Have ten minutes? Want to learn business school basics? Keep reading -- this post is for you.
A few months ago, HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe started a mini-MBA program for HubSpot employees. During this business school crash course, the students took eight MBA-style classes taught by the MIT Sloan School of Management MBA graduate himself, plus a current student of the program. We read through multiple case studies and learned about the structure and strategy involved with starting and scaling a business.
While this "MBA" I received was a very condensed version of what someone would learn in real business school, it was really valuable for me to learn some business school basics without breaking the bank. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to condense what I learned even further in this post, where I'll walk through some of the most important topics and takeaways you need to know in order to receive your mini-mini-marketing-MBA.
The Case Study Method
Marketing MBA professors often teach courses using the case study method. This means they'll assign a business case to read and think about before each class, and the class is spent breaking down the case and discussing the major lessons in it. These real-life examples showcase how companies are solving actual problems and making tough decisions within the organization.
Throughout this post, I'll mention various companies and organizations that are using some of the strategies, structures, and leadership initiatives listed below. If you're interested in reading the full case studies that were written by professors at Harvard Business School and other esteemed business schools, I'd encourage you to check them out on Harvard Business Review.
Economics and Market Forces
One of the most fundamental concepts of economics is the delicate balance of supply and demand. Supply refers to how much a company is able to produce (products or services). Demand refers to the consumer need to acquire this particular product or service. These two elements will affect the price point and the quantity that is produced. This balance is illustrated in the chart below:
Here are four basic supply and demand laws to remember:
- If demand increases and supply doesn't change, a deficiency occurs.
- If demand decreases and supply doesn't change, an oversupply occurs.
- If demand doesn't change and supply increases, an oversupply occurs.
- If demand doesn't change and supply decreases, a deficiency occurs.
Based on these laws, the price and quantity may be adjusted accordingly to achieve a perfect equilibrium. For example, if the demand is high but the supply doesn't change, both price and quantity will need to increase.
Porter’s Five Forces
Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter refers to five competitive forces that determine where your product or service will strategically fall in the market. See the flowchart below:
According to this method, your product or service will have a strong competitive advantage if you pay attention to these five forces:
- Barrier to entry
- Threat of substitution
- Bargaining power of buyers
- Bargaining power of suppliers
- Rivalry among current competitors
How easy is it for a newcomer to enter into the market? Is your product or service easily replaceable? (Think about what the iPod did to CDs.) Does the buyer have too much influence over your pricing? Is it relatively simple to switch suppliers? Is the competition high? These are all questions you should ask yourself if you're entering the market with a brand new product or service.
Blue Ocean Strategy
In 2005, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne wrote and published a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. This book emphasizes how companies can succeed by creating a space that's completely unique, rather than entering a saturated market and battling competitors.
Below, you'll see a graphic that explains where you can find this innovative "blue ocean" value:
The goal of blue ocean strategy is not to beat the competition, but rather to make the competition irrelevant. One example that Kim and Mauborgne cite is Cirque du Soleil, an innovative company that redefined the circus industry. Using that as an example, read through the following chart:
Cirque du Soleil aimed to do the following four things:
The company eliminated segments such as animals and the bearded lady, and reduced elements of thrill and danger. However, they increased uniqueness by developing their own tents and created a more upscale environment through drama and artistic movement.
You can get way more for your money by optimizing your business operations. I'll point out two interesting cases here: McDonald's and Burger King. McDonald's makes twice money as much as Burger King because they have an edge on efficiency. Their drive-through windows can handle more cars at one time (and more importantly at peak times). Not only can they handle more cars, but they are quicker at serving these cars, at 189 seconds vs. Burger King's 198 seconds.
Other operational elements these fast food companies need to consider are the time from refrigerator to dining room, sandwich production and composition, service, staffing, and cleanliness. Every step in the process of getting food to the consumer and creating a pleasant experience involves operational planning. Employees need to be trained to create Big Macs at scale so they look and taste exactly the same no matter which McDonald's store someone visits. In addition to scaling burgers, the experience also needs to be scaled. In order to do this, the staff needs to know where to be, what to do, and how long to take during each step of the assembly line.
Organizations are often inspected through three lenses: strategic (processes and procedures), political (authority and power), and cultural (underlying attitudes and beliefs).
The strategic lens is the most used perspective. Under this lens, a manager would be looking to optimize work flow in order to meet company goals. The political lens looks at how power and influence are distributed throughout the company. The cultural lens (the least used of the three) looks at how company culture and history affects future decisions. Once you understand the motives of the people in power, you'll be able to understand and predict what decisions will be made.
