EM|Upper-Int|2. Business strategy: case studies

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Each business sector has its leaders. To become a leader, a company should have a winning business strategy. Let’s see which companies you associate with some business sectors. Do you know anything about their business strategies?

  • Technology: Apple
  • E-commerce: Amazon
  • Computer software: Microsoft
  • Automotive: Tesla
  • Beverages: Coca-Cola


Let’s find out how the choice of a business strategy can lead the company to success or failure. You’re going to see this while reading the stories of several famous companies.

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In this lesson, you’re going to deal with the case studies of Apple, Airbnb and Nokia. It’s very likely you’re familiar with the notion of a case study. But anyway, first of all, let’s make clear what a case study is.

What is a case study? Give your answer, then listen to the audio and choose the correct options

A case study is a concept present in different fields and thus has numerous definitions. In business, a case study is a detailed story of your company’s way to its goals. At the beginning of a case study, a conflict is set. Then comes an explanation of what happened next, and finally, there’s a resolution explaining how the company managed to solve the problem or improved on something. Good case studies often include research and stats to visualize the results. A compelling case study is a great way to show your management and marketing skills and attract new customers.


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Apple is a company that made a revolution in technology. Let’s see how the right business strategy helped Apple to become a market leader.

Read the case study of Apple and mark the statements as True, False or Not Stated

When starting a business, lots of companies would first launch an MVP, a minimal viable product. It is a kind of sample of your future product with a lighter functionality which can be sold at a pretty low starting price. Its main purpose is to attract customers’ attention to your business and help you develop the next product. Some companies even distribute MVPs free of charge in hope of getting loyal customers.

Starting with MVPs is common practice. Let’s take smartphones, for instance. When all the craze about smartphones started, lots of companies tried to produce different models that were affordable to a larger audience. Now think about Apple. Their very first iPhones already stood out among all the other smartphones the market could offer. Although Apple could easily have created a simpler smartphone much faster, when other companies were doing it, the company waited until the technology was advanced enough to make a product of higher quality and sell it to wealthier people.

Apple showed that making the first move is not always an advantage for a business. There is quite a common misconception that an original idea is what matters most for a startup. In fact, the most successful companies are not always the innovative ones. When a company introduces a new product that hasn’t existed before, the market is not clearly defined. Potential customers don’t know yet that such a product exists. So, the company has to make a lot of effort to gain the market, whereas its followers will learn from its mistakes.

So, every company should think about what strategy is better for their business: being a «first mover» or a «smart follower». Apple chose the latter and became a leader.


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Many travelers have already tried using Airbnb. It seems to be a good way to find accommodation at a reasonable price and meet locals. Let’s see how Airbnb founders managed to successfully compete with the hotels.

Read the text and choose the option you consider right

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Airbnb changed the way we travel. This company is now one of the fastest-growing tech companies, but its path to success wasn’t smooth. The company was founded when three flatmates came up with the idea of renting out the air mattress in their living room and turning their flat into a bed and breakfast. They soon decided this idea could become a startup. They created a website where other people could list their own mattresses for rent. They had a lot of listings on the site, and the site traffic was pretty good. But very few people were actually making bookings. So, things didn’t go well. Airbnb founders made an assumption about the reasons and started to act. What do you think they did?


Listen to the audio, check your guess and choose the correct option

The co-founders took their camera and went to each of the apartments in New York that was on their website. They convinced the owners to let them take photographs and then worked on the photos in a photo editor to make them more appealing. These retouched photographs were uploaded to the website, replacing the old pictures that the owners had taken themselves. This strategy worked: just in a month sales doubled and then tripled.


Read the end of the case study and complete the definition with the given words

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You’ve seen two cases of successful business strategies. But there are a lot of different reasons that contribute to the success of a business. Let’s listen to what an expert says.

