In an effort to better understand millennials, Principal, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, developed the Voice of the Young Consumer Business Challenge in 2012. Their goal: to learn college students’ thoughts and ideas on how to engage millennials with Principal’s products.
The business challenge began with only two higher education institutions: Iowa State University and Graceland University. Alumna Terra Whipple ‘09, a manager at Principal at the time, was instrumental in ensuring her alma mater was included in that first year. The competition now includes Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, Grand View University, University of Iowa and Drake University, and Graceland’s social media marketing students continue to prove they can hold their own with the big state schools and have been invited back every year.
Graceland’s C.H. Sandage School of Business stresses a key principle to its students: networking and making contacts will make a difference in how successful they will be in their careers and life in general. Whipple (now owner and lead business strategist at Live by Change) along with Associate Professor of Business Administration Jeff McElroy determined the social media marketing class would be the best to tackle Principal’s Business Challenge as an experiential-learning project.
This year’s challenge was to help Principal understand how the company could incorporate smart speakers to engage and retain Millennial and Gen Z consumers. Graceland’s team – Kate Morgan (team leader), Kaylee Burkhiser, Matt Padilla, Waseem Limbada, Taylor Kurc, Tyler Hill, Tyler O’Neal (audio/visual) and Aryn Johnson (photography) – presented a controversial approach.
Instead of showing Principal how to incorporate the smart speakers, the Graceland team conducted extensive research and successfully argued against the incorporation of smart speakers due to the security risks and overall costs, and presented an alternative solution: incorporating social media to connect with Millennials and Gen Z more effectively at a lower cost. Principal’s Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Customer Service, Jason Hoyle, commended the team for taking a risk and standing on their research findings.
Graceland took home second place overall behind only the University of Iowa. Upon learning the final standings, Associate Professor McElroy stated, “I wouldn’t have asked them to change anything. They presented and answered the judges’ questions very well.”
After the competition was complete, Hoyle shared with McElroy that he thought Graceland’s team members were better presenters than MBA students he has worked with. He complemented them on being the only team that included all of the marketing basics in their presentation and was so impressed with Graceland’s marketing program that he offered to be a guest lecturer for the 2018-19 school year.
Kate Morgan (team leader) - Senior and Social Media Marketing major.
“The Principal Challenge experience is one that I will never forget. My team worked so hard, and I’m proud to be their team leader. Jeff really pushed us to be the best we could be and gave us the guidance we didn’t know we needed. I believe that the skills I’ve acquired over the course of this competition will take me through any career I plan to start.”
Kaylee Burkhiser - Junior and Business Administration and Communications major.
“Presenting at Principal Financial was such an unforgettable experience. I am so proud to have been a part of such an amazing team. Getting the opportunity to present and learn at Principal was so educational and fun. It took a lot of hard work and dedication, but the relationships and memories created made it all worth it. Thanks to Jeff, the team and Principal for making this all possible!”
Waseem Limbada - Junior and Business Administration and Accounting major.
“I had a great experience in the University Challenge at Principal. This gave me a great insight into a Fortune 500 company and what it takes to have a successful career coming out of college. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with, especially with Jeff, who led us all the way to second place. All the rehearsals were definitely worth it, and I wouldn’t want to compete alongside any other team.”
Taylor Kurc - Junior and Business Administration and Sports Management major.
“Since I came to Graceland University I have changed my career path three times. I finally decided on business since it was the most general. This project and visiting the Principal headquarters confirmed that working in the business environment is exactly what I want to do. Thank you Graceland University, the wonderful people at Principal and Jeff McElroy for this unforgettable experience.”
Tyler Hill - Sophomore and Sports Management major.
“Participating in this project has been an amazing experience. It pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and to do something that has given me loads of experience in presenting. My favorite part of this project has been working with my group members. I would highly recommend doing this project to any business major. Also, I would like to thank Jeff for his dedication to helping us throughout the semester.”
Matt Padilla - Senior and Business Administration major and Sports Management minor.
“This experience was one of the most amazing opportunities I have ever been a part of. I would recommend to anyone who likes a challenge, take this opportunity and approach it head on. My experiences here at Graceland have been nothing but extraordinary, and I would like to thank Jeff for pushing the importance of this project. I believe Elio’s presentation and the thinking process he taught us should be implemented in every college course to encourage creative thinking.”