Skip to main content

Poole Undergraduate Team Makes a ‘Perfect Proposal’ in USPS Innovation Challenge

Poole student team at spring 2023 USPS Direct Effect Innovation Challenge

– Caroline Barnhill

Team player. Adaptable. A good listener. Those are some of the soft skills that Pieter Verhallen has come to look for in his students when selecting a case competition team. Verhallen joined the Poole College of Management in late 2021 as an assistant teaching professor in marketing and, from the very beginning, was eager to bring his experience in coaching case competition teams to the college.

He didn’t have to wait long.

In 2022, Verhallen coached his first team of Poole College students for the FEP University of Porto International Case Competition, held in November of the same year. That competition was soon followed by the Heavener International Case Competition, hosted by the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, which is one of the top 12 international case competitions in the world, and a qualifier for the Champions Trophy in New Zealand (the world championship). There, our Poole Wolfpack team performed very well, especially in light of being a new entrant. Around the same time, in early 2023, a United States Postal Services (USPS) Direct Effective Innovation Challenge representative contacted Pieter to gauge his interest in entering a team for an upcoming regional competition. 

“I looked into the Direct Effect program and saw that prior Innovation Challenges were of high quality, and I appreciated that, as part of the Direct Effect program initiatives, USPS business partners would come and guest lecture in your classes to instill knowledge to students on  real-world integrated marketing approaches,” Verhallen says. “The current generation of students is very much aware of digital marketing, but often less so about the advantages of integrating physical channels, such as direct mail.”

Seeing the quality of past Innovation Challenge events — and also of the business leaders who came in to guest lecture — Verhallen decided to submit a team for the spring challenge in Charlotte, N.C.

The Challenge … and the Team

ESPN, the sports media juggernaut, owns the SEC Network — a channel focused on sporting events for teams in the Southeastern Conference. For this edition of the Innovation Challenge, participating teams from 11 North Carolina universities were asked to imagine that their university was part of the SEC and develop a marketing campaign that would entice their fans to watch the network and develop brand loyalty.

It was amazing to see how quickly our team came up with strong, creative yet feasible ideas and put them into practice.

“I pulled together a team of fantastic undergraduate students — Daniel Webb, Federica Lenti, Emma Collins and Anthony Jackson. In most case competitions, advisors are separated from their team. However, for this challenge, advisors were allowed to observe the case cracking process,” Verhallen says. “It was amazing to see how quickly our team came up with strong, creative yet feasible ideas and put them into practice.”

Following an initial brainstorming session, the team began to put their plan into action. Lenti and Jackson created the final direct mailer, Collins assembled the social media campaign and Webb created the mockup of the campaign’s website landing page and associated digital media.

“It was a holistic strategy that utilized both physical and digital marketing channels and incorporated a strong emotional appeal,” Verhallen says.

“The Direct Effect educational materials mentioned that mail campaigns with an emotional aspect, like handwriting, are far more likely to be opened. Personal mail, like a Christmas card from your grandma, is something that you will open 99% of the time,” Webb explains. “Because NC State and the SEC have strong traditions that are rooted in southern culture – and since we happen to have two mascots who are a married couple – the team decided the direct mail piece could ask the reader something poignant and emotionally powerful, like ‘popping the question.’ That’s something the recipient would open.”

hands holding envelope that says "Will you marry me?"
A mockup of the team’s invitation envelope.

Carl Boettner, a USPS product development specialist who works on the Direct Effect program, found the students’ approach to the challenge new and exciting.

“It was a unique approach to turn the advertisement into a wedding invitation. Invitations are high-quality pieces that people look forward to opening, so the idea of NC State marrying into the SEC was really creative,” Boettner says. “That’s what we hope to see out of these challenges. It’s a great experiential learning opportunity for students to work with real clients to solve a real marketing challenge. Currently, there’s a big wave in education to focus on digital marketing, so by allowing students to practice using multiple channels to market a business is a great way for them to differentiate themselves when it comes time to look for jobs.”

hands holding an invitation
The big reveal of what’s inside: a winning idea.

The Results

At the end of the event, which pitted their team against teams of both undergraduate and MBA students, the Poole College team placed second.

“Every judge told us how impressed they were with what our students came up with and that it was an extremely hard decision to choose only one winner,” Verhallen says. “In light of the team’s excellent performance, USPS invited our students to join me as panelists at the 2023 National Postal Forum on educating the next generation of marketers. Plus, the judges from ESPN shared that our team’s campaign truly brought forward novel ideas, and that they intend to incorporate some of our students’ thinking moving forward.” 

