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Your world is a Focus Group

October 24, 2008

I grabbed dinner at Bob Evans with my brother Stuart this evening. Among other topics, we debated the principles of romantic attraction. As I was checking out, I wanted to test a few ideas. So I asked the lady at the check out counter: “What do you think the signals are that indicate a guy is attracted to you?” She responded, “I’m a lesbian.” I said: “Well, whatever. It’s all the same. What in your mind are the principles of attraction?”

Her response: “It’s simple. They call you a lot and invite you places. They touch you. They smile. They laugh at everything you say even when it’s not funny. If you are 2 for 4, make your move. She’s attracted”


First, I thought her answer was pretty good and it corroborated the point I was arguing to my brother!  Second, it reminded me that interacting with consumers honestly and in the marketplace will make you a better marketer. Marketers tend to create fundamental assumptions about their consumers and products that may not be true, and then test their concepts in a sterile environment with specifically recruited candidates to feed them the answers they want to hear to get a good result on the concept test.

At Bob Evans, I assumed the lady was a heterosexual and would comment on how she thinks about attraction to males.  However when I asked her the question, she responded: “I’m a lesbian.”  Wow!  What a learning experience.  You can’t make assumptions you want to believe about your consumers.  You have to know them  intellectually, viscerally, and personally.   Most marketers choose to know them intellectually and skip the last two.  That’s a major reason why so many product launches fail.


The world is your focus group.  Go out and learn about it.


Marketers need to get into the streets, and out of the offices. Immerse in the world! Relish the human condition. Talk to people! Ask them questions! Listen. Listen. Listen. Take notes. That’s right. Take notes. Write down what people say right away or you will forget. And, you will falsely remember and write down what you choose to remember.


The world is a sloppy, messy place. And no focus group in the world will be more real than a conversation in Dayton, Ohio with the hostess at Bob Evans. A courageous (read: obsessive compulsive) marketer will never stop learning, and will never pretend she knows all the answers to all the questions.  Be a Socratic marketer: always curious, constantly learning but realizing you will never have a perfect understanding of the Truth.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”

-Socrates

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