Engaging students in the reality of macromarketing


Julie V Stanton, Department of Business, The Pennsylvania State University

publication date

March 01, 2020


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (external link).

cite as

Stanton, Julie (2020), Engaging students in the reality of macromarketing,” Macromarketing Pedagogy Place, (accessed August 21, 2020), [available at http://pedagogy.macromarketing.org/project/PP202003G/].


Sustainability; Product Development


Team assignment; multi-part; in-class activity; focus group; investor pitch


This assignment is built to accompany a normal semester (e.g. 15-week) coverage of sustainability goals as they link to marketing strategy.

The activity consists of multiple parts occurring mostly in the classroom, and capped with a final investor pitch to interested external ‘investors’. The latter requires student preparation outside of the classroom.

Meant for an undergraduate audience but easily adapted to higher-level critical thinking, the exercise allows students to argue for any adaptations to existing products or services that they find important, keeping socio-ecological values in mind.


Businesses are gradually adopting some level of strategic adjustment to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and today’s students should understand that momentum.

Different industries from different company markets and serving different customers will react in their own way, and this assignment give students the opportunity to drill down to the relevant details of a specific product or service, while also comparing their contexts and outcomes to those of classmates. When student teams work on vastly different product/service topics, they contrast technological, production, societal, legal and other conditions relevant to achieving the SDGs.

The exercise most directly aligns with SDG #12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) but naturally will reflect the tenets of several others.

Classroom example

The five steps of the exercise are these (referring to a 15-week semester):

  1. Week 2: Students select a generic product (e.g. toaster) and imagine their “ideal” version. No constraints on what that means are given. With about 15-20 minutes to confer, they generate extensive lists of features that they would include.

  2. Week 3: In their same groups, the students utilize a socio-ecological impact matrix (sample included under “worksheets”) to identify where the standard version of their assigned product has its greatest impacts, using their best judgment (and quick research via their smartphones) to label them as ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’. Then, students reconsider the “ideal” traits they had identified previously and discuss (1) what else they believe would be “ideal” to change to reduce socio-ecological impacts; and (2) how their first “ideal” version might make their impact matrix better or worse.

  3. Week 6: Students begin to challenge the “reasonableness” threshold for each new product trait. In their teams, they discuss the micro (e.g. customers, suppliers) and macro (e.g. economic environment, technological environment) forces that could encourage or derail their “ideal” changes (sample worksheet provided below). A subsequent classroom discussion of such opportunities and barriers helps to contrast the situations for different products (e.g. toaster v. automobile) and gives the individual groups more context for their strategy building.

  4. Week 12: The students role-play a mini focus group where their team serves as the marketing researchers, and other students take on roles of the “stay the course”, “innovation-loving” and “green warrior” consumer types (worksheet & descriptions provided below). Groups take turns serving those roles for each other. Students should be able to fine-tune their “ideal” product further and gather marketing-oriented consumer insights that could help them sell their product to investors.

  5. Week 15: The students develop a 5-8 minute “pitch” for their now-considerably-revised “ideal” product, and present it to a small panel of interested faculty and staff, much like the investor shows on television. The pitch includes a clear description of the product, its socio-ecological traits, pricing decisions, the intended target consumer segments, a communications strategy as well as retailing intentions. The investor panel evaluate the various groups’ work (sample worksheet below), and a winner is announced.


Begin by creating groups of 3 to 4 students. They will work together on this activity throughout the term, so keep that in mind. Some of the activities require a small portion of a single class, while others will take a whole period.

If you use the Belz and Peattie (2012) textbook, you can advance the steps of this exercise according to when you reach relevant material in that book. Adding a text such as Humes’ (2013) Garbology can provide students with additional ideas for what is necessary to align business strategy with sustainability goals.

Feedback from students

Students have engaged with this activity with enthusiasm, as it allows them to explore direct strategic links between production and consumption choices and the socio-ecological impacts they create.

In doing so, they have to balance (1) how to achieve sustainability goals while still keeping marketplace forces in mind, and (2) different sustainability goals that may be mutually exclusive in the product category.

The ‘wicked’ nature of these problems often generates productive frustration as the students contemplate trade-offs and differing priorities of stakeholders. Their investor pitches are usually well-formulated, and students show pride in their work, including dressing the part and using appropriate ‘ownership’ language. It is a fun activity overall.



Available worksheets for this project.





Impact matrix (template)



Identifying micro and macro forces (Worksheet)



Role play instructions



Investor evaluation (Worksheet)




Student samples for this project.





Initial side-by-side “report on the board” product feature lists



More final descriptions of features




  1. Frank-Martin Belz and Ken Peattie. Sustainability Marketing. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, UK, 2012.

  2. Edward Humes. Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. Penguin, London, UK, 2013.