Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
What Edison built
The kind of book we need now?
At the ‘cellotaph’
So how are we to explain this kind of thing?
Bigger boys made me do it
A book about mass behaviour
Mass behaviour is hard to change
Bad theory, bad plan. Better theory? Better plan?
Old news?
I and the other
Market research and me
We’re all individuals - I’m not
Understanding the how, not just the what
What the book will cover
How to use this book
Part One - A ‘We-Species’ with an illusion of ‘I’
Chapter 1 - The Super-Social Ape
What this chapter will cover
Tea and kindness
Advertising works
Even more advertising works
We want to be together
Say what you see
A we-species
Are we stardust?
The successful ape
Homo or Pan?
When I grow up
Primates are social
Why the naked ape?
The infant ape
So why naked then?
The brain of a social ape par excellence
How others shape us
How we make each other unhappy
The social brain
The sound of the crowd
The empathetic ape
Language and stroking
The loneliness of autism
Collaboration: the keys to the kingdom
Self-interest and collaboration
Game on
Game over and over
Collaboration across the nation?
Learning from each other?
How collaboration built the world
Shirts - the work of many hands
Summary of this chapter
Questions to ponder
Questions and issues for marketers
Chapter 2 - The Illusion of ‘I’
What this chapter will cover
Pepper’s ghost
What does Pepper’s ghost tell us?
I woke up this morning . . .
What it is - oh, I forgot
Eternal sunshine and spotless minds
False memories
Monkey see
Lazy minds
Don’t think too hard
Retelling the story
The big when
The illusion of consciousness
Depression and the distorted self
Summary of this chapter
Issues arising
Questions and implications for marketers
Chapter 3 - ‘I’ vs. ‘Us’
What this chapter will cover
A blast of hot air
Travelling for real
Beware Greeks
Peace and reconciliation
Wo die Zitronen blühn
Studying consumer tribal behaviour
Beyond marketing
Far from the madding crowds
The politics of ‘I’
The collective mind
No such thing as society
Is the rest of the world so wrong?
‘I’ ideology
How social psychology got individualized
‘I’ research
Expert opinion
Heroes and villains, and other individuals
Unhappy feet?
The curious tale of curious George
What this chapter has demonstrated
Some questions
Issues for marketers arising from this chapter
Part Two - The Seven Principles of Herd Marketing
Chapter 4 - Key Principle No. 1: Interaction
What this chapter will cover
At the market
At the urinal
In the lecture theatre
Complexity vs. complicated
Complexity as a way of seeing the world
Interactive animals
Interactive humans
Back to the football
Learning from the Mexican wave
At the office
Meanwhile, somewhere in Aberdeen
Summary so far
Every day, every day, in every way . . .
Crime and punishment
New York, New York
The physics of crime
More crime, less physics
Crims, saints and floaters
Fighting on the beaches (and in the suburbs)
The facts
What to do about such riots
Markets and interaction
Behavioural markets
The challenge for market research
Issues arising
Implications and questions for marketing and business
Chapter 5 - Key Principle No. 2: Influence
What this chapter will cover
Saturday night’s all right
Faces in the crowd
1-2-3-4 . . .
Brainwashing and conformity
Parallel lines
Fear and needles
Hands together, please
The placebo effect
What do you do to me?
Stupid boy
Marky Mark and his influence
Why one-to-one is wrong
Charidee, my friends
Channel tunnel vision
From me to you
Getting beyond egotism
More influence?
More conformity
The Milgram experiment
Let the tapes roll
How good people do bad things
Targeting rethought
Born unequal?
At the soap bar
Naturally influential?
Social influencers
Meet Lois
Targeting rethought (2)
Alison’s new Mercedes
Learning from Decision Watch
What this chapter has shown
Some questions for marketing
Chapter 6 - Key Principle No. 3: Us-Talk
What this chapter will cover
Don’t believe the hype
Children of the revolution
So why is the record industry so scared?
Scary Mary
What can we learn from the Arctic Monkeys’ success?
Boom time for WoM
What do we (really) know about WoM?
WoM Fact 1. Word of mouth is more important than other influences on individual purchases
WoM Fact 2. Word of mouth is getting more and more important over time
WoM Fact 3. Word of mouth operates in both B2B and B2C
WoM Fact 4. Word of mouth is a global - and not just a North American - phenomenon
