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by Vault Careers | March 10, 2009


While Wall Street may control our purse strings, and Hollywood may control our dreams and imaginations, it is the "brand managers" whose guiding hands shape everything we eat and wear, and in fact, shape the way we think about these things. The most sought-after brand management positions are with leading consumer products companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Mills, and Coca-Cola. In order to climb to such lofty heights, brand managers (known as "marketing managers" in some companies) undergo rigorous interviews that often involve case questions. Brand management cases will vary in breadth and specificity - some may be about promotions, some about pricing, others about long-term strategy. This month, Vault Reports takes a look at one type of brand case question: the "Brand Launch" case, widely used by a leading consumer products company.

SAMPLE QUESTION: If our company were looking to introduce a carpet cleaner to our line of products, how would you go about developing a business plan?

The "Brand Launch" is the most common, and most important of brand management case questions. As with consulting case questions, interviewers are interested in what kinds of questions you ask, and your understanding of market forces. Here, the interviewer is looking for an answer that describes the "process" you would use in developing a business plan, not asking for a business plan itself. The interviewer may be pleasantly surprised if you happen to know the size of the carpet cleaner market, or the characteristics of the key players in the market - but they certainly don't expect it. Here's one approach to attacking this case:

STEP 1: ANALYZE THE MARKET: The first thing the marketing manager should do is gather all available information about the market. The logical place to start would be the carpet cleaner market and its future. How large is the carpet cleaner market currently? Is it expected to grow in the next several years? What are the main companies involved? Finally, how often is carpet cleaner sold, and in what "channels" - in grocery stores, in hardware stores, in convenience stores, as an impulse buy, as an emergency buy, etc?

STEP 2: ASSESS YOUR COMPANY'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The next issues a marketer should be aware of are his or her company?s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to this market. Does the company produce similar products, and therefore have a base of R&D expertise? Does the company have a distribution network in place? Is the company sitting on extra capital it is looking to invest into a product launch? Make sure to identify the company's weaknesses as well. Perhaps the company is best known among home owners for its easy to use and disposable cleaning products - this demographic group may not overlap much with the market for carpet cleaner.

STEP 3: ASSESS CONSUMER PREFERENCES: A diligent brand will also consider broader issues in developing a business plan. One major category of these is consumer preferences. Are homeowners opting for hardwood floors and throwdown rugs rather than carpeting?

STEP 4: CONSIDER MACRO TRENDS and OTHER ISSUES: Another major concern for marketers is major macro trends, such as demographic trends. What is the key demographic group that uses this product? Is this group becoming larger over time, or shrinking? Are foreign markets beginning to consume more carpet cleaner? Legal and regulatory issues should also be considered. Are aerosol carpet cleaners becoming less feasible because of environmental regulations?

STEP 5: DETERMINE OUR COMPANY'S OBJECTIVES: Once you have gathered the above information, you must determine your company's objectives, or plan strategy. Because consumer trends are fickle, and technological innovation can quickly transform an industry, brand strategy should in general not be too far-sighted. For example, embarking on a major capital investment that will not pay off for many years creates massive financial risk if the underlying forecasts do not pan out. For this reason, a five-year plan is a good, safe way to compromise the need for long-term strategy with the pitfalls predicting future strategy inevitably brings.

Interviewers may present you with objectives at the start of the case. If they don't, ask. If no objectives are proffered, funnel your thinking into three main areas: market share growth, financial perormance, and brand identity.


Filed Under: Interviewing