“Unpack the Case” is a new monthly case feature that examines different perspectives from a case author, case teacher, and student, allowing for a complete 360-degree analysis. We explore insights into writing a great case, effective ways experienced educators teach with cases, and the impact on the student learning experience.
Synopsis: In March 2018, Snap Inc. (Snap), based in Venice, California, and commonly known as Snapchat for its application that allowed users to send photos that disappeared, was looking for ways to grow its user base in the competitive social media platform industry and to differentiate itself from the other major platforms. To do this, it was trying to position itself as a “camera” company and to become relevant to a larger target market: adults aged 25 and older, a demographic that seemed already well-served by current social media platform options.
Learning Objective: This case has been designed for use at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. It can be used in an advertising course on the growing popularity of advertising on social media platforms; in a marketing course on understanding the network effect; and in a strategy course on industry analysis.
Author Insights: Dr. Neil Bendle, Associate Professor, Marketing, Ivey Business School
About the author: Professor Bendle is an active case writer, and has published 28 cases with Ivey Publishing since 2011 on companies such as Alibaba, PepsiCo, Visa and Uber. Professor Bendle's research has two strands. The first investigates the measurement of marketing performance and the accounting/marketing interface. The second focuses on the impact of non-standard decision making in commercial and political markets using evolutionary game theory and behavioural economics.
Ivey Publishing: What made you decide to write this case?
Neil Bendle: The most obvious reason to write the case is the challenging re-positioning attempted by Snap. That made this case an intriguing one when I first discussed it with Ken Mark (the case writer). The stated positioning, from a marketing perspective, wants to stake out new ground. The data shows how hard this is. It also helped that Snap was a recognizable firm that is popular with Millennials, and Gen Z. The prior interaction of many students with the company makes for a more engaged discussion. What is more is that the company was, at that time/still is, under significant competitive pressure. The need to reinvent itself and to continue to grow was very real for Snap and this is generally a meaningful challenge for many companies.
IP: What was your favourite part of this case writing experience?
NB: As someone who is Gen X myself I must confess to having some puzzled initial reactions to Snap. It was great to get an opportunity to confront these and get to understand the company a little more.
IP: What did you find the most challenging in writing this case?
NB: Writing about such a popular company includes the problem of differentiating our case from all other Snap cases. There was also the challenge of creating a cohesive story. We had no chance to speak to the principals so Ken had to do a lot of work digging into the public source data to find information to describe the situation from our POV. The fact that the Snap had such a challenging re-positioning made it especially hard to describe what was happening.
IP: What do you hope students will get out of this case?
NB: Hopefully students will see the benefits and challenges of trying to re-position. Here Snap even try to redefine the word ‘camera’. In addition, students will get the chance to think more about the business of social media. This includes observing interesting effects, e.g., network effects, but also where the money is coming from, and how the players are positioned against each other in the industry.
Instructor Insights: Dr. Joanne McNeish, Associate Professor, Marketing, Ryerson University
About the instructor: Professor McNeish teaches a wide range of graduate and undergraduate marketing courses at Ryerson University such as marketing research, consumer behaviour, and technology marketing. Her research takes a unique perspective on exploring innovation adoption. While extant research focuses on consumers’ reaction to new technologies, her research focuses on the incumbent technologies that may be replaced by the new.
Ivey Publishing: What did you like most about teaching this case?
Joanne McNeish: I select six to eight new cases each term. I do this because I find students are most interested in contemporary cases reflecting the business issues that they are reading about in the news. As a case about a social media company, it presents some key ideas about how to compete in a crowded space, the dangers of neglecting your core competency and the challenges faced when the founders are not able to develop successful products to the marketplace and they seem unable to understand why not.
IP: Is there anything unique about how you taught this case?
JM: I focus my students on the marketing problems in the case, rather than solutions to the problems of the case. There is a 2017 Harvard Business School article (Wedell-Wedellsborg, Thomas (2017). “Are You Solving the Right Problems?” Harvard Business Review. Jan.-Feb. pp.76–83) which speaks to the issue of managers not having the time and effort resources to determine the right business problem and the impacts of that on the company. Each week, students complete a 500 word assignment called a case critique in which they identify the main marketing problem, indicate the symptoms of the problem and provide supporting evidence of the problem. The assignment is submitted individually by each student but they are encouraged to meet informally and discuss the case before they submit their answer. Their ability to select the right problem, make a logical case for it and defend their point of view improves consistently week after week. In addition to the weekly case critique, individual students make a presentation on the case with a recommendation for fixing the problem they identified. This provides students the chance to talk about the case and see how others approached it.
Snap is a good case due to the subject matter of the case and the way in which the case writer presented the storyline of the case. It challenges students’ assumption about technology companies as being successful regardless of their actions.
IP: Do you have any advice/insights for those who have never taught this case before?
JM: By having some of the key evidence (financials and market data) in the footnotes, students learn that not all important information is necessarily obvious in first reading. This allows me to reinforce the need to go beyond a simple reading of the case which is sometimes the preferred method early in the course by students unfamiliar with a case course. However, other instructors might want to point out the footnotes in advance as necessary for a complete understanding of the case.
This is a good case for a discussion of technology/social media company which had one successful app and several that were not. It explores how competitive this market is where competitors can quickly and easily copy the features/apps they see are successful while avoiding investing in others that they can see are not well accepted by consumers.
IP: Are there any elements of the case that took the class in a different direction?
JM: I was fascinated by the students’ discussion of the use of traditional advertising method, television. On one hand, they understand that television can be an effective medium for the promotion of products and services and yet they were disdainful of Snap’s use of this especially since they thought that meant Snap was targeting a much older audience, e.g. boomers.
Instructors might want to present a chart of the various age groups and demographics in the case. There was some disagreement among students about the target groups and that information gave students a different understanding of the problem.
Student Insights: Student from Marketing 600 Course at Ryerson University
Ivey Publishing: What did you like most about the case?
Student: What I liked most about the case “Snap Inc.: Becoming a “Camera Company” was that it provided readers with sufficient information about the company’s Snapchat application. The case provided detailed information about the features of the application and how it operated, which helped readers get a clear idea of how users interacted with the application. The case also provided ample information about Snap Inc.’s business model and its other product offerings.
IP: How did the case help illustrate marketing concepts/theory?
Student: The case helped illustrate marketing concepts by providing ample information about the company`s various aspects, such as its business model and competition. The case helped me realize that marketing concepts often interact with one another, which can make identifying the critical marketing problem a bit challenging at times. By reading the case, I was able to learn how to better analyze marketing concepts to identify the most critical marketing challenge.
IP: Did the case change the way you thought of marketing concepts/theory or the brand?
Student: The case changed how I thought about the Snap brand, as it made me aware of its other product offerings. Prior to reading the case, I was not aware of the fact that Snap sold accessories such as the Spectacles to complement its Snapchat application. Prior to reading the case, I had believed that Snapchat achieved growth and popularity relatively easy. Reading the case helped me realize the struggles the brand had in achieving growth and attracting new customers.
IP: What were the key takeaways from this case?
Student: The key takeaways from this case were that growing a social media platform is challenging given the current competitive environment. Another takeaway was realizing how important celebrity endorsements can be to brands, as well as customer experiences with a product. Lastly, a key takeaway was realizing how challenging it can be for a company to differentiate its products from other similar offerings in the market.
Full-text access to this case and others is available for approved faculty/administrator accounts. Not yet registered? Request one today.