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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – Research


Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely Harper Collins March 2008
I have Shiona McDougall of Harper Collins to thank for this book which she gave me when I was running training for the marketing team there. Predictably Irrational is the work of a behavioural economist Dan Ariely. Marketing still works within the paradigm that consumers behave rationally. Ariely gently shows that this isn't true. This is an introductory text - very easy to follow and a ripping read. You probably ought to know that people's product experience is massively affected by packaging and even the design of the glass or plate you sample it from. What I really appreciated about the book is the way Ariely demonstrates the principles using small scale surveys in the college where he teaches. Human behaviour isn't rocket science - you don't need to subject your customers to 2 hour depth interviews, or scan their brain patterns to get insights about them. And just using small scale quantitative studies he is able to show there is a gap between people's behaviour and what they think they were doing. I think my favourite was the couple of chapters about how to reduce dishonesty, showing a measurable increase in honesty among the sample who read the 10 commandments first!
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Herd, Mark Earls
Review and interview with the author in In their own words
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Phantoms of the brain, VS Ramachandran Fourth Estate 1999
I've been participating in a reading group about Neuroscience and after Zeldman and Robert Heath have delved into neurology with this book. Ramachandran achieved fame when he discovered that by making a mirror image of a missing limb and asking patients to unclench their hands - patients who suffered exruciating pain as non existent nails dug into the palms of a non existent hand - where able to open their phantom hands for the first time. This is a romp through the plumbing of the brain. It is deliberately populist and frequently hilarious. What it deals a hammer blow to is the notion that the brain is a unity or even a clear hierarchy of systems. The brain can be fooled. And there are regular exercises you can ry out to find the gaps in the interlocking systems. Which makes is a very accessible way to think about how we perceive the world and how we think. The last chapter where he outlines his theory of consciousncess is the most difficult but most of it is a blast providing a stream of anecdotes you'll want to discuss with others.
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The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida 2002 Basic Books
This was prominently displayed on the desks of the McCanns Microsoft account group at the time I was working with them to distil descriptions of all Microsoft's audiences. Knowledge workers (not to be confused with information workers ) are predictably a key group. so 2 years on I finally got to read the book. Which is based on Richard Florida's academic research studies into creative workers. The first thing to say that all the field work is US centric which means there has to be some translation. The second thing to say is that defining what a creative worker does and is is a lot trickier than Florida makes it sound. But having defined his algorhythm off he goes and compiles league table after league table of the US cities with the highest concentration of creatives per 1000 head of population. And the worst cities - who are predictably blue collar and suffering from a bad case of neoindustrial hangover. But once he hits his stride there's no stopping him. More league tables of bohemians and gays. Even levels of fitness and what sports are played in their spare time are diced and sliced. Now Florida is no fool. There must be a queue of urban regeneration execs round the block to improve their rankings. And he does make a powerful case for the convergence of technology, talent (however you measure it) and tolerance in creating environments where fast growing and profitable businesses flourish. But the book is wildly over written and is in dire need of an editor - reading the same conclusion two or three times with slightly varying evidence doesn't make the theory more likely to be true. I would summarise this book as a great piece of noodling - yes creativity is important. And if you need to study knowledge workers as an audience there are a lot of insights to be mined. But you'll have to dig for the insights. If you put too much weight on any of it it starts to look rather thin. For example creative people seek to recharge themselves through often solitary physical activity gyms and mountain biking where blue collar workers (couch potatoes that they are) turn to spectator sports with high levels of competition because they have time to kill unlike their pressured creative counterparts and they don't win a lot in their lives so need the vicarious thrill of the highs and lows of following a team. There is a curious note that in the 1900s there were a lot more local league teams and participation - but there's no explanation of why so many chose to play then and don't bother now. This is starting to sound flaky and dare I say it elitist. It reads like a Democrat tract. Tough then that the proles have for the time being taken over the asylum!
