Social Groups

A couple standing in a local outlet of a specialty game retailing chain are arguing about which board game to buy for a party they are planning. A decade ago they would have had little to argue about, because there was virtually no adult game market. Moreover, there were no specialized stores for games. When Trivial Pursuit was launched in 1984, sales in the adult game category of the toy market increased tremendously. Since then gamed marketers have scrambled to find the next hot new adult game. While family games like Monopoly, that adults play wit their children, have been around a long time, recent years have seen the birth of as subcategory of games geared mainly to adults in social situations. What attracted buyers to Trivial Pursuit was their memories of the TV quiz shows a board games of their youth. These childhood pleasures were potent lures for adults. Other games such as Pictionary, Win, Lose or Draw, Scruples, Outbrust Scattergories, and Taboo have built a $5300 million category by taking skill and knowledge based on facts or fancies consumers have accumulated over thirty something years. Word of mouth has played a major role in marketing adult games. The shared aspect of the games creates natural pass along situations, with consumers introducing the game to friends by playing it with them. Adult games are fun as games or just to start conversation at a party or at home. Many retailers make store space available for customers to actually sit down and sample the games. Cocooning and a tight economy may boot adult games home entertainment appeal even further.

This example illustrates some of the many influences social groups may have on buyers. As we continue to narrow our discussions of environmental variables, this article examines ways in which groups impinge on consumer decision making. This is an important ingredient in the marketer’s understanding of consumer behavior.

Our first task will be to define several group concepts essential to our discussion. Next, the major characteristics of groups and group types will be examined. Finally, we shall discuss reference groups and their special relevance for the marketer in understanding consumer behavior.

Not every collection of individuals is a group, as the term is used by sociologists. Actually, we can distinguish three different collections of people, aggregations, categories, and groups. An as aggregation is any number of people, who are in close proximity to one another at a given time A category is any number of people who have some particular attributes in common. A group consists of people who have a sense of relatedness as a result of interaction wit each other.

To illustrate these concepts consider four people sitting on a bench at a university. They are an aggregation since they are in close proximity. They may be a category if they share some attribute such as being majors in the College of Business administration. They may also be a group if they have a shared sense of relatedness through interaction, that is, if they are all friends or classmates in a consumers-behavior course, for example.

Although our emphasis in this article is ion groups, this does not mean that the marketer is not interested in aggregations and categories. These collections are frequently the focus for developing marketing strategies. For example market segmentation typically does not involve social groups but instead uses categories, since the people are not all interacting with one another.