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Insights on Research.

We recently attended The Market Research Event (TMRE) in Orlando, one of the top research events, which brings leaders together from all over the world to talk about consumer insights. Brands such as Under Armour and Target, thought leaders such as Hilary Mason and Dan Ariely, and marketing gurus such as Seth Godin shared innovative research tactics and trends. These leaders, along with many more, made it clear that traditional research methods are no longer going to cut it. With so much data at our fingertips, it’s important to adapt and innovate in order to continue translating insights into bottom-line impact for our clients.

How do you do this?

  • Put listening before questioning. Enable consumers to reveal something about themselves to get at the deeper context.
  • Observe, don’t ask. Because what people say does not always explain their decision-making.
  • Find the inner remarkability of an insight. What is surprising, novel or interesting about what you are sharing? Why should someone care?
  • Be a storyteller. Develop strong central characters to drive the story and provide context, meaning and a way forward. Delivery is everything.
  • Deliver in ways that are surprising and engaging to your audience. And don’t be afraid to ask more of your audience. By involving them rather than just telling them, your insights will take on greater meaning.
  • Focus on creating change and accepting failure. Only then will transformative insights be uncovered and meaningful business impact be made.
  • Speed in finding and applying insights is often as valuable as innovating. Balance is key.

Change is inevitable within an industry and what better field is there than research to be early adopters?

| Culture, Research


Each year when the holiday season arrives, a certain sort of chaos comes with it: travel plans, business deadlines, and lots and lots of family coordinating. Sometimes we try so hard to get through the holiday season that we forget to take a step back and think about what we’re thankful for. We invite you to take a few minutes out, pour yourself a cup of coffee and reflect on all the positive experiences you’ve had in 2015. We did and thought we’d share just a few.

  • We spent time in Taiwan uncovering insights about beauty customers and loyalty.
  • We helped a top financial company launch an innovative mobile wallet app.
  • We created a website for a hospitality company to help strengthen its internal brand and inspire employees.
  • We dove deep into consumers’ needs on everything from teenagers and Saturday breakfast, to faith and finances, and Medicaid and medical devices.
  • We developed health and wellness brands for 23 of the nation’s largest companies and their employees.
  • We continued to grow, adding five more members to our team.

Each year we think it can’t get better, yet we continue to be surprised. 2015, you brought us so much – fun, success, friendships and clarity. Thanks, and thanks to everyone who was a part of it.

Now we turn our heads to 2016 – and if it is even half the year we just had, we’re looking forward to it.

| Culture

Empathy Through Inquiry.

Empathy’s a concept that’s been getting a lot of attention lately. In fact, just last week the New York Times published yet another article on the topic: This one looks at studies regarding social media, connectedness and acceptance of diversity. Yet empathy doesn’t stop at personal relationships. For researchers and marketers, it extends into our everyday lives as we try to shift past our own experiences and think about others’ needs and challenges.

Unlike sympathy, which means we have pity or sorrow for someone, empathy just means we’re aware of and sensitive to someone else’s feelings, thoughts and experiences. Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, says, “Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard – it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination.”

So how can brands show empathy?

For most brands, the R&D and marketing teams work on a variety of products – and they don’t necessarily resemble the target audience for any of them. Take, for example, one of our medical device clients. Its product development team, comprising men, was building a therapy for overactive bladder – a disease that mainly impacts women. To find a solution that fits their consumers’ needs, the team needed to first understand the women it hoped to serve.

Guided by our own desire to use empathy in our work, our research teams pay close attention to consumers’ needs and comfort levels. One key step involves designing participant homework activities that help consumers prepare for and feel confident in interviews. We also develop discussion guides that help the clients and team think through the many levels of questions that will help get at rich insights. Then, in the field, we look for ways to get beyond those prepared discussion guides to have a genuine conversation with consumers in a way that truly expresses empathy – especially when discussing sensitive topics such as finances and health care.

Our researchers mirror the language consumers use during interviews – gracefully switching to their preferred terminology or even copying mispronunciations instead of correcting someone. Finally, we stay true to the voice of the consumer throughout our analysis and presentation of research findings, always sharing findings with direct support from consumer quotes and homework activities.

Those empathy-driven research findings then form the foundation for our creative team, which also works to understand the target audience and to be aware of what resonates – and what could have the opposite effect.

If you’re wondering how to bring empathy into your job, start with these three tips:

Invite consumers into the discussion. Get past quantitative studies, and conduct ethnographies, focus groups and other qualitative research. Talking individually or in small groups allows you to get deeper into conversations about what consumers need, how they perceive your offering and what you can do to make it more relevant.

