Graduation season has been underway and it is always a great time for not only celebration, but reflection. Celebrate the achievement, but importantly reflect on what you have learned, the experiences you have had and how this can assist you to take the next step in your career. The Master of Marketing capstone project is the final assessment task that students do in their degree. It provides students with a final and valuable opportunity to apply their newly learned skills to a real business - just in the nick of time before they move onto their next big challenge of employment. Jessica Farrell is one of our recent graduates and talks about how the project has given her the confidence to take her career to a new level.
Colin: How would you describe the overall experience in completing the capstone project’s marketing audit, project proposal, completing the research and then presenting the final report to your client?
Honestly, it was tough but rewarding. I based my project on Lexus of Chatswood’s Parts and Accessories Department. The business has lost significant market share, falling from the second largest Lexus parts consumer in the country to fourth. The General Manager needed to determine why and what possible actions the business could take to recover its position. The task seemed simple at first, however as I started to investigate the business operation in depth, issues were revealed which generated even more questions than answers.
Colin: What internal challenges did you find in your client’s business that had to be overcome to get your research plan enacted?
The most memorable internal challenge was when the McCarrolls Automotive Group, who owns Lexus of Chatswood, sold one of their core franchises late in the project. The group’s head office and spare parts warehouse had to be relocated on short notice. Simultaneously, the marketing department sent out multiple EDM’s to the customer database to drive new business. The day before my survey was due to be sent out to the database, the Marketing Manager requested that we change the scope of the research project.
Colin: Despite achieving excellent outcomes from your project, it was far from a smooth journey. How did you feel when late in the piece the client called for a change in the scope of works for the project, which meant the objectives and research had to be redone?
Looking back I was surprisingly calm given the circumstances. You invest so much time and effort into this degree so no one could blame you for panicking when you are so close to the finish line and you are hit with a challenge that could throw months of work out the door.
Thankfully, the first thing I did was to ask for time to discuss this with my university supervisor before anything was settled. My supervisor and I talked through the issue. Using his suggestions I put together a new research approach, which alleviated the Marketing Manger’s concerns. Rather than surveying customers and interviewing staff, I suggested we use data from the company’s existing customer experience surveys. Building on that knowledge, I conducted in-depth interviews with customers. In retrospect this was the right approach and the final outcome was fantastic. The existing data was a gold mine I had underutilised.
Colin: The business environment changes more rapidly now than it ever has, so changes to the scope of works in the consulting project do happen. That’s life! What were the key things you focussed on that allowed you to consider your client’s instructions, and then quickly devise a realistic and achievable project that was in accordance with their instructions?
Selecting a few good frameworks early on in the project really helped. The first thing I did was thoroughly research the industry. I used the P.E.S.T.L.E approach, which provided me a base understanding of the significant changes the industry was experiencing. Once that was completed, I analysed the business structure, operational activities and customer segments subjectively using the Business Model Canvas. I found the Business Model Canvas valuable when I was building my understanding of the business and the management problem. Using the Consumer Consideration Journey framework, I identified strengths and weaknesses in the business' customer touch points.
My interview was heavily guided by the Value Proposition Canvas and Contemporary Consumer Behaviour model. The use of frameworks also assisted me when I had to change my research approach. Changing the instruments only involved changing the method by which I asked the questions designed to test my theories.
Upon completing my research the customer segments really came to life through Empathy Mapping.
I could name so many more. I completed SWATS, 7 P’s analysis, Pricing Comparisons etc. It was death by framework.
Colin: Your report was very illuminating for your client with telling marketing implications. Can you tell us about how some of the main findings (even unexpected findings) have been enacted at your client’s business?
The company has recognised that they were losing opportunities during the customer life cycle. Since the project’s completion Lexus of Chatswood has employed a Customer Retention Manager whose core role is to extend their customers’ servicing cycle. My project identified there was a direct correlation between service customer retention and extended manufacturer warranty sales, resulting in increased spare parts sales.
The business is also undertaking a review of their parts and accessories POS marketing, tailoring campaigns to specific customer segments identified in the project.
The project also identified a need for a product pricing alignment between Sales, Service and the Parts departments, which is currently being implemented.
Colin: You have talked about the benefits to the business, what were the main benefits you received from the program?
The way I look at a problem has completely changed. Carrying out the project has shown me assumptions can very quickly be made with very little evidence. I ask a lot more questions.
I am definitely a very different person. My confidence has greatly improved. I now have multiple tools to embrace change both professionally and personally.
Jessica’s three big tips for students about to commence their projects:
1. Elements within the project will change and you need to be proactive and solutions focused. Ensure you create effective relationships with multiple stakeholders in the host organisation. As you mentioned - Life happens! People leave, the business often changes. I am so grateful that I asked my supervisor for help before I panicked and changed the scope of my project. Check in regularly with your host organisation to avoid making reactive decisions and use your supervisor’s experience if you get stuck.
2. Data paralysis is a real and dangerous thing. You can get so lost in statistics and analysis. Sometimes asking a friend or colleague to take a fresh look at things and bouncing ideas off them can be of great assistance.
3. Confirmation bias can distort you data. Question things you believe to be fact. I was surprised numerous times on how wrong my assumptions were.
Colin Farrell is a current Industry Specialist Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sydney.
Jessica Farrell is a Master of Marketing alumni student from the University of Sydney Business School.