Akshay Vasan, Digital Marketing Specialist (MENA Region) Landmark Group talks about how he got into a brand management career and what it means to be a brand manager.
How I got into a brand management career
by Akshay Vasan
Mumbaikar, Marketing and Motors are the 3M’s of my life and any coincidence to the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is purely coincidental.
I hail from Mumbai, have an eye for marketing and simply love automobiles (guess I have contributed to more than 50% of the organic traffic and test drove every possible car available to mankind)
I was born in Mumbai, but fed and read in several parts of India. This not only gave me a multi lingual friend circle and a second home in every city, but also wide exposure to different cultures in India.
Today, after 2+ years of living outside the country, I realize we are a diverse nation. I would like to believe we are ‘The European Union of the East’ or ‘EU is India of the west’ #justmadeinindia
How I became a brand manager
During my growing up years, I wanted to be a little bit of everything – an Army officer, a commercial pilot, a journalist and a motorsport enthusiast.
Eventually, I settled in for a career in Marketing & Brand management and after 4+ years today, I can say ‘Life isn’t too bad after all’
In my 12th grade (2006), I was determined to get into commercial flying and make a career as a pilot, but just when I was buoyant and bullish about my career choice, the markets world over were sluggish and bearish.
We were entering into a recessionary phase and this meant, airlines had frozen recruitment for trainee pilots and considering high out of pocket investment for the same, I had to be reasonable. Also rising ATF (Aviation turbine fuel) prices added to the woes.
This meant a 16-something had to abort his ‘take off’ and look at alternate career plans. I had no real interest in jumping into Engineering and have an ‘I am an Engineer from a godforsaken institute’ tag attached to my name. Realistically put, I knew I would never make it to an ‘IIT’ so engineering from anywhere else meant a sheer compromise!
A chance meeting with Prahlad Kakkar; popular Ad maker (thanks to a cousin) led me to believe that advertising was something I could look at as a career option. Although the meeting lasted for not more than 5 minutes, it triggered a thought process.
I researched through all possible courses and realized that Bachelors of Mass Media offered by University of Mumbai would be my best bet.
As I progressed along my line of thought and applied to colleges in Mumbai, I came across another course called Bachelors of Management Studies (BMS) – a refined approach towards management education that also covered a module on advertising through Marketing.
I zoomed out and looked at this from a 30,000 feet perspective and realized BMS would be better value add at this stage. I locked in on the course and pursued my BMS from University of Mumbai.
BMS is a three year course, split into 6 semesters. Year 1 & 2 are common electives, while third year allows you to pursue your core electives. Guess in my case, I was interested to finish my third year first! Post BMS, I was certain about pursuing a career in Marketing only.
Although most people thought marketing & sales were the same, let me assure you the skills sets needed are quite different. On a lighter note, in most organizations Marketing & Sales teams are at loggerheads.
Steps to move into the brand management field
After my undergrad, I went on to work for a small wellness company in Mumbai alongside my preparation for CAT, SNAP, MAT, XAT (basically anything which had AT as part of their acronym; note AT stands for Aptitude Test).
Although it was a small brand in the wellness space, my real exposure to marketing came in there. From designing a store façade, to print ad, to developing a website, to negotiating with vendors to ensuring signages were in place, it mean I was responsible for all of this.
This was my real encounter with Marketing or as real as it could good. This exposure only strengthened my belief that Marketing was an appropriate career choice.
Next, I knew it I was at school pursuing my MBA. MBA was definitely more in depth, as we had devoted two full years of our life towards acquiring the skills needed. Here’s some advice for wannabe marketers; pick schools that have a marketing orientation towards it, the best I know are as follows
Brand Management Colleges in India
IIM B, K, I
MICA, TAPMI, SIBM
Brand Management Colleges abroad
Kellogg (NWU), Georgia, Tepper, Berkeley (US)
Manchester, Cambridge (UK)
Interesting experiences as a Brand Manager
A lot of them but three that have been most memorable is something I would like to share.
A) Internship in Dharavi
I did my summer internship with Idea Cellular and had to evaluate the launch potential for 3G in Dharavi. Most mumbaikars know what Dharavi is. For the ones who aren’t, just look outside your window the next time you land into Mumbai.
Here I was, immersed into Asia’s largest slum trying to find potential for ‘ Third generation’, almost walking into people’s rooms, interacting with Paanwalas and having tea breaks with ‘Idli wallahs’.
At the end of it, it was an experience worth documenting (unfortunately internship reports don’t allow you to write experiences). End of it, my recommendations led to Idea launching value plans for Dharavi and I believe it’s doing well (What an Idea Sirjee!)
B) Launch at 3 am
At Tata Housing, we were a mad team of marketers, over-enthusiastic, super agile and an absolute riot. Needless to say our Department head was the force behind this craziness.
One fine day over a couple of drinks, he said, ‘Let’s make people buy homes online’ and without a thought we said ‘Let’s do it’.
On a Monday morning, after our senses were back we realized the commitment made over a few JD’s was now a part of our actual JD’s (job descriptions).
The next 60 days, we nose-dived into this project, travelling extensively, having con-calls at unearthly hours, brief and re-brief our agencies, fire each other, eat unhealthy food, add weight and more weight, not shave, not wax (women only), not sleep (others only); click-shop-checkout-test-retest and then at around 2:54am on 2nd Dec, 2013; we made history!
Our first buyer from Chandigarh bought a property online. In months to come, Tata Group leadership was appalled and radiant, proud and satisfied. We did make it to headlines and now continue to do so.
C) 1 million in 10
My most recent one was the launch of Landmarkshops.com/homecentre, the same fervor from 2013 was back in 2015. Except this time it was a different market, we were launching something for UAE, it meant catering to their sensibilities, their incomes and their moods!
Our mandate was to achieve AED 1mn (INR I.87cr) in 30 days and here on our 10th day we had crossed the AED 1mn mark. It meant another party, this time from ‘Janta & Gokuls’ of the world we were at Burj Khalifa and Jumeirahs.
Typical Day in my life as a Brand Manager
Waking up with great difficulty! Work in UAE starts early. Drive to work, have my coffee and check emails, sometimes attend meetings where you have no clue of the four W’s (Why, Why, Why & Why me)
On a detailed noted, most marketing teams work alongside an Annual Commercial Calendar plotted with product launches, brand launches, activations, tactical promotions. Obviously, it is broken down monthly to fill in granular details.
Most marketers work with a couple of agencies, most important ones are your creative agencies (mainline agency) and media planning agencies. We also work with research agencies to test propositions, products and understand brand health.
Most marketers also travel to markets they operate in to get on ground inputs from other stakeholders – customers, distributors, retailers, competitors’ customers or for mystery audits or sometimes just to accumulate airline miles!
In a nutshell, it’s a colourful life for most big budget consumer marketing companies.
Typical career path with average income in brand management
Most consumer marketing companies across industries like FMCG, Telecom, Electronics, White Goods, Automobiles, Ecommerce hire for brand management jobs in India & abroad.
The typical career path and average salary for brand managers is as follows:
|Designation||Duration||Average Salary (in Rupees)|
|Marketing Executive||First 2 years||INR 6 lakhs CTC|
|Assistant Marketing Manager||Next 3 years||INR 8-12 lakhs CTC|
|Marketing Manager||3-4 years||INR 14-18 lakhs CTC|
|Senior Marketing Manager||5 years||INR 20-25 lakhs|
|Head of Department||Open||INR 30 lakhs+|
*subject to company perception and your performance (actually more subject to ‘what is your perceived value’)
Pros & cons of a career in brand management
Glamour, fast paced, immersive work environment
Strong networking and socializing
Travel, airline miles and 5 star perks
Big budgets for planning
Strategic level roles
Long work hours
Unclear project briefs
Being perceived as a cost centre
Incompetent Agencies sometimes!
Is brand management the right career option for you?
Here are some typical personality traits and qualities that are associated with brand managers – outgoing, strong analytical skills, strong communication skills, patience and aggression at the same time, multi facet thinking (comes with time).
When you look around, see or hear an ad and get irritated then this is the career for you. Because nothing can be more exciting than knowing that a single marketing communication designed by you has the power to influence a million households.
A good MBA is the beginning to go about with a career in marketing, if you intend to work on the client side or with brands. Advertising exposure helps, but doesn’t pay well.
Most consumer marketing companies push you to start with sales in order to have an idea of what the one ground reality is and I personally think, it is important!
Want to test your branding management skills? Here are 20 common Brand Management interview questions and answers