Lewis Lim is big fan of Markstrat. This professor of marketing at Nanyang Business School in Singapore has been effectively using this simulation in his classes for twelve years. “Markstrat has been successful in my classes because it is not a side project. It is the central piece of my class, the central platform for learning about marketing strategy”, he comments.
He teaches strategy concepts and principles of marketing as the simulation unfolds, and incorporates theories, cases and articles that relate to the theme of each simulation period. “For instance, during the week when Markstrat focuses on R&D, my lectures will revolve around continuous innovation and new product development. During the week when students experience intense rivalry with new brands and products in the marketplace, I discuss competitive strategies”, says Lim.
A very active role for the teacher
In the classroom, Lim sees his role as a very active one – and a very rewarding one. “I debrief the class after each period, I sum up all the lessons they’ve learnt. I am also the one who sits down with each team to help them find directions, and improve their performance. Most of the time, students need guidance. If you want the game to work, the professor has to be very involved. It’s not a side project where a professor could entirely put his teaching assistant in charge.”
Lim also invented new tasks related to the game. He created an online forum where teams publish their press announcements. “Students learn to write press releases, and it is also a way to make them understand how market signalling works. In fact, public announcements are never neutral, they are made to influence industry behaviour, mark up a territory or prevent competitors from entering a market.”
Managing the psychology of the students
He assesses that the main challenge, for a professor, is to manage the psychology of the students. “Professors have to get prepared to that”, Lim argues. “Some people get very emotional with the game. They can’t stand to see their team losing, or get discouraged by their results. The teacher has to be very skilful to manage that, and help them be more focused about what they learn. Every time they don’t do well or make a mistake, there is a learning opportunity.”
That said, using Markstrat could bring tremendous results. First of all, students acquire decision-making skills. “That’s one of the major benefits of the simulation. Generally, students are not prepared to deal with dilemmas and trade-offs. Simulations force them to make choices, and to decide how much money they will spend on different goals. They learn to manage under budget constraint, and under time constraint.”
Accountability, teamwork and decision-making skills
Students also learn another skill: accountability. “They learn to make decisions with stakeholders in mind. In my course, I ask the students to write a memo to the CEO of the company, in which they wrap up every round of the game. In the memo, they have to explain which position they took and how they could improve the company’s performance. This assignment also helps them develop skills for communicating with senior management, and to speak in financial language when reporting on marketing issues.”
Last but nos least, professor Lim notices that Markstrat is excellent for developing teamwork skills. “Students learn to work with different people and make decisions as a group. This is not easy, because they need to convince their colleagues and sell their ideas.” He does not let students choose their teams: he decides who gets to be with whom. “Even though the students may not like it”, he insists. “It’s important to form teams with different backgrounds, cultures and personalities. This is how students can become versatile managers.”