A functional structure is effective if you want to cultivate specialists, or if you want to decrease cost per unit and increase scale (also known as economies of scale). Some cons to using a functional structure are the increased risk of poor coordination across departments and decreased agility and responsiveness to the market. Here's a visual representation of this structure:
This structure is best suited for small to medium organizations with a stable and sophisticated external environment. By way of example, Office Depot, post merger with Office Max, has put in place a functional structure.
If you want to increase coordination across departments or increase responsiveness to the market, a market-based structure might be best for your company. However, you'll need to be careful of resource duplication. Other things to be mindful of are the lack of inter-departmental communication and decreased opportunities for skill development. See the org chart below:
This structure is best for organizations that have large or many products or are unstable in the external market. Apple and Microsoft are just two examples of companies that are organized by market/product.
The matrixed structure is a nice balance between functional and market-based. The issue here is that this structure can feel rather confusing. Luckily, Harvard Business Review has some great tips on effectively managing in a matrix structure. Here's an idea of what a matrix might look like:
You'll notice Cisco is currently structured using the matrix.
If you'd prefer to organize based on the work that needs to get done, rather than the people who actually do the work, then holacracy is for you. The problem here is understanding who has the power to hire, fire, and give raises. This video by Brian Robertson gives a little more insight into this structure:
Although it seems that this structure could completely level the playing field, it doesn't eliminate hierarchy all together -- it just promotes hopping around rather than moving up the corporate ladder. Zappos is currently structured using holacracy.
Want to see examples of organization structures in action? Check out this SlideShare presentation featuring marketing org structures from Mindjet, Zendesk, HubSpot, Forrester, GitHub, Atlassian, and Rue La La:
In this presentation, you'll notice many different names for organizational structure that are different from the main four structures listed above. That's because these examples strictly illustrate the structure for each company's marketing department -- not the entire organization. We gave unique names to these marketing structures based on what the company's goals were for the particular arrangement they chose.
Scaling and Sustaining Growth
Companies go through growing pains and those awkward teen years just the same as humans do. As a baby and kid company, you need to learn some tough lessons through trial and error. As you start to grow, you'll go through growing pains that come with gaining new customers, acquiring companies, or selling APIs. More grown up responsibilities will start to emerge later, such as an IPO or breaking into new markets. See the chart below to see what a company timeline might look like:
Keeping this model in mind, let's take a look at Dropbox. Asking the customer to make a smaller commitment using a freemium model works very well for those baby through tween years. However, the company recently hit 200 million users and launched a "for business" model, entering their more mature teen years. Even though the company is sustaining growth, they are now facing challenges that any awkward teen company might face. These challenges include security, an increased number of competitors, and limitations with the freemium model. The market is filled with competitors like Box and Google Drive, which makes it relatively easy for the customer to switch. Suddenly churn becomes a vital metric for Dropbox to pay attention to.
If Dropbox wants to keep growing, they might consider these various types of growth strategies:
Organic growth occurs when a business sells more products or services to sustain growth, but takes a great deal of work over long period of time. Inorganic growth happens when companies merge or get acquired, which is a much quicker way to grow. Innovation is the most difficult, but can be the most gratifying. This strategy requires a strong vision and a great deal of risk.
There you have it! Now that you know these business school basics, you can have an educated discussion with any marketing MBA graduate. Maybe you'll even go off and start your own company! No matter what you end up doing with this knowledge, you're now a better marketer for having received your mini-mini-MBA. Disclaimer: I am not a real professor, so I'd advise against putting this certification on your LinkedIn profile. ;-)
So, did you receive your mini-mini-MBA? Ready to shell out for the real deal in business school?
Case studies are an important part of B2B content marketing. According to a survey done by the Content Marketing Institute, the top three most important marketing tactics for B2B businesses are in-person events, webinars and case studies.
Unfortunately, case studies are often difficult to execute on.
It requires time on the part of your customers. It requires negotiation on the type of information that is disclosed, which is tough in B2B because creating detailed success stories often requires sharing sensitive data or information. In most situations this is too big of a request.
Despite the difficulties, a company who has well respected and well-recognized customers needs to leverage as much of that brand power as possible.
A company needs to communicate reliability and trustworthiness. They can do this by creating high quality case studies using their best customers.
Best Practices For B2B Case Studies
The organization of case study “libraries” is an important aspect to consider. As you grow your library of white papers and case studies you’ll want to consider how users can find the content they’re looking for. Consider using filter options so users can find the exact piece of content they’re looking for, whether it’s by industry, content format, or topic.
