How MBA Veterans can translate Military Experience to Brand Management

I attended two industry panels over the weekend at the 2014 MBA Veterans Conference in Chicago, and they did not disappoint.  Here are some notes from the Brand Management panel, and how military experience can help or hurt you.

What do Brand Managers at a Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) firm do?

According to the panel, it’s 70% General Management (financial performance, cross-functional team leadership, reading Profit & Loss statements, etc) and 30% Marketing Communications (packaging design, working with creative agencies, etc).  So you do some of the creative stuff, but you spend more of your time on managing costs, increasing market share, managing brand health, increasing market penetration, etc.  Cross-functional team leadership is the name of the game here: you’ll be working with creatives, finance personnel, designers, manufacturing/operations, without any formal authority.  They use the 4P’s every day.

  One panelist said that it’s like running your own little business that’s focused on the consumer.  In Army terms, you’re like the Company XO.  You handle a lot of day to day stuff and execution and the boss charts the mission and the overall direction/strategy.

You get to do a little bit of everything:  you get to manage creative agencies (does the big idea for our ad campaign drive us closer to our strategic goals as a company?), exercise analytical skills (retail analysis, macro trends, define next business objectives, strategy, read Profit and Loss statements, etc), operations (R&D, work with finance partners, supply chain/route to market, line tests, product launch) and so on.  They really do use the 4P’s!

What are the key skills veterans have that translate well to Brand Management?

  • Your leadership skills and experience set you apart.  Be sure to focus on occasions where you had to lead without formal/positional authority…i.e. you had to convince more senior folks on a course of action, lead a team of your peers on a group project, lead organizational change, etc.  Be specific, and think about exactly how you did it.  Work your story around these leadership skills.
  • You might be a few years older than your peers, and have some pretty amazing experiences under your belt.
  • Veterans are comfortable with making decisions in the face of ambiguity.  You’re adaptable and you can deal with change.  There’s a saying in the military that I love: “An 80% solution on time is better than a 100% solution too late.”
  • You have professional maturity.  Stress management skills and risk/uncertainty management skills are a given, and you are highly resilient.
  • Strong work ethic.  Self-explanatory.
  • Effective communication.  Think about all the times that you used clear communication to drive results.

What are some of the key challenges for veterans looking to be brand managers?

  • Culture Fit.  Part of this is due to unspoken biases and perceptions of veterans from media and popular culture.  There are two big misconceptions:  that all veterans are damaged and are going to go crazy, and that veterans just order lower-ranking people around.  Veterans make up a very very insignificant percentage of the US population, so it’s up to you to change these perceptions.
  • Lack of relevant experience.  You might not have any Marketing or CPG experience, so you have to work hard to get that experience through consulting projects, internships, etc.  Or, you need to look closely at your military experience and find the connections.

I came away from this industry panel super excited about marketing – if you’re a veteran interested in this career field, just know that we can make that transition!