Stop me if you think that you’ve HERD this one before

I hardly ever give up on a book. There was a Kate Atkison book my mother gave me for Christmas four years ago but that’s about it.

 Herd cover detail

Well Herd has stopped me in my tracks. This feels like real shame because I think the idea behind it is brilliant and the key insight is central to understand who we are as a race. And the author, Mark Earls, has clearly really put his back into it.

Apparently, The Guardian described the book as “Like Malcolm Gladwell on Speed”. Well that’s exactly right, although I suspect not in the way it was intended. Take the clear, insightful, reasoned writing style of Gladwell and make it verbose, egotistical, aphoristic, incoherent and go on too long, and you have Herd. For a writer who tells us there is no well defined concept of ‘I’, he is certainly fond of the pronoun. And some of the misadventures in reasoning are blinding. The works of Descartes, Hobbes, Adam Smith and Thomas Kuhn are covered in a couple of sentences each. The golden rule hypothesis, the source of language, autism and many more huge discussions become minor supporting characters in the grand Earl’s hypothesis that… we are a social creature.

A good summary of some of the key thinking of the book (and it’s application to CRM) is in this adliterate post.

In short I think the conclusions are right, if the journey slightly tortorous:

  1. People are social. They value social interaction and are made stronger by it. It is central to how we learn and develop.
  2. Market research is likely to be unreliable. Because people don’t really understand their own motivations, certainly not when quizzed outside a social context
  3. Consumers-to-consumer is more powerful than business-to-consumer (and of course, it is now possible en masse for the first time in history). If you can generate word of mouth marketing, it will be effective.
  4. Be more interesting
  5. Let go of the brand
  6. Don’t try and manage what can’t be managed. Be realistic about how much you can control and refocus your efforts on doing the things you can control – product, production etc – better

A couple of Bullmore quotes which I’ve had lying around for ages that seem to top that off:

“Brands… are made and owned by people… by the public… by consumers”

The image of a brand is a subjective thing. No two people, however similar, hold precisely the same view of the same brand.”

Like Cluetrain, Herd seems to describe what is happening with consumer empowerment and brands, without providing concrete advice to marketers about how to respond (if we can all agree that “co-create”, “be more interesting” and “harness word-of-mouth marketing” are not really practical advice). It’s easy to see why many marketers feel threatened by all this, as it marginalizes or makes impotent much of what until recently has been the day job.

I really like the idea that the new marketplace reduces “gaming”. What does that mean? Well in SEO gaming is obvious, it’s trying to artificially drive traffic to your site, despite not really being relevant. Indeed you can think of Google’s primary mission online to be to reduce SPAM and to fight against people who are gaming their system.

Now look at how they are looking to deal with video advertising (advertisers pay more for unpopular pre-roll ads). Isn’t it possible to see the empowered consumer network as a force against gaming in advertising – where that could mean the telling of lies, the telling of irrelevancies or using other mechanics which mislead or overpower consumers? This means we will drive out relevance and efficiency in consumer brand selection by forcing brands to communicate honestly, relevantly, interestingly and engagingly. And how do we do this? Together, using the internet.

2 thoughts on “Stop me if you think that you’ve HERD this one before”

  1. Sorry you didn’t like the book. You seem to be in a bit of a minority, I’m afraid.

    Any suggestions as to how you would have done it differently would be gratefully received.


  2. Wow that was quick!
    Yes, the book appears to be almost universally acclaimed. I certainly didn’t find any negative reviews. I only break with the pack because the style is not my cup of tea (and I suspect because I’ve studied some of the sources you quote – Hobbes, Descartes and Kuhn at length at college).
    My hat is off to you for your success and the credit all authors deserve.


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