HOW TO PREPARE A CASE
Why cases? Cases are used all over B-schools. The idea behind cases is that you’ll sort of temporarily work for the company that’s featured, and you’ll get to practice at playing CMO or CEO. The cases tell a scenario based on some real life management situation. Cases begin by describing the company and industry and then some dilemma is posed that you’re supposed to address (and often, figuring out what the dilemma is, is part of the problem). You’ll do cases in classes and sometimes on job interviews (especially for consultants). While you probably want a good grade in class, or a chance at the job, the point of a case is to immerse you into a simulated managerial decision setting, without there being terribly serious real world ramifications; i.e., before someone hires you and lets you loose in the real world, empowering you to possibly destroy a brand or bring your ROI crashing down (sort of kidding), they want to see how you think and behave in this practice world first.
How to proceed? First, read the case like you were taught to read your texts—that is, first skim it, looking at the opening paragraph or two, the section headers, peruse the exhibits (tables and figures at the end), to get a lay of the land. In particular, the exhibits will usually fall into one of three categories: background (“What a yawn”), some key depictions (“Isn’t that cool!”), and some in between (“What am I supposed to make of this?”). And again, part of your job will be figuring out what is what. For example, for marketing classes, the first tables in a case often contain financial data as “background” information—to give you a sense of how the company seems to be doing. Check to see whether the numbers are moving steadily over time, or are dropping precipitously somewhere, are the numbers proportionate over segments, etc., depending on how the numbers are presented.
At this point, some very rough, very fuzzy questions are probably forming in your head. Some marketing professors suggest that you begin taking notes, e.g., by writing down your questions even at this perusal stage. That would be great, but I’ve been teaching long enough to know that this suggestion will fall on deaf ears. ? Besides, it’s quite conceivable that you can barely articulate your questions at this point.
Use the marketing framework!! Now, start to read the case more carefully. If you use our familiar marketing framework—5Cs, STP, 4Ps, it will help you to think systematically. In turn, the marketing framework you’ve learned from this book will help you identify the problem and potential solutions more readily.
Step 1 is a “Situation Analysis”—in layperson’s terms, that means, “What’s going on here?” The situation is analyzed primarily through the 5Cs. You’ll describe your company, your current customer base, the actions of the competition, your collaborations, and the industry context as the setting in which all this business action occurs. Let’s break that down a bit… You can’t do a good marketing case analysis without nailing the customer and company Cs—they’re central to the marketplace exchange—how we define marketing (reread Chapter 1 if you must!). Your competition might well be doing something in the case that is setting up the central problem. If not, then competition might be something you only thing about toward the end of the case, after you identify the problem, and suggest your solution(s), you’ll want to consider which competitors might respond to your actions, how they’ll respond, how you’ll re-respond, etc. Similarly, in many cases, except those that focus on distribution channels, your collaborators might not play a key role in some cases—when that is true, mention them to show you’ve considered them and then dismiss it as a nonissue if that’s true. Finally, the context is often a driving force underlying these cases, e.g., something is changing in the business or economic environment, more e-commerce, more global initiatives bringing more legal entanglements, more green requests of consumers hence a need to address these issues, etc. The identification of the relevant contextual trends and their impacts will probably be something you’ll need to incorporate in most case analyses.
In Step 2, you’ll identify the case problem. Often several problems may be identified in a case. Then you’ll have to prioritize—which is the central issue and which are relatively peripheral (but perhaps bear on the central issue, or will help shape your recommendations). If you’re not certain what the central problem is, that’s okay—write down all the problems you see in a ‘laundry list’ and priorities will sort out as you proceed.
For marketing cases, start with STP. The key goal for marketers is to keep their customers coming back—repeat purchase and/or upgraded purchases and/or word-of-mouth, etc. So, who are those customers and just what do they want? Are you delivering better quality (or value or service) or are your competitors doing so? Have you chosen the ideal segment(s) to serve, according to your company’s strengths? These last couple of questions imply the next great tool for problem identification is a SWOT analysis (c’mon, you know the acronym!).
Step 3 is to propose solutions to your central problem (and if you and time and space, to the peripheral problems also). Here too, it’s okay to begin with a collection of random thoughts, but you’re going to want to work toward a more impressive statement of not only “Here’s what the company should do,” but also a defense of “…and here’s why…” Thus, you’ll be generating solutions but you’ll also need to decide the criteria along which you’ll judge the proposals. For consistency, these criteria should be tied to the problems you’ve identified; e.g., if you’re concerned about losing market share, one criterion should be, “Will this proposal enhance market share.” (Duh!) One tip—if you can, try to whittle down your “possible solutions” to 2. Having just two options often helps—it keeps things clear for you, keeps things succinct when you have to write up a case analysis for your professor, keeps the conversations tighter when you’re being interviewed.
When you express your ideal solution and your supportive logic, you’re ready to flesh out the positioning via the 4Ps. The main ‘heads-up’ here: make sure your Ps are consistent with each other and with the goals you’ve just set (the solution and criteria in the previous step). To gauge consistency, go back to the positioning matrix in Chapter 4. Another tip—when you can, support your recommendations with some numbers (e.g., a break-even, an estimate at LTCV, something). It’ll blow your professor away! This is harder to do in an interview—you don’t have the time to crunch numbers. But even then, you can keep at least a rough mental accounting of “profit = money coming in – money going out”; e.g., is the case problem one of money pouring out? Can you stop that bleed? Can you bring more money in?
Finally, close the case briefly with an assessment of likely risks to watch for as the company proceeds with your solution. To gain major brownie points, offer ideas about how to measure the success of your plans.
Three more tips—two have to do with marketing in particular, one just FYI. The first marketing tip: it often helps to think about the product life cycle when you’re thinking about a case—is the product/service in the introduction, growth, maturity, or declining stage (if you can tell). The reason this simple assessment is helpful is of course that we expect to see some different things for products/services in each of these phases, thus the suggestions that are sensible are likely to vary also. For example, if a product is in decline, and a SWOT indicates the product line is still a competitive strength of this company, then a brand- or line-extension is a natural strategy to pursue. But if the case is a product that is in introduction or growth phase, it’s less likely that a company will adapt and support yet another product line, for all kinds of reasons (company and collaborator resources, customer confusion, etc.).
The second marketing tip—keep the diagram of the marketing framework (5Cs, STP & 4Ps) close when you’re reading your cases. Also keep referring to your marketing strategy chapter (Chapter 14) and your marketing planning chapter (Chapter 15) close by. These are also handy references to help you think systematically about the case you’re analyzing.
Finally, the FYI tip: In classes, try to speak up starting day 1. If you’re shy, this will help break the ice, and let’s face it, contributing to class discussions isn’t going to get easier over time! Try to contribute. If it’s not your nature or culture to speak up, sorry dude, but try to do so anyway. Many students in class are very smart, but if they’re quiet, they’re not helping the classroom experience. And other students’ voices will fill the void (whether they have content to share or not!). If you get sick of hearing your classmates blather, and you’re not speaking up in class, you have no one to blame but yourself. ? Aim to speak up at least once per class with a good quality comment. It’s a good disciplinary habit to fall into. Your Professors will take notice—they’ll appreciate the quality of your contribution and the fact that you restrain yourself from the need to constantly hear your voice (many of your classmates won’t be able to resist that one). And again, don’t forget the goal of cases—if you speak up and you “bif”—so what. You’d rather mess up now (in class) than later (on the job). It’s all part of your learning! Good luck! Go forth and market!
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