I’m continuing to have thoughts in response to reading Herd probably because Mark Earls’ position so often reverberates with mine. There’s nothing like having one’s prejudices supported.
Like me Mark enjoys taking potshots at market research. In particular, the effort to read the minds of individuals in search of the magic insight that will become a lever to engage with the market. I’ve done my share of focus groups where the client sits behind the one-way mirror getting in a twist when the moderator “isn’t getting emotional insights” from the group. It’s as if we can generate genuine insights hygienically, via an intermediary and without the sordid business of emotionally connecting with people. I wonder if we can really get much insight into our fellow man without taking the risk of opening ourselves to him, rather than prodding him like a lab rat. And as Mark says in a comment on his blog, when was the last time you sat in a research meeting and the debrief went essentially: “not really sure what’s happening or why. It’s much more complicated than we thought and indeed than our methodologies can really handle….”?
Related to this, you may be familiar with following notion of how we learn stuff, which I lifted from this article: Smooth your Learning Journey with the Learning Matrix I’m sure this a very useful model, the idea being that we start bottom right and work our way anti-clockwise to bottom left.
But it seems to me a lot of our learning skips the conscious stages altogether, and just skips from box 1 to 4. Vast amounts of what we learn as children and adults is just unconscious copying of what others are doing around us (hence the Herd title of Mark’s book). I contend that most market research values only the stuff that routes via boxes 2 and 3, with a preference for what can be turned into long and clever papers for MRS conferences. The effort to drill down to insights may actually get in the way of really connecting with the audience formerly known as consumers. Of course, as smart beings we can easily conjure up all manner of rationalisations for our behaviour to entertain market reserachers with, but it may not approximate to what’s really going on.