The Association for Qualitative Research
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A big boy made me do it!

Are you an 'I' or a 'We' creature? Audrey Niven explains why Herd solves a lot of unanswered questions

A challenge: read Mark Earls’ Herd and do absolutely nothing as a consequence. If you’re a half-way intelligent person (and you probably are if you’re already reading In Brief), then I don’t think you’ll manage it. Here’s why.

1: It says something new. We human beings, says Mark, are much more social animals than marketing and research give us credit for. What we do is part of a bigger thing than ourselves. Our behaviour is as part of our various herds, be they families, peer groups, friendship networks or work colleagues. So it’s nonsense to continue our commercial endeavours based on influencing individual brand interactions and individual buyer behaviour.

2: It brings together ideas from all over the world and every sort of psychological, sociological, scientific and commercial endeavour to show us why, particularly in the ‘Western Developed World’, we’ve got hoisted by the petard of our own individualistic supremacy. It’s helped me understand why learning to fit into my newly acquired Indian family — a much more herd-y group of people than the Scottish one I grew up with — has been tricky. They think they’re ‘we’ creatures; I’ve lived my whole life as an ‘I’ creature. Now I get it — and life is a lot easier. This book explains why.

3: It shines a big bright light through the chinks in the armour of conventional wisdom about marketing and business and keeping the customer satisfied. Yes, we’ve all heard that we should be concerned not with what brands do to consumers, that we should look instead at what consumers do with brands. But once you’ve joined the herd, you have to accept that it’s what happens between consumers and consumers (or people as I like to call them) that actually matters. This interaction is what we have to understand if we are to make sense of any relationship they might choose to have with a brand — or social or political issues for that matter.

4: Having been intellectually seduced as far as your smalls, the argument in this book then divests you of the reassuring embrace of knowing your own research discipline. It’s pointless trying to resist. Traditional marketing research tools aren’t well adapted to understanding the super-social human race. Our toolbox looks for rationalisation of what we do and cannot cope with the many influences that drive our behaviour. But there is hope — and this book gives us a great starting point to build a new toolbox.

5: This book organises its thoughts in a really useful way, summarising and raising questions clearly at the end of each chapter. Your job is just to try and answer them.

6: It’s charming. Maybe that’s why it’s so seductive. Read it and see if you can resist the herd.

 

Audrey Niven
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007