The variability of reference group influence

Variability among products

When the influence of reference groups on the purchase of a number of consumer goods was first studied, it was found that the conspicuousness of a product is a strong determinant of its susceptibility to reference group influence. Conspicuousness may be of two forms, however. First the item must be exclusive in some way. If virtually everyone owns it, it is not conspicuous in the first sense, even though it may be highly visible. Operationally we may think of this as the distinction between luxuries (having a degree of exclusivity) and necessities (possessed by virtually everyone). Second the item must be seen or identified by others. Thus, where an item is consumed had great relevance. In this situation, a distinction may be made between publicly consumed products (which are seen by others) and privately consumed items (not seen by others). Reference groups may influence either the purchase of a product or the choice of a particular brand, or both.

Other consumer researchers have investigated the role of reference group influence on product and brand choice for several product categories. One of these studies is summarized in Figure below

Figure

Combining public private and luxury necessity dimensions with product and brand purchase decision

Brand Products

Strong reference group influence (+)

Weak reference group influence (–)

Public necessities influence: Weak product and strong brand
Examples: Wristwatch, automobile, man’s suit.

Strong reference group influence (+)

Public luxuries Influence: Strong product and brand
Examples: Golf clubs, snow skis, sailboat

Strong reference group influence (–)

Necessity

Weak reference group influence (–)

Private necessities Influence: Weak and product and brand.
Examples: mattress floor lamp, refrigerator.

Luxury

Private luxuries influence: Strong product and weak brand.
Examples: TV game, trash compactor, Icemaker.

It combines the concepts of public private consumption and luxury necessity items and, when applied to product and brand decisions offer a set of eight reference group influence relationships.

Publicly consumed luxury:

A product consumed in public view and not commonly owned or used (such as Golf clubs) In this case whether or not the product is owned and also what brand is purchased is likely to be influenced by others.

Relationships with reference group influence:

a) Because it is a luxury influence for the product should be strong
b) Because it will be seen by others, influence for the brand of the product should be wrong.

Privately consumed luxury:

A product consumed out of public view and not commonly owned or used (for example, a trash compactor). In many cases, the brand is not conspicuous or socially important and is a matter of individual choice but ownership of the product does convey a message about the owner.

Relationships with reference group influence:

a) Because it is a luxury, influence for the product should be strong
b) Because it will not be seen by others, influence for the brand of the product should be weak.

Publicly consumed necessity: A product consumed in public view that virtually everyone owns (such as wristwatch) This group is made up of products that essentially all people or a large proportion of people use, although they differ as to what type of brand to use.

a) Because it is a necessity, influence for the product should be weak.
b) Because it will be seen by others influence for the brand of the product should be strong.

Privately consumed necessity:

A product consumed out of public view that virtually everyone owns (such as a mattress). Purchasing behavior is largely governed by product attributes rather than by the influences of others. In this group, neither products nor brands tend to be socially conspicuous and the products are owned by nearly all consumers.

Relationships to reference group influence:

a) Because it is necessity influence for the product should be weak.
b) Because it will not be seen by others influence for the brand of the product should be weak.