Revolutionary Measures

Tapping into the herd mind

Yesterday’s Another Marketing Conferencesaw a number of illuminating and involving presentations, designed to provide ideas and guidance for marketers of all types. Held in Cambridge, it had some great speakers, slick (but not too slick) organisation and a wide range of delegates.

English: Deep in thought.......... Separate fr...

English: Deep in thought………. Separate from the remainder of the herd but with a wonderful view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One presentation that stood out for me was Mark Earls (aka @herdmeister) talking about how marketers are essentially failing to understand their customers. We treat consumers as rational, thinking beings, when essentially we’re dominated by a desire to avoid thought and follow the herd. As Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We are to thinking as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we have to, but we don’t particularly like it.”

Mark outlined four handy principles:

  1. People do first and think later – they might post-rationalise their decisions and believe they acted logically, but that’s after the fact.
  2. We’re far more like Captain Kirk rather than Dr Spock, so you need to make it easy for people to make decisions, rather than thinking.
  3. People aren’t looking for the best, they are looking for ‘good enough’. We’re living in a universe of too much stuff, the vast majority of which doesn’t involve life or death choices. So we’ll generally go with what satisfies the need rather than spend days searching for the best possible option.
  4. People harmonise with other people automatically. In an uncertain decision landscape we’re most likely to choose what our peers are choosing rather than listen to marketing around us. We learn by copying others.

What I think is really interesting is how this plays out in social media and online. We tend to Like what our friends Like, we want to follow people that our friends follow and watch the videos that they do. So once something gets momentum behind it (think Psy’s Gangnam Style) it just grows and grows.

You can see this as depressing, as essentially it explains mob behaviour, but as marketers we need to understand how customers operate if we’re going to successfully engage with them. What decisions are independent and what are herd led? Structure campaigns accordingly and you can change behaviour and ensure your message gets across.

There’s more on this in the new book Mark has co-written “I’ll have what she’s having” which was handily included in the goodie bag from the conference and has moved to the top of my reading list. Watch this space for a fuller review.

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October 19, 2012 - Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] itself. This is great, as far as it goes, but it is an instant reaction as things happen. And as behavioural economics show, it is likely to help us form our opinions before we’ve actually had chance to think them through […]

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  2. […] but brands may well rationalise it as offering people exactly what they want. And as Mark Earls has pointed out in his book I’ll have what she’s having a large number of people’s decisions are herd led. So […]

    Pingback by Do you really Like that? « Revolutionary Measures | March 13, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] at all levels. Most importantly, I’ve used lots of what I learnt last year since then – and not just as content for blog posts. I’m not alone – according to the organisers 91% of last year’s delegates would recommend it […]

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  4. […] Friends – personal recommendations work, provided they come from people you trust. And given pretty much every programme is available on catch-up TV, you can view what your friends on like after the fact. And social media provides a quick way of gathering recommendations. Better than robots, but still likely to keep your watching within a relatively constricted area – after all we’re governed by a herd mind. […]

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  5. […] have long looked at psychology to help predict what will work and what won’t. I’ve previously talked about Mark Earls and the theory that, basically, we all want to belong to the herd, an ingrained, unthinking, attitude that makes us enormously susceptible to peer […]

    Pingback by Thinking, Fast and Slow « Revolutionary Measures | December 18, 2013 | Reply

  6. […] to change people’s behaviour. Whether it is nudging people to choose the ‘right’ option or appealing to the herd mind, there is a lot that marketers can learn from the social […]

    Pingback by Psychology and marketing – appealing to consumer needs « Revolutionary Measures | March 26, 2014 | Reply

  7. […] is that important? Essentially because mankind is a herd animal, and a lot of our choices are not based on being rational, but fitting in with those around us. So […]

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