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Using Design Thinking to Become a More Agile Researcher

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Fri, Oct 09, 2020

Using DT Kathy Blog Opener Oct 2020

Last week, I attended IA’s Design Thinking Workshop, led by Brianna Sylver—a topic we strongly believe in to creatively solve business challenges. The framework came out of engineering and design originally but is smartly being applied to market research.

Consider these 5 steps and decide whether this agile approach, or process, could apply to your issues or needs:

  1. Empathize – market research to deeply know your target audience
  2. Define – an agreed upon narrow definition of your problem, or the questions that need answering
  3. Ideate – solution brainstorming
  4. Prototype – a written or physical build out of your solution(s)
  5. Test – user feedback on your idea/prototype

Design Thinking Graphic 5 Stages-1

As Brianna discussed, some problems require only a linear approach. If the objective is clear, agreed upon, similar to past concerns, and has available sources of data to support a decision, then you needn’t apply Design Thinking. On the other hand, if you require a deeper understanding of your customer and their needs or motivations, or your problem needs narrowing or alignment, there are unknowns that past data doesn’t address, or there is limited relevant past data, then the Design Thinking process should be applied.

Know, too, that Design Thinking is an agile process (i.e. a test and learn approach). It doesn’t end at Step 5: Testing. Results dictate what comes next. Do you realize now that you do not know enough about your consumer? Does the problem need restating? Should you ideate further based on what you’ve learned? Are you ready for, or do you need, a different or more detailed/tangible prototype? Revisiting prior steps is part of the process. Though you do eventually converge on the best solution!

You may be asking yourself…what if I’m not starting at Step 1: Empathize? Can I still apply Design Thinking? Of course, you can! For example, research on your target may be abundant and just in need of updating or organizing. Or perhaps the problem is already well-defined and agreed to by all stakeholders (and customers). Some clients have come to us at the Ideate stage, where they need to get creative, think differently, and add consumers to their brainstorming. Others have gotten as far as Prototyping (e.g. concepts, storyboarding), and are ready to test. In all cases, we will remind you that this is non-linear. You may think you’re done after testing, and perhaps you will be. But more likely, you will learn from that test and need to re-think something, such as the target, problem, solutions or prototype.

It may feel circular, but you are making progress!

Design Think Cartoon

With anything that involves art and science, this approach and way of thinking is a craft that requires creative application. At CMB, we have applied Design Thinking in multiple ways:

  • For a large investment firm, we began at Step 2, first bringing internal stakeholders together to align on what was in scope and out of scope, narrowing the problem to an agreed upon solvable need
  • For a theme park we began at Stage 3, bringing together consumers and engineers to build out a vision for an updated park
  • A hotel chain brought us in at Stage 4, once they’d already ideated scores of new ideas for their loyalty program

Ask how we can help you! We are trained and experienced in Design Thinking, Creative Problem Solving, Innovation, Improvisation and more. We welcome the opportunity to apply this to your problem solving.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun, VP, Qualitative Strategy + Innovation

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Topics: qualitative research, Market research, agile research

Should I Be Innovating Now?

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Fri, Apr 17, 2020

If Jimmy Kimmel can do it, so can we!

Stuck at home, it’s easy to understand why so many marketers and insights professionals feel like the world is paused. How can we move forward amid so much uncertainty? I understand the impulse, but through conversations with my CMB, and industry colleagues and clients I strongly believe that this is a time to be bold, not to sit back and wait.

This advice is part of an evolution. We have seen client mindsets shift from an early “wait-and-see” approach (early- to mid-March) to “let’s not waste this moment to understand what our customers are thinking and doing” (late-March to early-April). Given the disruption, you need to know which old habits will recede, and which new habits will stick. What new products and services will define the new normal? For consumer insights professionals, this is your opportunity to shine.

An article from Bain speaks to this very well: Decide where to be bold and build a roadmap to get there. Companies that win in downturns don’t just play defense—they play offense as well. Determine the products, customers and underlying capabilities where doubling down now can accelerate growth during and after whatever lies ahead.

If you’re wondering whether your company should be innovating during this pandemic, I ask you to consider the following:

  • If you think your competition is continuing to innovate, then YES
  • If you think the COVID environment will shape how your customer will think going forward, then YES

And importantly, innovation can happen in a quarantined world. If Jimmy Kimmel can do it, so can we!

Jimmy Kimmel

Using digital/virtual tools, we can, of course, see and hear each other, and additionally 1) screenshare 2) whiteboard collaboratively 3) work in plenary and break out groups and 4) perform exercises, quick polls and other methods for ideating and prioritizing. To combat the obvious barriers at play, we recommend accomplishing this in multiple 90-minute virtual workshops. Ideally, about 15 people, including stakeholders and consumers, would e-meet twice in one day to ideate on your topic.

