Reference Group Applications in Marketing Consumer Behaviour

A wide application of reference groups is used in advertising by marketeers. They use pleasant situations and attractive and prominent people to promote their products. The products are used by these people who are sought after and, have made a mark in life. They try to identify lifestyle characteristics of a certain group and then design effective advertising strategies. The designing of advertising is done by:
Using Celebrities
Celebrities who endorse the product to the consumer, e.g., film stars for beauty products including soaps (Lux), etc. sports people for the use of healthy products, e.g., KapilDev for Boost; Shahrukh Khan for Smoodles; Pierce Brosnan for Reid and Taylor; Cindy Crawford for Revlon.
Use of Experts and Professionals
Experts in various fields are used to promote the products. The prospective customers evaluate the products advertised by experts and are affected by these experts and professionals.Doctors are used to promote tooth-pastes, e.g., Forhans, Sachin Tendulkar promoting Visa Cards, etc.
Use of Spokesman
For product endorsements, spokesmen for a particular product refer to the appeal for the common man. It is propagated that somebody from the common man uses the product and is satisfied. Lalitaji of the Surf advertisement.
Opinion Leaders
These are key persons in a group who influence their group and are innovators or early buyers. The marketeer focuses his strategies on key persons in the group, some are opinion leaders, and others are opinion seekers. Thus, key persons are knowledgeable with a lot of experience. They are also known as influencers and others are receivers. They consist of friends, associates, neighbours, etc. In this group, persuasive communication is more fruitful, as opinion leaders can affect and influence the behaviour of others in a group.

There are opinion leaders who mediate the transmission of information from mass media to the general public:

  • Firstly, the Mass Media transmits information to the general public.
    Mass Media →Transmission of Information →General Public
  • Secondly, Media may send through opinion leaders to general public. Mass Media →Opinion Leaders →General Public (Target Customers)
  • Thirdly, there is interaction between people and information goes forward and backwards, interaction and positive and negative discussions are made, attitudes are made, and thus information goes to the general public.
    Mass Media →Opinion Leader →General Public
    (Target Customers)

The opinion leaders transmit the products relative information, which consists of:

  • use of specific product, e.g., washing machine, vacuum cleaner, electric shaver etc.
  • which of several brands is the best Whirlpool, Kelvinator, BPL, etc.
  • which is the best place to shop from, which dealer, locality, etc.

Opinion leaders for one specific product may not be the opinion leaders for other products,as well. An opinion leader for infants foods may not be the opinion leader for kitchenware, etc. Opinion leaders in one area may not necessarily influence other areas.

Characteristics of Opinion Leaders
Opinion leaders are more knowledgeable, and have a keen level of interest.

  • More involved in the product category.
  • Have local friendship and social interaction.
  • Can disseminate information.
  • Have high credibility.
  • Have more self-confidence, are more sociable and cosmopolitan, can rake risks.

Opinion leaders are activated greatly to reduce distance process for the products they have bought; may want to influence neighbours and friends. They involve themselves, to confirm their own judgement.


They are younger, have more education, have a higher income, and higher occupational status. They are exposed to media. See more movies and television. Also read information magazines and technical publication devoted to the product category. Having greater knowledge about the product, they can disseminate more and true information about the products and their usage. Opinion leaders are therefore a case of study to marketeers and their strategies are evaluated and formed, keeping the opinion leaders and their roles in mind.The figure shows that the opinion leaders seek relevant information from the mass media and other sources, and transmit the same to members of the group. The dashed line show the feedback from the group to the opinion leaders.
Gate-keepers: They may be distinct from opinion leaders. They introduced ideas and information, but are not able to influence the group.
Market Maven: Maven is an expert having knowledge and information over many kinds of products. Shopping places and other facts of the markets. Their expertise is of a general market rather than of a product specific market. They enjoy browsing and shopping and participate in marketing activities. They are well read, they read classified newspapers mail advertising etc. Communication can be source initiated or recipient initiated and may have one or two way influence.
Source Initiated: The marketeer or the user transmits information to the user e.g., Mohan told me how good is the performance of his washing machine so I bought one.
Receiver Initiated: (One way influence) The receiver makes an effort to get the information:
I asked the salesman which mixiedoes he recommend.
Source Initiated: (2 way influence) I showed my expensive set of crockery to Mohan and he now plans to buy one for himself. He felt that it was a good set. This made me feel better and offset my anxiety of having bought an expensive one.
Receiver Initiated: (2 way influence) Mohan asked me to show my collection of arms to him. We had an interesting discussion on the subject and both learnt from the comments of each other.
Word of Mouth Communication to be Effective: For communication to be effective the following points must be considered:

  1. The product is visible and purchase behaviour is apparent.
  2. The product is distinctive and can be matched with life style, taste and personal likes.
  3. The product is newly introduced and the consumers have not formed any opinion about it.
  4. The product is important to the reference group’s norms and belief systems. Sugar free coca cola for diabetic patients or low cholestrol foods for older people prone to disease.
  5. When consumers have doubt about the product and considered it risky and initiate a lot of discussion and product related discussions (Maruti Van) risky from the accident point of view.

Marketing Strategy and Opinion Leadership
There are different opinion leaders for different products. The marketeer must determine through research, experience or logic, the role an opinion leader plays in the existing situation for product or service.Consumers talk to each other about their experiences and performance of the product. If their experiences do not meet expectations then there is cause for concern, and the marketer must take relevant steps to redress their complaints. When the product falls short of the customer’s expectations, dissonance occurs, which has to be reduced or removed by the marketeer. This can be reduced by utilizing the knowledge of opinion leaders, which are rather difficult to identify. Opinion leaders are gregarious and tend to belong to clubs and associations. Some product categories have professional opinion leaders who are also very influential.

Hairstylists serve as opinion leaders for hair-care products. For healthcare products pharmacists are important opinion leaders. Computer professionals can give an opinion about the purchase of personal computers. The idea is to identify the opinion leaders, and then undertake a marketing research on them and formulate a marketing strategy.

The marketing research conducted on opinion leaders gives ideas of the likes and dislikes of the product users and their categories. Various tests should include the product use test, the pre-testing of the advertising copy, the media preferred for customers to respond favourably to the firm’s marketing mix. The sampling should be done from amongst the opinion leaders. In retailing and personnel selling various techniques can be adopted to attract customers like, one meal extra for every three meals or, pay for two and take three or, a ‘‘fashion advisory board’’ can be constituted in clothing stores. An automobile dealer can provide a free wash or afree servicing or oil change to the customers and opinion leaders who send customers to their workshop. Estate agents may offer a free stay in attractive locales for people who promote or bring in customers for real estates.

In advertising, people of prominence and, owners can be used and their experiences and satisfaction received can be projected through conversation and, by giving their impression to the general public and non-owners of the product. Opinion leaders can be used effectively in commercials to promote the product to the masses.

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