Empower your customer service team. Sometimes all we really want is acknowledgment of our feelings. “I can hear how disappointed you are” can go a long way toward keeping a customer. In some cases, it might have as much impact as replacing a product or offering a discount. And don’t forget to use customers’ feedback. Ask your customer service team regularly what frustrates customers most and what they love. 

Ditch your own biases. Keep your own background from getting in the way, and attempt to see how a wide variety of individuals will perceive your product or service. It’s challenging, but with a little practice we can all learn to do it. For example, to help a leading airline engage its employees in their own health, we listened both to employees who had called a support line and to the nurses they had spoken with. Actually talking with someone facing a health condition allowed our creative team to think more deeply about what individuals want – and how to motivate them toward better health.

| Creative

Inspiring Creative Careers.

Aiming to inspire students from diverse backgrounds to enter into creative careers, The BrandLab is a collaboration of leaders and companies mentoring the next generation of marketers. And Fusion Hill is on board.

Our team has eagerly shared their stories with local high school students and helped them explore the variety of careers in marketing. We’ve given them some behind-the-scenes exposure to how we problem-solve at Fusion Hill and even invited them to roll up their sleeves and dive into one of our own marketing campaigns and then share their perspectives. After all, diversity of thought leads to creative solutions.

And because we’re invested not only in our industry but also in our community, and in great ideas, we’ve chosen to become a BrandLab Agency Internship Partner. As a group of 30+ women in the agency world, we’re excited to add an up-and-coming intern to our roster – and promote even more diversity in our industry.

Stay tuned for more adventures with The BrandLab.

| Culture

Designing for Delight.

Earlier this month we were in Portland, Oregon, attending Delight 2015: a conference about creating experiences people love. Presenters from the likes of Intuit, Airbnb and Zappos shared their approach to the topic and how it all begins with a little something called “design thinking.”

Design thinking is a type of problem solving that focuses on three components:

  1. A deep customer empathy
  2. Creating many, many ideas and then narrowing them down
  3. Rapid experimentation with customers

It’s about enlightened trial and error and rigorous testing vs. failure avoidance. It’s going in with an open heart and falling in love with the problem instead of falling in love with the solution — which can be a hard pill to swallow for those of us who love to problem solve.

Design thinking is the foundation of a great customer experience because it enables conversation, discovery and an element of surprise. When customers experience this positive emotional response, they buy more and tell others about their experience too. It’s a marketer’s dream.

But how do you make that dream a reality for your business?

  • Detach yourself from personal goals and specific outcomes.
  • Don’t let the phrase “but we’ve always done it that way” enter your vocabulary.
  • Base your decisions on what will create the most delightful end result and not on what is easiest or cheapest to execute.

The next time you are presented with a problem, apply the principles of design thinking, be open to discovery and create something delightful.

| Culture

Consumers Speak. We Listen.

Getting a product to market isn’t a quick or inexpensive task — especially in the fields of health care and information technology. In fact, the top U.S. companies in these industries spend between 27% and 46% of their revenue on R&D costs. Yet as our research team has long known, regardless of R&D spend, products don’t become great successes unless they’re developed to meet a consumer need. And uncovering what consumers want isn’t as simple as a quantitative survey. It requires a deep dive into how consumers act, what drives their purchasing decisions and how they talk about their desires.

We’ve learned that listening to consumer vernacular — the exact words people we’re interviewing use to describe their needs and wants — is key to helping companies make smart product development decisions. For example, do consumers want biscuits that are light and tall or fluffy and high? And what defines fluffy? The answer, we discovered, depends on what part of the country they live in.

Speaking to consumers in their own vernacular can mean the difference between a true dialogue and a missed opportunity. Consider how you’d describe your experience if you had a sore back. What are the chances you’d say, “Right now, I’m experiencing an 8 out of 10” to your friends or family? Unlikely, right? Yet many doctors have limited discussions about pain to a numerical scale. Through our work for a leading pharmaceutical company, we discovered that a key to proper pain management is realizing that consumers describe pain by talking about their limitations: “I can’t make it around the block to walk my dog anymore.” “I can’t knit.”

Many companies we encounter have a tendency to develop, name and market products based on the knowledge and mindset of internal product development teams. While this is their area of expertise, we find that pulling consumers into the discussion can make a remarkable difference. Take a simple example we encountered recently involving a service that would bring patients to their doctor appointments. While we and our client continued to ask consumers how to describe the transportation service, several stated their need bluntly back to us: “Transportation is too fancy a word; I need a ride.” So the importance of consumer vernacular doesn’t stop at R&D; incorporating it into marketing communications and using consumer lingo in product names and descriptions is also key to their success.