For example, SOASTA uses a menu bar to filter case studies by industry.
You can also filter by content type, for example white papers, webinars, studies and etc.
Apptio is a great example, see below:
Also consider suggesting related content so they can continue engaging and learning about your solutions if they’re not ready to submit their contact information.
SOASTAS is also a great example of this kind of user experience as well. When you scroll down from the case study web page you get recommendations of similar companies. This encourages users to continue exploring your site.
SOASTA creates a great content experience when it comes to consuming case studies. They are easy to navigate and are beautifully presented.
Next let’s talk about telling a great story in the case study itself.
Telling A Great Story In Your B2B Case Studies
A great story begins with a great headline. If your case studies or customer stories appear in a library and are primarily used to engage audiences who are just discovering your brand and are browsing your site, then use a compelling headline.
Apptio’s case studies follow a formula for success when it comes to creating great headlines. It uses the "Who, What, When, Where, and How," namely "How."
Additionally, they use a powerful verb in each headline. They also paint a very vivid picture of the “What” in their case study headlines. The headline answers what the benefit is for using Apptio.
If your content writer is consistently writing great headlines like this, pay them like JK Rowling because it’s a true sign of skill.
Writing An Engaging Case Study
Most B2B case studies follow this outline: Problem -> Action -> Result.
It’s a structure for the body of your case study that keeps it concise. Any reader will appreciate that.
There other formats as well, including Q&A style. The strength of the Q&A style is that it tells a richer story from the perspective of the customer. If the customer uses common phrases and jargon related to their industry, it stands a higher chance of leaving a lasting impression with your prospects.
It’s like going to a conference to hear your peer speak about a great solution they are using. You trust their judgment and the problem they solved is a problem you want to solve.
A great example of this is dynamic project management solution, LiquidPlanner. They use a Q&A style, essentially an edit of an interview with their customer. It allows detailed storytelling that can’t be done in a third person narrative like the Problem -> Action -> Result approach.
We also interviewed CEO of LiquidPlanner, Liz Pearce. She shared a great story about growing LiquidPlanner and running marketing and operations.
See the example below, also noting the great headline:
Click image to enlarge
OpenDNS combines combines both Q&A style and the classic Problem -> Action -> Result approach. Most of the text in their case studies are customer quotes.
They also include a high level profile overview of their customer, weaving in OpenDNS’ business value with the stat line “Number of users protected.”
Examples of Great Video Case Studies
Videos may be more expensive to produce but it’s a medium that can communicate information very quickly. I’ve seen case study videos that resemble 60 Minute interviews. In other words, they were kind of boring.
Engaging video case studies are like good movies. They include characters, locations, and a story.
DoubleDutch does a great job of including characters such as buyers, end users, and sales rep to tell a story.
DoubleDutch is an events app that brings engagement and event performance together. Their video case study includes interviews with event chairs (the buyers) and event attendees (the end-users). And the B-roll includes shots of an actual conference, showing event attendees using the app. This set location communicates the value of the app. Testimony from end-users further communicate benefit.
For great video case studies, remember to include characters, a great location, and a compelling story told in both audio and visual mediums. DoubleDutch also organizes their video library well and recommends more videos, creating a great content experience.
How To Measure The Revenue Influence Of Your B2B Case Study
A lack of reliable information is the most frustrating obstacles to unlocking the potential of your case study pages.
As marketers we want to know that the effort we put into creating content results in influence and revenue. And if it’s not, we need to know in order to make content more engaging.
Pipeline marketing is about advancing the science of marketing and you can apply this by measuring your content’s influence on revenue.
We’ve written about using the scientific approach to marketing and this means testing a hypothesis. To test your hypothesis, for example that video case studies have a greater influence on revenue compared to PDF case studies, you need an attribution solution that connects marketing data to sales data inside the CRM.
Below is a screenshot of Bizible showing the revenue influence of content. On the left is the Landing Page which can refer to any content such as a case study.
You can see the channel source with Touchpoint Source, and the W-Shaped Revenue field that measures revenue influenced or generated. Lastly you can see the Opportunity Name.
Click image to enlarge.
We’ve covered many elements of B2B case studies. Executing successfully on case studies requires not only telling a great story but also supporting it with a great user experience. This is done by organizing your content so users can search for what they need, developing headlines that capture reader's attention, and presenting the content in a way that’s interesting and informative.
If you’ve set up attribution and execute well on your case studies you’ll be counting money like Ebenezer Scrooge.
If you're interested in tracking performance of your case studies and the rest of your online marketing, get the ebook on marketing attribution below.