MARKETING EDUCATION AND VIRTUAL REALITY: THE VIRTUAL REALITY GROCERY PROJECT

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Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
page 190


MARKETING EDUCATION AND VIRTUAL REALITY:

THE VIRTUAL REALITY GROCERY PROJECT


Charles H. Patti, Queensland University of Technology


ABSTRACT

Marketing educators accept that the vast majority of learning and teaching now takes place in the
physical and virtual classrooms. This paper discusses a learning and teaching project within the
virtual reality (VR) environment. The project described in this paper, Virtual Reality Grocery
(VRG), provides a number of learning benefits. VRG, particularly when used with marketing
cases, allows learners to improve higher-order learning skills, including problem solving and
critical thinking and it provides a stimulating environment to observe the relationship between
theory and practice. Note: The presentation of this paper includes an interactive demonstration
of the VRG environment.



INTRODUCTION

Over the past several years, marketing educators have seen the emergence of many new
delivery forms of cases, including the traditional written/paper medium, videotape, CD, and
online. These new media have increased the case distribution channels, convenience and
learning potential for marketing educators and learners, and graphic portrayal of case materials.
However, many of the new media present a largely static environment, offering a marginal
learning advantage to the traditional written/paper format. This paper and accompanying
demonstration present a significant advancement in marketing case pedagogy by providing
learners with the opportunity to test hypotheses within a case environment, thus expanding skills
in critical thinking.

THE CASE FOR CASES

One of the most widely-used methods of teaching and studying marketing involves the use
of specific examples from the world of business—cases or case studies. Today, there are
professional associations dedicated exclusively to case development and case teaching.
1
There
are journals that publish only cases.
2
Other journals publish one or more cases in each edition.
3

Even though cases have been widely-used for teaching and learning in business education for
many years, interest has peaked again recently, no doubt stimulated by a growing interest in
learners’ active involvement in the learning process. Cases provide the opportunity to draw on
prior knowledge and experience, to apply what has been learned in other courses, and to develop
and articulate solutions or opinions.
4


Basically, a marketing business case is a written description of an organization’s situation
at a specific point in time. In essence, cases are stories told by the case author. Stories are one of
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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the oldest ways of learning. In the history of knowledge and learning, writing is a recent
technology. For most of our history, we learned through stories, told to us by parents and
grandparents, passed on from generation to generation. We learned from the experience of
applying the lessons of the stories to our environment. While we still learn and grow from the
stories of parents and others, communication technology provides us with other learning
methods. Some learning methods are passive (eg, listening to a lecture, or watching a video).
Other methods involve active participation and learning (e.g., internships and major projects
such as the development of marketing plans or advertising campaigns). In the continuum of
active learning devices, cases are among the best methods of active learning. See Exhibit 1.
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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___________________________________________________________________________
Exhibit 1
Learning Interactivity Continuum


___________________________________________________________________________

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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Today, marketing educators use cases for several reasons, including: (1) providing the
opportunity for learners to practice the process of identifying problems and then developing
solutions; (2) providing the opportunity for learners to become familiar with many different
types of businesses and industries; (3) helping learners appreciate the impact of one business
discipline on the overall health of the organization; and (4) facilitating the development of
communication skills in selling a recommended solution or analysis.
5


While the above are top-level reasons for using cases in marketing education, the
underlying purpose is to promote learning and intellectual growth by active participation. Cases
facilitate this by providing an opportunity to apply a concept or theory to a particular situation.
They also can help build skills in critical thinking because most case situations call for an
analysis of a wide range of information, including marketplace data, information about one or
more organizations, and the personalities of managers.

THE VIRTUAL REALITY ENVIRONMENT AND THE CREATION OF VRG

Virtual Reality (VR) technology is not particularly new, although its application to
marketing teaching and learning is at the early stages of adoption. Yet, the ability of VR to
simulate the physical environment holds much promise to facilitate learning, particularly within
the case method. For example, no other medium can more effectively simulate the physical
environment, thus bringing the learner in intimate contact with the information, problem solving,
and critical thinking dimensions of learning.

