What MBA Students Need to Know About Brand Management in 2024

July 8, 2024


Magnifying glass on shiny black paper with glossy words and the word "BRAND" is in gold gloss inside the magnifying glass

In this Q&A, Professor Chris Pullig describes the skills and perspectives every MBA student needs to navigate the ever-changing world of brand management. 

From brand activism to AI influencers, there is never a dull moment in the world of brand management. 

We sat down with Chris Pullig, PhD, department chair and professor of Marketing at the Hankamer School of Business, to understand what students need to know to build their organization’s strongest asset: its brand. 

What are the core principles that you teach in your Strategic Brand Management course?

First, I help my students understand what a brand and brand equity represents. People often think of a brand as a name and a logo, but those things are only a shortcut to what we feel when we use the brand, what we expect from its performance and what we are willing to pay for it. A brand is the complete mental representation of the brand held in customer memory—in other words, the positive and unique associations in the mind of your customers. When people see an image of Tony the Tiger, they think about how much they enjoy eating Frosted Flakes. They think about their childhood. Those are the things that are held in their memory. 

Second, I emphasize that brand management is everyone’s responsibility. It is more than good marketing—it is excellent customer service, smooth operations and consistency in how the brand promise is delivered. Brand management involves any and every touchpoint a customer or collaborator might have with the brand. In that sense, everyone from the CEO to the lowest-level employee is a brand ambassador. 

I also convey the idea that a brand is the most valuable asset that most companies possess. Companies like Nike or Apple are only as valuable as the brand trust they build with customers. They work hard to manage their brand image from the touch and feel of their products, packaging and stores. 

What skills do your students need to master to become proficient at brand management?

Beyond understanding core principles, my students need to be able to employ tools we cover to assess the strength of a brand and the effectiveness of an organization’s brand management process. For example, I teach a series of frameworks that assess various dimensions of a brand. In general, the best brand managers are both creative and data-minded. They understand the role that creative design plays in influencing emotions and inspiring action, but they also have the analytical skills to act strategically and gauge the impact of their efforts.

How has the rise of digital and social media changed the game in brand management? 

Digital and social media have not changed the core principles and the brand management process, but they have changed the speed, reach and opportunities for leveraging the brand’s equity. They also highlight the importance of effective brand management because customers have louder voices, and the power dynamic has changed. Word of mouth has been around forever, but now it is amplified. As a result, it becomes more and more important to train and empower all employees to deliver on brand promises. 

What are some emerging trends in the brand management space? 

Two general trends deserve special attention. First, we are seeing the rise of brand activism as customers expect brands to do more than simply deliver high-quality goods and services. Now, they expect brands to stand for something and act in pursuit of equity. Big brands need to be focused on this trend, as newer, younger and more agile brands are well-positioned to act in ways that resonate with values-driven customers. Second, rapid advances in AI and machine learning technology are enabling brands to deliver more personalized customer experiences. In addition to chatbots that interact with customers on behalf of a brand, we are seeing the first AI brand endorsers. In my Strategic Brand Management class, for example, we study an Instagram-based AI endorser called Lil Miquela, a fictional 21-year-old robot living in Los Angeles who markets a variety of brands. These advances are rapidly changing the way we interact with brands. 

How do you bridge theory and reality in your Strategic Brand Management class?

In addition to learning through case studies, my students conduct a comprehensive brand audit for a brand chosen by the student. This audit requires a 360-degree look at all aspects of the brand, including brand distinctives, strengths and weaknesses, and equity and culminates in a report with detailed recommendations for strengthening the brand. A good portion of my students use the brand of the company where they work for the project. I have heard from students who have received promotions and expanded their professional network as a result of the project, so the real-world benefit is apparent. 

Are you interested in strengthening your marketing skills? We offer a marketing concentration in both our Online MBA and Executive MBA in Dallas programs. 

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