New opportunity, traditional thinking?
How did everything get viral?
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
The wrong end of the stick?
The whole cake (not just the icing)
How bad science changed the mind of a nation
Real impacts
What can we learn from the MMR case?
Talk and grooming
More grooming talk
The conversation has already started
It’s not all (or even mostly) about you!
Paying for it
Talk in the real world
One number to rule them all
Talk talk
Talking about telly
That one number again
One number in reality
What this chapter has shown
What’s next?
Questions for marketing
Chapter 7 - Key Principle No. 4: Just Believe
What this chapter will cover
Disappointed of Des Moines (or Dunstable)?
Meaning in a world of oversupply
Three principles explained
Goodnight Vienna
I believe
Cardigan Bay’s third biggest clothing company
Outdoor threads
Nice to have?
Think differently
The journey (home)
Jamie’s dinners
Being Naked
The empty office
Enron and everything after
A challenge - does belief pay?
So what does the study show?
You are not alone
Let everyone shine
A is for . . .
Before we go
1. Be who you are
2. What do you believe in? Find it and live it!
3. Act like you mean it (and don’t act like you don’t . . .)
Summary: taking a stand
Some questions arising for marketing
Chapter 8 - Key Principle No. 5: (Re-)Light the Fire
What this chapter will cover
Keep the home fires burning
The fire inside
Easier to extinguish than light
The misfits
Relighting my fire
The power of dreams
Dream a little dream
Vile bodies
A familiar situation
Girl talk
The danger of missions
You too can look like this
More belief
’T ain’t what you say
The fire inside - summary so far
Where next?
How to work out what to do?
More behaviour thinking
Show, don’t tell
Interlude: Beyond Petroleum
Belief in a cynical age
Cynics and dogs
Spotting cheaters
Questions for marketers
Chapter 9 - Key Principle No. 6: Co-Creativity
What this chapter will cover
Unlikely popstars vol. 103
Charidee, my friends
Number one and everything after
So what does the ‘Amarillo’ syndrome teach us?
Originality and creativity
(Value) chain of fools?
Is this new news?
Hi-tech co-creativity
Welcome to SIM City
Rewriting history (together?)
Galileo, Newton and Einstein
Another ‘pencil squeezer’?
Co-creativity - summary so far
Meetings, bloody meetings
At the theatre
Co-creative marketing attempts to change mass behaviour
I saw this and I thought of you
Using co-creativity to change internal audience mass behaviour
The Hawthorne effect and after
Co-creative innovation
Two types of co-creative networks
The Ocean’s 11 dream team
Co-creativity and market research (1)
Co-creativity and market research (2)
Some ideas that co-creativity challenges
Some questions for marketing
Chapter 10 - Key Principle No. 7: Letting Go
What this chapter will cover
What a score!
The limits of my powers
The loneliness of the touchline
What Carwyn did and didn’t do
The loneliness of the manager
The company as machine
Reducing the human element
Children of the lesser god
Another point of view
Human remains
Interaction businesses
A different kind of job
Back to the drawing board?
So what can you do?
More human physics
Crisis, what crisis?
Let them all talk
Talk with the talkers
What do they talk of?
And finally . . .
As inside, so outside
The end of management
Some questions for marketing
Part Three - Making Sense of the Herd
Chapter 11 - Conclusions
What this chapter will cover
Life, the universe and giant aquatic reptiles
Seeing things differently
Conclusion 1: Our species is first and foremost a social one
Implication 1: Stop thinking and talking with words that conjure the ‘I’ perspective
Conclusion 2: Individuals are unreliable (if not largely irrelevant) witnesses
Implication 2: Ignore them
Conclusion 3: Interaction is everything; interaction is the ‘big how’
Implication 3: Understand the how-mechanic and use it
Conclusion 4: C2C, not B2C
Implication 4: Get the system to work for you
Conclusion 5: MIC vs. MVC
Implication 5: Rethink targeting
Conclusion 6: B2C communication, not information transmission
Implication 6: Rethink communication as action
Conclusion 7: Word of mouth is the most powerful sales tool
Implication 7: Make WoM the real goal of all actions and not just WoM campaigns
Conclusion 8: Be more interesting
Implication 8: Find your beliefs and live them
Conclusion 9: Co-create
Implication 9: Learn to be a great co-creator
Conclusion 10: Letting go
Implication 10: Rethink ‘management’


