Variability among Groups
Reference group influence has been shown to vary according to characteristics of the group or its type. For example comparison of reference group influence scores for students and homemakers across twenty products showed that there are significant differences between the groups in terms of the influence of reference groups on brand selection and that students are generally more susceptible to reference group influence. Why? Perhaps differences in needs or motivations among the group result in different responses to reference group influence. First the lower age of students perhaps results in their having less familiarity with products and less product information and in their facing greater purchase risk than homemakers would. Second, social surroundings and daily activity differences exist between the groups. Students have more frequent social contacts, more interaction within groups (such as sororities, fraternities and dormitory residents) which impose more rules and norms and more visible behavior subject to group pressure than do homemakers. Third, hedonism may be stronger among students than among homemakers so that they are more highly ego involved in their purchases. Thus, we see that different groups exhibit difference reference influences. Let’s briefly examine a few of these group factors that seem to influence conformity.
First, conformity may be related to group cohesiveness. One study of band choice behavior found group cohesiveness and brand similarities to be positively related. However, not all researchers have found group cohesiveness to be associated with group influence. Conformity also appears to be related to group size. One set of experiments showed that increasing the number of influencing members up to three increased the pressure toward conformity on the experimental subject, but beyond three, the influence was found to be no greater.
Proximity to group members can influence conformity. For example a study of elderly consumer social interaction patterns found that more than 80 per cent of the exchange of information and advice about a new product occurred between persons living on the same floor. This and other studies have indicated that influencers live close to each other.
The individual’s relationship to the group is another factor that determines its influence on conformity. His or her social integration (such as the level of acceptance by other group members) and his or her group role are factors that generally are positively related to the degree of group influence on the individual. However social comparison processes are at work even in socially distant reference groups.
Similarity to the group’s characteristics outlooks and values is also important. For example, consumers are more likely to seek product information, to trust this information and to choose the same products as do friends who have similar attributes. This suggests that anew product can be diffused fastest when the market possesses similar value orientations about similar types of products, because the likelihood of interpersonal communication and influence is greatest.
Although similarity is likely to be important one research study indicates that the single most important element of referent selection for fifteen products commonly purchased by undergraduate males is stage presence involving the referent’s personal appearance or bearing. The persuasive charisma resulting for this attribute may be very relevant in certain marketing situations. For instance, the marketer my often want to choose a model or potential referent having this attribute when promoting through advertising or personal selling.