Business problem: A leading beauty product manufacturer developed and released several new anti-aging products but found that their consumers were just not interested.

What they did: They sent us across the globe to uncover women’s desires for anti-aging products. We paid close attention to exactly how women described what they wanted. Then we used their words to develop new product concepts.

The result: In a following phase of research conducted by the beauty manufacturer, more than 50 new anti-aging product concepts were presented to consumers for feedback. Nine of the top 10 were Fusion Hill’s work. Why? Because consumer vernacular played a key role in how we described the concepts — and consumers took note.

| Creative, Research

Inspiring Diversity.

With over 20 years of experience in creative positions, Kat Gordon founded The 3% Conference after she recognized that women were often overlooked in the agency business. Whether it be for an important meeting or a promotion, women were not receiving the same support and opportunity that men were given. The 3% Conference is part of a worldwide message to increase the number of women in creative leadership positions and diversity in marketing. The idea is that by giving women, and men, the support and tools to succeed, we can start to change the ratio.

Because Fusion Hill is a women-owned agency, the 3% Movement serves as a resource and inspiration to us. We were excited to attend Minneapolis’ first 3% MiniCon, which drew people from around the region eager to listen to leading voices and engage with leaders from some of the largest agencies and corporations in the world, such as BBDO, FCB, 3M and General Mills. The Minneapolis MiniCon is only one of the many events put on by The 3% Conference — with one of the largest coming up next month in New York City.

Once we succeed in changing the ratio, we’ll have more diverse voices and ideas — ones that more truly reflect the consumers we are targeting with our creative. And beyond the equity argument, it just makes good business sense. Because Diversity = Creativity = Profitability.

Learn more about The 3% Conference here.

| Culture

Buying loyalty: A free coffee isn’t going to cut it.

The American consumer is jaded, and not without good reason. After years of recession, financial scandals, security breaches and general insecurity, consumers are emerging more skeptical than ever before, but also more empowered and unwilling to be taken for granted or swindled. Using social media, consumer reviews, price comparisons and other online resources, they are finding the lowest prices and best deals on everything from cosmetics and groceries to hotels and credit cards.

Price awareness and transparency are creating a new competitive landscape in which brands have to get creative and find new ways to engage and retain consumers — because while blowout sales and limited-time offers encourage one-time purchases, they are not building brand loyalty, and most savvy consumers are more than happy to jump ship when the next good bargain comes along. True brand loyalty is built on a feeling and experience, not on a sale. Promotions like free shipping, 24-hour sales, free samples or 0% APR on balance transfers have become so commonplace that they no longer feel special, and instead, are now expected by consumers as part of almost any purchase experience.

Over the past year, Fusion Hill has conducted research in a variety of categories — in everything from luxury cosmetics and consumer-packaged foods to exclusive financial services — to get to the bottom of the question everyone wants answered: “What breeds loyalty in today’s competitive consumer culture?” Through hundreds of consumer ethnographies, shop-alongs and focus groups, we started to see common consumer terminology and desires come to the surface across diverse categories, demographics and more.

So what does build loyalty? The most important factor is setting your brand, products and services apart from the competition. Luckily for marketers, there are hundreds of ways to set your brand apart and re-engage consumers. Check out the list of actual consumer quotes below and ideas for translating their desires into actionable loyalty-building strategies. And remember, it’s not an exact science but more about finding the right mix of strategies that satisfy your target consumer’s needs better than the competition.


What they say:

“A [loyalty] program should make me feel special for being a part of it … I like surprises and impulsive, spontaneous opportunities.” — Beauty Consumer, 40

What you can do:

Offer programs and services that build in surprising rewards and perks that inspire and delight consumers.


What they say:

“At my age I can tell if [salespeople] really care about the customer or they just want the sales.” — High-end Beauty Consumer, 58

What you can do:

Do not forget the importance of good customer service. In a time of big business and impersonal online transactions, consumers are nostalgic for “the good old days” of genuine, personal service.


What they say:

“They’re the experts. I don’t want to have a financial degree, so I want them to keep me apprised of what’s going on, what’s new and things that I should be doing, without being intrusive.” — Business Banking Consumer, 35

What you can do:

Today’s consumer loves to learn but doesn’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. Be a partner in their learning by offering relevant, curated information in whatever form they prefer, whether that be one-on-one sessions with experts or a short but engaging video tutorial.

| Creative, Research

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Minneapolis, MN 55413
612 638 5000


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