The book that will transform how you think about customer insight: Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

A phrase we’ve heard a lot during lockdown is ‘the new normal’. Business leaders, insight teams, strategists and marketers around the world have already acknowledged that COVID-19 will change the way we live and work forever. Our job now is to understand the lasting impact of the pandemic on customer opinions and behaviour, so we can figure out how to communicate with people who have been altered by living through this once-in-a-century experience.

Everybody Lies is a book our directors passed around as essential reading during lockdown, and we would strongly recommend it to anyone who is tearing up their old customer insight surveys, brand tracking reports and go-to-market strategies. It explains, humorously and scientifically, the role played by Google search data in understanding human preoccupations and behaviour.

At Tribe, we’ve long understood the power of Google data – it offers immediate and unparalleled insight into what customers care about at any given point in time. Google search tells us how people respond to the world around them, to the issues of the day and to individual companies and brands.

As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz so brilliantly illustrates in the book, people ask Google things they wouldn’t dream of asking their closest friends or family. As well as prejudices and unusual personal habits, Google data reveals information we can use to change our society for the better, according to the author. This has never been truer than in 2020, as we wrestle with a global health emergency and an economic downturn which, while it won’t last forever, will cut deep for many businesses.

During the pandemic, Tribe has been following Google search trends for a number of terms which reveal what consumers in the UK have been most concerned about over the past few weeks. Here’s an example of our analysis, with the heatmap showing shifting emphasis in the coronavirus-related questions consumers were asking Google during the weeks immediately preceding lockdown:

When things are changing rapidly, Google search is often ahead of the curve. Some of the undercurrents in search behaviour today give clues to the way people think, feel and respond tomorrow. This is obviously important in a crisis scenario, but equally helpful when determining business and communications strategy in normal or ‘new normal’ times.

Traditional market and consumer insights can only tell us what mattered weeks or months ago, before the world was turned on its head. Quite apart from that, as Stephens-Davidowitz demonstrates with his entertaining examples, including the opinion polls surrounding the election of Donald Trump, people often lie to researchers. That’s why many forms of traditional insight increasingly cannot be trusted, whereas Google gets right inside the heads of your customers. In a post-pandemic market, knowing what is really on their minds could make the difference between a speedy recovery or a continued downward spiral.

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