Eric JanssenAs I reflect on the last year and a half at the Wisconsin School of Business, I have fond memories of Mountain Man Lager, more cranberries than I can count, late nights filled with Littlefield simulations, and I now know more about Pro Forma Income statements than I care to admit. Nonetheless, the challenges and experiences I’ve had during my time here at the WSOB have prepared me to venture into the brand world and make a significant impact by leveraging my experiences and applying the skills I’ve learned.

If there is one class that seems to bond Brand students across time it is undoubtedly Jan Heide’s Marketing 700. Jan’s class captivates and inspires marketers and non-marketers alike to think deeply about challenges facing brands and how to develop a strategy to spur growth and create positive change. The case that resonates with many folks and has been talked about during countless conversations within the Wisconsin School of Business is Cialis’ launch into the erectile dysfunction market. Cialis faced a daunting competitor as it entered into a category dominated by Viagra. The case forces you to take the role of a marketer and think deeply about the problems men with ED face and how a relatively unknown drug with significant benefits can help men take a stand against a potentially embarrassing condition. This case as well as a host of others force students to think critically about the needs of consumers and how their problems can best be solved and communicated using branded products. The thinking required to be successful in this class has certainly given me the foundation to be effective in tackling consumer issues and developing strategy to meet those needs. Beyond the cases themselves, Jan’s enthusiasm and well prepared agenda was an excellent illustration of how you can get folks deeply involved in the discussion by asking the right questions and using data to drive the conversation towards an effective solution.

Marketers must be able to think strategically but should also develop the skills to dissect large data and draw conclusions to take action. Neeraj Arora’s Marketing Analytics class teaches students how to use real Nielsen data to create a roadmap for success. In this class, students were exposed to data from various industries such as yogurt (e.g. Chobani, Yoplait, Oikos) and deodorant (e.g. Old Spice, Axe, Degree) and asked to put on their brand manager hat and use the data to formulate a strategy to grow their brand. With access to distribution data, sales numbers, and demographic profiles, teams created a plan rooted in data. The class taught me about key metrics used in the marketing industry including how to calculate them and how to best apply them. Without question, my learnings from Neeraj’s class positioned me to be effective using Nielsen data during my internship and I will continue to use these learnings in my full-time career. Often times, using your gut is an effective way to make decisions but when you can include data to support your strategy it’s easier to get people to support your idea and get the ball rolling.

Another timeless favorite among brandies is Tom O’Guinn’s Brand Strategy class which takes students through the history of brands and how they apply in the contemporary brand world. In this class, Tom explores the evolution of brands during the Cola Wars examining Coca-Cola and Pepsi as they battled furiously for control of the cola market. Despite bumps in the road, Coca-Cola has held its position of the timeless American classic while Pepsi has over time framed itself as the young, cool and hip cola brand. Coke’s brief hiccup in the 1980’s resulted from a fixation on tasting better than Pepsi and illustrates how a brand manager can squander brand equity by failing to understand the consumer. If only the Coca-Cola brand manager had known people didn’t care that Pepsi tasted better than Coke, they just wanted their classic beverage that brought consistency in a changing world.

Tom’s class also included a semester long project that challenged students to take on the role of marketing consultants for Capital Brewery based in Madison, WI. As students examined the history of Capital products, they addressed an aging consumer base, a disconnect with younger generations, and a desire to be seen as a true Wisconsin beer while looking to shed a stale image. Through this project, students presented recommendations to the Capital Brewery board – some of which are expected to be implemented within the next six months to reinvigorate the brand. This project helped me better understand the craft beer market while providing real world experience on the key drivers of consumption. This was yet another illustration of understanding your consumer and getting in front of trends rather than chasing them. This class has helped me to better understand what makes brands cool and why certain groups place more emphasis on brands than others.

As I think about graduation and leaving the place I’ve called home for a total of six years (4 undergrad and 2 grad) I will leave with some of the greatest memories of my life and a tremendous amount of learning to go along with it. Despite my passion for Madison, I am excited to join the Brand world and make a strong impact using the skills I’ve learned.