At CMB, we apply a Design Thinking framework to innovation, with #3 being the collaborative ideation:

Design Thinking-2

Related to our February blog on empathy, it’s important to stay connected to your customer. Continue to talk to your consumers throughout this pandemic, because they want to be included in conversations. Nine out of ten surveyed during the shutdowns and quarantines say they want to continue doing research. Researching/innovating fulfills several needs for consumers: a feeling of normalcy, a sense of control over things they can affect, and some (needed) cash.

COVID Innovation Kathy Blog Research Micrographic

CMB is talking directly to consumers now, successfully moving all research online, including workshops. We can help you stay connected, build empathy and importantly, continue to innovate with your customers at this critical time.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun, VP Qualitative + Innovation

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: technology solutions, qualitative research, growth and innovation, co-creation, COVID-19

Build Customer Intuition and Empathy to Expand Your Brand

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Feb 18, 2020

Customize, personalize, localize, humanize – these are the elements of a customer-centric program that is designed to expand brand reach, and to cement relationships with existing users. A deep commitment to customer-centricity at every level of the organization is the key to customer engagement and brand expansion.

Your goal should be to go beyond mere understanding of your customer, and to instead build your company’s empathy for and intuition about your customer. When marketers and senior executives have built their intuition of their customers, product development, and messaging are more successful. We need only look at the Peloton disaster to be reminded that failed intuition for your customer can lead to public embarrassment, or shaming. Conversely, think of the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial years ago (9!). Still relevant today. They totally get their family consumer.

Pelaton Commercial

Volkswagen Darth Vader Commercial

How do you build empathy, and ultimately intuition about your customers? In Qualitative research we apply new methods, and tell vivid stories:

  • Leverage technology that meets consumers where they are. For example, Gen Z are digital natives, so we advise methods that utilize apps and employ mobile-first for capturing their in-the-moment reactions
  • Agile techniques embed your customer in every stage of development, allowing for continuous refinement of your concept or prototype
  • By building compelling narratives, critical insights will resonate throughout your organization, and become everyone’s stories about your customer
  • Cement those stories by socializing them throughout your organization in vivid, creative ways such as live panels or immersion spaces

Without discarding traditional qualitative methods, we’re constantly seeking, and trying new tools. One incredibly effective example of this is the use of agile pop-up communities. We’ve worked with groups of consumers over 6, 8 and 12 weeks to react to, brainstorm and iterate on ideas, bringing them from good to great, and from brand-centric to customer-centric. Through this approach, we’ve seen tremendous success using pop-ups for loyalty ideation, understanding insurance decision making, choosing a senior community for your loved one, communicating with Gen Z about financial topics, and more.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, join the club! This is an exciting time in qualitative research to challenge ourselves, experiment, and innovate. Try social media to recruit participants. Social media can engender strong connections quickly, and shorten the time needed for finding great participants. For UX/CX testing, consider eye tracking. We’re using this method to share and talk to consumers about their own behavior. Using another agile method, especially for concept development, we have evolved traditional focus groups into iterative focus groups. Rather than rinse and repeat across multiple groups and cities, we begin with initial concepts, and optimize them with target customers over an intensive 2 days.

We’re also extending these iterative and agile methods to socialization workshops that spread the word in lively, engaging ways, and activation sessions that bring diverse teams together in a creative space to collaborate on tangible ways of implementing action steps.

Brand relevance and expansion don’t come easily. The good news is that we’re living in a time with an abundance of creative ways to connect, to engage and build empathy and intuition, thereby achieving meaningful relationships with your target customers.

What are ways that you’ve been able to build empathy and customer intuition to expand your brand? Have you tried any of the methods above? Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun leads CMB’s Qualitative + Innovation practices.

Favorite vacation: Cambodia / Favorite class: Philosophy / Free time: Triathlete and Volunteers for the homeless of Boston

Follow CMB on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: qualitative research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

Socialize your Segments to Inspire Action

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Wed, Aug 28, 2019

Blog_Ofsthun

My segments are defined, my typing tool is working, and my personas are created … and you’re telling me I’m not done yet?!

Yes, the end of the research is really the beginning of your segmentation. Once you’ve landed on an excellent model and algorithm for defining and distinguishing your new segments, you need everyone to know them!

At CMB, a standard part of our Segmentation program is to workshop with our client’s internal teams to obsess over the persona behind each segment, e.g. understand more deeply what can motivate “Defensive Donna” or how to pin down the “Explorer”. For B2B and B2C segmentations, the process is very similar, though all workshops are customized to account for the uniqueness of your segments and the needs of your stakeholders.

