Branding is about thinking big

In a great presentation by Jean-Noel Kapferer yesterday @HECParis, I was really inspired to rethink my stereotypes about branding.

First of all it is important to note that “a brand is much more than just a name on a product“. Brands also go far beyond driving sales. I don´t know why all the Marketing people I have talked to during my career were not able to make this point to me yet.

If more people recommend a brand than those who are actually purchasing the product, this is a clear signal of a strong brand. The opposite is that some companies have to pay money to be present in films. Jean-Noel calls them “desperate”. There is some magic in putting a crocodile on a shirt despite the fact that this animal is commonly not very much liked.

Second, social media activity is a very good indicator of the value of a brand (“If your brand is not talked about on the web you are not a brand”). Until yesterday, I have thought that counting followers on Facebook is just a way for non-digital Marketers to measure their awareness success (without understanding anything). Now I see that active user participation around brand makes a big difference.

Third, brands can only be authentic if they are considered strategic. It is NOT about driving sales, but much more about building products / companies with a purpose. This purpose lives beyond sales and awareness . This purpose is something that makes our world a bit more worth living. Without leaving “a dent in the universe” there is no real purpose. Product Management is such an exciting place to be in as it helps to build brands. Brands that exist beyond the Marketing department

Thank you, Jean-Noel, for this great inspiration!

By Jörg Malang

How does a MBA help Product Managers not to be roadmap monkeys?

Achieving to build great products means extensive stakeholder management on the one hand. On the other hand, the Product Manager needs to create an environment where she/he can build those products. This environment needs to be based on clear strategic choices of the company.

I am sure many of you know this graph (taken from IDEO).

Viability_etc

Especially in the area of viability there is immediately the  ”business question” coming up. How will the company make money out of your product? What is your expected growth? A Product Manager is in the situation where she/he has to not only do design thinking but also to discuss company strategy.

As product management involves nearly all functions in a company more or less directly, you could consider the role of a Product Manager as a general management role. Sure, you can argue that there is an overlap with the CEO and the senior management respectively.

But: don’t forget that the Product Manager is the one who should be able to do the design thinking (who else?). Design thinking is the necessary but not sufficient skill of a Product Manager. She/he needs to be able to defend strategic positions from a general management point of view as well (on executive level).

We all know what happens if this is not the case: the Product Manager becomes what I would call a “roadmap monkey”. What could prepare one better for this challenge than a MBA? It´s “business ambition” combined with “design thinking” what makes a Product Manager deliver unique value to the company…

By Jörg Malang

Translating between executive and product speak

Working in a senior role as Product Manager is a continuous translation exercise between functional experts. “Show me the revenue” was a quote of one of our @HECParis professors during the last couple of days. And he made jokes about the reactions of the entrepreneurs being asked this unpleasant question.

The big question is: why does it make Product Managers feel uncomfortable? Is it because you run out of explanations? Is it because it is frustrating to leave one´s visionary level and having to go back to much more “trivial” discussions? Is it the mere incompetency of the Design Thinker?

Be it as it is: there is the need to bridge that gap. Companies need senior people who are willing to try hard to make the translation between (absolutely legitimate) business questions and (absolutely critical for survival) radical design thinking.

If this translation doesn’t happen on the right level, two things might happen. Either the Product Manager chases feature after feature without achieving break through and without taking the company to the next (revenue) level or the company dies in beauty because everyone there is living in a dream world.

The ideal situation would be someone in the middle between both worlds having the big picture and being able to translate. That is why we should see many more careers transitioning from product to general management and vice versa. I am asking myself why this is still so seldom. Has it to do with the reputation of product management? Or is it a simple misunderstanding what Product Managers are supposed to do?

By Jörg Malang

Marketing can´t manage every product

Today I have read this article: “The appointment of a chief digital officer is a bad idea“. It has been published on Marketing Week. Obviously it collects arguments for the fact that a chief digital officer is something the world doesn’t really need. The author @AshleyFriedlein ends with pretty polemically comparing this discussion to a discussion around the need of a “chief electricity officer” back in 1900.

Actually, this came at the moment where I anyway wanted to blog about a topic that is close to the same issue. What is the role of marketing? How should the interface between product management and marketing be defined?

During my last module @HECParis we also learnt about marketing. For many people marketing is simply the operational part (remember the four p´s: product, price, promotion & placement?). We got presented the strategic view on marketing. Marketing as a philosophy. “Marketing is too important to be left with the marketing department.” (David Packard). The idea of completely focusing all employees of a company on their customers. This is pretty close to Ashley´s article. Ashely suggests that hiring a chief digital officer might be a bad idea because all departments need to think “digital” anyway. With the same logic one could argue that it wouldn´t make sense to hire a chief marketing officer. Everyone in a company needs to think marketing anyway.

While I understand this argument, there is an insight I would like to share with my readers: products are becoming increasingly digital and therefore technology driven. Technology can address user needs in a way that has not been seen before. @HECParis we have been lectured about the so called “R&D push” that marketing should also incorporate in its thinking. One could say “today´s solutions to user needs have become too complex to be left to marketing people“.

At the end of the day, this whole discussion around C-Level titles might be misleading. Let´s be really open to new ways of managing companies but let´s not ignore the fact that digital changes business much more fundamentally than electricy might have ever done.

By Jörg Malang