Join the Conversation


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

The Generation Z Palate.

Food in America is evolving rapidly, and Generation Z is growing up in the midst of the shift. The new landscape guides preferences and plays a tremendous role in day-to-day decision-making regarding food. Now more than ever, marketers need to be aware of these trends and changes, and adapt to meet the needs of the next big consumer.

Understanding this consumer’s food behaviors and patterns is essential for businesses, and in order to reach this unique demographic it’s important to strike a balance between sustainability, culture, health and convenience.


Environmental education has helped this group ask critical questions – from how their food is grown to how it is thrown away. Growing up learning about global warming and the importance of sustainable food practices, teens and tweens are drawn toward foods that are natural and organic, and practices that are humane and transparent. The smaller the impact on the earth, the better.

Foodie Culture

Thanks to food-focused television shows, social media and the rise of celebrity chefs, there is a growing appreciation for and enjoyment of food. Even the youngest members of Gen Z have adopted a love for cooking and are eager to try new cuisines and get messy in the kitchen. And if it includes exotic dishes with recipes and photos on Pinterest, even better!

Health and Nutrition

Teachers, parents and coaches have been a large influence in shaping nutritional choices for this next generation. This group is saying goodbye to additives and sugar and hello to high protein and healthy fat. Junk food hasn’t disappeared completely, however, with Gen Z still indulging in “unhealthy” options – it’s hard to say no all the time.


This group is always on the go and seeking convenient food options, but not necessarily at the expense of taste, healthfulness or wow factor. Gen Z is not confined by the traditional meal; instead you can find them snacking on granola bars or ordering something quick and to-go on their iPads.

The more we understand this consumer and their food habits, the more likely we are to better serve them in the future. To learn more about Generation Z or food trends, send us an email.

| Research

Digital Payments Go Mainstream.

Today it’s easier than ever to purchase something with a smartphone or computer – whether that is through Belly, Venmo, Apple Pay or PayPal. What was originally thought of as a niche convenience service is quickly becoming an expectation as consumers are carrying less cash, and checks and credit cards are becoming less relevant. In fact, one-third of Americans believe tap-and-pay payment will replace cash payments within the next five years, and 3 out of 10 Americans think tap-and-pay payment will replace debit cards and credit cards in the next five years.

Digital payment solutions may be just becoming mainstream, but they aren’t a new idea. They were first introduced in the mid-’90s but with little success. Recently they’ve gained more traction, and companies are pursuing their own digital wallet offerings. This fast-moving industry has led to significant amounts of research observing consumers to gain a deeper understanding of the mobile payment user and the mobile wallet experience. While this research has found that consumers are drawn to cashless payment systems for a multitude of reasons, three main themes stand out.

Convenient and Quick

Long lines and wait times consistently top the list of current consumer pain points for in-store checkout. Cashless payment, especially mobile payment, helps speed up those lines by eliminating the need to dig through wallets or purses. Many consumers use cashless payment to replace even small transactions previously paid for with cash. After all, scanning is much quicker than finding, swiping and signing at the register.

Track and Organize

Recording receipts and balancing budgets between different types of payment is time-consuming. Consumers are more likely to use payment options that make it easy to track and monitor spending with real-time records of expenses.

Store Rewards

Consumers want to be rewarded for purchases and for shopping with specific retailers, and they are signing up for programs that promise ways to save with coupons or loyalty benefits. Starbucks has had success with its loyalty program, giving consistent customers rewards for continually using their app. Members earn stars that are redeemable for in-store items, motivating customers to buy more and seek out Starbucks over other coffee shops in order to use their rewards.

The days of clipping coupons and balancing checkbooks are coming to a close, but there is still a long way to go. How will you stand out? Differentiation is essential in the digital payment landscape, so take your consumers’ needs and preferences into account. What works for one business might not work for another, so tailor offers to include these aspects, but also be unique to your brand and consumer.

| Research

What’s Trending in Health Care?

A quick glimpse at health care today shows a drastically different landscape than five years ago. Doctors and hospitals are changing the way they communicate, providers are finding innovative ways to reach consumers and patients are playing a bigger role in their physical and behavioral care – and most all of this can be done at the click of a button.

From ER visits to weight loss to choosing a medical device to selecting health insurance, consumers’ health journeys are top of mind for marketers. And developing products and services that excite and content that engages starts long before creative teams choose imagery and writers craft headlines. It begins with the consumer – diving deep into the everyday world of that audience at home, at work and within the health care system.

As health care transitions to a more consumer-driven atmosphere, how do we connect the dots? Getting past barriers like prioritization to privacy regulations may seem daunting, but it’s one that can be accomplished by drawing on deep understandings of how consumers – from Millennials to women to seniors to Hispanics – approach health care.

Explore the health trends of today. We’ve compiled them in one comprehensive report – from insurance, device, hospital and well-being to technology, demographics, access and education. Get in front of the latest learnings and see how they may impact your future strategy.

Interested? Click here to request the full report.

| Creative, Culture, Research


In an earlier post, we shared the principles of Design Thinking: deep customer empathy, creating many ideas and then narrowing them down, and rapid experimentation with customers. Big-picture thinking is essential, but how do you make this principle work day-to-day?

It starts at the beginning of the creative process. Brainstorming and those full-team sessions can often leave you feeling stuck if great ideas aren’t generated right out of the gate (we’ve all been there). At Delight: 2015, we tried some ideation exercises to help get the creative juices flowing and prevent creative clam-up. We’ve been impressed with the experience – and we think you will be too. Give the following tips a try, and discover how to take the pressure off the ideation process while making it fun and productive.

Collide ideas
Think unconventionally and combine unlike ideas. What happens when you take unrelated things and put them together? It can lead to new and exciting ideas … like dinner theaters, camera phones and pet yoga! Often the more bizarre it seems, the more original the idea. This grouping of two seemingly isolated ideas can be seen throughout every industry – think digital wallets and health concierge.

Be curious
Take interest in something or someone you don’t think can benefit you. You might be surprised about how a different mindset can unlock a whole new perspective.

Let go
Keep in mind that that nothing is too precious. Clear all expectations and let your mind wander. The more ideas, the better so let go of attachment to make room for new ideas.

Be fit and well
This is about attitude. Have confidence and competence in the face of uncertainty. Approach a challenge by saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be great.”

Channeling delightful thinking can bring the excitement back to the creative process and inspire the development of truly unique ideas. We’ve seen some exciting results here at Fusion Hill. Give the tips a try – and tell us what you think on social media.

| Creative, Culture


They say you spend about 30% of your life at work. So why not make it fun? That’s been our motto since we’ve been in business, and we recently received some recognition for it.

This past month Fusion Hill was named to Minnesota Business magazine’s 2016 100 Best Companies to Work For. The award acknowledges companies whose environment, benefits and talent stand out among other workplaces in the state.

“To be recognized by our own staff is humbling and an unbelievable honor. [Kasey Hatzung and I] started Fusion Hill knowing that work is just one part of employees’ lives, and we’ve tried to foster an environment that’s collaborative and that not only supports but celebrates the individuality of every member on our team. Work/life balance, fun, giving back are all at the top of the list – and we’re so happy to see the respect for these attributes in every single employee that’s come through the doors,” said Kerry Sarnoski, research & strategy principal.

Thanks to our employees and clients for making us excited to come to the office each day. To see the full list of winners, visit Minnesota Business magazine.

| Culture

Get In Touch

1414 Marshall Street NE
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.



Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on social media: