Brand Management : A Quick Introduction
When people talk about post-MBA jobs in marketing, they’re generally talking about brand management (or, more recently, PMM jobs in tech – see the previous section for more info). We’re going to focus on brand management roles at consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, which are the classic post-MBA marketing jobs.
So, let’s break down what CPG companies do! Essentially, they manufacture products that we as consumers use every day. Think of the products that you go to the grocery store to pick up; the products in the center aisles, fridges, and freezers are more than likely produced by CPG companies. Here’s a sampling of CPG products:
- Food and beverage: soda, ice cream, coffee, cereal, granola bars, condiments,
- Personal care: deodorant, cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo, razors, skincare,
- Cleaning products: bleach, laundry detergent, trash bags, sponges,
- Pet care: pet food, cat litter,
- CPG companies also make products in other categories, like over-the-counter meds
Brand managers act as the CEOs for individual brands. They monitor the financial health of the brand, set pricing and branding strategy, work with agencies to create
ad campaigns, oversee retailer relationships, work with R&D to develop innovation for the evolution of future products, and are ultimately accountable for the success of their brand. It’s a role with a ton of ownership, scope, and autonomy.
In the long term, going into brand management could give you a solid foundation for future general management-type roles (with an eventual path to CEO) or marketing roles in other industries (with a path to CMO).
Typical Post-MBA Roles
MBA grads are generally hired into Associate Brand Manager (ABM) roles. Depending on the company, you could rotate through a few different specialties, such as communications, innovation, and performance; or you might focus on one of them.
On a day-to-day basis, as an ABM you’d work with a broad group of cross-functional stakeholders (often senior folks) to do things like: analyze sales data, forecast demand, write briefs for advertising, talk to retail teams, prototype product innovations, manage projects, and support the annual planning process.
It’s worth noting that most CPG companies only make full-time job offers to their summer interns. So if you’re interested in brand management, it’s to your benefit to pursue internship recruiting during your first year and see how it goes.
Draws and Drawbacks
So, what do we love about brand management?
- You learn a ton! You reinforce core business skills like accounting, finance, ops, and strategy (ooh, breadth!) and become an expert in your product/category and the dynamics of that industry (ooh, depth!)
- You get experience across the whole marketing funnel, from conception to product delivery, getting products into retailers, and convincing consumers to make the purchase at the shelf – which will serve you well in future marketing roles
- You have ownership and accountability right away, even as an ABM – you can see how your projects and decisions actually affect your brand’s P&L
- In CPG, the brand team is at the nexus of decision-making (unlike marketing roles in other industries), which is why there’s so much learning and accountability in this role
And what are some potential dealbreakers?
- Brand management can have a slower promotion timeline than other post- MBA jobs (~3 years ~2 years post-MBA), and there can be a bottleneck for promotions because the person in the role above you needs to leave or move up to create space
- Unfortunately, ABMs generally don’t make as much as some other post-MBA jobs (especially consulting or banking)
- Finding the right exit opportunity can sometimes have additional challenges, like marketing roles with less accountability or scope, or employers not understanding that brand management is a GM role (not a marketing communications role)
- If your brand’s category has really low margins, there will be pressure to find savings or efficiencies from your budget or even from perks like expensed lunches or travel
Top Schools for Brand Management
In terms of reputation, the top schools for brand management are Wharton, Northwestern Kellogg, Duke Fuqua, Michigan Ross, and Columbia (especially for New York-based companies. Let’s see how this plays out in the data):
SCHOOLS SENDING THE MOST STUDENTS INTO Brand Management
We see our list of reputed top schools represented really well on the list of schools that send the highest number of students to CPG companies, along with some other schools like Chicago Booth and NYU Stern. On our list of schools that send the highest percentage of students to CPG companies, our friends at Minnesota
Carlson, Indiana Kelley, and Cornell Johnson likely have regional ties to CPG companies in the Midwest and New York that students benefit from.
Top Employers in Brand Management
Here’s a quick guide to some top employers in CPG / brand management and the schools that they hire MBAs from:
GM focus / CEO track
- Note: The perception of prestige for these companies is based on company size (revenues), not quality of company or product – these are all fantastic companies!
- The top tier of CPG companies are mainstays like Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, and Unilever (which does limited full-time MBA recruiting)
- Other great CPG companies include Nestlé, Colgate Palmolive, S.C. Johnson, Mars, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Kellogg, Clorox, and Starbucks’ CPG arm (which is owned by Nestlé)
Marketing focus / CMO track
- These companies spend a lot on advertising, and their focus is building a more brand strategy and creative / communications-focused marketer
- PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Diageo are some of the companies that fall into this flavor of CPG company
TABLE 12.1: TOP CPG HIRERS (CLASS OF 2020)
|Firm Name||# of Top 30 Schools
Firm hired from
|% of Top CPG Schools
Firm hired from
|Johnson & Johnson||18||66.7%|
|Procter & Gamble||14||58.3%|
|Kraft Heinz Company||7||25.0%|
|Estee Lauder Companies||5||25.0%|
|Coca-Cola Company, The||5||–|
|E. & J. Gallo Winery||3||8.3%|
|Hershey Company, The||3||–|
|Wonderful Company, The||2||8.3%|
|Beam Suntory Inc.||1||8.3%|
|Church & Dwight||1||8.3%|
Note: Top Schools include Kellogg, Ross, Cornell, Booth, Stern, Fuqua, McCombs, HBS, Marshall, Kelley, Carlson, and Foster
If you’re intrigued by the idea of working for a smaller company, take a look through the shelves of your local grocery store or Target and see what products you’re passionate about. Keep in mind that a lot of smaller brands have been bought up by larger firms – for example, KIND bars are part of Kellogg and Shea Moisture was bought by Unilever.
There has also been an increase in D2C (direct to consumer) CPG companies/start-ups that could be interesting to explore, like Honest, Casper, and Brooklinen – just keep in mind that since these companies are structured differently from traditional (large) CPG companies, the roles they have might differ (for example, instead of a Brand Manager role, you might be looking at a Product Manager role that is responsible for the P&L of a set of products). It goes without saying that these start-ups probably don’t recruit on campus, and you’d need to do a networked search to find a position with them.