A customized learning event was designed to illustrate the
power of mobile learning by putting the devices into the hands of
In a part of the world where television plays no major role and
other mass media falls short, mobile devices have become the king
of communication. Employing mobile devices as a tool and a
methodology to learn about their uses was the goal of a unique
program for executives who traveled from Africa to Indiana last
summer. An Indiana University business school alumnus saw an
opportunity to demonstrate his pride in his alma mater to his
company's upper-level executives as well as expose them to a unique
learning opportunity on IU's Bloomington campus through a four-day
program developed by Kelley Executive Partners (KEP). Curt
Ferguson, president of Coca-Cola for North and West Africa, brought
key team members to southern Indiana over the summer to take part
in a customized learning event that was designed to introduce the
executives to cutting-edge marketing tools and build team cohesion.
Selling Coke's wide array of brands to a geographically diverse
region that is often short on strong marketing tools presents
unique challenges. While KEP could have offered any number of
classroom-based case studies or other traditional lessons to the
group, the executive education program gave the visiting executives
a taste of what it was like to be on the consumer end of the
Ferguson's team members are geographically dispersed. They were
interested in new technology and strategies to allow them to
communicate better. Coke faces a unique marketing challenge in the
region, despite its worldwide iconic image. Consumers like the
brand, but it is very difficult to communicate with that market;
television has little impact, and computers are rare. Social media
was seen as an option, but when people don't have computers there
is an obvious roadblock. The solution became mobile devices - cell
phones and PDAs.
"The Kelley Executives Partners' program introduced us to new
technology that young people are quickly adopting, and that we need
to leverage to communicate effectively with consumers," says
Ferguson. "Despite the perception, African consumers are using
these technologies. And those who are not using them aspire to do
so. These are innovative communication tools that we need to
understand and apply across all of our business functions, not
simply in marketing."
Research showed that in the region there is a ratio of 20 mobile
devices to every computer, and the users are highly literate with
their devices. "Consumers in Africa are extremely connected through
their mobile telephones," adds Ferguson. "With relatively low
fixed-line telephone penetration, mobile telephones have become a
key communication technology, and one that offers a strong,
personal connection to a consumer."
"We immediately knew the solution had to be a game," explains Sarah
Robbins, KEP's director of emerging technologies. "Alternate
Reality Games are the most extreme application of the mobile
advertising spectrum. They are the most participatory, and they use
a lot of different technologies.
The consumer has a choice about what is available to him and how he
participates. You are talking about a very personal type of
marketing. The brand marketer is literally sending something to the
consumer's pocket. It's difficult to ignore."
The game was part treasure hunt, part puzzle as teams used clues
and input from people they met on a trek that took them to all
corners of the Bloomington campus. One quest was to touch every
statue of a person. There are a lot of them. During one team's
visit to the statue of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, a Coke truck
rolled down the street to make a delivery at a nearby building. The
team was convinced it was staged. "But that is part of the
uncontrolled, unpredictable part of this sort of thing," says
Robbins. "It's that sort of thing that makes it work. Alternate
Reality Games are a bleeding-edge method to engage customers in a
brand in a genuine way that associates the product with a positive
experience shared with other consumers.
"The game allowed the Coke participants to reflect on their
strategies as a team. They could cooperate or compete. They could
allow one person to do all the work or share the burden based on
their skills," explains Robbins. "We were also able to illuminate
some of the cultural differences in the team members and how those
differences enhanced and complicated their work. The game needed to
have both competitive and collaborative elements. We wanted to let
them play the game the way they wanted, but we could also pause it
and reflect on how they worked as a team. How they played the game
was as important as the game itself.
"The game was an extreme experience with the technology," adds
Robbins. "It was an introduction to a marketing technique and a
team building exercise at the same time. The game mechanics helped
with that. These executives don't meet or get together very often,
but at the same time they need to know each other and work together
closely. And they need to understand how they work as a group."
Every team member was supplied with an iTouch, which, on campus
with its WiFi coverage, worked as a cell phone with pre-installed
applications such as Skype and accounts already established.
Players were given a card with the phone numbers of their team
members, as well as needed account information and passwords.
"The team building game was an effective way of having senior
members of my management team interact firsthand with this new
innovative technology," said Ferguson. "My team members are always
ready for a challenge. "We have a diverse group of executives from
different countries, and their participation provided interesting
[lessons] about how the game can be used in different cultures."
Ferguson says that his team, which included members from Tunis,
Casablanca, Cairo, Lagos, and other locations, was enthusiastic,
but just a little leery about coming to Indiana. "Frankly, some of
them were skeptical about coming to Indiana," he says. "Most of the
non-Americans had never been to the state or the university
previously. However, after seeing the resources available at the
school and witnessing Kelley's academic expertise, they understood
that this was a valuable learning opportunity for them."
A tech person accompanied each team all day, and all of the
activities were monitored. "At night they were tweeting each other,
planning the next day, forwarding links, and reading clues," says
Robbins. "We didn't ask them to do that. They were meeting early to
compare notes. That told us they were totally immersed in the game,
and they couldn't help but learn what we wanted them to learn. They
didn't sit back and expect us to just tell them what they needed to
know. They were really engaged."
Rex Davenport is the editor of Learning
Executives Briefing. Full disclosure: The author is an
employee of Indiana University's School of Business but is not
involved with the program described in this article. He can be
reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on Kelley
Executive Partners can be found at www.kelley.iu.edu/kep.