To the memory of Tony Orchard (1941-2005) and
Andrew Mattey (1957-2005)

Thomas Edison didn’t know how electricity worked.
His best guess was probably that electrons sort of rolled along a wire, taking some sort of force from one end to the other. He had a vague sense that this wasn’t true (and it wasn’t) but he never really had the time to investigate that deeply because he was busy inventing light bulbs and phonographs and creating a vast business empire.
He had a model in his head for how electricity worked, which was good enough to get a lot of things built and invented. With his inventive sprit, his persistence and his genius for spotting opportunities he built entire industries through trial and error and a dogged pursuit of what seemed, on the whole, to work.
This got him a long way. He created much that was useful and interesting, but without pausing for reflection, without examining his assumptions, without changing his mind about everything, he couldn’t get any further. He couldn’t invent television or the transistor or computing.
And I suspect you can see where this analogy is going . . .

What Edison built

. . . because I think the last 50 or 100 years of marketing and advertising have been quite a lot like Edison. Industries have been built, methodologies have been codified, conventional wisdom has been institutionalized. But every practitioner has always had a vague sense, in the back of their mind, if they bothered to think about it, that they really have no idea what they’re doing. Peel back the layers of accreted thinking about brand awareness and ‘opportunities to see’ and usage and attitudes and it’s clear that all we have are lots of competing theories, a bunch of well ingrained habits and vast squadrons of trial and error.
This is OK. This has gotten us somewhere. This has created some useful and interesting things as well as lots and lots of crass and pointless ones, but it’s stalled, the consensus is falling apart, the old solutions don’t seem to fit the new problems and famous admen shout that advertising is dead to everyone who’ll listen.
The web-enabled, digitally empowered, brand-savvy consumer cliché of the futurists’ recent past has arrived and they’re not willing to buy our old act. We need a new model. We need to think differently.

The kind of book we need now?

Mark Earls might be the solution. Or at least a bit of it. Because Mark is a new sort of communications thinker and he’s written exactly the kind of book we all need now.
(And to explain why, I’m afraid I have to resort to a list, because I’ve spent the last three years of my life blogging and I find I simply can’t write in proper coherent paragraphs anymore.)
1. Hats off to Mark for writing a book with some big theories in it. You don’t see much of that these days. Most of the ‘revolutions in marketing’ books you get nowadays are just very long business cards. They tell you how badly wrong everyone else is getting things (particularly big, old businesses and big, old brands), they offer quite thin solutions (normally ‘hire someone very like me’) and they give a couple of examples the author worked on. Plus some Nike ones. These books are more about tactics than strategy and more about tools than thinking. This is all right as far as it goes. But if we’re going to go beyond improving light bulbs and start inventing television we need some new, grand theories. Mark is shooting for this. So hurrah!
2. He doesn’t assume brands/marketing/whatever is a white Western phenomenon, and he helps us think about a world where communications are created everywhere, not just consumed everywhere. Indeed, as business globalizes it’s very possible that Western I-centric ways of working are exactly the wrong ways to be building great brands and that the unthinking assumption that we’ll be doing creative industries and they’ll be doing call centres is short-sighted and foolish. Why spend all your money trying to get individualistic Westerners to collaborate properly when many of your prospective employees have grown up in more naturally collaborative we-centric cultures?
3. He draws ideas and inspiration from every imaginable intellectual discipline and philosophy including anthropology, psychology, ethnography, rugby and pop music. He draws on personal experience and business case studies. He recognizes that whatever turns out to be ‘the way that brands etc. work’ it’s unlikely to be clear and simple. It’s going to be complex and messy and it’s going to cut across boundaries of professional discipline, intellectual tradition and marketing agency silo. If like me you’re all surface and no depth this makes for a brilliant read, skimming from one slightly understood topic to the next. And if you’re more of a detail merchant then this book’ll make a fantastic stepping-off point for exploring all kinds of obscure but fascinating stuff.
4. He writes well. There are pictures. There are jokes. As marketing people get more and more post-literate it’s nice to be able to recommend a book people’ll be prepared to read.
And that’s it. Read this book. Think about it. You don’t have to swallow it whole, but if you’re going to be any good at your marketing, branding or communications job in the next 20 years then you need to question your assumptions about how stuff works, not just where to spend your media money. And Mark’s provided a great place to start. Hurrah for him!
Russell Davies
Open Intelligence Agency
(Formerly of Wieden & Kennedy & Nike)

This book is really David Muir’s fault. And not mine.
When, in 2002, I asked him what I should write a Market Research Society conference paper about, he advised me not to think harder about what I had called our ‘herd nature’ in my first book;1 indeed he told me to drop the idea. There’s not much mileage in that line of thinking, he explained. Instead, he suggested I ponder the technical market research implications of the rise of 360 degree (in the round) communications.
Being more than a bit contrary, I did precisely the opposite to what David suggested. This stubbornness on my part did not stop him introducing me to the wonder of decision markets or helping me see other connections in the disparate fields I was crossing.
Along the way a number of other people have helped me, debated the things I was struggling with and often pointed out interesting evidence for the core idea of this book and its application to the worlds of business and marketing in particular.
As ever, my good friends, David Wood of Leo Burnett and Peter Wells of Nilewide, have both been inspirational conversational partners; Adam Morgan a great encouragement as ever. Domenico Vitale and the US AAAA planning conference committee have repeatedly given me the chance to work out my thinking in public. My Ford Motor Company client, Murat, also encouraged this line of thinking. As did the Market Research Society - particularly Kevin Maclean, Ginny Valentine and Wendy Gordon. Mark Sherrington, Russell Davies, Paul Feldwick, Chris Forrest, Robin Wight and Nick Kendall have all said very nice things about the herd idea and encouraged me to make it a book. Tessa Graham introduced me to some interesting folk and bought me lots of pink wine. And many of my Ogilvy friends have helped, too: Paul O’D, Rory Sutherland, Mark Oldridge, John Shaw, Bernardo Geoghegan, Colin Mitchell, Rob Hill, Gary Leih and Robyn Putter have all made encouraging noises. My creative partner, Paul Smith, has been incredibly tolerant of my obsession - even though he has often admitted he only half-understands what I am on about. Something I only half-believe. Roderick White of Admap and Judy Lannon of Market Leader have both respected the line of thinking in their magazines and encouraged me to articulate it further. And the boys and girls from Naked and Howies were a delight to interview and talk with.
Lots of people have had their evenings (and other dayparts) ruined by my herd obsession. My sister Ros, C, Sara, Liz, Trems, Mikey, Merry, Quancey, James, Sam, Kieron, Sox, James, Hilly, Cronky, Nick, Stephen, Kirsty, Carl, Trigg, Jori, Crispin and lots of others. These brave folk have continued to encourage me to write, write, write. Thank you also to Jon, Gay, Tom, Sannchen, Hendy, Fiona and the boys who continue to treat me like a ‘mensch’ and not like a monomaniac.
And thanks to Cecilia for the original cover concept and Jon for the curiously simian likenesses. And Sara for helping prepare the manuscript and do the illustrations that were beyond me in the latter stages. Big Shout to Chris and Tim and the team at Antidote (http://www.antidote.co.uk) for their cover and other identity design work: you did fab things with neither time nor money to work with. Last but not least the Big Shorts themselves - 2-3-4 - you have provided some wonderful distractions as well as one or two powerful insights into mass behaviour (without I suspect any knowledge of doing so).
Big thanks again to my editor Claire Plimmer and her team who have again been extraordinarily patient and helpful to this most unreliable author.
But my biggest fan, biggest supporter and biggest inspiration in the writing has been the lovely Louise. I hope that the finished product makes you as proud as you had hoped it would do. Whatever you think of it, this book would be much - much - the worse in every way without you.
Thank you.

