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Getting Back to Basics: Knowing Your Consumer

Knowing your target audience is a common-sense cornerstone in marketing, but how often are brands really doing this well? In the creative world, marketers can sometimes end up developing collateral to speak to a client or company’s agenda. This makes sense – it’s what agencies are hired to do, after all. But in focusing only on the end goal, marketers can lose sight of the person for whom the materials are being created in the first place: the consumer.

As researchers, strategists, designers and writers, we are constantly reminded of the importance of going back to the basics and grounding our work in who our audience is and what they need by asking key questions, such as “What does our audience care about?” and “Where do the client’s goals and audience’s needs intersect?” Throughout projects, we continually return to these questions to ensure that our work and our message is hitting the mark. And we’re constantly reminded how important these steps are in guiding meaningful, impactful work.

In a recent project, for example, a health care client was interested in developing a digital tool to support consumers interacting with social service programs. At the outset of the research, they expected to find that these consumers had limited access to or familiarity with high-tech tools. By going directly to consumers, however, we discovered that the situation was quite the opposite. The participants we spoke to prioritized technology as a necessity in the modern world, even when finances were tight; they regularly used everything from mobile check deposit to Chrome Autofill. When we asked for their feedback, it became clear that not only did they understand the relatively simple functions of the tool the client had created, but also they wanted it to be even more advanced. To resonate with them, the tool would have to match the capabilities and complexity of the many other technologies they were accustomed to interacting with.

Building a foundation of real insights into your consumer is the key to developing a story that resonates. After all, there is a story at the heart of any communication. If that core message isn’t meaningful to the people who are being targeted, it won’t drive them to take action or lead to the outcomes desired.

These days, brand loyalty is often a thing of the past. Consumers are hungry for the best experience in every aspect of their lives and want to feel like brands “get them” in order to utilize a product or service. This new level of fluidity means that every act of outreach is a fresh opportunity for connection. The better we know our customers, the better we can speak to them in a meaningful way – and create real long-term engagement. After all, true storytelling comes from a person with a problem, not a business with an objective.

| Creative, Research

Our Work Here Is Not Done. But We’re Making a Dent.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Mad Men, but it’s no secret that the makeup of the advertising industry is still disproportionately male – particularly within positions of creative leadership.

Enter: The 3% Conference.

When the 3% Conference first launched in 2012, only 3% of creative directors in the United States were women. Since then, the conference has helped raise the number of female creative directors to 11% while giving agencies a clear road map of ways to champion female creative talent and leadership.

They made it a mission to teach men and women in agencies and on the client side how to address the issue in new ways and to offer something that has been sorely lacking for female creatives: a sense of community.

And this is where Fusion Hill enters.

We just returned from the 2016 3% Conference held at the Manhattan Center in the heart of New York City. The two-day event was filled with inspiring keynotes, professional development, themed tracks, networking and actionable takeaways.

This year’s theme was “What are you going to do about it?” and we are overflowing with inspiration.

So here’s what we are going to do.

Once a day through the end of the year, we will be tweeting micro-actions (small things you can do now!) to help drive the 3% number upward. Make sure you are following us here to find out how we all can change the ratio together.


| Creative, Culture

Many Thanks.

Thanksgiving ranks high on our list of best holidays. Spending time with friends and family, eating way too much and maybe even tackling the lines on Black Friday. It’s the kickoff to the holiday season and a time when we like to step back and think about all that has happened the past year.

When we reflect on what Fusion Hill is thankful for this holiday season, a few highlights come to mind:

  • We traveled all over the country uncovering insights for top financial and health care companies including one project that allowed us to explore the intersection between managing credit cards and rewards.
  • We’ve had a number of health care projects that went from research to strategy to design – our specialty and sweet spot.
  • We added a few accolades to the office. In addition to being named one of Minnesota Business Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, we had two team members recognized as leaders in the industry with Women and Business, and 32 Under 32.
  • We found inspiration in organizations including AdFed, MIA, MPLS MadWomen and The BrandLab, from which we welcomed a talented high school student as a summer creative intern.
  • We’ve grown again this year, adding 11 more people to our team – and we’re looking to expand again!
  • We reconnected with several past clients – including a top medical device company and a financial company.

