Students as Marketing Consultants
Introductory marketing courses run the risk of focusing too much on terminology and too little on developing the conceptual and practical skills needed to prepare students for more advanced study in marketing. This case offers an example of how an introductory marketing classroom shifts when structured around a semester-long, live-case-study project. In this project, students are challenged to immerse themselves in the learning experience by developing marketing plans for small, local businesses.
Through the development of marketing plans, students learn the following skills critical for success in the marketing profession: assessing marketing goals and current marketing strategies; gathering, analyzing, and presenting relevant marketing information from a variety of secondary sources; and developing marketing objectives, strategies, and activities based on business goals and environmental realities. Students also practice professional communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills through their interactions with their clients and exercise their writing and presentation skills while completing, for most, their first professional deliverable, a marketing plan.
- Examine how an introductory marketing classroom shifts when the learning is structured around a semester-long live case-study project using the Universal Design of Learning principle of Multiple Means of Engagement.
- Show examples of the project’s structure and the UDL tools used to support student success while students engage in real-world applications of course materials.
- Share lessons learned from facilitating this project-based learning assignment for approximately three years.
Multiple Means of Engagement
The marketing-plan project is an example of a live case study which aligns with Multiple Means of Engagement by empowering individual choice, engaging students by encouraging creative solutions for a real business, and developing a supportive, inclusive classroom environment. Multiple drafts throughout the semester with varied goals, objectives, and due dates to promote mastery-oriented feedback and increase the quality of the final project. During the first weeks of the course, the focus is on learning foundational marketing concepts and terminology. After introducing this material, students then move into the field with the guidance of the instructor, and act as supervised marketing consultants to small businesses. The marketing-plan project allows students a high amount of creativity with a variety of activities, assignments, class discussions, and practice with application of the marketing concepts. A detailed course schedule, rubrics, and encouraging classroom environment, in addition to full support from the instructor, minimizes threats and ensures accessibility for all students.
At the start of the semester students choose their own clients, project teams, and complete Team Learning Agreements assigning roles and responsibilities. Allowing students to choose a client whose business they are interested in, classmates they want to work with, and how they will work together as a team supports recruiting interest while optimizing individual choice and autonomy. Requiring ownership in the expectations for working together and completing the project motivates students to build a collaborative work environment. Students work together throughout the semester taking responsibility for meeting deadlines, communicating with and responding creatively to the client, in addition to participating in peer reviews and discussions within the classroom. An inclusive classroom community leads to lively class discussions where students help one another brainstorm and problem solve.
Each step of the project is structured with incremental deliverables and goals, project check-ins, and instructor feedback. This methodology supports building knowledge with practice and performance, with multiple means of feedback (both written and verbal) from the instructor. With each “low stakes” draft submission, students are encouraged to take risks and be creative with assignments that are directly relevant to the current business environment and structured to build towards the final goal; which supports the UDL principles of optimize relevance, value, and authenticity and heighten salience of goals and objectives. The breakdown of the larger marketing-plan into smaller, attainable objectives encourages motivation and engagement from the students while incorporating constructive and timely feedback from the instructor. The frequent feedback and guidance allows for students to learn concepts and develop skills in a supportive environment, increasing mastery-oriented feedback. Empowering students to edit, revise, and improve their work throughout the semester supports active learning while also focusing on mastery, rather than checking a to-do list and moving on.
By aligning the project with the Universal Design of Learning principle of Multiple Means of Engagement, we find that student motivation and success increased, while also increasing the quality of the marketing plans developed by students.
Within this section, you will find assignment descriptions and templates, learning agreements, and evaluation forms that can be downloaded and edited based on the requirements for your course. We also include samples of student work and videos with student feedback about the project. While the examples of student work are especially relevant to those teaching marketing courses, we urge you to take a look and to start gathering and sharing samples of excellent student work in your courses. Once we started doing so, our students’ work products instantly improved.
Live-Case Project Purpose: The purpose of this project is for students to serve as marketing consultants for a small business and to develop a customer-focused marketing plan for the client that addresses each element of the marketing mix: product, pricing, promotion, and distribution. Please note the terminology used in the project documents and the overall structure of the marketing plan aligns with Pride and Ferrell’s (2016) textbook, Marketing (18th ed.), which we use in our introductory marketing course.