Typically, we plan and facilitate workshops of 2-4 hours, depending on the needs of the participants. The goal of the workshops is always the same: socialize the key insights about each segment, then apply that learning to real business needs.

For one large client, we brought the entire 100+ Marketing staff through an interactive 2-hour workshop (four workshops of 25-30 people each, over two days). After a discussion of the pre-work (there is always a creative homework assignment to inspire participants), the groups were split into diverse functional teams who rotated through stations focused on one segment each. The stations included video that brought the personas to life, infographic-style banners depicting the key elements defining the segment, take away “baseball cards” with key stats and insights, and more.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the archetypes for each segment, small group breakouts focus on one segment each. They are tasked with developing messaging for this person, choosing or developing fitting products for them, as well as tackling other business issues. Often, we will look to adjacent industries to examine how they appeal to this target. As appropriate, we may fill backpacks or briefcases with products fitting the persona. We then look across all breakout groups to see how distinct the segments are in vivid detail.

There are myriad exercises that we can and do engage in—from in-person workshops to VR experiences. All of them deepen and hone your understanding of the segments and compel you to apply your learning to critical business issues. Our clients solve for their targeting needs, including and especially for messaging and product development, but also for perfecting pitches for your sales team.

Participants walk away from the workshop with memorable and actionable insights, and as enthusiastic evangelists.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun is CMB's VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: qualitative research, market strategy and segmentation

Ellen DeGeneres, The Bachelor, Queer Eye and Qualitative Research

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Sep 26, 2018

on air 2

I watch a lot of television. From dramas to sitcoms to reality shows, I love it all.

And while I watch a range of programs, I’ve noticed parallels between what it takes to be an effective TV personality and a qualitative research moderator.

The art of establishing rapport

Ellen DeGeneres is the queen of establishing rapport. She greets each guest with her warm personality (usually dancing is involved) and alleviates any nerves/discomfort they may be feeling. Her inviting approach helps establish a mutual trust and creates a safe space for her guests.

As a qualitative moderator, it’s also my job to establish rapport with my participants—to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing.

One of the best ways to put participants at ease in a focus group is by extending an “emotional handshake” to them. Before diving into the session topic, participants are asked a few self-introductory questions (e.g., what’s your name?) followed by a question unrelated to the discussion topic (e.g., what kind of pet do you have?). Once participants have answered some intro questions, the moderator will follow up with a question to complete the emotional handshake.

For example, if participant A says they have a dog, a good moderator might follow up with, “What kind of dog do you have?” By following up, the moderator has shown true interest in what the respondent has to say, thus creating an environment in which participants are more likely to share.

Handling difficult conversations (within time restraints)

Chris Harrison of The Bachelor franchise is another impressive television host. From The Bachelor and The Bachelorette to Bachelor Winter Games and Bachelor in Paradise, Harrison is no stranger to navigating emotional conversations between heartbroken and battered love-struck participants.

Harrison’s moderating prowess really shines through during the live finale episodes at the end of each season. In the live finales, contestants are invited back to recap the season and settle (hopefully) any unresolved disputes between exes and enemies. It’s a tense situation because contestants are often watching (for the first time) emotional footage from the season.

Harrison masterfully navigates tough conversations between contestants by knowing when to dig deeper and when to rein it in—all under the pressure of impending commercial breaks.

As moderators, sometimes we have to dive into sensitive topics with our participants within a certain time constraint. Based on project objectives, we need the judgement to know when to probe further to understand participants’ thoughts/feelings, and when to move along. Like Harrison, we must approach these conversations with empathy to show participants they are truly being heard.

Consulting after the fact

While Karamo Brown of the Emmy-winning show, Queer Eye, is a talented moderator, he’s also an incredible consultant. In the show, Karamo has an honest conversation with participants—listening to their needs and desires—then recommends actionable steps towards achieving their goals.

For example, in the first season, Brown helped a struggling comedian brand himself with new headshots and a formal website. In another episode, Brown supported a transgender man while he acquired a new driver’s license with the proper gender listed. In each case, Brown listened to their struggle—for the comedian, it was lack of confidence, for the transgender man, it was misrepresentation of his identity—and built a roadmap to overcome these obstacles.

We too are consultants in market research. We go into a discussion with questions to understand the thoughts, feelings, opinions, and attitudes of our participants. We listen intently and extract meaningful responses, then use that information to make informed, actionable recommendations to clients.

I never thought I could connect my love of television to my work as a qualitative researcher. But the more people I see on TV effectively navigating dynamic (and sometimes tough) conversations, the more inspiration I draw as I continue to hone my own moderating skills.

Kelsey Segaloff is a Moderator who is currently binge watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Bachelor in Paradise, Castle Rock, and Magic for Humans simultaneously.

Topics: qualitative research