The years keep getting better, and it wouldn’t be possible without great partners, a solid team, and good friends and family around us. We hope you’re finding much to be grateful for this season as well.

| Culture

Gen X: The “In Between” Generation with Surprising Spend Power.

Generation X, which includes approximately 46 million Americans born between 1965 and 1980, has received little attention, especially in comparison to the large, trend-setting generations that sandwich it – Boomers and Millennials. However, as more Boomers begin to retire and leave the workforce, Gen Xers are taking the spotlight as the leaders, innovators and spenders of tomorrow.

Putting Gen X into Context

Gen X is known for having skepticism of politics, big business and other mainstream authority figures, sentiments that may stem from the historical moments that shaped their formative years: the 1970s energy crisis, Watergate, the Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters, the first Gulf War and many others.

As young professionals, many Gen Xers were lucky to enter the workforce during the Clinton administration boom years, but have since faced long stretches of corporate downsizing and layoffs. They place more importance on work-life balance and place a premium on family time. This may be a reaction to watching their parents work long hours and sacrifice family for work; Gen X was the first generation to grow up in homes with higher rates of divorce, single parents and two working parents. Stuck in middle-management positions until their Boomer colleagues retire, Gen Xers are waiting in the wings, ready for promotions into leadership positions that will allow them to build on their unique visions of corporate structure and office cultures.

When it comes to finance, Gen Xers have lived through three major economic recessions and are currently in the hardest economic phase of their lives – many with kids living at home, half-paid mortgages and the looming responsibility of paying for their children’s educations.

Gen X as Consumers 

Gen Xers are starting to reach peak income and spending power years. According to Shullman Research Center, Gen X currently has more spending power than both Boomers and Millennials. Despite this, as a group they are still receiving less attention from marketers than Boomers and Millennials, partially due to a smaller population size and unremarkable spending habits.

Known for being skeptical, Gen X consumers like to shop around and do research before making major purchases. From packaged goods to health care, they want companies to act as a resource and provide information, not a sales pitch, and they expect top-notch service.

In general, Gen X responds well to authenticity and prefers a straightforward approach to marketing. According to a 2012 Nielsen report, Gen Xers are drawn to calm, safe advertisements that show realistic, everyday life experiences. This is a stark contrast from Millennials, who prefer high-energy, extreme scenarios.

Successfully reaching Gen X consumers will require brands to understand the generation’s particular interests and sensibilities: a focus on the family, messaging around safety and protection, and an emphasis on health.

To learn more about Generation X, request the full report by emailing us at marketing@fusionhill.com.

| Research

Leaders Inspiring Leaders.

In the United States, women account for over half of the population. In the creative industry, it’s about half of that.

So how do we get to parity?

We have to talk about the challenges, issues and opportunities for women in the field. That’s one of the goals of the Women’s Leadership Panel, which we attended recently. Hosted by AdFed MN and Ad2, the event brings professionals from all over the Twin Cities to network and hear stories from female leaders about their experiences in business and in the creative industry.

Panelists were from leadership positions in several agencies, and they spoke about their challenges, triumphs and defeats – and how they got past them.

We thought we’d share some quotes from the evening that we found particularly memorable:

  • “The rise of me is not the demise of we.” – Alex Steinman, communications director at Fallon
  • “You don’t have to tell people how good you are. They’re going to see how good you are.” – Amy Van Ert, vice president & group creative director at The Lacek Group
  • “Always assume good intent. We can all benefit from that.” – Liz Ross, president & CEO at Periscope 
  • “For crying out loud, stop apologizing.”  – Amy Van Ert, vice president & group creative director at The Lacek Group
  • “Do it. Just jump. Don’t be afraid to just jump.” – Dara Beevas, co-founder & chief strategic officer at Wise Ink Creative Publishing 
  • “Be comfortable being uncomfortable.” – Maija Hoehn, vice president of director engagement at broadhead 
  • “How you come out of failure is more a reflection of you than the failure itself.” – Alex Steinman, communications director at Fallon

To learn more about the event, visit AdFed and Ad2.

| Culture

Millennial Women: Facing Old Challenges in New Ways.

