The posts here represent the opinions of CMB employees and guests—not necessarily the company as a whole. 

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Kathy Ofsthun

Recent Posts

Agile Innovation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, May 01, 2018


It’s a daunting reality for today’s executives: consumers can provide feedback with the tap of a finger. Just ask United Airlines about the havoc social media can wreak. On the flip side, this empowerment is also a tremendous opportunity for innovators.

I believe we’re lucky to be innovating at a time when it’s so easy for customers to give us their ideas and feedback. Collaborating with customers at the front end of innovation is critical to building truly customer-centric products and services, making the most of your innovation dollars, and mitigating the risk of a public backlash or loss of brand trust and equity.

What starts at the front end can move through an agile process of ideation and development, one that integrates the customer through roll-out, communications, measurement and optimization.

At CMB, we help clients innovate through a Design Thinking framework—including the customer in all phases: Empathize/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Test. As Jeff Immelt, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, urged the crowd of engineers and designers at last week’s Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI), it’s critical to “accelerate customers through the business model”.

As CMB’s VP of Strategy + Innovation, it was gratifying to hear that at FEI, “customer” wasn’t just a buzzword. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to “Customer Driven Innovation.”  In another keynote address, Dr. Peter Koen of the Stevens Institute of Technology, lectured on the incremental innovation that often comes from internal-only ideation—disruptive innovation comes from users, not corporations.” Consistent with that, manufacturing giant 3M has found its user-generated products are eight times more profitable than products generated internally.

Here’s how we incorporate Agile and Design Thinking to include customers at every phase:

  • Empathize: As you obsess your target, research and share all you know about them.
  • Define: A clear understanding of your target and their needs will help to inform a clear definition of the problem that needs solving. It answers, “What are the ‘jobs to be done’?” At least three presentations at FEI quoted Albert Einstein: If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
  • Ideate: You might not find inspiration inside the halls of your office. Instead, we take you and your customers into a creative space for an engaging and collaborative workshop that utilizes System I and System II thinking. We diverge and converge to elicit dozens of new ideas, then narrow the list and envision the path forward.
  • Prototype: This begins during the ideation workshops. We use an illustrator at your workshop who can visually record the day’s conversation and progress—sketching the ideas that teams have brainstormed.
  • Test: Test qualitatively as you build out ideas with customers. Then, test quantitatively as you move towards commercialization.

Some organizations are more open to the principles of Design Thinking than others. So how can you prepare your organization for this? Encourage an environment grounded in collaboration, where failure is expected (not just accepted) and humility is rewarded. Design Thinking is more than a process—it’s a mindset.

Contact us to learn how to tackle innovation with your customers.

Kathy Ofsthun is the VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation for CMB. Her favorite vacation destination is Cambodia and her favorite class is Philosophy.


Topics: qualitative research, growth and innovation, agile research

Breakthrough Innovation with Co-Creation

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Jun 06, 2017

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Innovative companies have long recognized that failure can be an important step on the way to success. Brands are told to “quicken the pace of innovation”, “try new things” and “don’t be afraid to fail”. But these days there’s little room for failure: the stakes are high and there’s more pressure than ever for brands to innovate. Customers have spoken and it’s time for brands to listen—to be customer-centric.

So how can brands challenge themselves to innovate and to try new things without wasting time and money?

Co-creation can help you innovate and sometimes, fail faster. This innovative approach is based on principles of Improvisation and System 1 / System 2 thinking and brings brands and customers together to ideate and build out promising new ideas, products, and services. Co-creation inserts customers directly into the conversation—not through a survey or by listening from behind the glass, but by working right next to you. Our approach lets you collaborate with your customers to decide what the issues are, where the pain points occur, where joy happens and where the opportunities lie. Then together you build that future.

Technological advances, including social media, 24/7 news, online reviews and the resulting rapid word-of-mouth, have put customers in the driver seat. It’s no longer brands talking to customers, rather, it’s a two-way conversation. Brands need to listen intently, be accessible and available, and authentically work with their consumers, instead of working in isolation, creating products and services that often don’t address customers’ needs, or messaging that misses the mark.

