Of course, you probably know people who aren’t wealthy but who still drive a Mercedes or other upscale vehicle. That’s because consumers have reference groups. Reference groups are groups a consumer identifies with and wants to join. If you have ever dreamed of being a professional player of basketball or another sport, you have a reference group. Marketing professionals are aware of this. That’s why, for example, Nike hires celebrities such as Michael Jordan to pitch the company’s products.
Opinion leaders are people with expertise in certain areas. Consumers respect these people and often ask their opinions before they buy goods and services. An information technology specialist with a great deal of knowledge about computer brands is an example. These people’s purchases often lie at the forefront of leading trends. For example, the IT specialist we mentioned is probably a person who has the latest and greatest tech products, and his opinion of them is likely to carry more weight with you than any sort of advertisement.
Today’s companies are using different techniques to reach opinion leaders. Network analysis using special software is one way of doing so. Orgnet.com has developed software for this purpose. Orgnet’s software doesn’t mine sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, though. Instead, it’s based on sophisticated techniques that unearthed the links between Al Qaeda terrorists. Explains Valdis Krebs, the company’s founder: “Pharmaceutical firms want to identify who the key opinion leaders are. They don’t want to sell a new drug to everyone. They want to sell to the 60 key oncologists.” 1 As you can probably tell from this chapter, exploring the frontiers of people’s buying patterns is a fascinating and constantly evolving field.