Battling for the Brand

Business schools often arrange for their students to complete real-world consulting projects, but the companies they work for are under no obligation to act on their recommendations.
Battling for the Brand

It’s a different story with a program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. As part of McComb’s Dr Pepper Snapple Group Marketing Labs (DPSG), MBA students participate in practicums in which they’re placed directly in charge of one of DPSG’s US$100 million brands.

Full-time MBA students in the second or third semester of their programs can apply to participate through the Center for Consumer Insight and Marketing Solutions (CCIMS) Marketing Fellows program. It was a group of Fellows, in fact, who pushed to obtain the opportunity to manage real brands for one of CCIMS’s four sponsoring companies—they wanted to have a more in-depth experience than a short-term consulting project would allow. They worked with Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper/Snapple.

In spring 2012, a student team began to run DPSG’s Yoo-hoo brand. For the past three years, McCombs students have identified growth opportunities, conducted consumer research, identified target audiences, developed a strategic marketing plan, obtained approval of that plan from senior management, created a comprehensive brand story, evaluated results, and presented final recommendations. As students graduated, new students were chosen to continue their work.

Students’ management of the Yoo-hoo brand has progressed from analysis to execution, so that the company now has assigned a full-time team to implement their plan. Students selected for the program in 2015 will begin work on Squirt, a different DPSG brand.

Getting real-world brand management experience “motivated me to be even more analytically driven, and strengthened my marketing gut and ability to solve problems,” says Ashley Weber, an MBA graduate.

The school has expanded the program with “Supply Chain Labs,” scheduled to begin in January with Dell. Students will develop a supply chain forecasting system, manage its implementation, and work on a social media strategy—a project expected to take two years.

Lamar Johnson is the director of the Center for Customer and Marketing Insight at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.