Originally, HERD was just me, Mark Earls, recovering account planner and all-round opinionator. But increasingly, as I’ve discovered more and (importantly), learned from others, the community has grown.
Working with a range of collaborators and clients, we developed tools to give these HERD ideas practical application. Collaborating with likeminded folk such as Dr. Alex Bentley (deputy Director of the Leverhulme Tipping Points grant at Durham University) and Grant McCracken (anthropologist and author of Chief Culture Officer), we’ve attacked differents kinds of problem and found different kinds of solution, thanks to the power of the social perspective on humanity.
We’ve also worked with some fantastic partners – Anomaly London, Brainjuicer, Modernista!, Naked , Protein, People Ideas & Culture and Hide & Seek to adapt our thinking to specific client problems. We’ve advised large corporations (such as Unilever, Bacardi-Martini, Channel 4 Television, The Edrington Group, Sony), UK government departments (HM Department of Health and Central Office of Information) and not-for-profits such as the Gates Foundation, Greenpeace & The School of Life.
HERD started as a label for everything social about human behaviour - a research “bucket” if you like - for the “hidden truths“* of fundamentally social nature of our curious species and the fundamentally social context that shapes our behaviour.
In essence, HERD is a synthesis of the work of social scientists in a number of different fields (primatology, anthropology, archaeology, network theory, sociology, economics & cultural evolution) mixed together with management and marketing science and my own professional experience of more than two decades, trying to understand and shape mass behaviour.
I first used the term HERD publically in March 2003 in an award-winning conference paper which challenged many of the core assumptions of advertising, marketing and market research professionals way of seeing the world and proposed a realignment of these disciplines around the idea of humans being fundamentally social creatures.
Soon enough, HERD was a book (John Wiley & Sons 2007/2009) which a lot of people read (and many said nice things about) then more articles, more speeches and more prizes. But in the last few years, it has become both a consulting business and a mainstream way of thinking about human behaviour for many marketing, advertising and research professionals as well as for those working in politics, public policy and security.
HERD started in the pre-Facebook world (Mark Zuckerberg was still in High School) but has only become more relevant in our attempts to make sense of the human behaviour in the modern post-Facebook world.
*well, not so hidden, more ignored really.
There are three main ways in which clients tend to engage us
I am a recovering advertising and marketing professional who has held Senior posts at big comms agencies (Ogilvy) and radical ones (St Luke’s) on some of the trickiest strategy challenges in behaviour change. I have long been committed to the industry bodies (I’m a Business Leader of the Marketing Society & I’ve sat on committees for the APG & IPA in the UK and taught for both these and the AAAA in the US) and society in general (I’ve helped organisations such as Arts & Business and The School of Life). I am a longstanding Fellow of the RSA.
The path to HERD is not hard to trace. Ironically, for someone who now preaches the ubiquity of social learning rather than independent choice, I was taught (at home, at school, at uni, at everywhere) to "think it through": in other words, not to accept what others told me to accept but to challenge everything until a more compelling, better-evidenced and more workable descriptions of how things work emerges.
It doesn’t always you popular or terribly rich but it is the most exciting thing – as my friend Russell Davies put it, standing at the front of the train with the wind in your hair, it’s such a thrill!