The Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
Questions You May Have Asked
Open Gaming Interview With Ryan Dancey
Cradle to Grave: The life of a tabletop RPG product Part II
Cradle to Grave: The life of a tabletop RPG product Part I
What the heck is a Business (Category) Manager?
What the Heck is a Brand Manager?

The Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
What the Heck is a Brand Manager?
By Ryan S. Dancey

First column in a new forum, so I figured I should start with the most obvious question: "Who am I, and What Do I Do?" Everyone knows what a game designer does, or an artist, or an editor. Who are all these people running around Wizards of the Coast calling themselves "brand managers" and what do they do?

The basic concept started several years ago at the packaged goods companies like Proctor & Gamble. The marketing departments were focused on developing ads and campaigns for the products currently on the shelves or about to be introduced. The people in R&D were working to come up with new ideas for products based on their own intuition and some limited market research. Nobody was responsible for figuring out what to do when a branded product became very successful. Over time, it became apparent that consumers grew attached to certain brand names; like Arm & Hammer, or Pampers, or Crest. The packaged goods companies found out that it was easier to get a customer to buy "Crest Dental Floss" than "New Brand X Dental Floss". And so the concept of the Brand Manager was born.

Brand managers are responsible for figuring out what brands "mean" to consumers, what consumers would like to be able to do with those brands, and how to get the organization to recognize that meaning and create products to fill those needs. Brand managers spend a lot of time talking to customers and explaining what the company is doing – the feedback is immensely useful in learning about real world issues that can get hidden in the mass of raw statistical data gathered by a market research study. They also spend a lot of time talking to R&D; explaining the customer, explaining what the customer wants, and asking for specific types of new products.

There are currently three top-level brand management VPs at Wizards of the Coast: myself, Joel Mick (who runs the Magic team), and Rick Arons (who runs the Entertainment & Sports team). Each of us oversees a small group of brand managers. All the brands at Wizards of the Coast; from Magic to Dungeons & Dragons to Legend of the Five Rings to Pokemon to What Were You Thinking, all have a person assigned to "manage" them. Sometimes, a brand manager is responsible for more than one brand. Sometimes, more than one person is assigned to a particularly large or complex brand.

I currently have three and a half brand managers; Jim Butler who handles Alternity and the D&D Worlds, Lisa Stevens, who handles Star Wars, Cindi Rice, who is responsible for the licenses we use to create new games (except for Star Wars), and David Wise, who really reports to the head of the Organized Play group, but is dedicated to managing the RPGA (and therefore is an extended manager of our brands).

Our job is to take all the information we have about gamers, figure out what it is that we’re doing that customers like, what it is that we’re doing that customers don’t like, and suggest changes as necessary to the various groups who create the products the company sells. We’re more like coaches and diplomats than executives–we have to do a lot of talking and presenting. Our role is advisory, but we’re also empowered to put a stop to things we feel hurt the brand and to champion projects we feel help the brand.

On a daily basis, we may review a marketing plan, authorize a licensor to use a logo or an illustration of an iconic character, review a plan for a new storyline in a series of game products and novels, and speak with members of our international organization about translating a core rule book into a new language.

That wraps up "column 1". Thanks for listening. Next time, I’m going to talk about who makes the products you buy, who decides what gets produced, and other issues related to the stuff you see at your local retail store.

Ryan Dancey, formerly Dungeons & Dragons brand manager,
is the founder of the Open Gaming Foundation.


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Wizards is headquartered in Renton, Washington, PO Box 707, Renton, WA 98057.

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