If I am an advocate, it is for discoveries about human nature that have been ignored or suppressed in modern discussions of human affairs . . . Why is it important to sort this all out? The refusal to acknowledge human nature is like the Victorians’ embarrassment about sex, only worse: it distorts our science and scholarship, our public discourse and our day-to-day lives.
S Pinker1

At the ‘cellotaph’

A friend of mine recently returned to Britain from a long period working abroad to find the country visibly transformed. Not in the way that politicians would have us believe - a rich and varied multicultural nation, which leads the world in science, innovative public services and principled engagement with our peers - but instead, as a nation of people who say it with flowers.
Government statistics tell us that in the last 10 years crime has dropped and yet at the same time every road in every town has been transformed again and again into what Private Eye magazine has called ‘a cellotaph’ - that is, a temporary roadside floral memorial to the victim of a traffic accident or a violent crime. Some of the tributes consist of little more than garage-bought carnations, wrapped in garish cellophane; others are more elaborate in the time-honoured East End genre, spelling out the name of the dead individual with some greeting (‘goodbye dad’). Some become elaborate shrines (what the Mexicans who have a much longer tradition of such things - and I guess a much higher incidence of fatal road accidents - call descanos as in ‘interrupted journeys’); others remain simple and unprepossessing, yet at the same time moving.
One, opposite Camden Town tube station, was still tended daily, months after the murder of 19-year-old Ohmar Mahir. What struck my returning friend was the sheer ubiquity of the floral tributes when, a decade ago, the sight would have been - if not unknown - then certainly rare.
Indeed, in the last 10 years, these shrines have blossomed and seeded themselves across our land, like the vigorous Chinese buddleia (or butterfly bush), which wriggles into the cracks and forgotten corners of our tarmacked country. Or perhaps more like the more inventive and colourful American-influenced graffiti that now springs up overnight on any blank wallspace in our cities: today’s ‘tags’ are not the monochrome scribbles of the teenage gossip-mill and the toilet wall, but increasingly inventive visual street-art. Indeed, several ‘taggers’ are recognised as authentic artists by the art-world. One, Banksy2 enjoys world-wide success as a social satirist and provocateur, as well as a curated artist and illustrator. At first, there were only occasional examples of such public wall-art to be found in urban locations; now, they are everywhere.

So how are we to explain this kind of thing?