To explore the application of VR to case development and learning to marketing education,
the design and construction of a VR Grocery Store (VRG) was commissioned. The VRG was
underwritten by a University teaching and learning initiative grant and was designed and
constructed over a six-month period in collaboration with a local VR supplier. The development
of VRG included the following timeline stages of development (see Exhibit 2):
1. Conception
2. Creation of specifications
3. Identification of alternative suppliers and evaluation of their potential
4. Negotiation of cost and delivery
5. Phase 1 Construction (prototype)
6. Phase 2 Construction (data collection, selection, and evaluation)
7. Phase 3 Construction (review and refinement)
8. Phase 4 Construction (review and acceptance)
9. Phase 5 Construction (conversion to PC platform)
10. Learning Testing
11. Phase 6 Construction (refinement)
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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___________________________________________________________________________
Exhibit 2
Timeline and Phases of Construction and Testing of VRG


___________________________________________________________________________

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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Features of the VRG

The VRG environment simulates a retail grocery store and its surrounding environments,
including a residential neighbourhood and grocery store parking lot. It also contains the
following features:

a store entry and two completely-stocked aisles, including shelf-talkers, ‘special’
signage, and shelf-hangers;

end-of-aisle features, including product displays;

a check-out facility that itemizes purchases, totals amount spent, and records products
inspected but not purchased;

24 selectable product categories with a minimum of 5 brands within each product
category;

ability to alter multiple physical aspects of the selectable categories and the brands
within the categories, e.g., price, package design, package colour, shelf positioning,
product information, point-of-purchase display; and

ability for individual shoppers to shop the store, evaluating alternative product and
brand choices, selecting brands for purchase (placing them into their personal
shopping cart), and returning brands to the shelf if they decide not to purchase.

HOW TO USE THE VRG FOR MULTI-DISCIPLINE AND MARKETING LEARNING:
FROM CASE SUPPLEMENT TO BEHAVIORAL LABORATORY

The VRG project lends itself primarily to the marketing discipline; however, the VR
concept and model could be easily adapted to other environments and disciplines. For example,
educators can develop VR environments to address the learning issues within the disciplines of
education (classroom environment), health care (hospital), arts (cultural facility), hospitality
(hotel or restaurant), etc.

As a marketing education tool, the VRG environment works in three different ways
(depicted in the three scenarios summarized in Table 1). In Scenario 1, the VRG functions as a
behavioural laboratory, allowing the experimenter to expose subjects to a variety of conditioning
materials (independent variables), e.g., advertising, product information, media releases, print
media editorials and news items. After exposure, shopper-subjects are given a shopping list
(products, but not brands) and then enter the VRG environment where they inspect a variety of
grocery products, selecting their preferences, and placing the selections into a shopping cart.
After completing the checkout procedure, purchases—along with considered purchase data—are
compiled and analysed. Learners then use these data to analyse the effects of the independent
variables on virtual shopping behavior. Alternatively, the VRG is useful for testing pricing,
packaging, and shelf-placement variables. This flexibility and richness allow the learner to:
1. See the behavioral results of various marketing concepts, theories, and practices. For
example, what is the behavioral effect of message length in advertising on purchase
behavior?; what is the effect of package colour on purchase behaviour?; what is the
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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short- and long-term effect on profitability by changing price (price elasticity of
demand issues).
2. Make deeper connections between theory and practice in an environment that is very
close to the physical environment.
3. Test alternative propositions and theory while controlling other, potentially
confounding variables in the physical environment, e.g., competitive activities as well
as location and temporal dimensions of location and time).

When used as a behavioral laboratory, the VRG environment requires a number of steps,
depicted in Exhibit 3. After the experimenter identifies key learning objectives and an
experimental design, subjects are selected and guided through the process shown in the Exhibit.
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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___________________________________________________________________________
Exhibit 3
VGR Environment as a Behavioral Research Laboratory




___________________________________________________________________________

The use of the VRG environment in Scenario 1 allows the learner to accomplish the four
learning objectives listed in the third column in Table 1 (experimental design, behaviour
observations, deep understanding of theory and application, critical thinking and problem
solving.

