Social factors in consumer markets


In addition to cultural factors, a consumer’s behavior is influenced by such social factors as reference groups, family, and social roles and statuses.

Reference Groups

A person’s reference groups consist of all the groups that have direct (face-to-face) or indirect influence on his/her attitudes or behavior. Groups having a direct influence on a person are called membership groups. Some membership groups primary groups, such as family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, those with whom the person interacts fairly continuously and informally. People also belong to secondary groups, such as religious, professional, and trade-union groups, which tend to be more formal and required less continuous interaction.

People are significantly influenced by their reference groups in at least three ways. Reference groups expose an individual to new behaviors and lifestyles, and influence attitudes and self-concept; they create pressures for conformity that affect actual product and brand choices. People are also influenced by groups to which they do not belong. Aspiring groups are those a person hopes to join; dissociate groups are those whose values or behavior an individual rejects.

Manufacturers of products and brands where group influence is strong must determine how to reach and influence opinion leaders in these reference groups. An opinion leader is the person in informal, product-related communications who offers advice or information about a specific product or product category, such as which of several brands is best or how a particular product may be used. Marketers try to reach opinion by identifying the media read by opinion leaders, and directing messages at opinion leaders.

In Japan, high school girls have often been credited with creating the buzz that makes product such as Shiseido’s Neuve nail polish a big hit. In the United States, the hottest trends in teenage music, language, and fashion often start in the inner cities. Clothing companies like Hot Topic, which hope to appeal to the fickle and fashion-conscious youth market, have made a concerted effort to monitor urban opinion leaders’ style and behavior.


With 494 stores in malls in 49 states and Puerto Rico, Hot Topic has been hugely successful at using anti-establishment style in its fashions. Hot Topic’s tagline, “everything about the music,� reflects its operating premise: Music is the primary influence on teen fashion. Whether a teen is into rock, pop-punk, emo, acid rap, rave, or rockabilly –or even more obscure musical tastes—Hot Topic has the T-shirt for him or her. T-shirts featuring bands re the company’s bread and better. In order to keep up with music trends, all Hot Topic staffers, from the CEO to the lowliest store employee, regularly attend concerts by up-and-coming and established bands to scout who’s wearing what. It’s a perk for store clerks because they get reimbursed for concert tickets if they turn in a fashion write-up later.

Hot Topic uses customer input too. Store managers keep comment cards near the till shoppers to fill out. Hot Topic’s Web site solicits e-mailed suggestions, and the CEO reads more than 1,000 customer comment cards and e-mails a month.