I’ve been to lots of focus groups over the years and have heard and seen some strange things. But what happened Wednesday night was the strangest of all.
We were in Greenville, SC with one of our clients and we had just seen a group of women talk about their products for an hour and a half. We took a break before a group of men was scheduled to come in.
I walked outside to give my wife Claire a quick call. About 10 minutes later, I walked back into the facility, past a group of men waiting in the lobby. Outside the door to the room with the two-way mirror was a table filled with food for the folks observing the groups. I stopped at the table, and looked over the spread.
A guy in his late 50’s walked up to me and said, “What are you doing?” I thought he said, “How are you doing,” so I replied, “Good, I’m just going to grab a little food before I go in.”
“The food is for clients,” he quickly said.
“Awesome,” I responded and I grabbed a plate and lifted the aluminum foil from the top of a tray full of lasagna.
“The food is for clients,” he said again.
“OK,” I said as I looked at him and picked up a serving spoon and started to get some lasagna. Suddenly, the guy grabbed me around the waist from behind and started forcefully pulling me away from the table.
“Hey, wait… I’m… I’m… I’m a client.”
“You’re a client?” He let go of my waist and looked at me in disbelief. “Who are you with?”
In that moment, I was so stunned that he had grabbed me that I couldn’t even come up with the name of the client that was doing the focus groups.
“Ah… I’m with the agency.”
Luckily, that answer worked.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I thought you were one of the guys here for the groups,” and he pointed to the guys in the lobby. They were mostly blue-collar guys who had come straight from their jobs to the focus group.
It was really awkward for a moment and I just said, “No problem… I guess you don’t feed the participants.” I laughed it off and then he laughed nervously. I walked back to the table, filled my plate with food, and went back to my seat in the dark room behind the two-way mirror.
I looked down at what I was wearing. Jeans, sneakers, a fleece top and a baseball cap. As I giggled to myself about the incident, I knew that for once I would leave a focus group with some invaluable learning: If you are going to be a client, you have to dress like one.