Skills: In this project, students learn the following skills that are critical for success in marketing professions:
- Assessing a client’s marketing goals and current marketing strategy;
- Gathering, analyzing, and presenting relevant marketing information from a variety of secondary sources;
- Developing marketing objectives and strategies based on business goals and environmental realities;
- Writing and presenting a professional marketing plan; and
- Communicating and collaborating effectively with teammates, the instructor, and the client in the development of a marketing plan.
Knowledge: The project introduces the following foundational content knowledge in marketing:
- Organization analysis;
- Environmental scanning;
- SWOT analysis;
- Target market selection;
- Branding and positioning a product;
- Developing marketing goals and objectives;
- Outlining recommendations for each essential element of the marketing mix; and
- Assessing marketing strategies.
At the beginning of the semester, a full outline and schedule with due dates, deliverables, rubrics, and classroom activities is provided to the students. This supports a collaborative and inclusive learning environment, as students know from the start what the expectations are in the course. Any changes are directly communicated to the students and updates are posted to the online learning management system.
Phase 1: Learning Agreements and Organization Overview
Phase 1, Component 1: Team Learning Agreement – The first step in this project is to form groups of three-to-four students to serve as marketing teams. During this phase, a critical step is to set ground rules for team behavior and to address how problems will be solved before they occur. To ensure this happens, each team creates and signs a Team Learning Agreement with clear ground rules for working together. Also, we find it is best to clarify how the instructor will be involved in problem-solving. We require that teams include us on all team communication if problems occur, so we can assure that team members are behaving functionally and respectfully. This practice also keeps us aware of each team member’s project participation for grading, so we don’t end up giving disengaged students the same grades as highly engaged learners or calibrating grades based on hearsay.
Phase 1, Components 2 & 3: Client Learning Agreement and Marketing Plan, Section 1, The Organization Overview – In the second phase, each team finds or is paired with a client, a small business in the local area. Our students work with locally-owned restaurants, stores, gyms, car washes, and so on. We find that projects are most successful when all teams are focused on businesses working directly with consumers. The challenges are different in business to business marketing, and we want to keep classroom conversations focused on similar problems to avoid confusing students. Also, we find it is essential to keep the plans focused on small businesses so that introductory marketing students can offer useful marketing plans to their clients.
During the initial meeting with the client, students explain the project to the client, review the Client Learning Agreement with the client, and interview the client to learn more about the business, its marketing strategy, and current marketing efforts. The information from this meeting is included in Section 1 of each team’s marketing plan, the Organization Overview and Synopsis of Current Marketing Strategy section. Gathering initial information about the client’s current marketing strategy is a critical step in the process because a marketer must understand the current context before engaging in future marketing planning.
Phase 2: Environmental Scanning and Analysis
Phase 2, Component 1: Environmental Research, Individual Student Grade – Once the clients are secured, and the teams understand the clients’ business goals and current marketing efforts, the students begin to explore micro- and macro-environmental forces impacting the clients’ businesses by engaging in secondary research. After running this project several times, we learned that it is best to require each student to complete a component of this research as an individual assignment, so students complete six environmental research entries on their own, which serve as a ticket in the door to the project team. The components of the environmental scan are broken down into competitive forces, sociocultural forces, economic forces, political forces, micro-environmental forces, technological forces, and legal/regulatory forces. Marketing instructors will want to categorize these forces to reflect how they teach environmental scanning in their marketing course. Students typically have good luck finding information to support their environmental scans in industry trade publications, through Simply Analytics, on review sites like YELP, and through more popular business publications. One recommendation is to remind students to be sleuths. This assignment is not a typical research paper with information readily available in scholarly journals. They are going to seek out secondary research, knowing they don’t have the budgets to hire marketing research firms or to buy in-depth industry reports. You will find a sample of a single environmental entry here.
Phase 2, Component 2: Marketing Plan, Section 2, The Market Environment – Once each team member completes their research, feedback is given to each student from the instructor. The students then enter a drafting and editing process where they combine each student’s investigation into a single cohesive scan of the market environment for the small business. The writing process is iterative and involves several drafts with instructor feedback and guidance, as well as peer-review sessions. Upon completion of the environmental scan, each team completes a SWOT analysis for the small business based on the information gleaned from their original client interview and from the knowledge gained by scanning the market environment for the small business. Within the classroom the process is collaborative, teams must sit together with computers open, and each class session moves back and forth between instruction and complementary project work. For example, we discuss SWOT analysis on the same day that students write the SWOT analysis for their marketing plan. The University provides Chromebooks for students to borrow who do not have a laptop or tablet.