Our explanations of such examples of mass behaviour tell us a lot about how we think about human behaviour. They reveal our underlying beliefs and models of mass behaviour: the ideas we use to explain mass behaviour (and to shape it). The floral tributes themselves are a particularly interesting case which casts light on the way we think about other social phenomena.
What’s certain is that the tributes are not new. Some commentators trace the roots of mass floral tributes back through history to show how common they really are. After all, the UK’s military veterans have been trooping down Whitehall with poppies in their buttonholes, to leave wreaths to the fallen dead of two World Wars every Remembrance Sunday for three generations or more. I have visited the shrine in Barnes to the glam rock star, Marc Bolan, at the tree into which his girlfriend crashed their mini, one wet night (Figure I.1). But such floral tributes have not just been for soldiers or celebrities. In 1912,3 eight boy scouts from Walworth drowned when their boat sank on a trip to Kent. The result was a mass outpouring of grief in East London. Flags were flown at half mast. Churchill himself intervened to ensure that the bodies were brought back up the Thames in a naval vessel, which was met with floral tributes from huge crowds, with much weeping and sobbing to boot. So maybe the phenomenon is not so alien, after all but this view raises some other issues, such as why are cellotaphs everywhere now?
Figure I.1 Marc Bolan cellotaph reproduced by permission of Tom Mattey
Other social commentators take a different approach. They have sought to explain the cellotaph phenomenon by making it an indication of some big long-term trend (or BLTT), or ‘an indication of what we’ve become’ as Blake Morrison4 puts it. It has been seen as a sign of the ‘feminization of Britain’ or of our increasing mawkishness or indeed, bizarrely, a sign that the class system is somehow in its final death throes (the largely working-class nature of many of these tributes is undeniable but I suspect that this is more to do with the fact that there are more street deaths among the working classes than anything more sinister). In other words, these are explanations based on the notion of mass behaviour as something that is the result of outside forces acting on individuals (whether it’s ‘historical processes’, something in the air or even something in the water!).
Other explanations choose to trace the trend back to the enormous outpouring of public grief at the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. During the days and weeks following her fatal accident, the nation seemed convulsed by a grief mania; people started to lay flowers, first a million blooms in the grounds of her London home, Kensington Palace, then more and more around the country, at the funeral and finally at the family home of Althorp. This is an example of thinking about mass behaviour being the result of some external traumatic event. What you might call the Macmillan theory of mass behaviour (the former Prime Minister was once asked what caused governments to fall - his answer was ‘events’).
Not everyone was caught up in Diana-grieving; many people remained untouched by the floral madness. I remained similarly unaffected by Diana’s ‘tragic demise’ (as the tabloids and the Diana-bloggers would have it) but was aware of the stir it was associated with among the population. And I recall vividly how confused I was by what was going on: ordinary sane people apparently doing strange things with tears and flowers. I quizzed a number of friends including one - then a high-flying advertising executive - as to why she and her personal assistant had given up their lunch hour to ‘make their pilgrimage’ to Kensington Palace. Her response was simple, ‘I want to . . . you know, be part of this . . . to show my respect, too . . . with the others.’ Another friend chose to camp out with his young family just to have a good view of the funeral procession.

Bigger boys made me do it

This is where we seem to get a little clearer about the real mechanics of mass behaviour. At the peak of Diana-grief mania, the Cambridge-based literary magazine Granta complained of the ‘floral fascism’ spreading through the country - by which I think they meant the social pressure to take part in public grieving. Others bemoaned the pressure to conform in other ways; my father in his own way loudly refused to become sentimental about some ‘thick (and dead)’ Princess.
This is what I think is the important lesson for those of us who try to make sense of the kaleidoscope of human behaviour which we observe around us: that it is not driven (as the likes of Karl Marx, Naomi Klein or Vance Packard would have us believe) by powerful extra-human forces like economics or brands or by traumatic events (although these may have a part to play) but instead, by other people. Individuals do not do what they do largely on their own volition, but through the influence of others. That is the heart of the model of mass behaviour that this book proposes.
So the floral commemorations - the cellotaphs - made by mothers and fathers of children cut down before their time in road accidents or drunken stabbings are not individual acts. Nor are they the result of some mass brainwashing by the florist trade or of garage forecourt marketers. They are an example of the enormous influence each of us has over the others in our lives. Not just those close to us, but those we have never met and never will - people whose behaviour influences other people’s behaviour which then in turn influences ours. People just like us.
Terrible as the story behind each floral tribute is, the phenomenon itself illustrated on railings, lampposts and traffic lights throughout the UK serves to reveal a deep and long-hidden truth about human nature which those of us in marketing, in management and in government would do well to embrace: we are a we-species who do individually what we do largely because of each other. As my childhood excuse ran, ‘Bigger boys made me do it.’

A book about mass behaviour

This book is intended for anyone who tries to change the behaviour of large numbers of people - of customers, employees or private citizens. It is not a self-help book - although I have learned a lot about myself in researching and writing it. Nor is it intended in any way to challenge the professionals who help individuals bring about change in their lives.
No, this book is not about individuals and individual behaviour; it is about mass behaviour.
Why is this important?
Marketing, management, public policy and service delivery are not really about factories or hospitals or finances or service level agreements (SLAs) or satisfaction measures or indeed any of the other things we feel more comfortable with and find easier to measure. Rather they are (or should be) about human behaviour. But not about individual behaviour - all organizations need to serve and harness the talents and efforts of large numbers of people: customers and staff and citizens and so on. All three are concerned - or should be - with mass behaviour and how to anticipate and shape it.

