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Reference Groups

13 May, 2016 - 13:23

Do you ever wonder why Pepsi used Shaquille O'Neal in their advertisements? The teen market consumes a considerable amount of soft drinks. Pepsi has made a strong effort to capture a larger share of this market, and felt that Shaquille represented the spirit of today's teens. Pepsi is promoted as "the choice of a new generation" and Shaquille is viewed as a role model by much of that generation. Pepsi has thus employed the concept of reference groups.

A reference group helps shape a person's attitudes and behaviors. Such groups can be either formal or informal. Churches, clubs, schools, notable individuals, and friends can all be reference groups for a particular consumer. Reference groups are characterized as having individuals who are opinion leaders for the group. Opinion leaders are people who influence others. They are not necessarily higher-income or better educated, but perhaps are seen as having greater expertise or knowledge related to some specific topic. For example, a local high school teacher may be an opinion leader for parents in selecting colleges for their children. These people set the trend and others conform to the expressed behavior. If a marketer can identify the opinion leaders for a group in the target market, then effort can be directed toward attracting these individuals. For example, if an ice cream parlor is attempting to attract the local high school trade, opinion leaders at the school may be very important to its success.

The reference group can influence an individual in several ways:6

  • Role expectations: The role assumed by a person is nothing more than a prescribed way of behaving based on the situation and the person's position in the situation. Your reference group determines much about how this role is to be performed. As a student, you are expected to behave in a certain basic way under certain conditions.
  • Conformity: Conformity is related to our roles in that we modify our behavior in order to coincide with group norms. Norms are behavioral expectations that are considered appropriate regardless of the position we hold.
  • Group communications through opinion leaders: We, as consumers, are constantly seeking out the advice of knowledgeable friends or acquaintances who can provide information, give advice, or actually make the decision. For some product categories, there are professional opinion leaders who are quite easy to identify—e.g. auto mechanics, beauticians, stock brokers, and physicians.