Phase 3: Marketing Plan, Section 3, Marketing Strategy
After the research phase, the class shifts into the more strategic and creative aspects of marketing. Each class period for the remainder of the semester focuses on just-in-time learning; concepts are reviewed and applied to the students’ marketing plans during each class period. At this point in the semester, the class focuses on target market selection, writing marketing objectives, developing strategies for each element of the marketing mix (product, promotion, pricing, and distribution), as well as creating an outline of specific marketing activities and success measures. Over time, we learned that it is best to spend the class period giving mini-lectures of about ten-to-fifteen minutes, provide work samples, and have students create and share work in real-time. The instructor is available during class to answer any questions and coach students through the process. When the course is working well, a sense of synergy emerges during this phase of the project, with teams sharing ideas and giving suggestions to other groups.
Phase 4: Final Marketing Plan, Presentation, & Client Evaluation
After a semester of project work, feedback, drafting, and redrafting, the students turn in their fully edited marketing plans and present them to the class in 15-17 minute presentations. They also provide their finished plans to their clients who complete a Client Evaluation Form providing feedback and assessing the students’ work. The project wraps up with an assessment of each project team member’s participation using the Team Evaluation Form.
Here you will find the link to a student group’s finished marketing plan. Jayda Bernard presents the students’ final marketing plan here. (Box with Video, Not a Link) https://www.loom.com/share/e639248a33684bd8a160ae8c5c7dd5e6
Below you will find the Assignment Description for the Marketing Plan Project, as well as the template students use for writing their marketing plans.
Marketing Plan Assignment Description (Box Example, Not a Link) https://docs.google.com/document/d/1esnKrtzuFFNZj7ztXKxRyOZeBzpKLqucEnaZRIpvVDo/edit?usp=sharing
Marketing Plan Template (Box Example, Not a Link)
Teaching an introductory marketing class through live case studies challenges students to apply marketing concepts to real-world business challenges even in their first marketing course, and students respond well to this challenge. One student commented, “The most valuable part about this course was learning how to write a marketing plan.” Another said, “The marketing plan has taught me skills I would have never been able to acquire without doing the assignment.”Students also indicate the assignment is useful when looking for jobs. A student commented, “I have already started to use it for job applications when asked to provide a sample of writing.” While most students are pleased with the outcome, building a marketing class around the creation of a work product requires a great deal of student engagement. One student commented, “…although challenging, the project really forced me to think which made it a valuable learning experience.” Over the past three semesters, 84% of students responded that they either strongly agree or agree with the following statement, “The course assignments were valuable learning aids.”
William Peace University student, Justin E. Foster reflecting on the project (Box with Video, Not a Link) https://youtu.be/X2Cv6r3a8nM
Rewards and Risks for the Student
Early marketing courses run the risk of being terminology and concept focused, rather than focusing on strategy, analysis, problem-solving, and creativity. Teaching an introductory marketing course using this methodology takes students through the cognitive process to the highest levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students are not just remembering terms or understanding concepts. They are active learners, analyzing the marketing environment, evaluating marketing strategies, and creating marketing plans. By engaging students in a variety of activities that are directly related to the skills required in the workforce upon graduation, the marketing-plan project provides opportunity to “optimize relevance, value, and authenticity” (UDL Guideline 7.2).
Rewards and Risks for the Client
From the client perspective, this project supports the client in four ways. First, it allows the client to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and engagement in the area community. Second, the client learns more about the market environment impacting the business. Third, the client gains a fresh perspective on marketing strategies and activities to support their business. As of now, no client has implemented every strategy laid out in one of our group’s marketing plans, but the students have offered quite a few useful suggestions, especially in the area of social media marketing. Students are savvy social media users and, on multiple occasions, have assisted the client with knowledge of popular social media platforms. One group was able to help the client in posting pictures of their products, along with appealing captions and hashtags to increase their following on Instagram. Another group discussed the useful insights of Google Analytics in building website traffic. The final benefit is one of reciprocity where we have diverse people from multiple generations working together and learning with both groups receiving benefits from the interaction. While we frequently see more experienced professionals mentoring young professionals, this is a more collaborative practice where “everyone leads (and) everyone learns” (Satterly, Cullen, & Dyson, 2018).
