Over the course of five weeks, the first and second year CBPM classes had the opportunity to work with Lance Wilke and Abbey Vanderwoude from BTS in an Applied Learning workshop series called “Developing a Strategic Plan.” BTS typically works with global companies such as Coca-Cola, Nike, Mondelez, and Microsoft, and delivers results that have a direct impact to these companies’ operating income and revenue. The strategy consulting group, however, took some time out of their busy schedule to lead our class through a multi-step business simulation that helped us understand the many facets of developing a strategic plan, and the various levers that must be pulled in order to maximize profits.
Why take us through this exercise? Because not all of us were born to be business strategy savants! But more importantly, because every Brand Manager will need to develop a strategic plan at some point in his/her career, and because the skills and capabilities we learned during the simulation are designed to drive improved business results at all levels of the organization.
What I found to be most valuable was essentially putting all our courses, and my internship, together into one cohesive learning experience. It was as if it all finally came together – a real-life scenario where I had to have a deep understanding of industry fundamentals, where I was able to face key challenges and trade-offs, and where I had to make quick decisions on which financial levers to pull in order to meet critical success.
The class was placed into teams of four to five members, where we had the opportunity to manage a simulated cereal company and practice real-world decision making in a risk-free environment. After each week, we regrouped to receive feedback and analysis of the outcomes of our decisions and strategies, while also undergoing some friendly competition amongst groups. The goal, at the end of the five weeks, was to see which group made the right decisions for the company and could rise to the top of the rankings.
So, what did we, as a class, take away from this experiential learning workshop? In short, a lot! We can all agree that brand management is as much of a strategic and economic role as it is a marketing role, as you’re managing an entire business, and not just a segment of a business. Additionally, we discussed the importance of being sensitive to the current environment and responding to changes and consumer trends. At the root of this discussion; however, was doing your due diligence and knowing your business, industry, and competitive set inside and out. At the beginning of the workshop, we were given a packet of information on the background of the fictitious cereal company, including market trends, sales information, and high level financials. In the real world, we know that this information will not be neatly packaged for us, and it will be our responsibility to go out and find the right information to make key decisions. What this exercise taught us was to recognize what information is necessary to make these decisions, what we need to dig deeper into, what can remain more high-level, and finally, what application of that information will put your business at a strategic competitive advantage – i.e. prioritization of initiatives, or being able to recognize micro-trends and not overreacting to them.
Lance and Abbey were both an absolute pleasure to work with, in terms of expertise and knowledge in the field of CPG Brand Management and in terms of patience. They recognized that we were not his typical client-set, and worked to maximize the benefits for us in the short period of time we had together. I truly feel like this was a standout Applied Learning series, and I would highly recommend that the Brand Center keep BTS on the schedule for years to come.