Question: What is the difference between a software product manager and a brand manager?
Answer from John Mansour of ZIGZAG Marketing: A software product manager and a brand manager are conceptually the same in that they both manage a product or product line. But their perspectives for managing products come from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Brand management is most often associated with consumer products, whereas software product management is most often associated with B2B software. Hence, the key differences between the two are rooted in the markets they serve. Some examples:
- Brand managers work for organizations that are wired to think market first whereas most software product managers think features or technology first. Here’s why. Margins for consumer products are far thinner than software, so the stakes are much higher for brand managers which forces them to run their product lines more like a business than software product managers.
- Consumer product companies generally have exponentially more products than software companies so they rely much more on brand management to drive the business. In contrast, software companies with fewer products rely on product management much less to drive the business because they can still experience reasonable growth without much discipline, but only to a point. One could argue that the lack of product management is a key reason many successful start-up software companies are short lived.
- Brand managers have to think about things like planned obsolescence, product line extensions, product line depth and width to make their living. These terms are generally not found in the software product management lexicon.
Brand management and software product management intersect in the larger B2C software companies like Intuit where you have brands like Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. Product managers at Intuit function much more like brand managers because of the target markets they serve.
Software companies should view product management much more like consumer product companies view brand management. If they did, the industry may not have such a high failure rate at the company level. Unfortunately, the software industry is still driven more so by technology than by dynamics of the market, whereas consumer product companies are just the opposite.
The irony in this whole equation is the high failure rate in both consumer products and software. If only the market told us exactly what to do and didn’t change its mind so often.