Focus Groups . . .

One of the greatest things a marketer can participate in - on either side of the one-way mirror - is a focus group.

If you are unacquainted, think of a focus group as like this . . . a handful (eight-ish) of people chosen based on exact, and often assumed-to-be-relevant characteristics (like "Favorite superhero and why?" or "Most exciting color?") and exhausting traits (age within months of a target, racial/ethnic background only slightly less over-thought than Hitler's Aryan plan), etc. The group is brought together and they are all put in a big room with a mirror (and any GOOD focus group moderator will clarify what they already know - on the other side of the mirror is a team of marketers, researchers, consultants, experts, and other euphemisms for "hacks" that are about to have their thoughts, ideas, notions, or career ambitions put to the test) and they sit around for about an hour talking about, you know, "stuff".

This "stuff" is often consumer behavior and preferences but it can also be about how they "feel" about a word or what emotions a phrase brings to mind (let's presume, for instance, that "Gimme' a break" (the once/forever Kit-Kat slogan) was tested exhaustively among candy consumers, candy decisions makers, and candy advocates who are white, believe red is the most exciting color, and have not hugged a stranger in at least ninety days) and they have their every thought either indulged or ignored.

And this is why focus groups are so great . . . moderators and group think. FORGET the individual participant. They are just 15.8% of the opinions in the room and there will be three more sessions tonight ALONE to make that influence even less. Forget the people behind the mirror. Their egos, bonus structure, and fragile grasp on reality are all at play as they listen. No, no. The MODERATORS are the best part about a focus group.

They are like Sipowicz if he was properly medicated . . .

They have to decide, in the moment, if they want to slap someone around or pretend like they are not even there. And that is a constant struggle. I was once in a focus group where a participant straight up admitted to abusing their children (in the context of how they decide what the feed their children for dinner each night, for the record) and the moderator had to not only ignore it (in the moment - we did the right thing later) but to convince the rest of the group that to degrade in to a conversation about parenting would be off the point . . . we were here to talk about frozen entrees with reduced sodium.

I could never, ever, ever be a good moderator. I would have to share my opinion (I have to constantly remind myself that the mirror and wall between us and the groups are not actually soundproof enough to keep my laughter and snide insights at bay) or at least indulge my every whim . . . "What is UP with that opinion on this idea, putz?" would be a constant inquiry.

So here's to the moderators. Here's to the opinions. Here's to the focus groups. Here. Is. To. Sipowicz.