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Greg Forkins

The Center for Brand and Product Management Applied Learning: My Favorite Class

by Greg Forkins Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My friends and family often ask me, “what is your favorite class at your MBA program?”  This is generally a tough question to answer, since we have so many interesting courses, and my single favorite class changes week-by-week.  “Marketing Analytics,” I might say.  “No wait, Strategy.  Or maybe New Product Development.”

Regardless of the way my response begins, it always ends the same way: “Am I allowed to say Applied Learning?  If so, then that is definitely my favorite class.”

The only reason my brain doesn’t immediately go to Applied Learning is because the class is so fun and engaging that it hardly feels like class at all.  As my younger, more skeptical self would say: “they are tricking us into learning!”

While last semester’s Applied Learnings were generally hosted by companies who are UW recruiting partners, this semester has been a little different.  We started out with Fritz Grutzner, the Founder and President of Brandgarten, a local brand strategy consulting firm.  Although small in size, Brandgarten has worked with some of the largest brands in the country.  Brandgarten’s approach is based on the idea that every brand should tell a story that establishes a meaningful connection with the consumer.  While many advertisements try to push a product’s features onto the consumer, Fritz instructs his clients to connect with the consumer on a deeper, more emotional level.  The way to do that, according to Brandgarten, is to develop a core brand story that aligns with one of the timeless and universal ‘archetypal’ stories.  These stories include ideas and characters (archetypes) that span across generations and cultures around the world.  Archetypes range from the “hero” to the “regular guy” and from the “caregiver” to the “rebel.”  Because these archetypal stories have been around for thousands of years, they are deeply embedded in our consciousness.  When used correctly, these stories allow a brand to relate to and develop an emotional connection with its consumers.  Brandgarten’s job is to help organizations identify the archetypal story for their brands, and make sure that the story is told in a way that connects with their core consumers. 

Fritz walked us through Brandgarten’s approach using a few case studies, including an in-depth look at a campaign they developed for the Band-Aid brand.  We then had the chance to practice this archetypal story-telling on our own.  In groups, we were tasked with developing stories for the Listerine brand.  Who is the consumer before using Listerine?  The “regular guy?”  The “rebel?”  Who is the consumer after using Listerine?  The “lover?”  The “creator?”  Which archetype, then, is Listerine?  The “hero?”  The “magician?”  We all had to tell our stories to the class, and make a case for why we chose the archetypes that we did. 

As a future marketer, this was a really valuable Applied Learning.  Facts die, Fitz told us, but stories live.  To build a brand that lives, a brand must tell a story that connects with the consumer at an emotional level.  Knowing your brand’s story, and telling it to consumers in consistent and meaningful ways, are necessary keys for success in marketing. 

The past three weeks of Applied Learning have been even more interactive.  Consultants from the global consulting firm, BTS, have been leading us through a Brand Management simulation.  In Week One, we were briefed on the project: in groups of 3-4, we are teams of Brand Managers responsible for a made-up cereal brand called “Hearty Squares” in the nation of “Domestica.”  BTS gave us a briefing that included information about the Hearty Squares product portfolio, its competitors, and its consumers.  Consumer tastes and preferences in Domestica are changing, as more and more people are demanding healthier foods with natural ingredients.  Each team ran a Situation Analysis in order to fully understand both the consumer and the competitive landscape, including opportunities for growth and potential threats to the business.

Weeks Two and Three have been even more fun.  Each week, our teams make several choices about our brand strategies.  These choices include which of several new product innovations or renovations to invest in, which retailers to sell through, which consumer segment to target and the specifics about marketing campaigns that we can deploy.  Each decision we make is important, because they are entered into a computer and run through a simulator.  Every week between classes represents one year in Domestica.  At every class, we learn the results from the previous week and receive new information on which we are to base our decisions for the following week.  We all compete against the other teams in our class, but also against the other competitors in the cereal category.  At the end of the five-week simulation, the team with the highest mix of household penetration, revenue share, and operating margin will be the winner. 

This has proven to be a really fun exercise not only because we get to compete against our classmates (team WWAD for life!) but because we get to make decisions as Brand Managers and see the effects those decisions have on the brand.  Since the whole thing is a simulation, it is a low-risk environment to test our skills as Brand Managers, without any fear of losing our jobs!