Classification of Groups

Groups may be classified according to a number of dimensions, including function, degree of personal involvement and degree of organization.

Content or Function:

Most of us view the content of groups in terms of their function. For example, we categorize them along such lines as students, factory workers church members, and so on. Actually, these are subtypes of the major kinds of groups that we encounter in a complex society, which could generally be categorized along such lines as family, ethnic, age, sex, political, religious, residential, occupational, educational and so forth.

Degree of Personal Involvement:

By using this criterion we can identify two different types of groups: primary and secondary. The hallmark of a primary group is that interpersonal relationships take place usually on a face to face basis, with great frequency and open an intimate level. These groups have shared norms and interlocking roles. Families, work groups and even recreational groups (if individuals have some depth of personal involvement) are examples of such groups.

Secondary groups are those in which the relationship among members is relatively impersonal and formalized. This amounts to a residual category that includes all groups that are not primary such as political parties, unions, occasional sports groups, and the American Marketing association. Although such groups are secondary, the interpersonal relationships that occur may nevertheless be face to face. The distinction lies in the lack of intimacy of personal involvement.

Degree of Organization:

Groups range from those that are relatively unorganized to highly structured forms. We usually simplify this continuum into two types: formal and informal. Formal; groups are those with a definite structure (for example, they may have a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer).They are likely to be secondary groups designed to accomplish specific goals, whether economic, social, political, or altruistic. The United Way, the Miss America Pageant, and the local Republican party are examples. Informal groups are typically primary groups, characterized by a relatively loose structure, lack of clearly defined goals or objectives unstructured interaction, and unwritten rules. Because of the extent of their influence on individual values and activities, informal groups are probably of greater importance to us in seeking to understand consumer behavior.

It should be evident from this discussion that the term group is multi faceted and that groups have important influences on individuals, including on their activities as consumers. Primary informal groups have the greatest degree of impact on consumers and are therefore most important to marketers. From such groups, consumers develop their product consumption, shopping and media patterns. Consequently, these groups are generally most influential on consumers’ buying behavior. As a result advertisers normally present their products within a primary group setting such as among friends (Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut), family, (Pillsbury, Johnson’s baby Powder Cheer detergent) or work groups (Dial Soap, Haggar suits).

Secondary informal groups probably are the next most influential to consumers and, therefore, are sometimes used in advertising efforts. For example, a new type of golf club, racquet ball racket, or snow ski may be featured in the appropriate friendly, competitive but professional looking surroundings in which the product and user may be shown excelling and being rewarded with admiration. Or, in the case of other sponsors, the product itself may be the reward (such as Michelob Light beer for the winners of a racquet ball match). Primary and secondary formal groups are much less widely used by marketers because they have far less direct, intimate influence on consumer behavior. In specialized situations, however, certain marketers may find them useful. Example, travel or insurance agents may develop specific offerings for members of an organization, such as state employees or university alumni.