A senior staff and the right blend of clients helps drive FUEL’s high-octane growth
Tiffany Hays is a life-long market researcher, starting her career in the quantitative world while in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After moving to Nashville, she took over the reins of 20/20 Research’s facility operations, where she started to identify a need in the industry for a hands-on global logistics firm. In 2006, Tiffany set out to launch her first global logistics firm, and in 2008 merged with Greenberg Studios to form watchLAB. While at watchLAB, Tiffany headed research for the largest ad campaign launch in history, working with Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Microsoft on the 8-country Windows 7 "My Idea” campaign.
Tiffany departed watchLAB in early 2014 to found FUEL – a full-service global research agency. She has played an active role in many leading industry organizations, including serving on several Marketing Research Association boards. While a passion for research and innovation is what keeps her in the industry, it’s the excitement of growing a startup from ground zero to a multi-million dollar operation that truly excites her.
With 27 employees, FUEL ranked #1552 on the Inc. 5000 list this year. She credits the consistent growth to senior-level staff and targeting the right kinds of clients.
Q. Fuel offers many services – which ones are growing fastest/generating increased interest from customers during the past year?
Our international fielding for both US and global agencies has been generating strong interest. Many companies don’t know how to manage the cultural differences of markets around the globe, and we assist them in maneuvering those nuances.
We also have seen online qualitative continue to grow exponentially in our practice. Clients want to get as close to participants as possible and new technologies that track location, eye tracking, emotions, etc. are allowing clients to get closer than ever.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges in starting up a new venture in the business intelligence space? How are you going about carving out your space - what do you consider Fuel’s points of differentiation?
FUEL has been around in some form for 10+ years now. It is only with the split of a partnership that this new brand was created. It hasn’t been difficult to carve a place, because we were one of the first ones out of the gate doing what we do. Global fielding with a focus on new technology for research is something I felt this industry needed many years ago – when clients were calling me at my then-current job asking if we knew how to conduct research globally, because they could not find anyone to do so. One way we have differentiated ourselves is by only hiring senior-level staff – most of our staff has been known in the industry for many years, and come to us with not only industry knowledge, but global knowledge that many of the other US fielding agencies do not have. Our team is able to consult on methodology and design research, not just field the project. So we are consultants and partners to our clients versus just pencil pushers.
Q. You have offices in the US, Canada, Germany and London – What types of work/trends do you see in your international markets and how do they differ from one another?
We always have to adjust our working acumen to the market. While our internal team functions around the same processes and mindset [no matter where they are located], our suppliers are very market specific. So it’s all about setting client expectations in terms of project timeframes, when updates will be received, etc.
Q. Do you specialize in any particular industry or geographic region?
We try not to pigeonhole ourselves into one industry [or just a few], because we feel that good research can be completed across many different sectors. It’s really the cultural differences that present challenges with projects, not the topic or industry.
As for regions – we are all over the globe. This is why we make sure to employ people across many time zones. In recent years, of course, we have seen our time spent in the emerging markets [especially China & Brazil] increase exponentially. Otherwise, most research is conducted in major European and Asian markets, along with the domestic US.
We have seen a significant decrease, due to economic issues, in research in all of Italy, Spain and Greece. And Australia has always been an odd one out – we are only there a handful of times a year… likely because it’s too much like the US. We continue to see growth in the technology sector – meaning using technology to aggregate deeper findings. I do think healthcare will continue to have its challenges, due to new data and security laws. But that has been continuously coming down the pipeline for years. It’s the management around all new laws that creates challenges.
Q. In your view, what is the most important trend in market intelligence right now?
Well, we are all saying it. Big Data. Once we figure out how to use it, it will be amazing what clients can gain from those analytics.
Q. What are some of the steps you are taking as a company to ensure you remain ahead of key market shifts/trends?
We read, A LOT. And stay up to date with industry organizations – domestically and globally. We travel and attend educational events, and LISTEN.
Q. Broadly, what are the immediate (1-2 years) and long-term (5+ years) plans/goals for the company?
We are currently renovating our New York City space and are rebranding both brands [The Focus Room & Fuel] with new websites and updated services. We will continue to expand in a technology direction, along with opening an overseas office (location TBA) in the next two years. As always, we will continue to hire and employ a senior-level staff that gives our clients white glove service and expertise on their global research projects.