marketing technique. And how it came to life in the market from other tangible points- I believe they refreshed the packaging, the communication, voice of the brand etc. All of this aspects came into it.
SM: This really highlights for a brand manager in CPG would be working on. I think what really stands apart for me is that why is it called a brand manager and not a product manager is when you found out or when the Old Spice team found out as to why most of the people buying the brand are older man, all of the change that was being done was via Advertising and Marketing as opposed to any change in the product itself. Maybe that was because the product was great, all you needed to do was the market strategy. I think in tech generally, product managers and even companies are very product focused. So they will try to change the product more than anything.
UM: The reason why it's called brand management and not product management is because in our minds we would be very focused in the product efficiency and compatibility of the consumers. So if you just change the product, for example if you took Tide and if you made it a better cleaning performance that would be product management. Why it's called brand management is because it's an aspect that we have to be responsible for but there are other aspects like do we have the right packaging, do we have the right communication, do we have the right price points, do we have the right P&L structure. So all of this things encompassing is everything that touches the brand. We don't talk about it as products because every brand has multiple products but we don't have multiple brands under each brand manager. That's the difference I would say and I think in tech world, you can probably make product changes and that truly is the experience that the consumer has. In the CPG world you have to do more than change the product for the consumer to experience your brand.
SM: I don't want to make this into a brand management vs product management discussion but to close the loop on that I think a lot depends on how the product management is structured in a company. In a lot of companies like Facebook, Google PM is very similar to what you are describing where you are the owner of the product and you have to figure out not just what to build but how to launch it, and what the commercial strategy would be. Of course you will be working with a lot of people to figure that out but ultimately the PM owns the product and its success in the market. I think it's sort of what you are describing.
UM: It is exactly what I am describing.
SM: I think what would be helpful is if you can share an example of a project and what goes through at the higher level stages of the project, various activities that you would engage in each of the stages?
UM: So I just launched Tide Pure Clean and for those who are not familiar with it, it’s the first time Tide has entered into the bio-based or organic natural cleaning world. Before this Tide has not really played in the space which is the growing segment so we wanted to enter the segment. When we first entered this project we were looking at the consumer landscape and the retailer landscape and we realised that there was a growing segment not only from your consumer demand standpoint but also from all the retailer demands standpoint. They were giving more shelf space, they were giving more awareness on this retailer organic brands. Maybe a couple of years ago it wasn't so prominent in the laundry isle, it’s been prominent in health and beauty and food but the laundry aisle have not had that much disruption from that standpoint.
So the first thing we did was look at the landscape and then we try to understand from the customers view if they're interested in something like this, whether you even want anything like a natural detergent without even being tied to a brand. So the step after that was product development. Once we knew they wanted something we had to come up with something of how to get to that level of performance and also keep to a level of bio based contents So that was a long journey for our research and development team. It was not an easy thing to do, a lot of the products today in the market was there before we had entered, was very low performing but had very high bio base. So the consumers were making one trade off over the other. And that’s the insight we saw from the consumers. Another step in the process development is what the insight is.
Insights are really important to ask for for a lot of things. First to anchor as to what the consumer needs really and what the communication strategy would be. So the insight of I have to trade something right now between saving my world or saving my clothes, I would choose saving the world- that was a very important insight for us.
So I wanted to make sure that the consumer did not have to make a choice, did not have to make a trade off so we asked our R&D team to develop a product that would meet that expectation.
The next step for us was once we have the product, we have the insight, we have to develop a design. In this product segment the prototypes were that Tide was not very comfortable with. Translucent bottles, white bottles etc. and we usually stick to our equity colours of orange. So there was a lot of design and element changes that we had to do and intuitive learning in understanding what are consumers wanted. Why intuitive learning on the design spaces also what we are going to communicate on our packaging in store and other media. So that was another big step.
After that there was a lot of focus on how do we go to market, how do you sell this to customer teams and to retailers, will they buy it or not or how much will they buy from us, where will they place us on shelf, what price point are we looking for, what kind of margin are we looking for etc. The other big go to market aspect is our communication strategy. What does our TV Advertisement look like, our print advertising look like, how search looks like on Google, those kinds of things and then also a big portion is what our PR plan look likes. How are media outlets going to take this message and run with it? Once our focus goes to the market we started rolling on our agencies that work on these products with us and then after that is done, in launch and post launch there is a lot of tracking. So how is the product doing in the market, what tools are working better than the others, why is it growing and why is it not growing, which retailers are doing well etc.
