QUEST Students Tackle The Unilever Case Competition

In mid-February, Unilever came to campus with a radical idea for a case competition: analyze the current Unilever product portfolio and create a new product line for the company that encompasses the Unilever values and connects with their Sustainable Living Plan.

Multiple teams competed, and it’s no surprise that each finalist in the case competition had at least one QUEST student on the team. I was able to speak to the members of the top three teams to get their opinion on the case competition and what they believe contributed to their success.

Derek Xiao is a junior and member of Q28, Sameera Polavarapu is a junior and member of Q27, and Jeff Zhao is a junior and member of Q28.

Jeff Zhao and his teammates (also QUEST students): Mingkai Xu (Q27), Joyce Zhou (Q29), and Megha Reddy (Q27).

1. Did you think the subject matter of this case competition was different from those you have done in the past? If yes, then how so?

Derek Xiao

I think this case competition was completely different than case comps I have done in the past because the prompt was a blank canvas that allowed for a lot of creativity. The prompt the teams were given was to analyze Unilever’s current product portfolio and introduce a new product that connected with their Sustainable Living Plan (SLP).

Sameera Polavarapu
My team is grateful to have been in the finals of this competition last year as well and the structure and content of the case was definitely similar. Both years, Unilever did a great job of using the case competition to teach company values to students.

Jeff Zhao

Definitely! In hindsight, this case competition’s focus was definitely focused on brand management and creativity of idea as opposed to the nitty-gritty details of the business plan and execution. Unilever as a company also has a huge focus on corporate social responsibility with its established “Unilever Sustainable Living Plan” and Bright Future platform. This added a unique “non-profit” twist on the case.

2. How did your team approach the problem you were given?

Derek Xiao

We approached the problem by diving into their 2016 annual report. This gave us a great understanding of Unilever’s segment performance, which brands they were expanding, and the mission of SLP. While one team member parsed through the 10-k, the other two members were gathering external market data about consumer trends in packaged goods. Ultimately, we leveraged this information during our ideation phase to capitalize on the current direction of the market.

Sameera Polavarapu

The prompt we were given asked us to design a new, purpose-driven brand for the Unilever portfolio, specifically one that followed Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. Our team’s approach was to first find a gap in the portfolio, which we were able to do by creating a brand map. Next, we identified market trends within that gap and tried to align them with current issues we are passionate about. This allowed us to build a current, cohesive brand with a core purpose. The result was GLOW, a premium skincare line that supports the women’s rights movement by sourcing from solely female-owned, sustainable companies.

Jeff Zhao

The prompt was to introduce a purpose-driven brand to add to Unilever’s product portfolio. Instead of the traditional problem dissolution, we focused on the issues and social problems that our team members were passionate about and then focused on a product around that cause.

3. Were you able to leverage any knowledge from QUEST when working through the case?

Derek Xiao

I think my experience in QUEST had the most pay-off when designing our slide deck and preparing our presentation. At some point during our ideation phase, all the parts fell together, and we realized we had a winning product. However, having a great idea and communicating your idea are two separate beasts altogether. Thankfully, we were able to pull from our design and presentation experiences from QUEST successfully communicate our product and business model to the judges.

Sameera Polavarapu

Our team decided to enter our submission pretty last minute, so rather than spending the last moments fine tuning, we were rapidly working to craft a smart, well-thought-out brand.

I think that QUEST has really taught us to stay level headed at any moment, even when things seem stressful. The endurance and experience that QUEST has given us, whether that be from working in teams or designing slide decks, was at the core of our success.

Jeff Zhao

Of course. My favorite QUEST workshop was “How to Present 101.” Being able to build an aesthetically pleasing presentation and present a convincing argument are arguably even more important skills than coming up with the solution itself.

4. What do you think made your team so successful?

Derek Xiao

Our team was successful because we were passionate about our product. We had found a product that the market clearly needed, and we pushed each other to continue thinking outside the box when building the business model.

Sameera Polavarapu

My teammate, Didac Hormiga (Q28), and I both have relevant experience regarding case comps and marketing that was really valuable to our team in this competition. My internships have all been brand strategy based, and Didac is an entrepreneur. Using our collective knowledge, I think we were able to come up with an idea that is really primed for the market we were given to tackle.

Jeff Zhao

Not taking the case or ourselves too serious. Every meeting we were joking around and throwing around crazy ideas. This led to our team feeling extremely comfortable around each other and helped us end up with a pretty cool presentation and idea.

5. What advice to you have to other students in QUEST about approaching case comps?

Derek Xiao

I don’t know if this applies for all cases, but for prompts around introducing or changing a product, it is vitally important to understand the prompt before jumping into ideation. We spent a full 4-6 hours just reading through research before even beginning to throw out ideas. This way you will have an understanding of the customer needs and can build around them. Once you have your idea, storyboard out your deck, and write down the main point for each slide. It’s an investment that will pay off 10x moving forward in helping to build a cohesive story.

Sameera Polavarapu

My advice would be to find a great team, don’t be too afraid of the results, make it fun, and just jump in! QUEST teaches us so much about working efficiently in teams, working under pressure, and thinking strategically—all skills that have prepared us really well for opportunities like case competitions.

Jeff Zhao

Be thorough and diligent with every single aspect of the case: budget, financials, go-to-market strategy, pricing, etc. Always generate ideas in 5 and take the top 3. Design is important. Telling a convincing story is just as important. Anticipate the questions and reflect that in your appendix. Ask yourself, “What can I do in 5 minutes to take this presentation to the next level?” at the end of every work session.

 

 

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