Art and science have permeated the marketing industry today, with disruptive forces – such as digital media, mobile and gaming – shaping the constant battle for the consumer’s attention.
How has marketing education kept up with these changes? How do aspiring marketers ensure they have the right knowledge, skills and training to succeed in this new-age battleground?
Associate Professor of Marketing Ashok Charan is addressing these challenges, one innovation at a time. His prolific background as a global marketing expert in leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, combined with his passion for relevant and hands-on marketing training, has led him to create an innovative tool for his students that provides real-world training through simulation.
Destiny© is a FMCG business simulator that imparts strategic marketing skills through a virtual consumer panel. By replicating consumer behaviours, it offers a holistic learning experience. Pit against one another, participants have to implement effective marketing and business strategies, and develop an understanding of what drives store choice and brand choice. In doing so, they become proficient in the use of market knowledge and financial data for day-to-day business decisions.
“Having completed a management degree and worked in marketing for many years, I’ve found that marketing theory is often different from the realities of a marketers’ job. Most marketers today learn on the job – if they’re lucky enough – and have to cope with managing complicated data and using sophisticated analytics tools to make strategic marketing decisions,” says Ashok.
“I wanted to change this by creating as real an experience as possible for those interested to learn marketing, as well as understand its applications,” he explains of the need for such a tool.
Ashok’s early professional years have also influenced the various features and functionalities of Destiny. “In early 1990s when I joined Hindustan Unilever, the company had the largest consumer panel in the world. Working in the business science unit, I was drawn by the diagnostic power of this large panel, and used it extensively for addressing business issues. That was when the early seeds of Destiny© were sown,” he admits.
It started off as a marketing analytics tool to analyse, forecast and simulate the buying behaviour of consumer panellists. Then called the Brand Health Monitor, it was used mainly to diagnose brand health and investigate business issues. Since its inception it has been continually refined and enhanced to mirror advances in marketing theory and market research.
In its current form as an experiential learning programme, Destiny© runs on a virtual consumer panel of a few thousand households. Its foundation is built on well-established market models that simulate consumers buying and response behaviours, in a manner that authentically reflects the market realities. The purchasing behaviours of these consumers is analysed by means of sophisticated consumer and retail analytics, and participants review the outcomes of their decision through mobile-friendly, easy-to-read dashboards that are accessible online.
Destiny© is aptly intertwined with Ashok’s book “Marketing Analytics: A Practitioner’s Guide to Marketing Analytics and Research Methods” to provide a holistic learning experience, that beautifully combines theory with practice. The eGuide, as Ashok calls it, further links participants to online advertising campaigns, videos and relevant content that is available on the net.
Today, Destiny© is used by undergraduates, graduate and executive education students at the School as a part of their marketing training.
Through workshops, projects, case studies and the Destiny simulation exercise, the training imparts an experience of marketing, telescoping a virtual period of three years into an intense programme spanning a few days or weeks. It gives students a multifaceted learning experience in brand and category management that encompasses a practical understanding of the marketing and retailing mix, engagement in trade negotiations, crafting of marketing strategies, and exposure to financial and operations management.
The response has been very positive – Ashok’s modules are highly rated and much sought-after. “A big part of the learning while using Destiny in our marketing class was in the decision-making and seeing the impact of those decisions. In other courses, we stop at our sparkling 25-page marketing plan, but in this course, we had to execute our strategies, and face the results. If the results were great, we had to figure out what we did right. If they were wrong, we’d try to figure out what we could have done better, and what others did better. Also, unlike other brand/manufacturer focused modules, we got a peek into how retailers operate, how they think, why they think that way, and how they can be partnered to grow a portfolio of brands,” says Natalie Wong, a year 4 marketing and finance undergrad at the School. “I noticed the value that Destiny adds as a learning tool after taking up a marketing internship with a regional shopper. I could combine market research data in a coherent and convincing manner; while demonstrating empathy for needs of the retailers whom we were convincing to sell our products.”
Destiny© has transformed and adapted over the years and will continue to do so, says Ashok.
“I see Destiny© continuously evolving to reflect the fast-changing marketing world. As it ventures into the e-learning space, Destiny affords tremendous potential as an accessible, inexpensive, self-learning tool that can benefit a much wider base of students. Practitioners, consultants, marketing professionals and business students, across the globe, may use it to hone their skills and enhance their knowledge of marketing. From the standpoint of executive education, Destiny provides consumer facing companies a platform for training future marketing leaders”, he concludes.