SM: And that's where all the metrics that you were talking about P&L, KPI’s, you are tracking all of them are done. So this is a long process and there is a lot of stuff that has to happen during this process. So how long would this thing last for?
UM: So honestly it depends from project to project and it depends on how big is the technological breakthrough. Or are we just doing commercial innovation which means just changing the advertising of the project. It could range from anywhere from 5 years to maybe a year. It depends largely on what the technology attached to it is and how long did it take for us to invent.
SM: I am guessing that one of the areas that takes the longest amount of time is the product development. I want to dig a little deeper into all these areas. So the first step is when you do market assessment and you try to figure out the consumer insight. For example like consumers wanted buy something to save the world and not just clean their clothes, that's really hard to understand. Do you guys have really big market research teams and how do you get to that insight?
UM: So we don't have a really big market research team but we have a function inside P&G that is solely dedicated to consumer research which is called the CMKT that is the consumer market knowledge team. Actually P&G is the first company within the CPG space to come up with that function and we have been doing it for so long that those teams and the members of those teams have become expert at it. They are fantastic at setting up the right research with the right consumers, and being able to digest that information and collect it into insights. To be honest the project I just described we were a team of just 5 of us. We spoke to around 100 consumers and that's how we got to the proposition that we did. We were hands-on and we were listening to the consumers and we tried to digest what the insights would be.
SM: So as a brand manager what is your role in this? Is it more like ‘hey we need to understand this and you are managing this entire thing’ or are you on the phone with the consumers or observing a focus group?
UM: I was in the room observing the Focus Group and speaking to the consumers. The biggest mistake a brand manager can make is being hands off. Obviously I don't want to micromanage as there are experts in every group but not knowing the consumer is the biggest mistake you can make. You have to know the consumer closely to understand what their needs are or else the decisions you would be making for your own brand are going to be far off from what the consumer really wants.
SM: So not only are you managing the entire process and making sure everything is on time, you are also in the wheels that you are in touch with everything that is going on.
UM: Absolutely, it also depends on the process and on the level of the project is going to be. For high priority projects we have to be in the wheels on it and understand every aspect of the project.
SM: So in the product development process I am sure you have a dedicated team working on it. On the GTM side can you share an example of the kinds of discussions or debates you might have. For example on pricing, on which shelf should I place this. There is so much science behind this as I learnt in case studies in Business School.
UM: Absolutely. I think one of the biggest challenges we face in this project is the pricing. Pricing was a big debate for us primarily because the competitors where price all over the place. There was a cheap detergent that didn't perform well but also a high end detergent that did not perform well but was outside the price corridor that we usually are in. So what we had to do was consumer learning again to understand how much the consumer would be willing to pay for this product. A lot of people in our team had a gut feeling about what the consumer would not pay us but we had to let the consumer tell us. Another big challenge for us was the laundry category as this product is sold in two different places. So understanding where we should shelf it and why we should shelf it in which place was also a big challenge for us.
SM: So what did you guys end up deciding regarding shelving?
UM: Regarding the shelving, we ended up deciding to shelf in both places. There is a natural section in the laundry aisle so we got placement in there as well placement in the regular Tide aisle. So if we were going with the assumption that we would be in the natural section but we did consumer mock test with shelves to determine the traffic so we decided to be in both sections due to consumers’ willingness to experiment more in the regular section aisle.
SM: So you would conduct this test in a couple of stores and see what happens?
UM: No these are usually conducted in our facilities. Some of this shelf, test we mockup shelfs and we get consumers to come to them and walk through them and we collect our data based on that.
SM: So you guys have a fake Walmart store?
UM: Kind of. It's not as big though.
SM: And do the consumers know it’s a fake store?
UM: Yeah they know that it's for research that they signed up for but depending on how you set up that research, they know it's not buyer’s remorse and that's the biggest thing for us.
SM: I would love to check that out. Another thing that stands out in this process is that as a brand manager you are working on many different processes like market research and figuring out what the pricing would be, innovation you need in your product to sell it more. These are very different things. So as a brand manager are you supposed to be an expert in all these areas or a jack of all trades who can get the best of the insights from your other team members?
