Case Competitions: A Guide to Strategy


Case Competitions: A Guide to Strategy 

by Joanna Ma 


In the second part of our five-part case competition series, our publications team sits down with Joanna Ma to explore the strategy component of case competitions. 

  1. About Joanna
  2. Approach to coming up with a customer-centric strategy
  3. Methods to sell a strategy
  4. Memorable Strategies
  5. Advice 

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?  

I’m Joanna and I am currently in my fifth and final year of my Commerce/Law degree.  My case competition journey began in 2017 when I took on the role as a Competitions Director and later, Co-President in BSOC and an International Case Competition Squad Member in UCC. From there, I first competed domestically but then had the opportunity to compete internationally at the Heavener International Case Competition in Florida (2018) and the CBS Case Competition in Copenhagen (2019). At CBS, my team and I were awarded second place globally and I was presented with the Best Speaker Award. During these experiences, I loved (and still love) the fun, but productive team discussions; the creative, but analytical dimensions of problem-solving; and the nerve-wracking, but irresistible adrenaline rush of the pitch.

If you have no idea what case competitions are about, don’t worry! Heading into university, neither did I! So, whether you are well-versed in case competitions or just looking to try something new in 2020 and beyond, I hope you are able to take something small away from this post. 

What is your approach to coming up with a customer-centric strategy? 

Due to the dynamic and challenging nature of case competitions, there are multiple approaches to tackle the beast, that is the ideation process. I’ll caveat my answer with this statement: there is no singular ‘correct’ guideline on how to create a winning strategy. This is what makes the ideation process so unique! 

Indeed, your approach is dependent on whether your case is open or closed, the type of problem and how your team likes to operate. However, here are some tips and tricks to help you get started! 

The Team Approach: 

For me, teamwork is arguably one of the most important aspects during the strategy generation stage. Why? Simply because diversity is the root of all innovation and creativity. As a team, remember to focus on the main issue to be solved. It might be even helpful to segment the problem into ‘subproblems’ as a way to structure and synthesise your strategy. Ultimately, research together, brainstorm together and flesh out the strategy together!

Consumer-centric Strategies 

For customer-centric cases and problems, it is useful to first answer the very basic question of: “Who is the customer?” 

Don’t be worried if this is difficult – there is often more than one type of key customer! As such, I have found it helpful to initially categorise the company’s customers into distinct segments. You can segment the company’s customers in a variety of methods: 

  1. Demographically (Age, gender etc); 
  2. Psychologically (Risk aversion, brand preferences, resistance to change etc); and 
  3. Behaviourally (purchase history etc.)

Choosing an ideal target market can also be critical to your idea’s success. However, as a team, the complexity of this task can be overcome by creating a criterion – or a litmus test - to assess the attractiveness of the market. Your criteria may include: the size of the market, the growth rate, existing and expected competition in the market and brand loyalty. 

Once your team has settled on a customer segment, understanding the segment’s needs, values and wants is key to developing a targeted and effective strategy. For example, if the case problem involves growing sales, your team can test the customer segment’s receptiveness to a whole laundry list of solutions which may include, but is not excluded to: 

  • Raising prices; 
  • Increasing the frequency of purchases;  
  • Expanding existing or adopting new distribution channels to increase market share; 
  • Introducing new products; 
  • Acquiring a competitor.

Marketing Tactics 

The 4Ps is an infamous framework of structuring a marketing tactic. It was first expressed by E.J. McCarthy in the 1960s (when in doubt, stick with the classics!). The 4Ps (price, product, place and promotion) reflect the pillars your team should consider when designing a strategy. 

In addition to this, I have also found it useful to consider the ROI of your team’s intended marketing tactics. While this may include measuring revenue and the number of impressions, make sure you also turn your attention to qualitative KPIs such as: the awareness/reach of the marketing initiative and the level of improvement of the relationship between the customer and the company.  

What are some methods to sell a strategy? 

While business jargon and charts may seem impressive, story-telling can also be a critical lever for standing out and connecting with the judges. Share powerful stories of customers to demonstrate how your strategy can transform the lives of the relevant stakeholders. If this is not possible, your strategy can include a hypothetical ‘customer journey’ outlining how your solution can solve the relevant pain points experienced by the consumer. 

Second, support your strategy’s assumptions with relevant case studies and further research. This will also help your team ace the Q&A stage later on! Finally, consider slide clarity and logic to ensure your strategy can be effectively conveyed. 

What’s one of the most memorable strategies you’ve come up with? 

It’s too hard for me to pick! The strategies that have stuck with me, are the ones that have taken the longest to think of. One that definitely comes to mind is the CBS Case Competition, where my team and I reimagined the shipping supply chain for Maersk. Also, in one practice case session, I did particularly enjoy pitching a chocolate café as a potential expansion strategy for a chocolatier! 

What is your advice for students looking to get into case competitions? 

Remember, case competitions are not always about winning. It is important to keep in mind that other than challenging and stimulating your business acumen and creativity, this is also your time to learn and grow. So don’t be worried about asking for feedback after each competition. 

Fortunately, UNSW has a vibrant case competition culture. If you are interested, keep an eye out for any upcoming workshops run by student societies. This is a great way to start building your skillset. Moreover, don’t be afraid to find a couple of friends and sign up to the next case competition. 

Remember, just have fun with it! 

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