This week, Tony shares his thoughts on Counsumerology – The market research myth, the truth about consumer behaviour and the psychology of shopping.

"A Good Read"

About Philip Graves

Philip Graves is a consumer behaviour consultant who has spent over twenty years observing consumers as a market research manager and consultant. Through his work and experience he became acutely aware of discrepancies between what people say they do and what they actually did.  Over the years, Philip has advised numerous international businesses including Comet, ITV, Whirlpool Dr Martens, Virgin Media and Pepsi who I’m sure have benefited from his experience.

Who is it for?

Consumerology by Philip Graves is for marketers, brand owners and particularly those who are interested in shopping behaviours.

Outline of the book

Market research is a myth is the premise of the book! Philip Graves argues why the findings obtained from most market research is completely unreliable (really?). Whether it is businesses seeking to define their corporate strategy or politicians wanting to understand the electorate, he suggests that questions answered on a questionnaire or discussed in a focus groups is the cause of (many) product failures, political blunders and wasted billions.

Consumer.ology potentially exposes some of the most expensive examples of research-driven thinking clouding judgement, experience and evidence. Failures include New Coke to General Motors, from Mattel to the Millennium Dome. In contrast suggests instances of success through ignoring market research, such as Baileys and Dr Who. It also suggests some tools and ideas businesses should be using if they want to understand their customers.

Key points

Market Research as the scapegoat
Clearly the premise of this book (i.e. blaming market research for bad business mistakes) is unlikely to sit well with any practising market researcher and therefore it was difficult to stomach at times. However, there is merit in some of the points Philip makes, such as the need to; focus on behaviours , the importance of context and the importance of the subconscious mind on decision-making. But overall, it felt that many of the arguments were actually quite naïve and indeed misleading, and that some of the case studies were potentially based on hearsay (rather than the full story) –  blaming research for the outcome rather than the hundreds of other factors that can lead to the demise of a product launch or marketing campaign.

Importance of Behavioural Economics
Chapter 2 is one of my favourite chapters because it taps into the important area of Behavioural Economics (BE). It includes topics such as Loss Aversion, Social Proof and Mental Fluency. There are many facets to BE and all researchers and marketers should ensure they are well versed with these concepts. Armed with these ideas it is a lot easier to understand the world and make better decisions and recommendations. I would recommend Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton.

The Consumer in context:
Chapter 3. Another good chapter, which is titled ‘The Consumer in Context”. This makes an important point about the context of the research and how advertising and product choices are influenced by the environment in which they are tested. The important lesson here is that research should be as realistic as possible. For example, undertaken where advertising and products are most likely to be consumed or bought. Looking at your brand in isolation is a bit of a meaningless context and it is important that the broader market context and brand options are always taken into consideration within a research exercise.

Overall thoughts

This book was recommended to me by Peter Knowles the previous owner of Heawood Research. I’m most grateful to Peter as it has opened my eyes to the critics of research, Whilst I don’t love this book, as you can tell from my star rating, I’m sure you will find certain chapters in this book interesting. Although it is a little dated now, many of the ideas still hold some relevance today. So don’t let the stance in this book detract from some really useful insights. The ironic thing is that most of his insights are actually based on behavioural market research which ultimately undermines his whole argument against market research.

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