The latest book by Herd author and former Ogilvy marketer Mark Earls offers marketers insights into leveraging social context.
The book, I’ll Have What She’s Having, co-authored by Alex Bentley, Michael J O’Brien and John Maeda, could prove as impactful for digital marketers as his groundbreaking work Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour By Harnessing Our True Nature.
People are much less individual than we thought and get influenced by what they see others doing more than we realised, is the conclusion of the book. It challenges marketers to think about behavioural patterns, which Earls suggests can be used to gather insight more quickly.
“Don’t boil the ocean and expect to get something precise,” said Earls, speaking this morning at agency CMW’s Bacon Club event. “If you look at patterns you can get a lot of insight very quickly. You can also create strategy more quickly.”
He went on to discuss how social context is much more important than people think, yet people still tend to focus on the individual.
He referenced the famous scene in 1980s romcom When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan’s character fakes an orgasm in the middle of a diner and the woman at the next table tells the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Earls said, “In a metaphorical sense, it is very important. People are always interested in what is happening at the next table and are always in the shadow of other people.”
Humans start copying each other from an earlier age than other mammals and do it more readily, according to research.
Plus, in response to the phrase “monkey see monkey do”, Earls highlights that while monkeys will stop mimicking each other once they realise there is nothing in it for them, babies will continue to do it regardless. He said we are more “homomimickers than homosapiens”.
He also looked at how buzzwords propagate and spread throughout social circles, pointing to the swine flu scare, which turned into an epidemic. He also stressed that last summer’s riots in London spread so quickly because people said: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
He suggested that all clothes, music, where people live and baby names, for example, are all shaped by what others do, “so it’s not surprising we find it in consumer marketing,” he said.
Earls reckons that as people share habits with those around them, you have to change a large number of peoples’ behaviour in order to change their habits.
Taking all this into account, the book has developed a map with four types of decision making: considered choice, copying experts, copying peers and guesswork.
“Once we see patterns emerging under the surface it is easier to come up with an appropriate and practical solution,” he said. “Seeing what people see is important. The space between us is the area we need to develop research.”