UM: This is an interesting question and I say it's interesting because I go back to the way PNG interviews people for brand management and what they look for is skill sets. Skill sets that they are looking for a strategic thinking, analytical thinking, ability to lead teams, ability to work across cross functional teams. Those are some of the core skills that they are looking for. We don't need to know the right way to approach a consumer and digest the inside. We don't need to know how to get that information but what appropriate conclusion we can derive from that information. Because people can look at data in two very different ways and come to two very different conclusions So being grounded in your strategic thinking and digesting the information in the right way, coming up with the right conclusion that is the role of the brand manager. Making all those decisions and being an effective leader, that is the role of the brand manager.
SM: As a brand manager for Tide, how big was the team you were leading?
UM: I was never a brand manager for Tide but in this particular project where I was one of the commercial leaders for it and the team was maybe 10 to 15 regular members and a lot more people working in the product development side. It was probably more than 50 people working on that side.
SM: But do they report to you?
UM: So we know in these cases they don't necessarily report to me but we have a structure where they are responsible for the projects to me. So it's kind of a dotted Line or indirect reporting as you would say. In the brand management function there are reports that have to be directly to the brand management. So the ABM report to the brand manager and the brand manager would report to the assistant director et cetera. So the cross functional teams you are working with, they have to work with you and you are the leader of the project.
SM: That sounds like a very very cool role. What is a very typical career path in brand management like?
UM: Do you mean in terms of years or the path that works?
SM: So both. I mean after you graduate from this the school what do you join as and how do you move upwards to brand management and how many years it would be?
UM: So you join in as a business school graduate or even as an undergraduate in any organisation that is a brand management or a product organisation, we join in the same position that is the assistant brand manager. You are in that position generally for 18 to 24 months and after that it is not a promotion because you are in the same band, but you generally move into a senior assistant brand manager. Again you are in that position for 18 to 24 months and this period generally depends on how you perform and how the business is doing etc. Then you become a brand manager and it's the same cycle of rotation within that. About 4 to 5 years and then the next step is the assistant brand director. And then 2 to 3 rotations in 4 to 5 years again. After that it is brand director and after that it depends on the organisation you could be a vice president or a General Manager. And then there are various levels of Presidents that report into CEO.
SM: I would imagine that the structure is more or less similar across CPG companies.
UM: I think most CPG companies have the same structure but what varies differently is the months or years you spend in a position. And how much responsibility is given in each level.
SM: So if it's a more conservative company the process might be slower.
UM: Exactly. Or if it is a smaller company with the same number of levels then the ownership when it comes to the budget or the P&L level won’t be as big.
SM: Another thing I am very curious about is because I tend to associate brand with a brand perception which is external. How would you describe a brand like Tide or Fabric Care or pick any product that you like?
UM: In the eyes of the consumer or how we internally speak about it?
SM: Yeah so how would you describe the brand and how is it different from the vision of the brand?
UM: I think it is different from the vision. I would describe Tide as the best cleaning laundry detergent in the market. That is the easiest way to describe it and there is no other product that can be done when it comes to cleaning performance. In the eyes of the consumer I guess that would be different I think they would call it the most expensive laundry detergent and would not necessarily say its cleaning performance. And the vision would be different. For example the vision for a brand could vary from we want to be X million dollars big or we want to be in the homes of X million people. It just depends on the brand what the vision might be.
SM: I am sure a lot of time is spent on what kind of attributes of the product you want to emphasize on the brand. So in your case it's cleanliness but it could have been anything else.
UM: Absolutely. Another example of that is Gain which is another laundry detergent In the PG portfolio. And it stands for freshness. Dreft is another brand in the PG portfolio which stands for the best detergent for your baby. So we have a lot of different brands in our portfolio but they all stand for very different things so we keep them in different segments so they don't overlap or compete with each other.
SM: Do you think you require a fair amount of creativity and not just analytical thinking to work as a brand manager?
UM: I think so. I think that's why you can see certain brand managers shining because you can be taught analytical thinking but I don't think you can be taught strategic thinking. I think you usually have a knack for it or not. Analytical thinking can be taught, you can be taught how to work in a cross functional team but you cannot be taught how to be a leader. A big x factor that we usually deal with are creative aspects. How do we show up in front of her consumers in TV commercials how do we deal with our creative agencies et cetera. A lot of brand managers who have risen up have a really good understanding of the consumer and a creative gut. I call it gut because it is usually a sense which is creative, which is going to do better than others.
SM: This might sound tongue-in-cheek but how do you develop an understanding of Tide. Like do you wash clothes with Tide all the time?