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How Customers think: Essential insights into the mind of the market, Gerald Zaltman February 2003 HBS press
This book is remarkable. I've finished reading it but I'm going to have to read it again. It is one of the handful of business books which starts to articulate the implications of what has been found out about the structure of the brain since 1990. Damasio reckons this is about 90% which when you consider how much branding thinking dates from before 1990 shows the extent of the problem. In other words most of what you know is wrong or at best only half right. Zaltman teaches at Harvard and runs a commercial consultancy which uses the research techniques which comes directly from the new work on the physical structure of the brain. Which means among other things that he doesn't do groups (?Que) but instead builds up consensual maps through depth interviews (quite similar to laddering). He researches the way brand beliefs are stored in metaphors and stories and how creative work successfully accesses these (or doesn't). He looks at how so called recall is created by the question being asked in the brain and how so called authentic memories can be altered until they bear little or no relation to people's original memories. Most interestingly he describes the market as a collaboration between the mind of the customer and the mind of the client. Not only the consciously held perceptions but the unconscious ones as well. Yes the client's own unconscious influencing the way the market category is constructed and promoted. There's a whole section of the book on the client's thinking. If you want to sleep easy at night then don't read this book and carry on churning out the Powerpoints. If you want to think deeply about what you're doing every day and how it works and whether it works half as well as you pretend then you will find this book a hard but stimulating read. It certainly got my brain into gear. Progress I'm afraid is about unlearning as well as learning and this is an uncomfortable process. If there is a flaw in the book it is that he convinces you to do it his way without telling you exactly how you can do this - but I suppose the man has a living to earn. Thanks to John Grant for the tip off - and he also gets a mention in the book!
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Brand Child, Martin Lindstrom and Patricia Seybold February 2003 Kogan Page
Well having read the whole book now I've calmed down a little, but in the words of the immortal Ian Drury "What a waste!" Imagine if you will that you had the resources to conduct a multicountry survey of 8s to 13s otherwise known as tweens - there are so many things you could do - draw comparisons between confucian, meritocratic and egalitarian cultures , or aggregate selection of perhaps the richest prepubescents in human history. What you probably wouldn't do is to attempt to pass this off as a survey of tweens across the planet. Yes that's around 800 milllion human beings including most child labourers, street children and child prostitutes. Only in the survey global tweens know Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, wouldn't be seen dead with a Playstation and want their own website. If a planner working for me served up this pap I'd shred them. Slowly. Whatever was the bright green tracking machine from Leamington Spa thinking of turning out this kind of rubbish? For the last time Millward Brown when will you learn that just because something can be measured that it's worth measuring? There's no clear definition of the target group, and contradictory figures about the number of countries involved: 7, 11 and 15. Let alone why these brats represent their entire agegroup planetwide. That aside, the rest of the book actually has some quite interesting patches. The branding guru author has got a lot of experience working with kids so there are interesting bits on multisensory branding, the role of interactivity in brand building as well as some good stuff on integration. But with this dreadful survey in the background I have to say I treat all figures quoted with a huge dose of suspicion - some interesting case studies and a qualitative grasp of the youngsters but the book could have been so much more rigorous. There's a website as well with more content on it - use the unique pin on the back of each book sold. If you work on kids brands then it has some glimmers of insight. But please don't allow your clients to think its a great piece of work. It stinks.
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Qualitative Market Research, Gill Ereaut Mike Imms Martin Callingham 2002 Sage
Read review the book by book book in IndepthReviews
Good Thinking, Wendy Gordon 1999 NTC Publications
Haven't started it yet. But it looks really good. I went on AQR courses on moderating led by Wendy ages ago plus her seminar on innovative thinking on brands a couple of years ago - a lot of that material looks as if it has found it's way into this book. Which is great. She is an inspiration and this book has all the signs of a labour of love. I've spotted a really useful checklist of definitions of marketing terms in the back. So if you're ever looking to explain to a client what a brand essence is......
Qualitative research, Wendy Gordon Roy Langmaid 1988 Gower
Is a goody. A lot of good stuff on stimulus materials and projective techniques. Wish I had the nerve to do psychodrama when I moderate groups. Not cheap though. Good Thinking out now as well. Which is one for the wish list.
Qualitative Research In Context, Ed Laura Marks 2000 Admap
Is a book all about the new territories being opened up by qualitative research. And you might check out the chapter on researching religion written by a certain John Griffiths...
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