In her Principles of Marketing course, Professor Tonya Bradford brings the experience of a real-world marketplace into the classroom through her “Chocolate Café” project. This interactive simulation places her students into a complex and dynamic marketplace, in which they have to apply multiple aspects of their knowledge of business to a physical delivery. As for Prof. Bradford’s main motivation behind the project, she feels that hands-on assignments make a difference in learning: “If you have to be hands-on, you are time compressed, everyone has to work together, there is dialogue about the concepts, and ultimately, you have to be able to deliver something.”
She recognizes that these aspects put a lot of pressure on the students, and works to alleviate this by centering the project around chocolate—a commodity that is relevant to the students in that they know what it is and have come into some form of contact with it before, and is usually a very enjoyable product to think about and work with. But chocolate doesn’t come without its own lessons—Prof. Bradford sees the best part about using chocolate to be the fact that “[the students] already have all these individual opinions about what they think candy should be, so they approach the project with different notions of how to handle the product, and they have to negotiate these views to come to an agreement on how the chocolate should be delivered. It’s my way of bringing real world issues and situations into something that looks fairly simple.”
How the Project Works
The simulation consists of three teams competing as individual companies within the chocolate market. Each group is given a different piece of what Prof. Bradford terms “naked” chocolate—candy stripped of its brand name and packaging—and a simple description of its flavor. The teams are then allowed a poker-chip budget with which they can purchase various materials to design their own packaging. After designing its marketing campaign—including forming the product concept, establishing a value proposition, and making pricing decisions—and addressing all financial and operational considerations, each company sets up a selling venue in the marketplace and the doors are opened for business. Each student is given a certain number of poker chips with which he or she can buy from the two other groups in the market; all poker chips must be spent to ensure sufficient transactional activity amongst the buyers and sellers. After all activity has finished, each company records its revenues, balanced with its fixed and variable costs, and determines its profit or loss.
The project also provides students with the opportunity to grapple with broader concepts than just the marketing mix and balance sheets. Perhaps most importantly, the project boils down to the basic albeit complex nature of a commodity’s position in the marketplace, and how such a position relates to consumer preferences and competitive offerings. In order to establish a firm role in the marketplace, the teams have to be able to not only develop their own strong identity, but then also conduct a competitive analysis and make it relevant to their business—the same difficult strategic tasks that challenge the real-world companies for whom the students will someday work.
The “winner” of the project is the team that accumulates the most profit—and Prof. Bradford has noticed that there consistently seems to be a clear winner. When asked what usually set these winning teams apart from their competitors, she reveals that “it’s not necessarily that their concept is the best, but it may just be the most cohesively articulated.” She has observed that these teams seem to work together better than the others, and therefore are able to execute their plan more effectively. “That is a valuable lesson in the business world,” Prof. Bradford says. “And here they are experiencing it in the classroom.”
But in the Chocolate Café, everyone wins—Prof. Bradford has also noticed that the benefits of this project even carry over to the remainder of the semester: “In-class discussion seems to be richer because the students are more confident in their ability to understand the fundamental concepts of marketing,” she says.
Article written by Alexandria Miller
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