HERD by Mark Earls

Herd Book Review Vision One

Book Review

Marketing Book Reviews

Last month, we held our first book club meeting of the year. Over the next 7 weeks we will be sharing our teams thought on each of their books. This week, Elle shares her thoughts on Herd.

Our Star Rating

2.6 Out of 5

2 And A Half Star

About the author

SAM GOSLING, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. His work has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times, Psychology Today, NPR, and “Good Morning America,” and his research is featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Gosling is the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution.

Who is it for?

Anyone looking to understand and/or harness mass behaviour. An interesting read for those with an interest in psychology, those who question who we as a species are, where our behaviour comes from and how we make decisions.

Outline of the book

Since the Enlightenment there has been a very simple but widely held assumption that we are a species of thinking individuals and human behaviour is best understood by examining the psychology of individuals. It appears, however, that this insight is plain wrong.

The evidence from a number of leading behavioural and neuroscientists suggests that our species is designed as a herd or group animal. Mark Earls applies this evidence to the traditional mechanisms of marketing and consumer behaviour, with a result that necessitates a complete rethink about these subjects. HERD provides a host of unusual examples and anecdotes to open the mind of the business reader, from Peter Kay to Desmond Tutu, Apple to UK Sexual Health programmes, George Bush to Castle Lager, from autism to depression to the real explanation for the placebo effect in pharmaceutical testing.

Source: The Marketing Institute of Ireland | YouTube

Key points

  1. The Super-Social Ape

The first and most important insight to take from this book is that human beings are designed ultimately to be super-social apes. As a western reader and therefore someone who values their individualism this premise is hard to get on board with at first – but, with a little patience it is easy to get on board with the way that Earls thinks.

Earls explores a wide-ranging bank of research, from neuroscience to social psychology (e.g., Game Theory) to support his argument that we as humans are inherently social and act only learnt herd behaviour. One quite compelling piece of research is that on mirror neurons, this finding that we have specific cerebral connections designed to process the actions of others around us. Research shows that when we observe the actions of others, the same neurons required to perform that action ourselves fire as though we are mentally mirroring the actions of our peers.

Earls brings insights from Clinical Psychology to support this claim. He explores how in autistic individuals, who present with a deficit in social interaction and empathic concern, lack sound functioning mirror neurons. Earls uses this insight to support his claim that mirror neurons are evidence of our inherently social nature, by nature.

2. C2C, not B2C

Mark Earls urges business owners and marketeers to move away from the B2C thinking of “what do we do to them” and adopt a more C2C style thinking – “how do they impact each other”. To support this premise, Earls brings in numerous real-life examples - from the rise of the Arctic Monkeys to the MMR crisis. At the centre of both of these very different examples is the importance of human interaction.

The Arctic Monkeys grew to fame, not through careful and selective marketing as usually guided by a record label, but as a result of fan-to-fan interaction through the use of free concerts and free music to their fan base encouraging their fans to share with friends and family. Similarly, with the MMR crisis, it became just that, a crisis, because of human interaction and less so because of the actual findings reported. Often, the finer detail is less important, what is important is the social interaction a situation like those mentioned garners.

3. Peer-to-peer interaction

This is the real goal of all marketers. The most frequently observed form of social interaction is word of mouth. It is important to note that endogenous (naturally arising) word of mouth is much more powerful than exogenous (stimulated by outside forces) word of mouth and therefore it is not just a case of getting people to talk – this must come about naturally.

Further to that, it is not just what people say to each other as often this is not a true reflection of how they feel nor how they will behave – instead, much more important to consider is what people do. All significant actions of a business and/or product should therefore generate interaction between individuals. The surest way to generate consistent and long-term C2C influence is to be interesting and authentic.

Final thoughts

Earls provides quite a compelling argument that humans are social beings acting on learnt mass behaviour – so much so, that it transformed my own way of thinking about myself and the people around me. Earls urges marketeers and business owners to get on board with this notion and move beyond the thinking that individuals make decisions on their own.

We must move away from counting individuals and assuming that they exist in isolation from each other and start conceptualising human behaviour in terms of social systems.


If you have any book suggestions you would like to share with us please share with our team and we may review them!