Definition of reference group Consumer Behaviour

A group consists of two or more individuals who share a set of norms, values or beliefs and have certain implicitly or explicitly defined relationship with one another, such that their behaviour is interdependent. Groups give an opportunity to individuals to learn and socialise. Marketeers use the knowledge of group influences when designing market strategy.

Reference group is a group of people whom you refer to, while making buying decisions. They help you in buying items like clothing, etc. Reference groups influence consumer behavior by building aspirations for the individual and, helping him to choose the product for a particular lifestyle. They are small groups and consist of family, close friends, work groups, neighbours or any other group of people you associate with.

These groups regulate the lives and set standards for norms and conduct. In a family, influence is exerted by the members of the family in the purchase consumption process.

Reference groups affect consumers by imparting information and by influencing value expressive needs of the consumers. If one wants to be a member of the group, one has to conform to the standards of the group. Their values and attitudes have to be appreciated and adopted, and one tends to buy and use the products which the group uses and appreciates. More homogeneous groups, or group members having similar characteristics are moresusceptible to attitude changes than the groups whose members are less homogeneous. Someindividuals have a strong sense of identification with a group because they derive strong material or psychological benefit by being associated with that group. Sometimes, there are pressures of buying, known as conformity pressures, and one adheres to the norms of the group. Conformity pressures can be noticed with norms set by schools and colleges, other membership organization and military or police organisation and the like. These can be exerted directly or indirectly on the members of the group.
There are three levels of group involvement. These are:

Group-influence consumption
The members of the group have to comply only by overt or open behaviour with the norms and standards, i.e., comply by paying certain fixed fees. Being present on time.Wearing the same clothes, etc. It makes no demand on the change of attitudes, beliefs of the person concerned. You can only be a passive member of a service organisation, pay fees, eat food, meet people and go away without being service minded, e.g., Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs.
This is a deeper relationship where the individual not only complies to the standards, but also maintains a social relationship and changes his perception to a great extent, i.e., you can join a service organisation only for being a member or, you can change your perception and become service minded and actually start believing in service doing and, appreciating to achieve the service objectives of the organisation. You can become involved deeply and take pride in identifying yourself as a Lion or a Rotarian.

Here you become more committed and, not only believe in service, but also try to enforce the objects and views on others, to get more deeply involved in it. You make or force others to follow the norms and rules of the organisation. An example of the process can be that you are born in religious surroundings and perform rituals enforced on you. The next stage is that you start being religious yourself and the third stage is that you start preaching the same to others.
There are four types of reference groups. These are:
Membership and Non-membership Groups: This is a simple and self-explanatory classification. A membership group is one to which one belongs. Non-membership group are groups of which you are not a member but may aspire to belong to.
Formal or Informal Group: A formal group has a structure and some objectives and the roles of the members are defined. Certain rules and regulations are followed. An informal group has no structure. People come and go at random, e.g., a group meeting in the market place having tea and snacks together, meeting without much purpose.
Primary or Secondary Group: This depends on the frequency of contact. Primary groups consists of family, close friends, peers and business associates with whom one has regular contact. Secondary groups meet infrequently and are not so closely knit. Club membership groups and shopping groups are secondary groups.
Aspirational Groups: Aspirational groups are the groups you aspire to belong to and want to join at some future time. These are known as anticipatory aspirational groups. We also have symbolic aspirational groups to which a person is attached but not likely to belong to. These are professional sports groups, or some other elite group. Marketeers use a symbolic group by using celebrities to advertise the products. The above figure shows the classification of groups. It is important for marketeers to make a study of the behaviour of groups and accordingly formulate strategies. Consumers use these groups as a point of reference at different times. Primary groups exert greater and more direct influence on purchasing behaviour, and the advertisers use family settings and family events as a means of advertising them to influence consumers.


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