Elisabeth Sladen Knew How To Manage A Brand

Elisabeth Sladen — best known for her portrayal of Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith — passed away last week at the age of 63.

I’m still having trouble processing this for reasons I touch on here but did want to share one thought about how Sladen’s approach to her character can teach us something about product management.

“I’d defend the programme to anyone.”

Sladen always took Sarah Jane seriously, and treated her character and Doctor Who with respect.

When the show was off the air and best remembered for the weird guy with the long scarf, the cardboard sets, and wooden acting, Sladen reminded people that Who had “lovely layers” and would “defend the programme to anyone.”

That’s brand management in action

It would’ve been easy for Sladen to dismiss her character as something in her past, or the show as silly kid stuff. But she didn’t. She defended it, and explained her rationale.

She consistently defended the brand against naysayers and eventually resurrected the character when Doctor Who returned to the air — and even managed to spin the character off into her own highly-rated kid show for CBBC.

We know what product managers are good for.

Product managers are responsible for identifying and launching profitable solutions that meet market needs and achieve corporate objectives. We talk about ourselves like we’re strategic. But how often do we get involved with things like brand management?

Brand management isn’t just replying to people on Twitter

Sure, brand management involve public relations, advertising, and social media — but those are just the tactical elements.

What drives those marketing programs?

What drives those product requirements?

It’s not just customer feedback and market needs. Another critical and legitimate driving force is the brand. The brand has strategic value.

Elisabeth Sladen wasn’t a product manager.

But she understood, at least inherently, the value of the character and the program and the brands she’d invested so much of herself into, and she was willing to defend them. Brand has a big impact on what we do, and we have a big impact on our brands.

You can deploy a great product and still potentially detract from your brand if the two don’t align. On the flip side, many savvy companies have leveraged a popular brand against an average product to create more value in customers’ eyes.

In your approach to product management, what role does brand management play?

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