Marketing execs (and other leader types) are now crowing about their latest discovery:  Immersion assignments.

It usually starts with a need for intelligence.  Some examples of knowledge seeking:  How does middle America shop, dine, and/or drink?  What must hotels in faraway places do to create a feeling of home away from home, yet with a local flavor?  What’s a typical day for a restaurant employee … especially before and after s/he clocks in?

Then the visits begin.  One lodging company relocates its senior-most leaders to exotic locales for a month; immersion-ers work with employees, government officials, other citizen groups to determine what kind of tweaks the brand needs to thrive in that area.  After identifying a top-secret town that most closely emulates its client’s target market, a slew of ad agency pros visit it every month, adding to focus group intel and other research findings.

In a sense, this latest twist on “getting to know you” resembles some fairly recent trends.  Like hiring cultural anthropologists to stake out a desirable cohort.  Or spending time with a family or group of families to understand their fears and dreams, habits and wishes.  Even on-the-road onboarding trips for new hires at major corporations.

If this is, indeed, such a valuable pursuit, why not more – and more often?  What keeps each of us, whether desk bound at headquarters or road warrior consultant, from, essentially, gaining a great bead on our stakeholders, our clients, our milieu?  Definitely, “no time” and “no permission” are common answers.  Yet, when the benefits clearly outweigh the effort and expense, that, in itself, impels us to put together a business case … and sell it to upper management. 

Just ask Jane Goodall.