UM: We aren't washing the clothes but we are watching them wash the clothes. At home we wash the clothes me and my wife both share that responsibility. I think it is understanding of the consumer, like do you truly understand what it is they need are. Do you listen to enough consumers so that you know what the main points are? And why they want to buy your product? If you know that then you are going to know what's going to appeal to them. So for example in Old Spice if they hadn't known the consumer they would have kept on talking to the old men. Like ‘hey guys why aren't you buying a product? Why aren't you buying a product? Go buy our product’. Not knowing that it is the woman that buys the product. And I think that's the great thing about it.
Now coming to the creative side it's something you can't explain, like how to choose the right creative. But you develop it over your course of time in P&G or in any other brand management functions. You just develop an app for understanding if it will work or not. What is the best practices that I know of and what have I seen that has worked before? And what does my gut tell me- as a consumer would I watch this or not? Would I want to share it? If the answer is no then you have your answer right there.
SM: I guess the more time you spend in the industry the more you learn to recognise the patterns which might be not so obvious immediately.
Alright, Uttam I want to know a little bit more about your day to day now. You gave us a really good overview of what an end to end project might look like which might span over a couple of years to a year. What about a typical day and what are the kind of things we might find you working on?
UM: So there is no such thing as a typical day. So I am more into a non-traditional brand management role but to give you a day to day basis of a typical brand management role- you are most likely meeting with your creative agencies and your cross functional teams, you're most likely meeting with your manager whether it is your brand manager or your marketing director and you are most likely working on an analytical piece which will be like a recommendation on how to move your brand in a different way. We are usually assigned 5 different projects at a time and those 5 projects can have different ebb and flow depending on the time of the year. So you might be speaking for one project in the first hour and then switch to another project and then another project and keep on rotating throughout the day. So another quality will look for in brand managers is the ability to multitask and handle different projects along the way.
SM: So when you say 5 different projects do you mean 5 different brands?
UM: Not 5 different brands. You are usually working on one brand at the same time up until the level of a brand manager at least. So an ABM and brand manager would be working on only one brand at a time. But as an assistant brand director or a marketing director you would be working on different brands. But as an ABM and the brand manager you would be working on multiple vectors for that brand. For example for Tide, in the morning I could be working on how to market it to our Hispanic consumers and in the afternoon I could be working on single unit deals products. And the next day I could be working on how to amplify our social media platform. So that are all the different projects I could have at one point of time.
SM: It's good that you brought up social media. It's one of the things I wanted to ask you about since brand management has always been a lot about TV advertising. But now with social media and Snapchat, do you think the role of a brand manager has changed a lot?
UM: I don't think that the role of the brand manager has changed it's just that the knowledge base of where the consumers are and how to interact with them- the platforms have changed. And that itself has created a very different skill set, a very different approach and expectations from the brand manager. But the role of the brand manager is the same, how do you manage the equity and how do you grow the P&L. So even with the ascent of social media, the role of the brand manager has not changed but what is changed Is brand managers growing through the process of the digital, learning more about it and downloading Snapchat on their phones. That transformation has been a very interesting transformation.
SM: Does Tide have a presence on Snapchat or Twitter?
UM: We have a presence on Snapchat and Twitter and Facebook….
SM: So what do you tweet about?
UM: So we treat these social media platforms as mass distribution of marketing campaigns. We use this space as a conversation for one on one’s. For example for Snapchat it is a fantastic platform as it has a very different audience. It is an incremental audience for a lot of other platforms. So we use this to reach out to a lot of other consumers who are not going to be on TV or reading magazines or listen to the radio so we have to reach to them somehow to tell them about our brand.
SM: I am going to check out your channels just to see what kind of content is in there. So it sounds like on a daily basis you are working on multiple teams and on different projects, maybe of the same brand but a lot of time in meetings, in doing PowerPoint and Excel sheet analysis. So what do you think are the most interesting aspects of this job?
UM: I absolutely love the fact that it balances my strategic thinking with my creative thinking. It keeps me on my feet, it keeps both sides of my brain working all the time. What I really like, and I might be partly schizophrenic I don't know or I have a ADD, but I love working on multiple projects because it keeps me fresh and stimulated. It can be very exhausting but it keeps you engaged in different things. A big portion we haven't spoken about are the people. CPG culture is very interesting. All of these companies were started as family businesses long long ago and the culture is very welcoming. People at my work are a big portion of what keeps me here rather than going to another company.
SM: Is it because of their collaborative nature?
