HOW TO PREP A CASE
Why cases? Cases are used all over B-schools. The idea behind cases is that you’ll sort of
temporarily work for the company that’s featured, and you’ll get to practice at playing CMO or
CEO. The cases tell a scenario based on some real life management situation. Cases begin by
describing the company and industry and then some dilemma is posed that you’re supposed to
address (and often, figuring out what the dilemma is, is part of the problem). You’ll do cases in
classes and sometimes on job interviews (especially for consultants). While you probably want a
good grade in class, or a chance at the job, the point of a case is to immerse you into a simulated
managerial decision setting, without there being terribly serious real world ramifications; i.e.,
before someone hires you and lets you loose in the real world, empowering you to possibly
destroy a brand or bring your ROI crashing down (sort of kidding), they want to see how you
think and behave in this practice world first.
How to proceed? First, read the case like you were taught to read your texts—that is, first skim
it, looking at the opening paragraph or two, the section headers, peruse the exhibits (tables and
figures at the end), to get a lay of the land. In particular, the exhibits will usually fall into one of
three categories: background (“What a yawn”), some key depictions (“Isn’t that cool!”), and
some in between (“What am I supposed to make of this?”). And again, part of your job will be
figuring out what is what. For example, for marketing classes, the first tables in a case often
contain financial data as “background” information—to give you a sense of how the company
seems to be doing. Check to see whether the numbers are moving steadily over time, or are
dropping precipitously somewhere, are the numbers proportionate over segments, etc., depending
on how the numbers are presented.
At this point, some very rough, very fuzzy questions are probably forming in your head. Some
marketing professors suggest that you begin taking notes, e.g., by writing down your questions
even at this perusal stage. That would be great, but I’ve been teaching long enough to know that
this suggestion will fall on deaf ears. Besides, it’s quite conceivable that you can barely
articulate your questions at this point.
Use the marketing framework!! Now, start to read the case more carefully. If you use our
familiar marketing framework—5Cs, STP, 4Ps, it will help you to think systematically. In turn,
the marketing framework you’ve learned from this book will help you identify the problem and
potential solutions more readily.
Step 1 is a “Situation Analysis”—in layperson’s terms, that means, “What’s going on here?”
The situation is analyzed primarily through the 5Cs. You’ll describe your company, your current
customer base, the actions of the competition, your collaborations, and the industry context as
the setting in which all this business action occurs. Let’s break that down a bit… You can’t do a
good marketing case analysis without nailing the customer and company Cs—they’re central to
the marketplace exchange—how we define marketing (reread Chapter 1 if you must!). Your
competition might well be doing something in the case that is setting up the central problem. If
not, then competition might be something you only thing about toward the end of the case, after
you identify the problem, and suggest your solution(s), you’ll want to consider which
competitors might respond to your actions, how they’ll respond, how you’ll re-respond, etc. Similarly, in many cases, except those that focus on distribution channels, your collaborators
might not play a key role in some cases—when that is true, mention them to show you’ve
considered them and then dismiss it as a nonissue if that’s true. Finally, the context is often a
driving force underlying these cases, e.g., something is changing in the business or economic
environment, more e-commerce, more global initiatives bringing more legal entanglements,
more green requests of consumers hence a need to address these issues, etc. The identification of
the relevant contextual trends and their impacts will probably be something you’ll need to
incorporate in most case analyses.
In Step 2, you’ll identify the case problem. Often several problems may be identified in a case.
Then you’ll have to prioritize—which is the central issue and which are relatively peripheral (but
perhaps bear on the central issue, or will help shape your recommendations). If you’re not
certain what the central problem is, that’s okay—write down all the problems you see in a
‘laundry list’ and priorities will sort out as you proceed.
For marketing cases, start with STP. The key goal for marketers is to keep their customers
coming back—repeat purchase and/or upgraded purchases and/o