Millennial women know a thing or two about adversity. Not only have they spent their formative years surviving one of the worst economic recessions to date, but they’re also a constant target of media scrutiny – often portrayed as over-sharers, flaky employees and generally unmotivated, vain humans. Yet for the majority of millennial women, these stereotypes don’t ring true. And considering millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, it is crucial to truly understand these women as they continue to change the game in school, at work and at home.

Millennial Women: Work and Life Trends and Preferences

Millennials as a whole are markedly different from previous generations. A product of their time, their values and actions reflect their experiences growing up in an era that values diversity, education and inclusion.

Although millennial women are catalyzing changes in higher education, in the workplace and at home, they still face significant barriers.

In higher education, millennial women are more likely to have a degree than their male counterparts, and they are entering more diverse fields than women of past generations. However, there are still barriers to the more lucrative majors, and educated millennial women face overwhelming student loan debt.

In the workplace, millennial women are building a more flexible work culture and demanding a more balanced life. However, they face disparities in job opportunities and continue to earn less than men, especially in leadership positions, resulting in more economic uncertainty.

At home, millennial women are getting married and having kids on their own terms, tending to settle down later in life and continue working after having children. However, uneducated millennial mothers, living in areas of high inequality in particular, are more likely to have children outside of marriage and may lack the support they need.

Millennial Women as Consumers

Millennial women outspend their male peers significantly. As this demographic continues to enter the workforce and gain more resources, they continue to grow as a powerful market, especially millennial moms, who are becoming one of the largest and most well-connected consumer groups to date.

Millennial women seek authenticity, empowerment and engagement from brands. Advertisers have responded in recent years with “femvertising.” This genre of ads focuses on the strength of the women they are selling products to, rather than the product itself, and purposefully distances itself from traditional female stereotypes often used by marketers. While the campaigns have proven highly effective and profitable for many brands, they have also backfired in several cases in which they were seen as patronizing or insincere.

To learn more about millennial women and to see examples of what’s working and what’s not working when marketing to this group, request the full report at marketing@fusionhill.com.

| Research

Creating Paths Through Ethnography.

In August, we attended the EPIC conference, an international gathering on ethnography and design in business. EPIC promotes the use of ethnographic research and its principles in creating direct connections between businesses and the consumers they serve. The theme was “pathmaking” and how creating links between ideas and people is at the core of innovation and understanding consumers.

Recently, some ethnographers have expressed feeling encroached upon as designers have taken ethnography and research – often terming it “design research” or “design thinking” – and made it their own. Here at Fusion Hill, we think a bit differently. We see the value of creating paths amongst ourselves as a team to tell the whole story and express it in a way that allows our work to reach every one of our audience’s senses. Bringing these consumers to life via rich imagery, expressive language and key insights combined – that’s when the real magic happens.

It’s easy to talk about the value of ethnography in business. There are clear benefits in developing a rich understanding of consumers’ lives and needs in order to design and create solutions. But to blaze these trails, create these paths, form these connections, we as researchers/designers/strategists need to connect with each other.

Bryony Wilson – presenter of “When ‘Design Thinkers’ Prototype: Through an Anthropologist’s Eyes”– really brought this point to life when she said, “While we do have different tools, we’re all playing in the same sandbox.” Indeed, it is the celebration of this unity, as we create paths in the sandbox together, that we loved most about EPIC.

Our team found two additional areas of human-centric innovation coming out of collaborations between research and design particularly interesting as well:

  • Prototyping: Bryony Wilson presented on how prototyping can be used to engage participants in concept testing by allowing them to more naturally interact with the product on a personal and physical level.
  • Performance: AnneMarie Dorland, from the University of Calgary, described how designers can “perform” their findings by observing their target audience and then physically performing the actions they observed.

We think this trend toward a more integrated approach among us pathmakers is the way of the future. What do you think? Join the conversation.

| Culture

Marketing to LGBTQ Consumers.

You may have noticed when you’re watching TV commercials or flipping through magazine ads that brands are marketing directly to LGBTQ consumers. From Honey Maid’s 2014 “This Is Wholesome” ad, which showcased a same-sex couple with children alongside other families, to hotels and airlines specifically courting LGBTQ travelers, we’re seeing a shift toward inclusion in the marketing industry.