UM: Yes there collaborative nature and the fact that they care about people vs just another employee. Cincinnati being a small town in the Midwest, there is a family like nature about the organisation. Yeah so it's a multiple of all those things.
SM: Also because as a brand manager you are the owner of the success of the brand. It could get pretty stressful I am assuming at times?
UM: Extremely. Especially when it’s a flagship brand vs others for example of flagship brand of a 60 billion dollar company it could get pretty stressful at times.
SM: Can you share an example of a stressful situation you might have faced?
UM: On a week too week bases will look at our share reports like how did we do last week compared to this week when it comes to actual sales etc. An ongoing stressful situation will be if that report looks red on a Monday morning that’s a stressful situation because it means we didn't do enough and the previous week to get the sales that we needed. So if we feel that we are not growing sufficiently in the market or if we are losing then we need to switch on to what kind of plans we need to put in place to reverse the market trend. And that itself is very stressful for the quick turnaround that is needed. The level of analytical detail that is needed to go through and comb through to understand what exactly the issue was. And the additional stressful factor is that competition is after us all the time because we are the market leader. So it is a combination of all those factors that adds up to the stress level.
SM: I didn't realise that you guys are trying to track things on a weekly basis. So does that mean that you are trying to effect change on a weekly basis?
UM: We get data on a weekly basis so yeah we are trying to effect change in our sales on a daily or weekly basis. When it comes to other things like how is our advertising performing we get data on a different time frame. Social media we get data on a daily basis and TV we get data on a monthly basis. We are always trying to make the brand better so we are a very data driven organisation. Whatever data points we can collect on what is working and what is not working, we're constantly using it to make changes in the market to make it better.
SM: Are there any aspects of the job that you do not like?
UM: I have to be honest here so yes, there are aspects that I do not like. The most consistent across Procter and Gamble is that we are a 65 billion dollar company and with that comes a lot of scrutiny and a lot of different levels of management. So we are not as fast, as agile and nimble as we need to be. So the multi layered nature of the company is what frustrates me about the work. The other thing that frustrates me is that sometimes you cannot pinpoint what happened. And I think that is very frustrating for someone who is data driven. For example one week you did really badly in your sales report and there are so many micro and macro factors that affect it. You know, the retailer just put some other brand in front of you and that is not something you can control, you need to have a discussion with the retailer. Those kind of things that are out of your hands, those can be really frustrating because you don't have direct access to your consumers because we are going through biggest distribution channels.
SM: Yeah that can get really bad. I remember it's almost like an ongoing negotiation you can have with the retailer who gets the best shelf placement. And if you are talking to a large chain like Target or Walmart, a single day can make a huge difference.
UM: Everyday can make a huge difference. I think one event for a big customer, the launch period of time. They usually sell events for 4 to 6 weeks. So if we missed an event or if you play second fiddle in the event that is going to impact your business in a huge way.
SM: So that can be pretty bad especially if you are used to certain numbers being the market leader. A few last questions more from the point of view of recruiting. In your perspective, what kind of person do you think would really enjoy working as a brand manager?
UM: As I mentioned earlier there are a few skill sets that you need to exhibit. If you feel like you can master those skills then you would really enjoy brand management. The skills that was strategic thinking, analytical thinking, cross-functional teamwork and leadership. Those are for of the important skill set. We can teach you a lot of other things like the creative portion or how to work in the PG processes but we usually look for those four skill sets and for someone who is used to working in an organisation that has those skill sets or can adapt to the skill sets, would really enjoy brand management a lot. I think the other part of who would enjoy brand management is if you can really look and feel the product that consumers are loving and appreciating every day. I think that is something you will live and die for in this industry. I think there is something very special because you don't always get to see consumers smile and thank you for products that you are taking to the market and impacting their lives.
SM: I think it's a good point that you brought up that if you are already in a role that inculcates those qualities, brand management could be a very well suited role. So have you seen any typical backgrounds you have seen in brand managers?
UM: We have a very very wide set of backgrounds in brand management. I think one group of people that really stands out to me or previous consultants. Consultants are generally used to thinking in very structured strategic format. They usually have very good analytical skills. And if they are not meeting with teams and they are working with teams because they are very junior in their career, they still have presence in front of clients which starts building in them leadership qualities. Which is why consultants form a good set of candidates for brand management. But to be honest, we have people from political science background or even basketball players, Military veterans so that is why P&G voted on the 4 skill sets that they are looking for.
