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Marketing Mavens

By Emily Pallotta

Imagine a Top 3 Global Food and Beverage company — Kraft Heinz — asking you about a 125-year-old, $1 billion-plus revenue coffee brand that you probably drank the last time you were in your grandmother’s kitchen. How would you position this brand to win with omnipresent ‘millennials’, the same demographic so many Fortune 500 companies are trying to resonate with?

How would you convince an entrepreneurial, free-spirited and tech savvy millennial who is commonly seen drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte to give a heritage ‘at-home’ coffee brand a place in their daily routine?

These are the questions that our group of five One-Year MBA program students set out to answer during Marketing Strategy Challenge, a five-week class sponsored by Kraft Heinz, hosted by Kellogg and open to some of the country’s top MBA programs.

We compiled a diverse team of two former management consultants, two former international brand managers — one from India and one from Peru —and a prior pricing analyst for a top CPG (Consumer Product Goods) company. The diverse backgrounds represented on the team allowed us to not only leverage differing expertise to develop a thoughtful solution, but it also served as a natural first layer of initial judging before the big competition. This dynamic is what differentiated our team from other Kellogg teams and led to our subsequent success over competitor teams from Harvard Business School and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. While several factors propelled us to win the Marketing Strategy Challenge case competition, the authentic collaboration across our diverse team was one of the single biggest elements of our success.

In addition to the diversity and professionalism of the team that contributed to our success, the overall experiences of the course were also foundational to our victory. The experiences that were a part of this class and key to our success included:

Impressive, relevant classroom speakers to spark ideas

The overall case competition centered around 15 hours of class time that included interactive class discussions, impressive guest speakers and a review of important marketing frameworks. In this class we had a chance to hear brand growth stories from impressive marketing leaders. We heard firsthand from the VP of Marketing at Kraft Heinz who led the repositioning of a popular Mustard brand, and we also discussed the launch of a sports drink supplement with a Kraft Heinz senior brand manager who contributed to redefining expectations in an entire beverage category. All of these perspectives gave our team tangible examples and inspired creative thinking to inform our recommendations for a brand within the coffee industry.

Genuine, experiential immersion to understand the consumer

In addition to the hands-on classroom experiences, everyone on the team engaged in genuine experiential learning outside the classroom through qualitative and quantitative analysis. Our team conducted two ethnographies by visiting the homes of coffee consumers to not only learn about these individual’s coffee drinking habits, but also better understand their lives and how this may impact food and beverage consumption choices. To supplement the vast amounts of secondary research we did on the coffee industry and millennials, we also analyzed a survey of coffee drinkers across the U.S. The quantitative findings from the survey were invaluable in outlining three usage occasions for coffee drinking, identifying differing trends across millenials and non-millenials, and understanding the positioning of various brands in the industry.

Bringing the story to life

In addition to the findings that came from the experiential research, the learnings from these experiences allowed us to illustrate a compelling story. Not only were we able to explain the daily routines of real ethnography subjects and their consumption habits, but we also used a strategy of creating imagery that brought the challenge and solution to life. In particular, we compared leading at-home coffee brands to outfits you might wear to bring to life millenials’ associations with these brands. For example, we compared a bridesmaid dress buried in the back of your closet to a coffee brand that only 15% of survey respondents had tried in the past month. These vivid comparisons allowed the challenge and strategy to come to life for the Kellogg faculty judges and the final panel of Kraft Heinz executives.

Reaching victory by believing in ourselves and the bold vision

Taking a brand that is more than 125 years old that carries with it ‘baggage’ — such as associations with elder consumers — made it that much more challenging to reposition to young, hip millenials. In fact, as our team discussed the topic with a range of well-reputed Kellogg professors, some of whom had even worked for the company, they all mentioned that this problem had been grappled with for decades. The willingness to work tirelessly to understand the coffee industry, the millennial consumer and the brand equity made us confident we had discovered strong, compelling findings. The repositioning we recommended to Kraft Heinz for this brand allowed the product to not only resonate with the growing base of millennial consumers but also leverage and not alienate the core consumer base that had grown the product to a $1 billion-plus coffee brand.

While the classroom and qualitative and quantitative research efforts provided genuine learning experiences, we learned the most from working with one another. One teammate shared perspectives on how other brands had approached similar problems in India, while another teammate was able to quickly describe the pricing architecture in the coffee category. Discussions like these not only validated our team members’ understanding of the challenge, but these perspectives also allowed the rest of the team to learn firsthand from our peers.

Overall, this experience provided a holistic learning process and the opportunity to tackle a real world problem, similar to what we might face when we leave Evanston with Kellogg MBA degrees. Given the immense challenge of repositioning an extremely old coffee brand to the new generation of consumers, we were extremely excited about winning the competition. Based on the positive feedback from the competition judges, we also look forward to seeing some of our recommendations come to life over the next few months as this coffee brand seeks to become a part of millenials’ daily rituals.

Emily Pallotta joined Kellogg’s One-Year MBA program after working five years in strategy consulting at Strategy& / PricewaterhouseCoopers. Following her graduation from Kellogg, she will be joining NIKE’s Global Strategy team that leads a variety of strategic initiatives for the market-leading sports apparel company.