What’s your worst market research experience?
Mine was back in 1995. At that time I was working as a research analyst in Washington, DC for pollster Celinda Lake.
I was in Los Angeles conducting research on behalf of a public affairs advocacy client. Specifically who the client was, I honestly can’t remember. Perhaps I’ve blocked it out.
I had only recently been trained as a focus group moderator. I was in town to conduct four groups in two nights among lower-middle class whites in the San Fernando valley on the topic of affirmative action.
Everything was going great until we got to the second group of men.
Many times a focus group will have a “dominator” who takes over the conversation, but in this group there was a guy who took that role to the next level.
Undoubtedly my greenness as a focus group moderator contributed to the dynamic, as I was not able to keep him under control.
He was loud. He interrupted constantly. The other respondents started getting annoyed.
He was one of those guys who doesn’t just oppose affirmative action; he took it personally.
Spittle flew from his mouth as he ranted about what he perceived as the unfairness of affirmative action. His body language got more and more aggressive. The other respondents started to feel uncomfortable.
Me? I was scared.
I’m sure that came across, because his tone got more and more aggressive as the group went on.
As I looked around the group while the dynamic was worsening, I thought I saw looks on the other respondents’ faces that said, “get this guy out of here.”
I remember one rant the guy went on. He related the story of a black woman he was talking to one time, and according to him she said, “you’ve just got to DEAL with it!.” The guy was unstable.
Serendipity bailed me out. The guy got up to go to the bathroom.
As soon as he left the room, I went out to the front desk and said, “Do not let that guy back in. Pay him and send him away. Under no circumstances should you let him back in the room.”
When I went back in and explained he would not be returning, there was a palpable sense of relief. But no one was more relieved than I was.
That’s the story of my worst market research experience.