One day Richard King, a shareholder and director at Capital Brewery, asked Thomas O’Guinn, professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin School of Business, if his MBA students would be interested in a project on beer.
O’Guinn said yes, but not for the obvious reasons.
“I’d been using Harvard-style case studies in my brand management class because my students want real-world experience, but they weren’t ideal,” says O’Guinn. “They’re usually fictionalized to a certain degree and I was never really happy with them as a teaching tool, so when Richard asked if we wanted to work on Capital Brewery, it seemed like a great opportunity.”
Founded in 1984, Capital Brewery is one of the oldest craft breweries in Wisconsin, and its beers have won both national and international competitions. “Craft beers were a small fraction of the national beer market until about 10 years ago. Now traditional big-brewer, big brand beer sales are declining and craft beer sales are growing significantly, which means there’s a real opportunity to capture market share,” says O’Guinn.
And that’s where the Wisconsin MBA students come in. O’Guinn’s MBA students began to research the company and the local and national markets to identify the best strategies for growth.
Early in the semester, the MBA students visited the brewery to tour the facilities, meet the staff, and gain a first-hand understanding of the business and its challenges. After that, the students broke into eight groups and developed detailed recommendations based on conversations with King and Wiener about their business plan and model. The proposals identified several areas of opportunity for the brewery, based on both qualitative and quantitative data about the brand.
“They came up with really relevant stuff,” says King. “One group identified the real problem with the target demographic,” O’Guinn says. “Another group identified heat maps on store shelves where shoppers look for beer. Another group talked to the distributors, segmented all of the different markets, and figured out a plan for expanding.”
Classroom projects with real-world impact
At the end of the semester, Capital Brewery not only implemented many of the ideas that the students presented, but also offered jobs to some of the MBA students from the class.
Tim Annis (MBA ’16) says that knowing that his class work was going to be used to help a local business succeed in the real world motivated him to deliver his best work possible.
“Being able to apply the principles that we learned in our brand management class to a real brand was really interesting,” says Annis. “Sitting with Tom O’Guinn’s class, we analyzed the cultural meaning of brands, and this project fit really well into discussions about community because there is a lot of local, regional pride around craft beer and Capital Brewery specifically.”
“The project went really well,” says O’Guinn. “In fact, there’s a billboard on University Avenue that came out of our MBAs working with a local ad agency. So you take a class, and by the end of the semester there’s a billboard on a major street that you drive by on your way to school. That’s about as real world as you can get.”