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Gurmukh Mangat

Can a Simulation Make You a Better Brand Manager?

by Gurmukh Mangat Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brand management means wearing a lot of different hats. Being a brand manager means, as the saying goes, being the 'hub of the wheel', which means as a brand manager, you will likely have to develop competencies in a variety of different organizational functions. You must have strong strategic marketing intuition, in addition to a solid command of quantitative analysis and production planning. You have to have a competitors mindset, while simultaneously keeping your focus squarely on the consumer.

As such, brand management is a complex, dynamic and ever-changing role (which is why I love it),  but can be hard to get used to. Which is why I found our recent Brand Management Challenge Applied Learning with BTS so useful (and fun!).

BTS is a global strategy and business services consulting firm headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden with a regional office in Chicago. Over the course of three weeks, BTS presented the most in-depth, realistic and thought provoking brand management business case I've worked on during my time in  the MBA program.

The Premise
After breaking into small teams of first and second-years, we were given the case. We were the brand managers on Hearty Squares, a fictional cereal product that enjoyed high brand familiarity, but was struggling to reverse flat sales growth. Competitors with distinct product offerings were stealing share, and emerging channels (mainly dollar and club stores) were driving most of the sales growth. Although a large national brand with great distribution, Hearty Squares faced strong headwinds from consumers, who were requiring healthier-for-you options in convenient formats, available in the places they shopped. Our job was to gather and synthesize all of this information (which was a lot) and develop a overarching, multi-year brand plan that would inform our tactical executions over the course of three years (3 weeks). 

The Data
Much like reality, we were inundated with data. In addition to all of the sales information you would expect, were given comprehensive customer profiles, in addition to macro economic data about the resident of "Domestica", the fictional country within which Hearty Squares was competing. We were given data on consumer trends and preferences, and even had access to faux influencer blog posts from moms with conflicting opinions about fortified cereals and processed foods. Our job was to prioritize and synthesize all of this data so as to make decisions about product formulations, promotional tools, channels and innovations.

The Technology
The key success driver of this simulation was the technology. Each week, we would input our tactics and be able to track our progress through a comprehensive spreadsheet tool. We could see our past decisions, our current results, and our basket of future options. We were also given a week-by-week snapshot of our competitive position with respect to other teams so we could adjust our strategy accordingly.

The Learning
The BTS simulation was a phenomenal learning experience. It did a great job of replicating the complexity of brand management, as well as the supreme challenge of making tradeoffs in a competitive marketing environment. It was also a great exercise in resource management, and teamwork: there were many times where our team challenged each others assumptions to refine our thinking and direct our decision making.

The Result
Although our team ultimately didn't win (we placed 3rd!) our team walked away with a much stronger appreciation for the multifaceted challenges facing brand managers.