Listen to the audio and put the tips for building a successful business strategy in the order they are mentioned

Host Expert

Host: Good evening and welcome to our studio. Today we are going to discuss what makes business strategies successful with a business consultant Amber Miller. Nice to see you, Amber.
Expert: Thanks for having me.
Host: So, Amber, when a company reaches out to you to discuss its business strategy, what do you start with? What’s most important in building a successful strategy?
Expert: Well, there’s no single most important thing. It’s a combination of different factors. First of all, a company should choose their industry wisely. Sometimes, they think they have a great idea, but, in fact, the industry they’ve chosen is not profitable.
Host: Right, but maybe they can bring some innovation to this industry and actually make a good profit. Shouldn’t businesses explore something new and be daring instead of just following safer paths?
Expert: I agree with you, but what I mean is that, first of all, the company should set realistic goals. A business needs a good start and profit to develop and implement new ideas.
Host: I see. So, what about customers? How should a company build its relationships with the customers in order to be successful?
Expert: There are quite a lot of things to keep in mind. First of all, companies should understand their customers. What are their buying habits? How much are they willing to pay? Which also means, companies should understand and communicate clearly what they are selling. What is the value you are providing to your customer? And then, companies need to be aware of how their customers influence their business. That’s what is called a customer strategy.
Host: Seems like a company’s success depends mostly on its customers.
Expert: That’s quite true. And this also leads to the following point: successful companies do not depend too much on one big customer. They always think, «What if this customer walks away?» So, a strategic plan should include diversifying your customers.
Host: And besides customers, what does a good business strategy depend on?
Expert: Management, of course. What it means to be a good manager is a very vast topic. A good manager should be able to plan, organize and control work, take responsibility and empower people. A lot of companies gained success due to outstanding leaders, and at the same time, a lot of businesses failed due to poor management.
Host: Okay. So let me sum up. If a company has bad management, sets unrealistic goals, doesn’t try to understand its customers and analyze their feedback, relies too much on one customer and wants to run a business in the sector that is not profitable, its business strategy will lead to failure.
Expert: Right. And I’d like to add one more thing. A business strategy shouldn’t always stay the same. Companies have to change and adapt their business strategies, but sometimes, they fear to do so. They think, «We’ve already achieved success and got loyal customers. Why change something that works well?» And that may be a critical mistake. Let’s take Nokia for instance …


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In business, failures are inevitable. Companies make mistakes and their business strategies fail. Let’s study one of such cases.

Read the case study of Nokia and choose the correct statements

A business strategy involves change, which is difficult and requires a lot of effort. But the inability or unwillingness to change may be a huge mistake even for a successful company.

The Finnish company Nokia is famous for creating the first cellular network in the world. It used to be the global leader in mobile phones in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. But Nokia’s case is not only about success. It’s also about failure.

When the Internet arrived, mobile companies quickly realised that the future of communication was data, not voice. But Nokia resisted the change. The company was afraid of losing their customers if it changed too much. So, instead of focusing on software, Nokia continued to focus on hardware. And that was a big mistake. The unwillingness to make a significant change in user experience actually led to developing an operating system with bad user experience. It wasn’t a fit on the market. In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone, which was a revolution back then. A year later, Nokia finally decided to enter the smartphone competition as well. The company relied too much on the power of its brand. They believed they could still succeed, but it was too late. Their products could compete neither with iOs nor with Android. The fear to innovate played a bad joke on Nokia, but it’s also a good lesson to other businesses: without an innovation strategy, a company can’t stay successful.


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Now you’ve seen successful and unsuccessful cases of business strategies. It’s your turn to make a presentation for the novices in business and give them advice. So, make a plan and get ready!

Read the task

1. Write at least 10 points of what companies should and shouldn’t do when developing their business strategy.

2. If possible, support your points with the examples of well-known businesses.

3. Use some of the words and phrases from the wordlist.

1. case study

2. MVP

3. free of charge

4. stand out

5. assumption

6. scalability

7. expand

8. economy of scale

9. daring

10. diversify

11. unwillingness

12. resist


Write your advice (at least 10 points)

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This is the final step of today’s lesson. We hope you found it interesting and productive. Let’s talk about your results!

Choose the correct statements


1. case study

2. MVP

3. free of charge

4. stand out

5. assumption

6. scalability

7. expand

8. economy of scale

9. daring

10. diversify

11. unwillingness

12. resist

Урок Homework Курс
  • Market leaders
  • What is a case study?
  • Apple’s business strategy
  • Airbnb’s business strategy
  • Building a successful business strategy
  • Nokia case
  • Developing a business strategy
  • Assess your progress