“My painting is visible images which conceal nothing… they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question ‘What does that mean’? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”
~ René Magritte
“A thinking man’s greatest pleasure is to have searched for the knowable, and to have stood in awe before the unknowable.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Tonight I took part in a focus group. A friend’s fiance and his business partner wanted the opinions of women for a product idea they hope to launch. I love brainstorming, business ideas, and anything to do with the intersection of psychology and marketing, so I was eager to join.
I can’t go into any specifics about the product (NDA and all), but I did come away with some interesting new observations about my self-perception. I think I had an idea going into this meeting that the group of focusees (?)… focus groupies? anyway, all of us being coworkers, and being friendly and compatible with one another, as well as reasonable, smart women, that we’d all be of similar opinions about whatever the product might be, and that maybe we’d have slightly different ways of expressing those opinions. On that conjecture, I could not have been more wrong.
I’ll start by admitting my surprise at the way the seven of us had such very divergent opinions about packaging, efficacy, and our likelihood to buy a particular product. Full disclosure: It took me a while to realize that the people I was routinely interrupting were not, in fact, saying the same thing I was about to say, only with less eloquence. Truly, I was shocked that not everyone thought the way that I did. My opinion: brazen, yet relatable, saying the thing you were all thinking but wouldn’t say… I speak for the people! Am I not the silver-tongued everywoman that I considered myself to be?
Well, this certainly threw me for a loop. If my opinions are not totally obvious, superior, and undisputable, then what are they? Perhaps they reveal more about myself than I realized. I’ll give you an example, which I don’t think reveals too much about the top-secret product. This product is not something I have ever bought before, because it requires a kind of foresight I don’t happen to possess, and negates an optimism I have in spades. Think of the kind of person who leaves the house in the morning with an umbrella, a jacket for later, aspirin, and a tire repair kit, just in case. This is not me. In discussing this product, I realized that, while I tried to provide (brilliant, insightful) feedback related to branding and positioning, the problem with the product which I was trying to solve was, in fact, a problem no one else seemed to have. The mental block was solely mine. INCREDIBLE! It’s like the commercial for Apple Jacks with that one douche who complains they don’t taste like apples. Sure, you could change the name, OR, you could cut your losses, realize that only one self-righteous idiot is hung up on that detail, and he’s probably not going to buy them anyway, and move on.
The main lesson I walked away from this session with, was that we generally enter into decision-making situations with more preconceived notions than we can even grasp. It’s so gratifying to think we are making well-reasoned decisions based on the information presented to us, but so much of our reasoning takes into account prior long-term experience, as well as the context of recent events and conversations, experiences, role models, and our opinions of ourselves and who we’d like to be. Brilliant product marketing capitalizes on all of this– because it fools us into thinking we are the ones making the decisions.