Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I suppose the moral of the story is don't judge a book by its title?

I spent the months of March, April, May wrestling with a book that will be my horror until the end of time.

Consumer.ology by Philip Graves.

I think I was fooled by its funky title when I agreed to translate it. (I was also fooled by the purple prose. I think when I read it before I accepted it, I was reading it on autopilot mode, so the book superficially appeared to be interesting.) I regretted it for a whole three months.

The book on the surface was supposed to be about consumer behaviour, which to be honest wasn't a subject that came to me easily when I did it at university. I actually got a decent mark in it but it was hard. But I thought I'd at least have some background on it and would be able to do it, though it might be a little harder than Brand New World.

Oh boy, I was wrong. The basic gist of the book is: market research is popular, but it doesn't work, because people don't know what they want and they say one thing but want something else. Sounded simple enough, except that the book was laced with about 80% pure, academic psychology, which, let's just say, I don't have enough background to even understand in English. But that actually wasn't the problem.

The problem was that this book just read like a very, very long piece of discouragement. The author went on and on and on about how market research is faulty, lists reasons a, b, c about why market research is terrible, based on these x, y, z theories of psychology, but doesn't tell you what the alternative to it is. It was extremely repetitive, like someone took a hammer and was beating the message into my head. There came a point in the book where I literally banged my head down on the keyboard and wanted to scream, "Fine, I get it, market research sucks! Now tell me what to do differently!"

And I've finished the book, but I still don't know what the alternative is.

Actually, no, I do. The author says that instead of asking people (market research) what they want, you should see (observe) what people do and base your market decisions on that. Except that when he finally got to this alternative method, it was like he ran out of steam, having spent 200 pages talking about how faulty the talking method is. So he sort of waffles through a couple of examples of the observation method and say that this is the best method.

Except I have a feeling the author rather misses the point of the whole concept of market research in the first place. He defines market research (very narrowly) as going around talking to people and having people telling you what they want. Then he spends the whole book shooting it down, saying this is horrible. Yet his alternative is just another aspect of market research. I thought the idea was rather obvious. Of course you can't base your decisions on what people say alone, you have to observe what they do.

I don't think any undergrad student who took MARK2012 (Marketing Research) at my university really thought that the company we did our research project for should definitely sell rainbow lollies because a bunch of UNSW students who came to our focus groups say so. Even applied to real life, isn't it rather obvious that yes, people do change their mind, and yes, if people are in a focus group being filmed, they're going to act not themselves, so you shouldn't take everything they say at face value? (That's his entire argument against market research, basically.)

So I guess in the end, I just don't know what the point of the book was. It was rather like proving the obvious, yet in a very long-winded, discouraging, repetitive manner.

It didn't help the translation process that I wasn't convinced by many of the author's arguments in the first place, and his writing style was...weird. It was like reading an academic piece of Conrad (I can't stand Joseph Conrad's writing style.) My editor wasn't too fond of this book either so I'm not sure what state it will be in when it finally hit the printers. I have a feeling it'll be a lot shorter.

PS: I have absolutely no idea why my ISP has decided to block the domain blogspot.com. I have to use a proxy to actually view blogspot. How fun.