Subject recruited to participate in the VRG
environment.
Subjects exposed to advertising and/or other
media stimuli, e.g., product information,
media releases, newspaper or magazine
news and editorial.
Shopping list provided to
subjects, prescribing purchase
of product categories, but not
brands.
Shoppers enter VRG
environment and evaluate
offerings, placing selected
items into shopping cart.

Shoppers enter check-out
area where purchases and
considered purchases are
recorded for analyses.

Shoppers are debriefed.
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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___________________________________________________________________________
Table 1
Alternative Uses and Learning Benefits of VRG Environment


SCENARIO
DESCRIPTION
LEARNING BENEFITS
1: Behavioural
Laboratory
Experimenter exposes subjects to a
variety of conditioning materials
(independent variables), e.g.,
advertising and product information.
After exposure, shopper-subjects are
given a shopping list and then enter
the VRG environment where they
make purchase decisions. The pre-
and post-purchase data are used to
analyse the effects of the independent
variables on virtual shopping
behaviour.
• Learning experimental
design
• Observation of the effects
of marketing stimuli on
virtual behaviour.
• Deeper understanding of
theory and its application.
• Critical thinking and
problem-solving skills.
2: Case Scenario
(relatively
unstructured, PBL
learning approach)
Instructor presents a brief shopping
case scenario to learners who use the
features of the VRG to explore the
scenario. For example, the shopping
scenario would encourage learners to
explore the variety of product and
brand information within the VRG
and use this information to inform
recommendations about the scenario.
• Problem-solving skills
• Critical thinking skills
Emphasis on prior learning
• Deep thinking skills,
exploring theory and its
relationships to practice
3: Complement to
Traditional Case
Learners consider issues and
challenges presented in a traditional
case (paper or electronic) and use the
VRG environment to test the case
problems, thus conceptualising the
VRG primarily as a behavioural
laboratory resource as one method of
problem solving and secondarily as a
concept and practice exploratory
device. “Hi-Power Beverage” and
“Big Daddy’s Pizza” are just two
cases that can be used effectively in
this Scenario.
• Learning experimental
design, including
hypotheses development
and testing.
• Observation of the effects
of marketing stimuli on
virtual behaviour.
• Problem-solving skills
• Critical thinking skills
(challenging and
developing alternative
propositions)

___________________________________________________________________________

Scenario 2

uses the VRG environment as a case—that is, the learner develops a brief
shopping scenario and learners explore the scenario through the VRG environment. This
relatively unstructured, problem-based learning approach allows learners to discover and explore
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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concepts and practices largely on their own, thus emphasising prior learning and encouraging the
development of problem-solving skills.

Finally, Scenario 3 uses the VRG environment as a key complement to an existing case that
is presented through one of the traditional media (paper or electronic). This approach uses the
VRG environment primarily (but not exclusively) as a behavioural laboratory, allowing learners
to decide what concepts to test and to see the behavioural outcomes of their choices. For
example, the VRG can be used successfully with cases such as “Hi-Power Beverage”
6
or “Big
Daddy’s Pizza.”
7
In the “Hi-Power Beverage” case, learners are challenged to decide what
elements to test of three alternative television commercials for a carbonated juice brand. When
this case is used with the VRG, learners are able to see the behavioural results of the three
alternative commercials. This allows learners to challenge the advertising and marketing
propositions posed in the case, thus creating a learning outcome that cannot be achieved through
any other combination of case delivery media. In the “Big Daddy’s” case, learners are
challenged to decide between to marketing communication approaches and the marketing
strategies underlying the alternative approaches. The VRG allows learners to test the
approaches, thus providing insight about the behavioural outcomes of marketing strategies and
marketing communication approaches. Scenario 3 delivers all three learning benefits of
experimental design—testing the behavioural effects of marketing stimuli; observing deep
connections between theory and practice; and testing alternative hypotheses in a controlled
environment.
8


