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Ryan Reis on Brand Management Strategy

Apr 18, 2023
NU IMC Faculty Spotlight: Ryan Reis

“Brand managers have a duty to serve as a lighthouse in the organization,” Ryan Reis, branding consultant and Medill IMC Professional adjunct lecturer, said. “They provide clarity as to what a brand stands for and what all company activity should support.”

In his 28-year career, Reis has helped some of the world’s largest brands reclaim their prominence after losing market share. His IMC Professional course on Advanced Brand Management offers a Fortune 500 perspective on the power and process of strategic brand management. Read on to learn more about Reis and the central role of brand management in building brand equity and value.

A Tale of Two Beers: Connecting with Customers to Create Brand Value

Before starting his consultancy, New Course Consulting, Reis played an essential role in turning around two brands at the beverage giant Molson Coors after working with brands at General Mills and Unilever.

The turnaround stories for Miller Lite and Coors Light illustrate the importance of effective brand management techniques to a company. As Reis noted, “The value of brands can make up 20% - 50% of a company’s value. When a brand is failing with consumers, a company can quickly lose value.”

Reis's work on Miller Lite was recognized as a finalist in the 2016 Effie marketing awards competition. The awards case study said the strategy "turned Miller Lite from a laggard to the fastest growing light beer in America, delivering a remarkable five-point trend change worth tens of millions of dollars."1

Reis said, "I joined Miller specifically to work on the troubled Miller Lite brand and turned it around." Along the way, he also became a trusted advisor to Rite Aid, a major retail partner for Molson Coors.

Elevated to the role of senior brand director for the Miller family of brands, Reis successfully managed a "disruptive brand overhaul" to increase annual revenue for the brand by $140M and "made #itsmillertime the most tweeted hashtag in the US, second in the world during a breakthrough summer campaign."2

Company leadership then tapped Reis to serve as vice president of the Coors brand family, where he played a vital role in the "Made to Chill" campaign and its associated packaging redesign. The campaign targets "millennials and Gen Zers who seek a break from the ‘always-on’ world."3

Launched in 2019, the campaign is still going strong, having "won acclaim for its inclusion, bringing in new drinkers, changing perceptions on how Big Beer can talk to consumers. Most importantly, it revived a moribund brand and has contributed to sustained success for Coors Light."4

How Brand Managers Build Brand Performance

A sound and clear brand management strategy supports effective sales and marketing strategies, which in turn help create loyal customers and high brand equity. Reis said, “Brand management is the art and science of delivering against the expectations of consumers for a brand. They expect a certain level of quality, accessibility, innovation, badge value and utility.”

The science of brand management is about creating an accurate and actionable understanding of consumer needs and expectations. The art lies in crafting a brand story that resonates with those needs and expectations while maintaining a consistent brand identity.

Great brand managers are skilled in leveraging the quantitative and creative aspects of marketing to build a strong brand identity. Elements that brand managers can use in crafting the brand story include:

  • Brand purpose and values
  • Brand personality and voice
  • Visual and aural content
  • Experiences

Using Brand Storytelling in Marketing

A brand story can help the intended consumer remember the details of a message to raise brand awareness and form an emotional connection with a brand. Some studies suggest that a well-told story improves recall by 22 times, and awareness is one of the foundations of brand equity.5 Other research has shown that when brand stories connect with customer emotions, they can drive loyalty and customer value.6

Drive Brand Value With Brand Equity

“Intangible assets are the major driver of business long-term value creation in today’s competitive, interconnected, and fast-moving environment,” according to an article in “Strategic Finance.” The authors add, “One intangible asset that is particularly valuable to companies and at the same time very difficult to measure is brand;” and “the strategic role of marketing is to create brands that add value for consumers.”7

A Working Definition of Brand Equity

Brand equity, which can be positive or negative, is rooted in the consumer's perceived value of the brand. Consumer perceptions can add value and increase the amount they're willing to pay for a product. Positive brand equity can increase profit margins, sales volume and customer loyalty. Negative equity can harm them.

On the customer side of the equation, brand equity can help customers make buying decisions and contribute to the quality of their user experiences. Recognizing the impact of brand equity on company and customer value justifies the expense of brand building and gives marketers more influence within their organizations.8

A widely accepted model of brand equity recognizes four contributing dimensions, including:

  • Brand awareness
  • Brand associations
  • Perceived quality
  • Brand loyalty8

Find Marketing Opportunities in the Dimensions of Brand Equity

Each of the four components of brand equity can provide opportunities for building your brand and differentiating it from competitors. How to act on those opportunities is one of the topics Reis explores in his Advanced Brand Management course.

“Some consumers will never change their loyalty, while some are just operating on an autopilot that can be changed,” he said. “In this course, students learn to persuade the persuadables by identifying this group and a message that would ‘turn their heads’ to consider a competitor.

“As an example from my career, we were able to counter the autopilot purchase of Bud Light, the top-selling light beer, by repositioning the Miller Lite brand back to its original packaging and heritage as the original light beer in the category. Sales immediately took off, and Miller Lite has been gaining ground for seven years since.”

Brand Management Begins With Internal Stakeholders

Reis believes “the brand marketer must be a strong storyteller both inside and outside of the organization. They must be able to earn the right level of investment in their brand and turn that investment into marketing efforts that further build brand equity and sales.

When a brand manager effectively communicates the brand strategy to members of the marketing team, it helps them leverage brand assets for the greatest positive impact on brand performance.

“A key indicator that someone is ready to move into a marketing leadership role is the ability to gain stakeholder approval for a marketing plan by telling a compelling business story.”

Master Advanced Brand Management with Ryan Reis

Reis designed his Advanced Brand Management course expressly to help experienced marketers make that move into leadership. “There is a real-world focus to my course, teaching things I learned through experience. I want students to be able to stand in front of a CFO or a Board of Directors and make a case for investment in their marketing vision,” he said. “I want students to be able to motivate the army of co-workers who will help accomplish their goals.”

The course incorporates insights about sales, field marketing, media and consulting, helping students learn how different functions contribute to strong brands and develop an understanding of the part that everyone in an organization plays in building a brand. Guest lectures and real-world case examples are part of the course delivery method.

“A central part of the course is a project working with a real-life company,” Reis said. Students work in marketing teams "to deliver against a brand and business need using what they learn in the course. Previous examples include Tropicana/Naked Juice and Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group. Harry Caray’s immediately implemented some of the students' recommendations, which was really exciting for them.”

Reis equips his students with frameworks for creating effective presentations and brand strategies and opportunities to practice using them. Past students often talk about how immediately useful the frameworks are.

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A key indicator that someone is ready to move into a marketing leadership role is the ability to gain stakeholder approval for a marketing plan by telling a compelling business story.

How the IMC Professional Program Prepares You for Marketing Leadership

Noting that the program is geared toward creating marketing leaders, Reis said. "What makes it different from other master’s degrees is the pronounced focus on marketing. Students build strong marketing skills in stages, from foundational knowledge to specific areas of interest, to the marketing leadership mindset that will set them apart. They emerge with strong analytical skills, a broad perspective of the marketing landscape, and a view toward the future of marketing.

"This program provides immediate value to students, who can learn a skill or framework in class and immediately apply it at work," he continued. "They hear the perspectives of a diverse group of classmates on their business and career challenges. Students also learn about marketing across many industries without having personally worked in them."

Request a brochure or schedule a call with an admissions advisor to learn more about how the Medill IMC Professional program can help you become the marketing leader you want to be. If you’re ready, start your application here.