Most Dangerous Column in Gaming
the Heck is a Brand Manager?
By Ryan S. Dancey
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
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 were
doing that customers like, what it is that were doing that customers
dont like, and suggest changes as necessary to the various groups
who create the products the company sells. Were more like coaches
and diplomats than executiveswe have to do a lot of talking and
presenting. Our role is advisory, but were 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
That wraps up "column
1". Thanks for listening. Next time, Im 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.
Dancey, formerly Dungeons & Dragons brand manager,
is the founder of the Open