LGBTQ – these five letters represent incredible diversity.

So how can marketers be inclusive and authentic when they’re marketing to this population? When we consider that the total buying power of LGBTQ adults in the U.S. was estimated to be $830 billion in 2013, it’s a question worth asking.

Our recent trend deck explores these topics while filling in important information from “What does the Q mean?” to legal and civil rights, health and well-being, and financial issues for this diverse group. Key findings include:

  • A recent study found that 47% of LGBTQ adults are more likely to consider purchasing products or services when they see an advertisement tailored to an LGBTQ audience. However, demonstrating a commitment to this market goes beyond inclusive advertising: Many consumers expect political advocacy, like rejection of state legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers, and internal policies that support LGBTQ employees and their partners.
  • Although the LGBTQ population may earn less overall, it does tend to have more discretionary income. Changing demographic patterns are also influencing spending. There has been a massive rise in marriage and parenting among LGBTQ couples in recent years: The number of married same-sex couples more than tripled between 2013 and 2015.
  • While many consumers were satisfied to see any representation of LGBTQ people a decade ago, today there’s a growing sensitivity toward one-dimensional representations. Companies must go beyond the typical focus on white, affluent, partnered gay men. Also, they must realize that consumer choices among the LGBTQ population are shaped by a far more complex set of factors than sexual orientation or gender identity alone.

For more insights about this diverse population and marketing implications, request the full report.

| Research

The Art of Transparency.

Heart disease is both the leading cause of death for women in the United States and a condition that is under-researched, underdiagnosed and undertreated. The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation put on an event, BROACH the Subject: An Evening with Cheryl Strayed, to call attention to this, and it definitely lived up to its hype. The panelists – including some of our favorite inspiring women like local small-business owner Julie Kearns, rapper and songwriter Dessa, and author Cheryl Strayed – shared how this problem only worsens when women prioritize others’ health care over their own, or when they feel the need to paint a certain picture to physicians rather than sharing how they truly feel.

The panelists covered a wide range of topics, but the notion of honesty and being open with one another was the overarching theme of the evening.

Practicing radical transparency

Cheryl Strayed explained that one of her goals is to offer “radical transparency” in her writing. Though we all “look a wreck” on a regular basis, as Dessa put it, we rarely allow others to see that side of ourselves. However, it is Strayed’s raw honesty that readers often respond to the most. After she wrote Wild, a memoir about her experiences after the death of her mother, readers filled Strayed’s inbox with stories of their own – sharing how her honesty made them feel less alone in their own experiences of grief and hardship.

Finding the shared threads

The purpose of this kind of transparency or openness goes beyond better understanding our own personal stories. As Strayed put it, the purpose of writing about the self is not to illuminate the self but to “illuminate the human condition.” Though she writes about her own experiences, her goal is to find the shared threads and more universal stories within them.

Learning from listening

Strayed says she did not necessarily identify the “universal message” of Wild when she was writing the book. Instead, it did not become clear until readers themselves explained it to her: When they shared their stories, they “taught back” what was universal about her drive to just keep going through her most challenging moments. If Strayed had not written Wild or been open to conversation with its readers, she may never have identified this common thread.

As researchers and strategists, we identify with many of these themes. The goal during ethnography is to learn from listening – not to assume, but to ask – and to make participants feel comfortable about being open and transparent. And when we analyze, we work to identify shared threads of experience that help us craft higher-level insights and strategy. Thanks to Strayed, Kearns and Dessa, we’ll be thinking a lot more about what else we could understand more fully through the process of sharing and allowing others to teach back to us.

| Culture

A Modern Alternative to Banking.

If we sent you a check right now, where would you go to cash it? If you said a bank or credit union, you’re in the majority. Yet a notable number of Americans take a different approach.

As of 2013, approximately 8% of U.S. consumers were unbanked, which means they had no affiliation with mainstream banking. Another 20% were underbanked, which means they had bank accounts but also depended on other services such as check-cashing counters or payday loans.

