Students offer sound advice to HARMAN

May 2018

With three decades of experience, HARMAN International’s vice president for brand strategy and consumer insights, John Livanos, has become an expert on strategy, branding, and innovation. You would think that he’d seen it and heard it all. But nothing in his 30 years prepared him for the presentations by this semester’s StrategyWorks students.

“It astounds me what 20-something-year-olds are capable of doing -- their poise presenting to an auditorium full of people and the quality of their content, specifically, the key messages, how they string them together to tell a coherent story, and the rigor of the thinking that led to the messages.” Livanos remarked.

StrategyWorks is an experiential marketing capstone class where students are put in teams and work through the semester to tackle an issue that a client is facing or wants to explore.

“Every company has their own set of marketing challenges that are important, but not urgent. Sometimes these projects get short-changed and don’t get the focus they deserve because they get overshadowed by the urgent stuff. Those projects are ideal to assign to a smart group of students who can spend an entire semester thinking about and solving them,” Livanos noted. “And because this assignment was about how to better market to millennials, we got a lot out value out of hearing how millennials themselves would approach the challenge. As non-millennials, I’m not sure we would have come up with some of the revelations or ideas the students shared with us.”

This semester, the project involved HARMAN’s efforts to increase the purchase of branded audio in new cars. The teams were tasked with finding innovative solutions to one of three issues:

1. A digital purchasing model.

2. How to get automotive dealers to embrace this new model.

3. Ways to keep HARMAN relevant in the ride sharing economy.

For the students, the project was an important one on many levels.

“I think it’s a terrific opportunity to have a little work experience before they get out of here. They do client work in many FSB classes, but this is a whole semester. It gives them a real-life problem that a client has, a situation that they want to address,” StrategyWorks director Pete Jack said. “The client’s paying actual dollars for this project, and the students get that first-hand experience of working with a client, putting together a pitch.”

“A lot of this is the application of the theories and concepts they’ve learned in their classes,” Dr. Gillian Oakenfull remarked. “But there are so many other skills, so many soft skills that they learn from this that are often more enduring.”

Livanos and Liz Cybor, senior director of car audio marketing for the Americas at HARMAN, spent three days at the Farmer School listening to StrategyWorks students pitch potential solutions aimed at millennials and then chose the top team in each of the three categories.

The top teams then fielded a half-hour of questions from Livanos and Cybor before the pair chose the gold, silver, and bronze medalists.

“For the Q&A session, we did a bit of role playing. We told the students to play the part of HARMAN executives while we played the part of the Board of Directors. We warned them we were going to challenge parts of their plan and they would need to decide on the spot when/where they should hold firm and convince us or whether we had a point and they should flex. It really doesn’t get more real world than that!” Livanos pointed out.

“I thought it was a great learning experience,” Elena Alfonso, a senior marketing major, said. “It was definitely a challenging experience, but at the end of the day, it taught us a lot about ourselves and marketing and how it can be applied in the real world.”

The gold medal went to the digital marketing team BAE, with members Lily Manchester, Mary Mollmann, Elena Alfonso, Maggie Schaller, and Christopher Jacob. Silver was awarded to the sharing economy team Velocity, with members Sara Yocum, Sean Hennesey, Lauren Lee, Cordt Fenstermaker, Ayla Cabi, and Dhruv Upadhyay. Dealership experience team The Brake Dancers took bronze with Nolan Prevish, Gabi D'Abato, Maggie Campbell, Rachel Rieger, Dominic Ceccoli, and Kaitlyn Mills.

“I came in with the belief that, if we want to attract millennials, there is both an opportunity and a need to spend our marketing dollars differently than we do today." Livanos said. “These presentations have not only strengthened my conviction but, importantly, provided me with the data, the insights, and the rally cry to go make the case within HARMAN.”

Students make initial pitch Students make initial pitch John Livanos listens to students make initial pitch Students in Q&A session with HARMAN executives John Livanos Student responds to question from John Livanos Livanos and Liz Cybor talk to students about their ideas Group photo of winning team BAE