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

Philip Graves Author Of Consumer.ology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping
By Philip Graves

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. 

The books I picked & why

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Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure

By Robert de Board,

Book cover of Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure

Why 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.


Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

By Timothy D. Wilson,

Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

Why 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.


Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

By Dan Ariely,

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

Why 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.


The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls

By David W. Moore,

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

Why 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.


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

By Kevin Hogan,

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

Why 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.


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