MS in Commerce Blog

How Strategic Brand Management Prepares Marketing Students for their Careers

Current M.S. in Commerce student Lacey Turner sat down with Professor Carrie Heilman to talk about how her Strategic Brand Management course helps Marketing & Management track students as both professionals and consumers.

Carrie Heilman and Lacey Turner

By Lacey Turner (M.S. in Commerce ’21)

As a student in the Marketing and Management track, I appreciate having the opportunity to take the Strategic Brand Management course because it closely aligns with my career goals. My goal is to work in brand management in the cosmetic industry, so it is important for me to learn how brand managers support, manage, and adapt their brands over time. As a consumer of goods and a student in this course, I now think about how many different branding decisions are involved in what makes a customer want to purchase one product over another.

Taught by Associate Professor of Commerce Carrie Heilman, this course is offered to second-semester Marketing & Management track students in the M.S. in Commerce Program. Before coming to McIntire, Professor Heilman received her Ph.D. in Management at the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University. She also conducts research in consumer choices and brand loyalty, customer relationship management, retail loyalty programs and strategies, and consumer promotions.

Diving further into the course, the curriculum focuses on teaching students the role of a brand manager and how companies form brand strategies, image, and relationships with consumers. The course also gets into characteristics of strong brands, how consumer research gives brand managers insight into their target markets, and consumer perceptions of brands.

Professor Heilman utilizes case studies to provide students with an experiential way of learning about the strategies, marketing choices, and research that is involved in managing successful brands. We get to read case studies about real brands, the branding choices they make, and the problems they face. After reading the cases and applying related course concepts, we discuss the cases as a class. These discussions always bring the course concepts to life and allow us to dive deeper into analyzing why some brands and their strategies succeed while others are less successful.

Throughout the course, we also have a semester-long brand audit project that allows students to step into the role of a brand manager. Teams of students choose a brand that we think needs a consultation based on some aspect of the brand that makes them less successful than we think it could be. We conduct primary research to identify the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, what they offer to consumers, and how their target market interacts with the brand. After we do the research, we make recommendations that we think would allow for the brand to reach its goals and maintain growth over time. This project is a great way to learn and reinforce course topics, as we implement lessons learned in class creatively in our own assignments.

I talked to Professor Heilman to better understand from her perspective how she chooses the course assignments, what she hopes students learn throughout the course, and how her research has influenced what she teaches. Check out our conversation below:

What kind of career preparation do you think the brand audit project provides for students in the Marketing & Management track? 

The project exposes them to the short- and long-term issues a brand manager or consultant faces every day. Ultimately, the project helps students develop skills that will make them stronger managers – things like analyzing data and industry information, determining what information is relevant, making short- and long-term strategic and tactical recommendations, presenting, writing, team skills, and more.

What do you hope students gain from participating in the brand audit project?

I am a big proponent of project-based, experiential learning. Having the students conduct a brand audit puts them in the role of a brand manager/consultant by asking them to apply strategic and analytic concepts from class to investigate an ailing brand, and then having them use insights from their research to make strategic, tactical, and creative recommendations for how the brand should be managed in the future.

Why do you think it is important that students learn to conduct primary research? 

Even if students don’t go into market research, as brand managers, they must understand and appreciate how to identify a problem that research can solve, the types of research methods a firm may conduct to solve such problems, and how the results may be interpreted to inform branding decisions. There is no better way to help students learn these things than by having them conduct primary research themselves in a low-stakes environment.

Did your own research interests lead you to develop the brand audit project, and how does your research impact what you teach in the Strategic Brand Management course?

My research focuses on many of the questions brand managers face, especially those who manage consumer-packaged goods. For example, what factors affect consumers’ decisions to buy my brand over my competitors? How can I create a portfolio of branded products within my organizing to encourage brand switching among my brands rather than switching to my competitors’ brands? What is the impact of different types of promotions, like price promotions, free samples, or point-of-sale advertising, on brand choice? My research fuels my passion for these topics when I teach them in class, and hopefully the students can sense that. I tell the students from day one, even if they don’t go into the field, they are all consumers, so they should have an opinion about many of the topics we cover. If nothing else, the course will make them smarter consumers.

Thanks to Professor Heilman for sitting down with me and telling me more about what drives her decisions for the class and why she loves to teach Brand Management to students at McIntire.

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