Solving a marketing challenge in 3 hours or less.

By Mary Charleson

Vanier Case Challenge
Students compete in the Vanier Case Challenge

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of students to Montreal, Quebec in Canada as their coach, to compete in the Vanier Case Challenge. This annual competition draws on the best and brightest from 33 university colleges nationwide to test their mettle in applying marketing analysis and presentation skills in a 3-hour pressure cooker simulation. They present their solution to a panel of industry experts and university professors during a 20-minute presentation and 5-minute question and answer time period. But before getting down to work, we did a little team building, exposing some who had never skated before to frozen waterway skating in minus 20 degrees! There’s nothing quite like a field of white before you in peaceful silence, being broken only by the sound of a gliding blade across snow-covered ice.

Back at the competition, the students delivered their personal best, but in the end, we were not one of the 6 teams out of 33 to advance to the second round on day two. There was a lot of excellent work presented that day that didn’t make it through. The real accomplishment was to have represented their college in such a highly regarded competition in the first place. Plus, there’s always next year! Essentially those teams did in 3 hours what I do for clients over several weeks in a consulting contract. Now there’s a humbling thought!

What is the process that the team went through?

The process that my team was coached through is one all marketing managers and entrepreneurs could benefit from. Let’s have a closer look at the steps:

  • Situation analysis:

What are the known facts? Our internal strengths and weaknesses? And our external opportunities and threats? And what possible strategies exist to combine strengths and opportunities? Strengths and threats? Mitigate weaknesses and opportunities? Mitigate weaknesses and threats? What time frame and budget constraints are we working within?

  • Competitive landscape

Who are our primary and secondary competitors? How are they positioned? What is the bargaining strength of our buyers and suppliers? Is there a threat of substitutes or new entrants?

  • Our positioning

What is our unique selling proposition? – also what do we do that our competitors don’t, that our target market cares about, that is not easily copied? What segments of the market do we serve? Who is our target market? Where are we in the product lifecycle? Are we leaders? Followers? Challengers? Or Niches?

  • The problem or opportunity

Stated simply, what problem or opportunity are we addressing?

  • Alternatives

Given responses to the many questions above, what are some possible directions we could take? Specific actions to solve our problem? Specific actions to realize the opportunity?

  • Evaluate, select and justify

What criteria should we consider to evaluate alternatives? – Cost? Profit? Customer satisfaction? Market share? Resources? Values? There are many possibilities.

  • Execution

How would our recommended plan be executed? – Who would do what? When? And how? How would it reflect in our product or service? Price? Promotion? Distribution? What specific actions would be taken each quarter? How would we allocate our budget? Finally, how would we measure success?

I know, that’s a lot of questions…

If you have a business problem or opportunity you’re facing, try going through some of these questions to approach it in a methodical way. And if you’d like some guidance in the process, or to just have someone do it for you, give me a call. Purchased triage and a remedy can be!

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