EVALUATION AND FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS IN VR

Like all learning devices, VR has its limitations. Despite its advantages over earlier
technology, the widespread use of VR will have to overcome:
1. Recognition of the differences between the physical and virtual environments. VRG
is a reasonable and realistic alternative to the physical environment, but in the end, it
is virtual. Therefore, virtual behaviour is perhaps closer to the hierarchy-of-effects
stage of “intention to buy” rather than purchase behaviour itself.
9

2. Concept development obstacles. Once new technologies or processes appear in the
marketplace, there is a tendency to overlook and underestimate the creativity
underlying their development. Although VR is an education technology extension
rather than invention, its application to marketing education requires conceptual
thinking, imagination, and an understanding of the relationship between technology
and learning.
3. Time. The VRG project took six months to complete, after the three-month process
of developing and applying for a grant to fund the project. Therefore a timeline of
nine to twelve months to develop a VR project is realistic.
4. Changing technology. Much of the conceptual underpinnings, software, and
hardware behind VR educational technology originated from the popular games
industry—an industry whose products change at an increasingly rapid pace because
of technology improvements. The result is that today’s educational VR product will
quickly become the chalk and board version of electronic, color, graphically-
sophisticated presentations.
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (2005) . . .
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5. Cost. Marketing educators should anticipate VR development costs of $25,000-
100,000 per project. Given increasingly restricted budgets for higher education, the
development of VR projects will be out of the financial reach of many marketing
departments.

Despite the limitations described above, VR offers a new level of learning pedagogy
(described in this paper) and opportunities for collaboration and research—across disciplines and
with industry. Business school accrediting bodies such as AACSB and EQUIS are increasingly
examining the relationships between a business school and its business community.
10
VRG and
its potential variants provide such linkage through generating industry partners who share an
interest in learning more about behavioral outcomes of alternative marketing stimuli. When
these opportunities are combined with the marketing education benefits described in this paper,
VR is a worthwhile initiative for marketing educators, learners, and the business community.

REFERENCES

1. North American Case Research Association (www.nacra.net) and World Association for
Case Research and Application (www.wacra.org).
2. For example, see
Case Research Journal
(www.nacra.net),
Asian Case Research Journal

(www.worldscinet.com), and
Business Case Journal
(www.sfcr.org).
3. For example, see
The Journal of Australia-New Zealand Academy of Management

(www.anzam.org.au), the
Journal of Interactive Marketing
(www.interscience.wiley.com),
and
The International Journal of Management Decision Making
(www.interscience.com).
4. Bonoma, T.V., “Questions and Answers About Case Learning,” Note #9-502-059, Harvard
Business School, Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA.
5. “Learning by the Case Method in Marketing,” item 9-590-008, Harvard Business School
Publishing, Boston, MA, July 13, 1989. Also see the introduction and case learning
material in any of the many marketing case texts.
6. “Hi-Power Beverage Company,” (Full reference details withheld due to possible
identification of the author of this paper. Complete details will be provided when
appropriate.)
7. “Big Daddy’s Pizza,” (Full reference details withheld due to possible identification of the
author of this paper. Complete details will be provided when appropriate.)
8.
Introduction to Research Methods,
Fourth Edition, by Robert B. Burns, Pearson Education,
French Forest, NSW, 2000.
9. E.K. Strong,
The Psychology of Selling,
McGraw-Hill, New York, New York, 1925; Robert
J. Lavidge and Gary A. Steiner, “A Model for the Predictive Measurements of Advertising
Effectiveness,”
Journal of Marketing,
October 1961; Everett M. Rogers,
Diffusion of
Innovations,
The Free Press, New York, New York, 1962.
10. See the accreditation standards of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of
Business (www.aacsb.edu) and the EQUIS program (European Quality Improvement
System) service of the European Foundation for Management Development
(www.efmd.be)