Booth students recently hunkered down to find solutions to a real-world marketing challenge in the 2021 Kilts Center Marketing Case Competition. Sponsored by WhirlpoolCorp., the competition tasked students with enhancing the company’s app for smart washers and dryers.
Over one intense week, seven teams strategized new ways for Whirlpool to market its smart laundry appliances and applications, with a goal to increase customer engagement and long-term adoption. On the final day of the case competition, each team pitched their ideas to company executives and associates, all Booth alumni: North American region CFO Joe Lovechio, ’02, COO Joe Liotine, ’03, and Heather Hellmuth, ’17, senior marketing manager for laundry strategy and innovation.
The winner, Team Home 2.0, focused on the unique needs of three target customer personas—at-home appliance owners, users of shared laundry facilities, and business owners with laundering needs. Made up of Full-Time MBA students, the team developed messaging strategies for how Whirlpool could better position its app to meet consumer needs, as well as product roadmap suggestions to maximize value for each persona.
“Being able to tie all of our decisions back to explicit consumer needs made generating and prioritizing our solutions much more straightforward,” says Sho Lin Chen, a member of Team Home 2.0 with a background in consulting and data analysis.
“The experience helped bring to life something that Booth has been teaching us about in marketing,” adds Chen’s teammate Mouad Ibno Bachir, who worked as a strategy consultant for several years before Booth. “It is not just about persuading customers to buy your products through creative advertising and communication. It’s always thinking about your customers’ evolving needs and making sure that your products meet those needs better than your competitors’ products.”
Lesley Ihionkhan agrees: “This experience helped me to better grasp the pressure of competitor decisions in the context of product and marketing strategy.” A former business analyst and entrepreneur, Ihionkhan contributed skills in data visualization, storytelling, and research to help Team Home 2.0 develop their winning strategy.
All seven teams offered fresh ideas that could bring value to both consumers and the company, Liotine says. He was particularly impressed with the winning team’s research into current trends, assessment of the competitive landscape, clear and thorough executive summary, and polished presentation.
“It was a good case, and frankly we were looking for ideas,” Liotine says. “It is a particular business challenge that we have, and it’s one that can be digested by students pretty easily. There could be some ideas that are useful and we’d want to use them in the future.”
“Knowing that our marketing strategy impressed seasoned Fortune 500 executives gives me a lot of confidence going forward in my ability to apply what I’m learning at Booth to real-world business challenges.”
In the past, winning teams have often seen their pitches come to life in the sponsoring company’s marketing campaigns. For Liotine, who has worked with Booth professors over the years, the case competition also offered another way to support his school and the next generation of marketing professionals.
“What drew me to it was a lot of appreciation and heart for Chicago Booth,” he says. “When I came here, it was an awesome opportunity for me to develop skills and learn new things. So I just wanted to give back. It’s easy to see from a content standpoint the benefits of engaging with students in this way.”
For starters, the competition is a skills-building boot camp in marketing, technology, and management. Students attended a kickoff session with Whirlpool representatives to gather information and come up with a plan of attack based on actual consumer behavior.
For some students, the exercise of thinking through a persona and bringing it to life was a new experience. Others say they gained skills in analyzing profitability, embodying executive presence, and negotiating within teams.
“Constant back and forth and constructively challenging each other’s ideas and opinions was critical to the success of our ultimate output,” Chen says.
Members of each team came from different professional, personal, and academic backgrounds. Student areas of expertise included technology, engineering, product management, and marketing, to name a few.
Luke Birch, a member of Team Home 2.0, said these broad interests “gave us collectively a breadth of diverse experiences to pull from when ideating solutions.” Birch is a dual degree student in the MBA/MS Program in Computer Science who also brought a military background to his team. Meanwhile, Ibno Bachir’s work as consultant taught him a structured mindset, “which is helpful when you have an open-ended and difficult problem like this one to tackle,” he says.
“I had very little experience in marketing prior to Booth,” Birch adds. “Knowing that our marketing strategy impressed seasoned Fortune 500 executives gives me a lot of confidence going forward in my ability to apply what I’m learning at Booth to real-world business challenges.”
Although Team Home 2.0 members didn’t know each other very well before working on the case, they gelled from their first meeting, Ibno Bachir says.
“We ended up becoming friends by the end of the competition. I would say that was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience: I came out of it with new friends that I learned a lot from.”