Updated: Aug 22, 2020
The secret ingredients of getting into the finals of a corporate case study competition:
Before I share the recipe of success, let me point out what do these case study competitions mean.
What are corporate case study competitions?
Every year, some companies present strategic problems that they face in the market and invite ideas from students across the country to turnaround their situation. For example, OYO's problem statement for 2019 was to help grow OYO Life's presence by 10x in one year.
What is in it for students?
Apart from the coverage and the brand name, there are cash prizes worth lakhs of rupees for the winning teams. The travel and stay is managed by the companies and the students get the exposure to present their solutions to the C-suite.
Where can students find these competitions?
Most of them are hosted on Dare2Compete. Different companies open their competitions for different institutes and educational levels across the year. For example, OYO's The Catalyst 2019 was open for all undergrad as well as postgrad students. Most competitions ask for a team of 2-3 members.
How has my experience been?
I got to know about these competitions only after joining IIM Ahmedabad. The first year at IIM Ahmedabad was no less than a roller-coaster ride, so I decided I'd participate only in the second year. Even in the second it took me a lot of time to understand how these case competitions work and what needs to be done to crack them.
So far, I've been a part of three different teams that have been staged as the National Runners Up of:
Colgate Transcend 2019
OYO The Catalyst 2019
Capgemini L'innovateur 2019
Kotler's Conundrum 2019 (this was not corporate)
Based on my experience, I can share the strategies my team deployed in each one of them, the feedback we got from the judges and what the winners did to win the aforementioned competitions.
First Things First - The Team
I can't emphasize enough on this. In the very beginning of your undergrad/postgrad, you need to find people who are passionate enough like you to participate in these competitions and add value to their CVs. Some people are free-riders (they want the credit but don't want to work) - make sure not to select them. Your team has to be a diverse mix (both gender-wise and education-wise). This will help you think laterally.
Round 1 Strategies
In this round, the largest amount of elimination takes place. Out of thousands of entries, top 100 are picked. The criteria is often a one-slider presentation or a 3-10 slider presentation. In the initial months of participating, I realized that my team was getting through the one-slider competitions but not through the 3-10 slider ones. That is when it struck me that the key to win in this round is to show how much effort you've put in. We were not getting through the 3-10 slider ones because our slides had blank spaces. The person shortlisting PPTs in this round will not be a senior manager. So, the criteria has to be 'the effort put in'. Show what you've done.
You can do that by filling up your slides with data, research as well as recommendations. Just make sure each slide is utilized enough to show the effort that went in making the 3-10 slides.
Strategy 1 - Leave no blank spaces, fill your slides.
The next thing is to show that you went out of your way to meet the consumers and suppliers of the company. This is called conducting the primary research. You must also back it up by data you procure from analytical reports. This is called secondary research. The sources we use for this are - EMIS Intelligence, Euromonitor and Statista. Now, both the researches must be present in your slides and extensively covered. Try to click as many pictures as you can with consumers/stores and put them in the slides.
Strategy 2 - Conduct and show primary and secondary research.
Now, this much is hygiene, and if you've done this, chances are you'll get through the first shortlist. But, something about your presentation has to sound as an exciting factor and that role is often played by videos/infographics/GIFs, etc. When you write your recommendations, present an easier way for the person shortlisting to understand what you're trying to say. We used videos, GIFs to put across our point. We also made sample apps (using custom animation) to show how the idea would work. These are called wireframes.
Strategy 3 - Add a video/GIF/wireframe to explain your idea.
Do these along with a well designed and formatted PPT and you'll get through Round 1 for sure.
Round 2 Strategies
This is often a video conferencing round. The panelists are marketing/sales managers who cannot see you but only your PPT. Some tips that can help you sail through this round:
Don't present the same PPT. Your initial PPT must be having a lot of data. This is the time you hide it because the person you'd be presenting to would be an expert on data.
Instead, focus on the primary research you did. Now, here's the catch - managers love consumer insights. So, when you're saying you met consumers, don't tell unnecessary things. Just mention how many you met and what insights/problems were you able to catch.