Mass behaviour is hard to change

As any psychotherapist will tell you, individual behaviour is very hard to shape; mass behaviour is even more difficult. The evidence speaks for itself.
When governments report on their policy successes, they struggle to do so convincingly. Be it the uptake of a new welfare benefit or an initiative to reduce street crime or improve health service provision, ministers and civil servants almost always end up having to be creative with the numbers to evidence change on a mass scale.
When the sharp-suited bankers celebrate another big merger deal, they’re clearly not aware of the dim chances of the deal being a success (or maybe the financial rewards for doing the deal help them ignore the truth); one source suggests only one third5 achieve the synergies that the dealmakers and the management promise the shareholders. Over the longer term, the numbers are even more worrying. Another source6 suggests that between 50% and 60% actually destroy shareholder value (as opposed to building it or making no difference).
For those of use who work in advertising and marketing, our inability to create long-term changes in customer behaviour is repeatedly disheartening. While there are some notable exceptions to this rule that are acclaimed all around the world - the Apple iPod being one of the most high-profile of recent years - these remain exceptions rather than the rule. Even if we accept a lesser ambition of keeping customer behaviour the same (as the London-based academic, Professor Andrew Ehrenberg suggests), it is hard to demonstrate that this lack of change has had anything to do with our efforts.
This perhaps explains the obsession with relationship marketing in recent years, be it in its simple form or the more exciting e-based versions or indeed the wholesale reorganization of companies around the CRM principle (customer relationship marketing). Those with some kind of vested interest as the blueprint often present the latter for the future of marketing. Again the facts are beginning to reveal a less than glorious success. For all its internal intellectual consistency, for all its rigour and measurability at an individual level and for all of the commonsense axioms behind the approach, CRM turns out not to be the roaring success that it has been claimed to be. Forester suggested some six years ago that while two thirds of vendors thought their CRM projects had been a success, only one third of their clients thought so. Clearly somebody’s not on the ball here. They can’t both be right about the success or otherwise of this latest marketing fad.
And things are getting worse, not better: the latest research suggests that most of the money paid to CRM consultants, IT manufacturers and software companies has failed to bring about the significant changes in mass behaviour - inside the company or with its customers - that the vendors promised. The blame for this failure is often7 attributed to the greed of the software vendors trying to sell solutions to a problem that might not exist, or even by some in the discipline8 to the oversimplification of the theory which drives the technology and practices. It is just much harder to change mass behaviour than we thought.

Bad theory, bad plan. Better theory? Better plan?

In this book I make a simple and challenging claim: we will find it much easier to change mass behaviour if we start from first principles; if we go back to basics and develop a better conception of humankind; if we abandon our existing ways of thinking and accept that we are not a species of independent, self-determining individuals, whatever our brains and our culture tell us (see Chapter 2 for more detail on the curious illusion of ‘I’).
Most of our behaviour is - like the floral cellotaph phenomenon - the result of the influence of other people because we are a super-social species. A herd animal, if you like.
I believe that this is important to get your head around, because as Stephen Pinker points out in the introduction to his Blank Slate, our failure to acknowledge the truth about human nature distorts our attempts to understand human behaviour and frustrates our attempts to change it. Bad theory = bad plan = ineffective action.
What I have called ‘herd theory’ is not some flighty or floppy idea - an assertion without support or evidence. A number of advances in the medical and behavioural sciences are beginning to reveal the profound truth of our herd nature. From the newer disciplines of modern neuroscience, econophysics, evolutionary psychology and network geometry it is becoming clear that we seem to be uniquely built to be interactive and interdependent herd animals - we are so extraordinarily gifted at human-human interaction and the results of this interaction have shaped our world and continue to do so for the future.
The promise this insight holds for those of us who try to change mass behaviour is enormous. Imagine if we could tap into this underlying power of human nature to bring about the changes we seek - in business, in marketing and public policy! However, be warned: while this book will use a host of examples by way of illustration, the ways in which we can use the insights to change mass behaviour are still being worked out and there is a great deal of distracting noise, particularly around the idea of word-of-mouth marketing (see Chapter 6).

Old news?

But maybe this rethinking of mass behaviour is not such new news. Africa has long known that human beings are a we-species; the pan-African notion of Ubuntu has helped South Africa migrate with relatively little pain from minority to majority rule in a decade. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is just one of the policy initiatives that the governments led by Mandela and Mbeki have deployed to bring this about. Desmond Tutu has developed a social Christian theology based around the same idea. The same thinking is also being deployed in war-torn Rwanda to bring about peace and there is some debate about how to apply this notion to post-Troubles Northern Ireland.
But this is not merely an African truth: the same conception of human nature lies at the heart of many oriental cultures. Richard Nisbett’s9 collection of cross-cultural studies shows how the same conception of humanity underlies many oriental cultures. ‘We’ is more important than ‘I’ to people who grow up in environments that are more collective; it shapes how such people see the world in profound and interesting ways. And it provides a point of comparison for those of us who grew up in an individualist, ‘I’ culture: it reveals that our conception of humanity shapes our own view of the world. It challenges our blind acceptance of ‘I’.

