Opinion leaders were defined as those people who are able, in a given situation, to exert personal influence. They are the ones to whom others look for advice and information. Now, let us describe these people more specifically.
The term opinion leader is perhaps unfortunate because it tends to connote people of high status who make major decisions for the rest of us. In the marketing context, such a designation is unfortunate because it erroneously suggests an absolute leader who, others seek to follow. In effect, opinion, leadership is a relative concept, and the opinion leader may not be much more influential than his followers.
Nevertheless opinion leaders can informally and subtly affect the behavior of others toward products, either positively or negatively. If they like a product or service, they can help to assure its success; if they do not like it, they can contribute to its failure. It all depends on the verbal and /or visual communication that flows between them and others whom they influence.
For communication of marketing information through to or multi step flow models, opinion leadership is important and is found at all levels in society . That is, consumers tend to be influenced by those who are members of the same groups, people very much like themselves. Thus, every status level and every group will have opinion leaders with the flow of influence generally horizontal within them. However, the fact that opinion leaders are found in all strata of society does not necessarily mean that they are equally effective or important to the marketer at each social level. In fact, personal influence appears to be more operative and to have greater importance and effectiveness at higher income and status levels. These, then are the levels which the marketer is often more concerned about reaching. Such opinion leaders may have an important impact on markets as follows:
Influential Americans — one of every ten adults are the trendsetters of the marketplace according to one research organization. They are among the first to try new products and services. And because they are trendsetters, their approval of new items can ignite acceptance by the mass market. They re among the first to accept small cars, VCRs, joggings, Mexican food, CD players, bottled water, and affinity credit cards. They are better educated and earn more money than the average American and are typically married and in their 30s or 40s. They are categorized as influential if they have engaged in at least there public activities within the last year – such as running for political office attending a public meeting, or making a speech . They are attracted more than average citizen to civic, local, and national affairs and are addicted to TV newscasts and newspapers. They seek product quality at a reasonable price enjoy shopping in specialty stores and by mail but do not like telemarketing sales calls.
Who are Opinion leaders?
Because personal influence of opinion leaders is quite significant marketers are obviously interested in trying to reach such influential. To do so, however, requires that they first identified and segmented. Perhaps they may then be reached with promotional messages and may then participate in additional communication and influence with their fellow group members.
Numerous studies have been conducted attempting to identify opinion leader characteristics.
Opinion leaders have approximately the same social position as non leaders, although they may have higher social status within the class. This does not mean that personal influence does not flow across different class lies, but it is likely to be infrequent and of a visual nature rather than verbal.
Opinion leaders have greater exposure to mass media that are relevant to their area of interest. For example, opinion leaders for women’s fashions could be expected to have higher exposure to such magazines as Vogue and Glamour. Similarly automobile opinion leaders might be expected to read Motor Trend or Car and Driver. Exposure to relevant mass media provides them with information useful in enhancing their leadership potential.