Co-creation eliminates the guessing game in an energetic and productive day or ½ day workshop. Facilitated by an expert moderator, a group of cross-functional stakeholders together with customers, collaborate at an offsite, creative space. Pre-work is assigned to upskill and orient participants to the topic. Using divergent and convergent methods, in plenary, small group and individual exercises, you jointly explore the relevant topic, ideate scores of new ideas and begin to build out the future, together. 

At CMB, our Innovation team has successfully led co-creation sessions for large CPG brands, insurance clients, academic institutions, hospitality execs and more.  We have explored food, beverages, loyalty, apparel, deductibles and education with Gen Z, Millennials, Moms, sneaker heads, professors, underwriters, patients, and probably your customer. 

Want to see co-creation in action? Check out this recent video of a workshop we facilitated in NYC for a global leader in hospitality.

Kathy Ofsthun is the Vice President of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.  She is a facilitator and RIVA trained moderator and has co-created with clients and their customers in the Hospitality, CPG, Insurance and Academic industries.  Her Twitter handle is @ShopperMRX as Kathy loves to shop, hoarding shoes from heels to hiking boots.


Topics: product development, qualitative research, growth and innovation, co-creation

CMB Conference Recap: MRA's Corporate Researchers Conference

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Fri, Sep 30, 2016

It’s been less than 48 hours after leaving the MRA’s Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) 2016 in San Francisco and I’ve finally had a moment to reflect.   

Three topics dominated this year: Innovation, Emotion, and Qualitative and Hybrid methods.  If you created a word cloud from the sessions and keynotes, these words would pop, along with actionability, risk taking and impact.


INNOVATION: There’s a growing intersection between innovation and market research—the need for facilitation and moderation is expanding at the same time as more and more brands wake up to the benefits of co-creation with customers.  Key takeaway: Researchers with foresight and adaptability can contribute at the fuzzy front end and not just after products are conceived of and developed.

EMOTION: Emotional measurement and neuroscience continue to be hot topics, and CRC was no exception. How do you get beyond the rational to understand the complex reasons customers make choices?  What is the science behind emotions and how can we leverage our knowledge of social psychology and neuroscience?

QUAL & HYBRID METHODS: Seven separate sessions were devoted to ways in which qualitative research was a critical addition to quantitative findings and to storytelling.  Methods such as observation, in-home (in bathroom!) ethnography, online communities and a Quant + Qual method used by eBay brought faster and better insights.

Other themes and learnings included: observe more (93% of communication is non-verbal), be prescriptive not just descriptive, walk/hydrate/power nap/meditate, think creation vs curation, design thinking, improv and that old standby storytelling. 

Along with some interesting conversation, attendees heard some big industry news—the MRA and CASRO merger. As of January 2017, MRA+CASRO will now be the “Insights Association”.  Most members favor the merger and look forward to one cohesive professional organization.  It makes sense to me too, and I thank those who surely worked tirelessly to make this happen. I just wonder about the name.  After all of the talk of “actioning” at the conference (and in our daily work), I’d like to see the name reflect more than just insights—it  feels limiting--stopping short of the more important “impact”.  I would like to be associated with the result in addition to the insight.  Let me know if you agree or disagree. 

Kathy is CMB’s new VP of Qualitative Strategy + Insights.  She loves uncovering insights from customers across the globe and lived in Shanghai for 8 months doing just that!  If you missed her at CRC, you can catch up with at TMRE or send her a shout @ShopperMRX.


Topics: qualitative research, EMPACT, emotional measurement, conference recap, growth and innovation

Back to School: It's Not Just About the Kids

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Aug 23, 2011

 “It's the most wonderful time of the year!”  You probably remember the singing parents in the Staples ad. So funny, and true!  And if your kids are college age, like mine, you may have wiped a tear when reading Beverly Beckham’s piece in the Boston Globe, “I was the sun, the kids were my planets.”

Back-to-School is as much about MOM as it is about kids (and teachers).   While moms miss their kids, it’s also time for mom to learn and grow.  Moms welcome the opportunity to do something for themselves for a change, and retailers can help.  You don’t have to sell pencils or lunch bags to participate.  Offer moms the opportunity and ability to learn something new themselves, or renew a prior hobby or sport.  Consider what the following moms said they plan to do, once their children are back in school:

“I’m taking a drawing class!”

