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The Link Between Brand Management and Product Mangement

Product management is a central discipline in just about every technology company in the world. The job, at least as we describe it at Percolate, is to own the strategy and roadmap for the team product/s and oversee the execution of those products. At places like Google (and Percolate) these jobs are held almost exclusively by people with an engineering background. The thinking here is two-fold: On one side the engineer’s approach to solving problems is generally pretty optimal and on the other, it’s hard to lead a team of talented engineers if you don’t understand what they’re doing at a pretty deep level. (While product managers mostly don’t actually manage the engineers on their teams, they are expected to “lead” the team and make choices around what they’re developing.)

What’s interesting about product management, though, is that it actually came from the world of marketing. The idea was inspired by brand management, which was originally introduced by Proctor & Gamble in 1931. I’ve read bits and pieces alluding to this connection, but this piece on the evolution of the discipline draws the line quite explicitly:

One reason product management has not traditionally been included in engineering curricula is because it did not start as an engineering role. Its earliest form was brand management, a term coined by a young advertising manager named Neil McElroy, who in 1931 wrote a memo to the executive team at Procter & Gamble proposing the idea of a “brand man”—an employee who would be responsible for a product, rather than a business function.3 The role had many similarities to modern-day product management. His memo called out the need to promote processes that work and outline solutions to problems. Above all, it called for the “brand man” to take full responsibility for the product.

December 11, 2014 // This post is about: , , , ,


  • Sandra Pickering says:

    Yes, this is an important point and highlights a major philosophical difference between enduring and successful brands and many of today’s start-ups and tech companies.

    The most enduring brands have been managed by people who understand the inextricable links between product and brand and the need for brand managers to understand the technical intricacies of their products. For example, I once worked for a petfood company whose brand leaders regularly tasted products coming off the line. (All the pet food was human quality.)

    But I’d add another thought, Noah: these businesses also understand the links among brand, product and culture – especially the internal culture and values of the business.
    That’s what really makes them distinctive and hard to copy.

  • Rob J Day says:

    This is an interesting topic to discuss. As a Non-Tech Product Manager myself this has been a funny issue for me. If you are looking for work you find almost exclusively software/engineering roles and when people are looking for me they can get a little confused.

    Product management did originate in Brand Management, but it still exists in the marketing world too. I research and develop ‘tangible’ products and then manage the life cycle, updates, iterations etc. It’s really no different of a function, but it is a huge distinction in core knowledge.

    Further, I think tech companies could really benefit from a non-engineer product manager too. I look at Facebook and all of the functionality some of their apps have lost (EVENTS for example) and think these tools could be infinitely more powerful if they were treated like products. I asked, and they are not. It’s not how Facebook – or others do it.

    Food for thought.

  • Trevor Stewart says:

    We are a tech startup based in the UK and will be shortly looking for a Product Manager so your comments was noted.

    Trevor Stewart

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