I and the other

Maybe this is not such a novel insight to those of you who know the psychotherapeutic canon. Close reading of the greats of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy make it quite clear that they have known this about ourselves all along but we have chosen to ignore it. Sigmund Freud was in many ways the arch individualist - his major clinical concern was quite rightly for individual patients; he phrased much of his writing in terms of the individual and their neuroses. However, he is very clear that what he called ‘the Other’ lies at the heart of his view of the individual sense of self and determines much of our behaviour, for good or ill. Indeed, in his later works Freud and his colleagues (e.g. Erich Fromm) struggle (with mixed success) to find some kind of synthesis of the individual and the group or society.
We cannot escape the Other - parent, sibling or stranger. Freud seems to have been right about the fact that most of our unhappiness comes from mislearning the rules of interaction with others and doing so very early on. Others such as Alice Miller10 have shown the importance of early interaction with others in an individual patient’s later dysfunction without the use of some of the Freudian constructs which have since been questioned. More recently, longitudinal studies exploring Bowlby’s attachment theory have allowed us to see how long-lasting these effects are. Those who make less successful attachments early on are indeed more likely to struggle with attachments later. It is not by chance that most people’s experience of psychotherapy is talk about their childhood.
Moreover, recent advances in neuroscience are allowing us to understand more about the social applications of brain function (how the brain changes on interaction with others and quite how much of our brain function seems designed to enable us to thrive in the social contexts which make up so much of our lives). At the same time, the discipline of social psychology (hidden to many since the post-war period, due to ethical issues around studies on human subjects created by researchers like Stanley Milgram - see Chapter 5 - and the difficulties of testing hypotheses) is now being revisited by a number of generalist writers and the pioneering work is being reinterpreted and reapplied to today’s questions around mass behaviour.

Market research and me

By contrast, the commercial world and in particular market research is obsessed with the individual (some £2 bn is spent every year in the UK in understanding what individuals think and do) and while most of the money is spent on individual interviews, the focus group has become incredibly popular in recent years. But don’t go thinking that the focus group somehow accesses our herd nature and that what is said in this format is somehow more accurate than the unreliable ask-answer methodologies such as opinion polling.
It is increasingly widely acknowledged that a large part of the appeal is the impression of the truth being revealed by so-called real people - you watch them come in off the street, you ask them questions, you watch and listen to what they say and that clearly is that. Real people have revealed to you what they do, why and what they are likely to do next. And you get the impression of what the rest of the real people out there (sic) might be like.
There’s a new kid in the market research block who takes things further, whose ready adoption reveals our underlying commitment to the idea of individuals as self-determining machines: ‘neuromarketing’ uses brain-scanning techniques, which were originally developed to map the brain and observe the physical correlates of our mental experiences, for something really important and worthy (not): to measure individual responses to examples of product design and advertising!
Ethical, statistical and scientific quibbles aside, what strikes me is the excitement in market research circles that the vendors of these techniques have caused. And the reason why seems clear enough: here, at last, is a technique that claims to be able to ‘lift the lid’ on individual human heads and show us what is really going on to shape behaviours. Just as witch doctors and mediums have done for centuries and indeed the father of modern qualitative research, Ernst Dichter, promised with his motivational research in the 1940s.
Here at last is the means to see inside the heads of customers (and fiddle with them). Which of course misses the point entirely, because we are not discrete, self-determining individuals; we do what we do largely because of our interaction with - and under the influence of - others. And mostly without realizing it.

We’re all individuals - I’m not

Underlying all of the individualist agenda is a really interesting cluster of misunderstandings about ourselves and our brains. I will spend some time and space to discuss them in Chapter 2.
For example, we tend to think of individuals as concrete and well-defined units of humanity. Units that decide for themselves what to do. As Descartes spotted in his cogito, the key to this is our experience of continuous consciousness - our individual sense of ourselves. I don’t wake up this morning thinking I am somebody else; I know that I am Mark and the same Mark I went to sleep as (only normally slightly clearer-headed, another day older but none the wiser). Sometimes on waking I am momentarily confused as to where I am or what I am doing but I - like most folk - tend to look at my continuous memories as an indication of who I am.
But on another level, this common-sense argument is misleading and you don’t need to be an expert in cognitive psychology or neuroscience to work out why. We all know our memories are wildly unreliable - they change in content and emotional charge according to when and how we recall them. Recent debates at Earls Towers have confirmed that I too am subject to this weakness. And my girlfriend also.
Our memories are not like a computer’s file retrieval system, locating and retrieving simple digital data chunks. Memories are not just units of factual information and retrieving them is never 100% accurate.
We suppress things we don’t want to think about or feel uncomfortable processing actively and - as every page of a recent compendium11 of ways in which the human brain deceives us shows - we change our memories, cognitions and beliefs to fit into our existing schema of things. Sometimes we even imagine things that never actually happened . . .