We are expanding the 2nd floor, so I am picking out new paint and will be doing that.

“I’d like to re-paint the bathroom and maybe re-decorate the living room.  We’re having company for the holidays, and I want the place to look great!”

There is so much opportunity to talk to moms and help them achieve their short term goals, and maybe some long-term ones as well. Whether you’re a grocer, a paint store, a gym, or you sell yoga mats or tulip bulbs, engage moms by demonstrating how you can help them achieve something this season.  They will re-pay you with their purchases, loyalty, and recommendations.

And don’t forget to also talk to moms about their kids – they’re #1 with them, and they want to explore and enjoy fall with their families.  From leaf peeping and apple picking, to biking and soccer, moms look for ways to connect their families in the midst of busy schedules.

Kathy Ofsthun is an Account Director at CMB, specializing in Shopper Insights.  Follow her on twitter @ShopperMRX, or find her at the mall, a SoHo boutique or the nearest estate sale!

Topics: retail research

Observations from the Shopper Insights Conference

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Mon, Jul 25, 2011

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I’ve settled back into my routine at the office, and I've been reflecting on what I got from the recent Shopper Insights Conference in Chicago.  I re-connected with old colleagues, and made new connections; so that makes the conference a success in my mind.  But there were also some definite standouts I want to share:

  • A Group Lunch with former P&G CEO A.G. Lafley – I was fortunate enough to be invited to a lunch with A.G. Lafley.  I was struck by his approachability, easy conversation style, and seemingly simple approach to leadership and innovation.  I asked him about timelines for innovation and after a great deal of sincere reflection said we could talk all day on the topic (he didn’t accept my offer to do so)!  We considered the difference between trends, which must be timely, and innovation, which requires experimentation, engineering, design, research, re-engineering, re-designing, etc. Ultimately, innovation isn’t trendy, it’s methodical, collaborative, and it takes time (up to six years for a new Pampers product)!  I saw one as proxy for the other, but now understand how different they are.


  • Path to Purchase – There was a lot of insightful discussion of Consumer Insights vs. Shopper Insights.  Same person, different roles.  It reminded me of when a Director at a large corporation said ‘I know beer drinkers really well, but I hardly know anything about shopping for beer’.  This is a great distinction and great focus for the industry.


  • Overheard – “I feel like I’m in the 50’s.”   My first reaction was “huh?” But then I considered there might be some truth there.  On one hand, I listened to keynote speakers talk about advancements in neuroscience and its relationship to decision making.  On the other hand, several presenters recommended tried and true methods of research, e.g. virtual reality doesn’t trump ethnography.  As I stood in line to buy a hard copy book and have my charge card run through a manual card imprinter, I thought back to that 50’s comment. CPG and Retail have innovated tremendously, bringing us a steady stream of exciting new products and store formats.  So why is there still lingering doubt about embracing new methods of research?  I think the answer may lie with respect, respect for an industry that is innovative if not trendy.  It’s easy to throw innovation into a mission statement or corporate report, but embedding it into a methodical, engineered, and collaborative process is very hard to achieve.  For every new product out there, and every creative new store design, there is a history of smart people working together to bring it to market.  Innovation is in the wings, together with R&D, but it is not absent.


  • Holistic approach for a Win-Win – One of my favorite sessions (besides CMB’s presentation with Electronic Arts!), was presented by Bob Goodpaster from Hershey.  He showed how they are partnering with retailers to bring useable insights to their retail partners, often in the candy department, but also beyond.  Their broad scope, analytic team and collaborative approach were impressive.


Weigh in?  What did you take away?  I’d love to hear from you!


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Are you planning on going to TMRE? CMB is an event sponsor and presenter at the conference. Feel free to use the code: TMRE11CMB when you register for a discounted price. We hope to see you there. Learn more about the conference here.


Posted by Kathy Ofsthun.  Kathy is an Account Director at CMB.   She is training for a late summer triathlon and likes to hike in the Green Mountains of Vermont!

Topics: path to purchase, conference recap, retail research