In 10th Year, Immersion Brings Together Top Academics and Exceptional Marketers

On October 11-13, nearly 70 marketers gathered in Boston for MSI’s 10th annual Immersion conference. Since 2008 this event has engaged member company marketers in 1-1/2 days of interactive learning. Speakers include marketing’s most acclaimed professors, and Immersion attendees are rising stars in marketing, nominated by their companies for their high potential, intellectual curiosity, and interest in new challenges.

“This is a unique opportunity to learn and think about what you do every day in a whole new way,” Executive Director Carl Mela said in welcoming remarks. “We hope to take you out of your daily roles, immersing you in new tools, frameworks, and perspectives to help you envision and address your marketing challenges in different ways.”

“This is a unique opportunity to learn and think about what you do every day in a whole new way.”

As in the past, Immersion 2017 was structured around five modules; in each session, an academic expert presented new research-generated knowledge on an important marketing topic and discussed managerial applications. Each speaker also led interactive exercises to encourage participants to apply this knowledge and share insights and ideas across different industries and marketing roles.

Northwestern’s Eric Anderson presented findings that contradict the commonly held view that all positive feedback from customers is a signal of success. He described research showing that customers can be “harbingers” of product failure or success; they have preferences that lead them to systematically buy product winners or losers.

Seeing things differently

“The NPD process tends to be narrowly focused on the relationship between the customer and the product,” he noted. This research suggests that “seeing things differently” is critical to new product success: “Understanding who buys your product is very, very important.”

Drawing on his work as chief scientist for business strategy at, Stanford’s Harikesh Nair offered an overview of how marketing analytics has helped China’s largest retailer to understand consumer behavior and purchase drivers, to better forecast demand, and to improve targeting. He guided participants in a discussion of the ecommerce ecosystem in China and how improvements in data and analytics can greatly enhance their own product marketing.

Many CEOs believe creativity is a top leadership attribute, but few would say they are living up to their creative potential, said Page Moreau, University of Wisconsin. She discussed research on the constraints that inhibit individual and team creativity and ways to overcome these barriers, including problem-solving activities with legos and a team-building “marshmallow challenge”.

“No theory of human behavior applies to every person in every situation,” said Ryan Hamilton, Emory University. “We need to find the theory that applies to this person on this occasion.” He discussed the “Four Minds” framework, which synthesizes research to help marketers identify which area of decision-making science is most likely to apply to their firm, market, and customers. He invited listeners to share their specific marketing problems and offered ideas on how the framework might be applied to better anticipate needs and serve customers.

Brands as heroes or helpers

Duke University’s Keisha Cutright drew on her research in branding and consumer psychology to offer a nuanced perspective on the role brands can as “heroes” or “helpers” in addressing consumers’ fundamental need for control. “Deeply understanding this need may change marketers’ approach to brand communication, product design, pricing, distribution—all aspects of marketing strategy,” she said.

“Immersion creates an opportunity for our members’ rising stars to engage with some of marketing’s most renowned faculty, moving the needle forward on some of the most pressing problems faced by our members today,” Carl concluded. “At its heart, Immersion exemplifies MSI’s mission to bring the best of marketing science to the practice of marketing science, thereby helping researchers focus their lens on the most topical issues and helping marketers to bring the latest practices to their companies.”



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