Well, I’m a rising second-year now, and it’s Thursday morning on the fifth week of my internship. I wake up and feel good about another fun week coming to an end. Although I’m happy to finish up the week, I think to myself, “Hmmmm, what could be better than sipping free lattes as I work at the Yahoo! Sunnyvale Complex today? Why, a day right here in San Francisco, of course!”

Kim's Yahoo nameplate

My "nameplate" at Yahoo!

I’m interning in Product Marketing, and I have a big task for the summer. I’m working on a project for the Yahoo! Mail Team. However, from my very first day, my manager made it clear that I should use this summer to not only create a killer final presentation, but to also explore anything I like at Yahoo!. Nothing was off-limits. As I worked on my project, I was free to participate in other department meetings, network across the company, and even get involved with this Consumer Marketing project in San Francisco today!

Usually, I take Yahoo!’s free shuttle to work in Sunnyvale. However, since Consumer Marketing’s market research study was only a 5 minute BART (the awesome San Francisco-wide train system) ride away, I worked at home this morning and then left for the research center.

While other Yahoos! work anywhere from their homes, to coffee shops, to even the beach, I was at a location that crosses something off my bucket list: The fun observation room side of a two-way mirror! How Law & Order-ish is that??

It’s so exciting to watch people and hear them talk without them knowing you’re there. Best of all, they’re talking about something pretty fun – Yahoo! and our plans for an upcoming product launch.

So here I am, sitting in a dark room and peering at some of the city’s most interesting characters – bartenders, students, housewives, and tech nerds, with some of Yahoo’s top marketing people. A non-Yahoo! is on the other side of the glass, moderating three rounds of focus groups on one of our most promising new products.

I was instructed not to bring any of my Yahoo! gear (a tough mandate, considering how much SWAG we get as interns!) so that I could slip quietly into the room without influencing the focus group participants. We watched as potential customers reacted to our new product’s positioning statements, the ins and outs of using the product, and what it would mean to them. We’re essentially taking a step back to gauge the reaction of the common consumer to what we’ve carefully developed, but not yet shared with outsiders.

I can see how this is such an important part of marketing. Often in our young professional lives, we’re stuck in offices guessing what customers want, crunching numbers to prove our assumptions correct, and too quickly patting our newly educated selves on the back for a job well done.

Luckily, we learned a few things today – for example, people had some strong opinions on our new name for the product. They also brought up some features they’d like to see that we hadn’t thought of, and reacted with surprise, excitement, and even confusion, depending upon the presentation they heard. Just from watching their faces, we could nail down some needed improvements!

So what did this trip out of the old office cubicle teach me? (Ok, ok, let’s be real, Yahoo’s office is far from boring – we have foosball tables and volleyball courts for goodness sake). Well, it taught me that it’s important to take a step outside your own area of expertise every now and then. It also makes me re-think my intern project. Just because the numbers show my idea on product bundling has potential, that doesn’t mean it’s going to really make sense to consumers. It’s all about the presentation and whether people can see themselves using the product. And we can find that out for sure in today’s case, if only focus group participant #4 could focus on anything but flirting with participant #6 …