Liz Esser, owner and designer at Haden Designs Instagram @hadendesigns sharing her perspective as a client, “These students definitely did their research! I received a very thorough marketing plan from the students with valuable information and marketing activities, which I definitely plan on implementing to increase my online presence and sales. Thank you for all the hard work and useful information!”
An Instructor’s Point of View
After multiple semesters of completing the project, we have a few insights into building a collaborative classroom environment. First, the instructor’s role goes far beyond lecturing students on the basic terminology and concepts. While a strong foundation is imperative to the successful completion of the project, it is a starting point, not the result. The role of the instructor is to guide, coach, support, and encourage students through the process of building a successful marketing plan as they apply their knowledge directly to a real-world business situation. Using framework templates and multiple due dates with constructive, timely feedback gives students maximum support while allowing for creativity and challenge. Students make mistakes and need to redraft work along the way. These are the moments when learning happens, and, as instructors, we normalize the need for multiple drafts and a sense of determination when developing new skills. Students are sometimes frustrated but also empowered in their learning.
Second, it is critical to discuss the purpose of the project and set expectations at the beginning of the semester. During the first few classes, we discuss the project in its entirety and share exemplary student work. Students are encouraged to ask questions and voice concerns before the project begins. Sharing completed projects gives students a goal to reach for and supports an understanding of the expectations.
Third, allowing students to choose their groups and clients encourages ownership of the project. With that said, it is also essential to provide clients for students unable to find their own. Requiring a client meeting early in the project allows students to practice business communication skills, begin to work together as a group, and builds confidence and enthusiasm about the project.
Fourth, this project requires a great deal of flexibility from the instructor. The instructor needs to be ready to add in additional editing opportunities and be available for problem-solving along the way. Team dynamics are sometimes challenging, so the instructor must focus on both the marketing plans and each team’s interpersonal dynamics.
Finally, it is important to explain that this live-case project prepares college students for careers. In 2014, the National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed 606 human resources and staffing professionals in almost 20 industries about the key skills college graduates need to transition successfully into the workplace. At least 90% of respondents identified the following skills, all of which are built into the design of the marketing plan project: professionalism, critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, and the ability to collaborate effectively on a team. These skills, necessary for success in the workplace, are supported by the UDL framework across a variety of disciplines in different ways. By focusing on building successful learners, we are equipping students with strategies for success that are adaptable outside of the classroom.
Live Case Studies
The case study method is a form of experiential learning frequently used in business education. The method engages students in creative problem solving and decision-making around actual business problems. One type of case study is the “live case” where companies serve as clients, and students engage as consultants solving “real-world” company problems (Rapp & Ogilvie, 2019). Research in the fields of “finance, accounting, information systems, marketing, operations, and strategic management” indicates the benefits of using live case studies to both students and client organizations (Roth & Smith, 2009, p. 61).
The live case method is not new in marketing classrooms. Kennedy, Lawton, and Walker (2001) completed a seemingly similar marketing plan project using the live case method in their marketing and entrepreneurship courses. They observed several benefits when integrating live case marketing plans into their courses. First, the projects necessitated that students develop critical thinking skills because there is no one solution. Second, the use of student teams helped develop the interpersonal skills necessary to function in the business world and increased student engagement. Third, the use of live cases linked students and universities to businesses within their surrounding community, helping students to engage more effectively in actual business contexts and to build networks of contacts. While they reported significant benefits to this approach, the authors also noted that the ambiguity of the live-case approach could be disconcerting to students comfortable with more traditional, instructor-centered, teaching approaches.
Elam & Spots (2004) also used a live-case marketing plan project and applied the project across three marketing courses. They noted the following critical factors when using the live case method to support the development of marketing plans: (1) the enormity of pre-planning involved in developing project-based classes; (2) the necessity of finding clients who are willing to work with students in businesses students easily understand, usually business to consumer companies; (3) the importance of assuring access to communication tools; (4) the need for instructors to monitor participation and, (5) the necessity of debriefing the students’ experiences throughout the project. Please note, this list only contains the factors related to live case studies from a pedagogical perspective, not the factors associated with integrating a project across courses or issues pertaining to rewards for this type of work.
Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Framework
The design of this Live Case Study aligns with Winkelmes, Boye, & Tapp’s (2019) Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Framework. Winkelmes et al. (2016) found that using the TILT methodology increases student success, especially for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented college students. Similar to Universal Design for Learning, there is a focus on how students learn. Using a TILT methodology encourages the instructor to answer questions like: Why am I having students complete this specific task? What will they learn, and what skills will they develop? How will they use those skills after they leave the classroom?
Project purpose, goals, objectives, due dates, a list of assignment tasks, and examples of exemplary work are provided at the outset and discussed with students at the beginning of the semester, which motivates students and encourages equitable outcomes. The instructor gives support and coaching throughout the project for the community partner. This project structure creates opportunities for students to supplement their resumes, secure professional references, and develop a portfolio of sample workplace deliverables.
References & Resources
Mcdaniel, R. (2020, March 25). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
Shabatura, J. (2018, March 19). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives. Retrieved from https://tips.uark.edu/using-blooms-taxonomy/
Satterly, B.A., Cullen, J. & Dyson, D.A. (2018, August). The intergenerational mentoring model: An alternative to traditional and reverse models of mentoring. Mentoring and Tutoring, 26(4), pp. 442-454.
Live Case Studies & Career Preparedness
Elam, L.R. & Spotts, H.E. (2004, April). Achieving marketing curriculum integration: A live case study approach. Journal of Marketing Education, 26(1), 50-64. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7fa9/d032351a1722e0983232ad42c9073be08763.pdf
Kennedy, E. J., Lawton, L., & Walker, E. (2001). The case for using live cases: Shifting the paradigm in marketing education. Journal of Marketing Education, 23(2), 145-151. Retrieved from https://login.proxy133.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/204435854?accountid=13141
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2014). Career readiness competencies: Employer survey results. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-competencies-employer-survey-results/
Rapp, A. & Ogilvie, J. (2019, June 7). Live case studies demystified. Harvard Business Publishing: Education. Retrieved from https://hbsp.harvard.edu/inspiring-minds/live-case-studies-demystified
Roth, K.J. & Smith, C. (2009, December). Live case analysis: Pedagogical problems and prospects in management education. American Journal of Business Education. 2(9). 59-66. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1052925.pdf
Pride, W. M. & Ferrell, O. C. (2016). Marketing (18th ed.). Boston, MA, USA: Cengage Learning.
TILT Higher Ed. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.tilthighered.com/
TILT Higher Ed Examples And Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.tilthighered.com/tiltexamplesandresources
Winkelmes, M.-A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Harriss Weavil, K. (2016, July 12). A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes
Winkelmes, M.-A., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: a guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Winkelmes, M.-A. (2020, February 6). The Unwritten Rules of College: Creating Transparent Assignments that Increase Students’ Success Equitably. Retrieved from https://chep.teaching.vt.edu/content/dam/chep_teaching_vt_edu/2020chep/Winkelmes.pdf
Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.collegestar.org/universal-design-for-learning
About Universal Design for Learning. (2019, April 23). Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.Xo3XzYhKiUl
The UDL Guidelines. (2018, August 31). Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/?utm_medium=web&utm_campagin=none&utm_source=cast-home
Provide Multiple Means of Engagement. (2018, January 12). Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/engagement
Provide Multiple Means of Representation. (2018, January 12). Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/representation
Provide Multiple Means of Action & Expression. (2018, January 12). Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/action-expression
Gordon, D., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. (2016). Universal Design for Learning. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.
Lieberman, M. (2018, November 28). Q&A: Making sense of universal design for learning. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/11/28/new-book-offers-guide-evolution-universal-design-learning-udl
Tobin, T. J., & Behling, K. T. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone Universal Design for Learning in higher education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
About the Authors:
Heidi Gailor, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Business Administration program at William Peace University where she teaches courses in Marketing, Organizational Behavior, and Leadership.
Michelle L. Wang, MBA is an Assistant Professor in the Business Administration program at William Peace University in Raleigh, NC. She teaches courses in Accounting and Marketing.