The best books to understand consumers (and your consumer self)

Who am I?

Having studied statistics in the 1980s and realised that forecasting energy reserves wasn’t for me, I stumbled into a career in market research. A chance reading of a book on psychoanalysis opened my eyes to how little we all understand ourselves and I started to look for better ways to identify how consumers think. After developing techniques from psychoanalysis and behavioural science I started my own consultancy firm in 2005. Over the last seventeen years I’ve been lucky enough to advise some of the world’s biggest brands, make regular appearances in the media discussing consumer affairs and, with my book Consumer.ology, to upset some of the biggest market research companies.


I wrote...

Consumer.ology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping

By Philip Graves,

Book cover of Consumer.ology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping

What is my book about?

Consumer.ology looks at the gap between what people think makes them buy and why they really do.  Described by one reviewer as a “fascinating romp through the psychological underpinnings of consumer behaviour,” it explains why shoppers make the purchases they do and illustrates why and how many famous brands like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Mattel have been misled by what people have told them in market research.

Along the way, the book reveals many of the ways in which shoppers are influenced, why they inadvertently mislead brands who are trying to understand them better, and includes fascinating insights into human decision-making that have emerged from behavioural science. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure

Philip Graves Why did I love this book?

It is no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life both personally and professionally. Robert de Board introduces us to counselling with his account of The Wind in the Willows character Toad having therapy. This delightful read doesn’t just illustrate the power of transactional analysis, it demonstrates how our experiences shape our interaction with the world around us, enabling us to see both through a clearer lens. The book ignited my interest in psychoanalysis and behavioural psychology and I have genuinely lost count of the number of times I’ve recommended or gifted it to people.

By Robert de Board,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Counselling for Toads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Toad', the famous character in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows is in a very depressed state and his good friends Rat, Mole and Badger, are 'worried that he might do something silly'...
First they nursed him. Then they encouraged him. Then they told him to pull himself together... Finally, Badger could stand it no longer. That admirable animal, though long on exhortation, was short on patience.
'Now look here Toad, this can go on no longer', he said sternly. 'There is only one thing left. You must have counselling!'
Robert de Board's engaging account of Toad's experience of…


Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

Philip Graves Why did I love this book?

After reading this book I started to get glimpses into parts of my own shopping behaviour that I had previously overlooked. As with most psychology books it helps us understand ourselves and other people better. The book blends academic rigour with a conversational writing style and includes anecdotal and research evidence. If after reading this you don’t have a better understanding of your own unconscious mind, you’re probably an android.

By Timothy D. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Strangers to Ourselves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Know thyself," a precept as old as Socrates, is still good advice. But is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? What are we trying to discover, anyway? In an eye-opening tour of the unconscious, as contemporary psychological science has redefined it, Timothy D. Wilson introduces us to a hidden mental world of judgments, feelings, and motives that introspection may never show us.

This is not your psychoanalyst's unconscious. The adaptive unconscious that empirical psychology has revealed, and that Wilson describes, is much more than a repository of primitive drives and conflict-ridden memories. It is a set of pervasive, sophisticated mental…


Book cover of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Philip Graves Why did I love this book?

Behavioural economists have a lot of fun designing experiments that make people look foolish and Dan Ariely reveals lots of these in Predictably Irrational. That said, to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, we’re not dumb, we just evolved this way, and there is much to be gained from understanding the curious ways in which we make choices: the decision-making architecture of our brains changes very little over time. As consumers, we make hundreds of decisions every week and Ariely’s book shows how easily these can be manipulated by brands and retailers.

By Dan Ariely,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Predictably Irrational as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do smart people make irrational decisions every day? The answers will surprise you. Predictably Irrational is an intriguing, witty and utterly original look at why we all make illogical decisions.

Why can a 50p aspirin do what a 5p aspirin can't? If an item is "free" it must be a bargain, right? Why is everything relative, even when it shouldn't be? How do our expectations influence our actual opinions and decisions?

In this astounding book, behavioural economist Dan Ariely cuts to the heart of our strange behaviour, demonstrating how irrationality often supplants rational thought and that the reason for…


Book cover of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls

Philip Graves Why did I love this book?

Early in my career I was responsible for running the UK brand tracking and customer experience studies of a global brand. I was constantly battling to reconcile what the research told me with what the real data from the business showed was actually going on. This book, written by someone who was a senior editor at the Gallup market research company for years, helped me appreciate some of the reasons that survey results are inaccurate. It also reveals how opinion polls can be used to distort elections and manipulate people – scary stuff.

By David W. Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Opinion Makers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new afterword by the author

Drawing on over a decade's experience at the Gallup Poll and a distinguished academic career in survey research, David W. Moore—praised as a "scholarly crusader" by the New York Times—reveals that pollsters don't report public opinion, they manufacture it. In this highly critical book, he describes the questionable tactics pollsters use to create poll-driven news stories-including force-feeding respondents, slanting the wording of questions, and ignoring public ignorance on even the most arcane issues. More than proof that the numbers do lie, The Opinion Makers clearly and convincingly spells out how urgent it is…


Book cover of The Science of Influence: How to Get Anyone to Say "yes" in 8 Minutes or Less!

Philip Graves Why did I love this book?

Lots of people have written about nudging and influence, but arguably few have studied it as tenaciously or with such a focus on its practical application as Kevin Hogan. As is so often the case with books, it was just an online retailer’s serendipitous algorithms that meant I stumbled across it. The author’s approachable style and use of practical examples (albeit often framed from a selling perspective) meant I was instantly equipped with a new way of seeing the world around me and of understanding why consumers make the choices they do. Whilst some of the behavioural science studies he references have since become quite well known, anyone venturing into this area for the first time is guaranteed to come away understanding why this field is so important and illuminating.

By Kevin Hogan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Science of Influence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Get customers, clients, and co-workers to say "yes!" in 8 minutes or less This revised second edition by a leading expert of influence continues to teach a proven system of persuasion. Synthesizing the latest research in the field of influence with real-world tested experiences, it presents simple secrets that help readers turn a "no" into a "yes." Every secret in this book has been rigorously tested, validated, and found reliable. * Learn dozens of all-new techniques and strategies for influencing others including how to reduce resistance to rubble * Make people feel instantly comfortable in your presence * Decode body…


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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