Luke Diocca, a sports marketing manager at ESPN, served as one of the company’s judges.

“From the ‘Will You Marry Me’ creative approach to the team’s thoughtful channel integration of the campaign and enthusiasm on stage, we were thoroughly impressed by Emma, Anthony, Frederica and Dan’s presentation,” Diocca says. “Being able to engage in a brief and present a campaign on the same day is an extremely hard challenge for any marketer, so our judging team was exceptionally impressed by the detail and creativity they showcased. Personally, I can’t wait to see where and what marketing teams they end up on in the future.”

As for how challenges like this prepare students for the real world, Webb sees immense value.

“Business innovation challenges like these are a fantastic way for students to see how working in a pressure cooker environment affects their final work product. It is very similar to how real-world marketing is applied – with digital and physical campaigns being launched with fast-moving and sometimes seemingly unachievable deadlines,” he says. “I graduated and now work at Plantd, a technology startup founded by two former SpaceX engineers, that is creating a new type of building material that captures carbon from the atmosphere and helps to solve climate change. Every day at work, we are rushing to hit deadlines, push out campaigns, and move as fast as possible. The SpaceX methodology is inherently a pressure cooker one, and competitions like this one strengthened me in the environment I now spend my days in.”

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

  1. We stumbled over here different website and thought I should
    check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to exploring your web page again.

    Here is my page – Nakliye

  2. I’ve been surfing online more than three hours as of late, but
    I by no means found any fascinating article like
    yours. It is pretty worth sufficient for me. In my opinion, if
    all webmasters and bloggers made good content material as you did,
    the internet shall be a lot more helpful than ever before.

    Feel free to visit my webpage … Evden Eve Nakliye

  3. Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic however ,
    I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested
    in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog article
    or vice-versa? My site covers a lot of the same subjects
    as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you might be interested feel free to send me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

    Take a look at my web page :: Zeytinburnu Evden Eve Nakliye

  4. magnificent post, very informative. I ponder why the opposite experts of
    this sector do not notice this. You should proceed
    your writing. I’m confident, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

    Review my web site – Nakliyat

  5. I just like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and test again right here
    regularly. I’m quite certain I will learn many new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the following!

    Also visit my blog :: Evden Eve

  6. obviously like your web-site however you have to take a look at
    the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife
    with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to inform the reality on the other hand I will
    surely come back again.

    Here is my web page: Nakliye

  7. Great beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as
    you amend your web site, how could i subscribe for
    a blog web site? The account helped me a acceptable deal.
    I had been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast offered vivid clear concept

    my web page :: Evden Eve

  8. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am experiencing difficulties with your RSS.
    I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to join it.
    Is there anybody else getting similar RSS problems?
    Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond?

    Also visit my homepage; Zeytinburnu Evden Eve Nakliye

  9. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but
    after going through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to
    me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll
    be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

    Here is my blog Nakliyat

  10. Do you mind if I quote a few of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your weblog?
    My blog site is in the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would
    really benefit from a lot of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot!

    My page – Evden Eve Nakliye

  11. I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you wish be delivering the following.
    unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly
    the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

    Here is my web page :: Evden Eve Nakliye

  12. I think this is one of the most significant information for me.

    And i’m glad reading your article. But want to remark
    on few general things, The web site style is great, the articles is
    really nice : D. Good job, cheers

    Also visit my web blog … Evden Eve

  13. I have been surfing on-line more than 3 hours these days, yet I by
    no means found any fascinating article like yours.
    It’s lovely price enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made just right content as you did,
    the net can be much more useful than ever before.

    Also visit my website: Evden Eve

  14. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest
    authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit
    from each other. If you are interested feel free to send me an email.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Awesome blog by the way!

    My web page Nakliyat

  15. Hello my friend! I wish to say that this post is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos.
    I’d like to look extra posts like this .

    Here is my webpage Evden Eve

  16. I’m not sure exactly why but this web site is loading incredibly slow
    for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is
    it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem
    still exists.

    Here is my web page evdeN EvE NAkliYAT

  17. My programmer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.

    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress
    on numerous websites for about a year and am worried
    about switching to another platform. I have heard good things
    about Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it?

    Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

    My webpage; eVDEn EVE NAKLiyAT