These nontraditional options have become known as alternative financial services (AFS). AFS are financial services offered by providers that operate outside of federally insured banks. They include eight different financial industries:

  • Money Orders
  • Prepaid Cards
  • Cash Checking
  • Payday Loans
  • Rent-to-Own Transactions
  • Buy-Here-Pay-Here Auto Loans
  • Refund Anticipation Loans
  • Remittances

A go-to for many people with economic, logistical and psychological barriers, AFS were conventionally tailored toward low-income consumers but their use has spread to other groups like millennials due to their convenience and ability to fulfill short-term financial needs.

Placing importance on consumers’ behaviors, needs, drivers and hesitations has been a point of differentiation for AFS in the financial landscape. They have become increasingly innovative by finding new ways to become more accessible and capitalize on new technological advances in mobile and online platforms.

As unique services continue to hit the market, banks and AFS must continue to understand their consumers and create services that accommodate consumers’ economic and social lifestyles. In addition, financial institutions will need to consider the unbanked and underbanked consumers’ specific needs in future development.

Curious to learn more about these consumer groups? Email marketing@fusionhill.com for the full trend report.

| Research

The Power of Touch.

Haptics, the neuroscience of touch, explains how feeling plays a powerful role in communicating emotions and information based on surface texture, temperature and quality. Two unlikely partners – global fine-paper company Sappi and neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman – teamed up to explore this interesting topic and discover how daily tactile experiences shape human beliefs and decision-making processes.

While the duo highlighted several concepts and ideas, here are the three that stood out most to our team.

Differences in Touch

Did you know that half the human brain is devoted to processing sensory experiences? Because of this, there is a significant difference between oral, written and tactile messages. And touch stands out because it’s the only sense that puts you in direct contact with the subject. In fact, we have over 2,000 sensory receptors in our fingertips alone that allow us to feel surface changes as small as the width of a human hair.

We Are Wired to Interact with Paper

Studies show that reading something on paper versus something on a screen is cognitively easier, leading to higher memory retention and improved comprehension. As creatives who consistently design print materials such as direct mail campaigns, we understand just how much this medium translates messages that resonate with consumers.

Paper Matters for Brands that Matter

Jennifer Miller, the executive vice president of coated business and chief sustainability officer for Sappi North America, said that we are able to definitively draw connections between paper quality and positive consumer reactions. High-end paper resonates with people, and consumers are more likely to remember a company if they are provided with a quality tactile experience. In fact, people are three times as likely to recall companies presented on high-quality coated paper as those presented on low-quality paper or on websites.

First impressions are huge, and we’re delighted to know that there’s scientific reasoning to why designers fall head-over-heels for soft-touch paper or a bit of spot varnish. Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton stated, “What we see [and touch] affects how we feel, how we act, in a sense who we are.” We could not agree more.

SappiNorthAmerica. “Sappi Neuroscience Shorts – How the Medium Shapes the Message.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 24 September 2015. Web. 4 August 2016.

| Culture

Invested in Learning Inside and Outside the Office.

Leadership and personal development are key areas of training opportunities at Fusion Hill. And aside from internal training, team members are supported and encouraged to seek out additional opportunities that help them grow not only as employees but also as individuals.

Research Strategist Frances Boehnlein chose the New Leaders Council (NLC), a national organization whose mission is to empower forward-thinking young professionals to create social change in their communities through a cross-sector leadership development program.

The NLC fellowship program aims to equip members with progressive skills to become civic leaders in both their workplace and their community through monthly lectures by leaders, politicians and educators, followed by a capstone project to implement in the community. Frances focused on creating a program that incorporates positive social change into traditional and corporate workplaces through elements like external trainings, employee recruitment initiatives and volunteer opportunities.

Attending the NLC’s Brunch Fundraiser in July made it clear to Frances how much this program helps members explore and challenge beliefs and grow as young adults inside and outside of work. Opening up to new ideas and skills is beneficial to all workplaces, and we’ve definitely seen it here at Fusion Hill. Letting employees explore passions outside of work creates a culture of diverse thinking and experiences, as well as well-rounded individuals.

Learn more about NLC and some of the other organizations Fusion Hill is involved in.

| Culture

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Minneapolis, MN 55413
612 638 5000


If you share our passion for integrated problem solving and developing remarkable creative solutions, we’d love to hear from you. Visit our careers page to view openings.


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