SM: Generally what are the interviews like? Can you give us an example of how you would test some of these qualities like leadership?
UM: I can't share the exact examples because there is a very set format and I am involved in the recruiting process. What they do is they ask series of behavioral questions and they are in what is known as the CAR format that is the contexts, actions and results and they are supposed to answer in that format. The rest for the skill sets and each questions tell you a thing or two about one particular skill set so the candidate is encouraged to understand what they are trying to determine and focus on that in that question which is a behavioral question.
SM: So you said CAR format -Context, action and results.
UM: So it is very similar to the STAR format which is situation, task, action and result. We have kind of combine the situation and task.
SM: It's mostly a behavioral interview. Generally is it best to apply from school, whether you are in business school or undergraduate, or there are other ways of applying also?
UM: You can apply otherwise also. There are lot of positions available there are not in the traditional recruiting cycles- just in time hires that companies like P&G look for. I would say if you are not in school right now and if you are working for something else, I would always encourage you to look at the site and see if there is a position open. I am pretty sure we are always looking for people unless there is a hiring freeze or something.
SM: Yeah so if you are a consultant you have the perfect profile so you should definitely look for it. So is the best way to apply in the website or a referral or is there something else?
UM: So we don't do referrals so the best way to apply is through the website. The website is a good way to apply because when you do apply they give you a test. You can find examples of the online test online also. The online test tries to tease out certain qualities but don't ask me how because I have no idea. The test actually screens out a lot of candidates for us and the candidates that are left are enough for the recruiting team to go through and look at the profiles of every candidate.
SM: This is the first company I have heard of that doesn't do referrals. And that too, the size of P&G that is a huge company.
UM: Yeah I mean I have known a lot of people who could have been good candidates. There’s no good way to refer someone in terms of through a system or anything like that. You can always be encouraged to say would you look at this person's candidacy but that usually does not work because they’re usually looking at everyone's candidacy anyway. So the referral system does not really exist in P&G.
SM: That's good to know because it sets up an equitable competing space for everyone. Do you have any tips for candidates for how they can stand out?
UM: I don't think my tips should be any different from any other job. It will be making sure that you’re putting your best foot forward in terms of results you have achieved in your life, whether it is academic, professional or personal and making sure that it is very strong from that standpoint. Standing out for me is also making sure that you have the right skill sets and what exactly those skill sets are and how to portray those skill sets. And usually for me when it comes to candidacies, I like to remember something about the candidates that's different and that's interesting and it would not undervalued. Because in P&G like I said earlier, the culture is getting to know people and collaborating so much, getting to know your employees so well and your colleagues so well and having something you can relate to or something that can stand out is so important.
SM: So I want to touch up on that a little bit. So you have done a great job of telling us exactly what qualities P&G and other CPG companies might look for as long as you are illustrating those in your resume and cover letter. But you also want something extra that might help a recruiter or a hiring manager remember you. Can you share an example of such qualities that might have struck you from other candidates?
UM: Well I'll give you my example. I don't know if it's worthy or not. For example at the end of my resume there is a bullet that said I love cooking Kathi rolls, I am a huge Real Madrid and I have swum competitively in 5 different continents. So those three things just in itself, you might either like food or the fact that I have swum competitively or maybe you are a soccer fan, differently are 3 different that help you remember me. And that itself is an interesting way of being able to relate to a candidate.
SM: And I think those are great things to talk about because they also tie into the four qualities. Because if you are in a soccer team that means that you are a good team player.
UM: It's a great way to tie into those leadership skills, it's a great way to show your personality, it’s a great way to know someone also. And be a little more intimately familiar with them.
SM: I remember speaking to one of my colleagues in my previous consultancy role where he said one of the most important sections in the resume is the additional information section. After a point of time everyone's resume looks like the same if they are from a good business school.
UM: Exactly. And don't use that additional information space to tell about how you know Excel or PowerPoint because it's not worth it.
SM: I hope that they are not doing it. Ok Uttam this was really really good. Thank you so much for your time is there anything else you want to touch upon or talk about?
UM: Please consider brand management. I don't think we have enough people considering it in Business School and at other aspects. So consider brand management if you want to be a leader of a company and truly understand the whole product, how to go to market and how to own a brand. I think it’s a fantastic role so I would highly encourage you to consider this job. Thank you so much Sonali I really appreciate the time and making me speak to your listeners.
SM: I am sure they’re going to be very happy with this one. Thank you Uttam!