Understanding the how, not just the what

Let’s be clear why this insight into our human nature is so powerful in practical terms . . .
Once we recognize that we are only interested in mass behaviour, and not just in the idiosyncratic individual, the truth about our herd nature becomes really useful. It not only enables us to describe the start point (mass behaviour) and the desired outcome (mass behaviour) better than other frameworks, but it also explains the mechanics of mass behaviour change (or lack of change - most substantial businesses spend a good deal of time and effort protecting what they have and keeping their customers just where they are).
If we understand the hows - how the roadside floral tributes came about and are sustained - we should also be able to explain any number of other mass phenomena and put that insight to work in changing mass behaviour. For example, how did an unknown band from Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys, manage to get a brace of number one records without the machinery of record companies and distribution deals? Why do football crowds sing and why do they like it so? How did text messaging take off in the UK with little or no marketing hype? How did one man spark a mass movement by asking passing visitors to ‘Join me’? If we can understand these kinds of behaviours, we can go about changing other large-scale group behaviours with greater hope of tangible results.
That said, this is not meant to be a theoretical or academic book. It seeks to explain and convince you of our herd nature and shows how it can be applied to building more effective change programmes for all kinds of mass behaviour. It uses tangible examples from all spheres of human activity and from many different parts of the world to illustrate the key points.

What the book will cover

Because this view of human nature runs contrary to our individual experience and the culture in which most of those who read this book have grown up, I think it important that I don’t rush into practical applications of the theory too quickly. I think it’s important to have a good long think about human nature and what is known about it before we move on to practical applications.
The notion of humankind that underlies what I call ‘herd theory’ runs so counter to what we experience and what we are taught that I have decided to spend three whole chapters assembling the evidence for ‘we’ and against ‘I’. Some of it will be familiar to certain readers, some to others but I think it’s worth laying the whole piece out in front of you. If you just wanted a few marketing case studies to copy out then I’m afraid you’ll find the early part of the book disappointing and perhaps a little heavy-going. However, I believe that any intelligent general reader should be able to grasp the evidence and the implications. That said, I have also included some questions that these new facts raise for marketers and business leaders generally - perhaps these will help you apply the evidence and the ideas to your professional life.
After making the case for what Pinker calls ‘the truths about human nature that have been ignored (and) suppressed’, the book then starts to build a new approach to understanding and changing mass behaviour built around seven key principles. I’ll attempt to spell out how each challenges some of our most dearly held ideas and practices in marketing and business. Here goes . . .
Part One - A ‘We-species’ with the illusion of ‘I’
Chapter 1 collects the evidence from a number of fields for seeing our species as first and foremost a herd animal - the ultimate primate, a ‘super-social ape’.
Chapter 2 explains why each of us has the opposite impression in our daily lives and how this impression is largely an illusion.
Chapter 3 examines the reasons why it is that we in the West have not appreciated our true human nature, the blinkers of our cultural ideology of individualism. Other cultures’ views of what it is to be human reveal the oddity of our Western received wisdom of what it is to be human.
Part Two - The seven principles
Once I have established the facts about our ‘we’-nature, I’ll then start to apply it: start to build a different model of mass behaviour and how to change it. For simplicity’s sake, I have divided this into seven key chapters, each explaining the background and application of one of the seven principles of herd marketing.
Key Principle No. 1: Interaction
In this chapter I’ll explore how mass behaviour is neither the result of some Borg-like communal brain nor the sum of individual thinking, but rather the result of interaction between individuals within a given context.
Key Principle No. 2: Influence
In this chapter, I’ll show how influence (rather than persuasion) is the key to shaping mass behaviour and how this leads us to rethink the notion of ‘targeting’ (who to focus on in our attempts to bring about change).
Key Principle No. 3: Us-talk
This chapter will examine the most visible (but by no means the only) influential behaviour within the herd, what is commonly termed ‘word of mouth’. I discuss what it is, how to measure it and how powerful a tool it really is. Also, I will try to work out whether this has always been the case or whether the lack of trust in many aspects of modern life is making it more important. I also warn of the traps of much of today’s word-of-mouth marketing, by distinguishing between ‘endogenous’ and ‘exogenous’ word-of-mouth behaviour.
Key Principle No. 4: Just believe
This chapter explores the most important tools in generating human-human interaction, influence and word-of-mouth, both in terms of communication programmes and product and service design. At the heart of this lies the notion of personal belief or purpose. I will show how beliefs create a different, better performing business than cold-eyed financial management. An interesting one, too.
Key Principle No. 5: (Re)lighting the fire
This chapter deals with a situation that many of us face: in most organizations the fire of belief and purpose seems to have gone out (if it ever flared). Here I show how the same principles of belief, making it personal and aligning behaviour to belief can be applied to mature businesses to bring about changes in mass behaviour.
Key Principle No. 6: Co-creating
This chapter suggests that if businesses and organizations are to thrive within this herd world, they are going to have to learn to change their stance towards their customers, staff and fellow citizens and learn how to co-create.
Key Principle No. 7: Letting go
In this chapter I show how the herd approach requires a different approach to leading and shaping change. I use this personal approach to make some bigger points about how companies need to change their stance towards customers and staff. But most of all, I will encourage you to let go of the twin illusions of certainty and control.
And last of all, I have attempted to conclude with a summary of the herd theory approach to mass behaviour and to spell out some of the main applications for marketing and business leaders.

How to use this book