In the very beginning of your presentation, just after your title slide, mention the two key ideas (no detail) but just the name of the idea. This is called anchoring. You would want the manager to pay more attention whenever you present that idea later.
In the recommendations part, must include the video/GIF again. Your primary focus should be to explain your idea using it to showcase your creativity.
In this round, the criteria often is how comprehensively you've covered everything. These managers are like a check before you get to present to the C-suite. They try to check if you've covered every ground.
Round 3 Strategies
This is the finale round, wherein you present to the CXOs of the company. Now, the interesting mistake people often make here is that they complicate things a lot. I've seen so many PPTs that were full of numbers and data and I couldn't help but feel sad for the teams presenting them. The thing is, the CXOs are busy people. They'd give only 10 minutes per team. Now, in those 10 minutes, why would you want to bore them with number work? They already know the numbers. What they don't know is how to creatively solve the problem.
No guesses that such teams never won any competitions. The teams which followed this format always won:
Problem Statement - They have often not read the problem, so it is only fair to let them know what you're trying to solve about their company. Mention the scope of the case i.e. which areas were no-go (told not to interfere into) so that they don't quiz you on it.
Research - It actually means effort/procedure. All you need to tell them is what you did - how many consumers you met, how many stores you visited, in short - how much effort did you put. Put pictures and videos if possible.
Insights - Based on the research and relevance to the problem, what were the top 3 insights?
Ideas - So, how do you propose to use the insights and solve the problem? Your idea could relate to any of the 4 Ps - Product, Price, Promotion or Place. Here, you must also show the wireframes/GIFs etc.
Feasibility - This is critical. You must be able to prove that whatever you're suggesting is implementable. There has to be technical, financial, operational feasibility. Apart from that, your idea must be innovative, acceptable to consumers and scalable.
Finance & Timeline - The last slide should be a very brief summary of how much will the company need to invest, what will be the return (impressions, sales, profits, etc.). Also present the roll-out timeline of your ideas - you don't plan to launch everything together, right?
What differentiates the team that wins from others?
This is my favourite part because through each of the four competitions, I learnt 4 different points of differentiation used by the winning teams:
Prototypes - Let's say you come up with a product idea. Make its physical prototype and take it to the finale to show to the judges. One of the teams even made a sample app and won!
Animations - Use the custom animations creatively. In OYO's competition, the winning team showed how the app will allow consumers to view the house live and they made us see a house live using animations. Try working with custom animations like move, swipe, rotate etc.
Confidence - One of the teams was so confident of their research that when they spoke, everyone knew they were not lying. Be thorough - both with your data and presentation.
Innovative - It doesn't matter if the idea is wacky, as long as it is innovative, it earns a tick-mark. Try to reject ideas that are obvious. Think on what might not have been thought by anyone.
The feedback of CXOs
What I've observed in these competitions is that CXOs are generally more interested in being amazed. They're so bored of routine ideas and the same thing being repeated again and again that they want something new. All you've got to do is to try convince them that your new is implementable and scalable.
Here are a couple of points different CXOs have shared in these competitions -
Amaze them - They look for opportunities to have that 'wow' moment when they feel like they didn't know something and their team couldn't think of it.
Cover it up - They like thoroughness. So, during the cross-questioning, you should be able to prove your point by backing it up with data from primary research or secondary research.
Keep it simple - Don't give 10 ideas and say every idea is excellent. Give 2-3 good ideas and mention how you suggest them to prioritize.
Be original - They have known the industry much better than you. They can catch in seconds if you try to copy an idea from some other country.
Stay aligned - Each company has some values. If your idea goes against them, you're gonna lose for sure. Match it with their values and you'll win the competition.
With these, I'll leave the floor open for any questions. Also, just remember that these competitions add a lot of value to your profile, especially if you are planning to get into a B-school or if you are in a B-school.
You can message here for any follow-ups.
Also go through other ways to boost your CV to make it IIM-ready.