Sociocultural influences, which evolve from a consumer’s formal and informal relationships with other people, also exert a significant impact on consumer behavior. These involve personal influence, reference groups, family influence, social class, culture, and subculture.
LO 5-4Identify the major sociocultural influences on consumer behavior.
A consumer’s purchases are often influenced by the views, opinions, or behaviors of others. Two aspects of personal influence are very important to marketing: opinion leadership and word-of-mouth activity.
Opinion Leadership Individuals who exert direct or indirect social influence over others are called opinion leaders . Opinion leaders are considered to be knowledgeable about or users of particular products and services, so their opinions influence others’ choices.25 Opinion leadership is widespread in the purchase of cars and trucks, entertainment, clothing and accessories, club membership, consumer electronics, vacation destinations, food, and financial investments. A study by Popular Mechanics magazine identified 18 million opinion leaders who influence the purchases of some 85 million consumers for do-it-yourself products.
About 10 percent of U.S. adults are opinion leaders. Identifying, reaching, and influencing opinion leaders is a major challenge for companies. Some firms use actors or sports figures as spokespersons to represent their products. Others promote their products in media believed to reach opinion leaders. Still others use more direct approaches. For example, a carmaker recently invited influential community leaders and business executives to test-drive its new models. Some 6,000 accepted the offer, and 98 percent said they would recommend their tested car. The company estimated that the number of favorable recommendations totaled 32,000.
Firms use world-class athletes as spokespersons to represent their products, such as football player Eli Manning and tennis player Victoria Azarenka for Citizen watches.
Citizen Watch Company
|Marketing Matters||customer value|
BzzAgent—The Buzz Experience
Have you recently heard about a new product, movie, website, book, or restaurant from someone you know… or a complete stranger? If so, you may have had a word-of-mouth experience.
Marketers recognize the power of word of mouth. The challenge has been to harness that power. BzzAgent Inc. does just that. Its worldwide volunteer army of one million natural-born talkers channel their chatter toward products and services they deem authentically worth talking about, either online or in person. “Our goal is to capture honest word of mouth,” says David Balter, BzzAgent’s founder, “and to build a network that turns passionate customers into brand evangelists.”
BzzAgent’s method is simple. Once a client signs on with BzzAgent, the company searches its “agent” database for those who match the demographic and psychographic profile of the target market for a client’s offering. Agents then can sign up for a buzz campaign and receive a sample product and a training manual for buzz-creating strategies. Each time an agent completes an activity, he or she is expected to file an online report describing the nature of the buzz and its effectiveness. BzzAgent coaches respond with encouragement and feedback on additional techniques.
Agents keep the products they promote. They also earn points redeemable for books, CDs, and other items by filing detailed reports. Who are the agents? About 65 percent are older than 25 and 70 percent are women. All are gregarious and genuinely like the product or service, otherwise they wouldn’t participate in the buzz campaign.
Estée Lauder, Monstercom, Anheuser-Busch, Penguin Books, Lee, Michelin, Wrigley, Arby’s, Nestlé, Hershey Foods, Procter & Gamble, Danone, and Volkswagen have used BzzAgent. But BzzAgent’s buzz isn’t cheap, and not everything is buzz worthy. Deploying 1,000 agents on a 12-week campaign can cost a company $95,000, exclusive of product samples. BzzAgent researches a product or service before committing to a campaign and rejects about 80 percent of the companies that seek its service. It also refuses campaigns for politicians, religious groups, and certain products, such as firearms. Interested in BzzAgent? Visit its website at www.bzzagent.com or www.facebook.com/bzzagent .
Word of Mouth The influencing of people during conversations is called word of mouth . Word of mouth is the most powerful and authentic information source for consumers because it typically involves friends viewed as trustworthy. About 75 percent of all consumer conversations about brands happen face-to-face, 15 percent happen over the phone, and 10 percent happen online.26 According to a recent study, 67 percent of U.S. consumer product sales are directly based on word-of-mouth activity among friends, family, and colleagues.27
The power of personal influence has prompted firms to promote positive and retard negative word of mouth. For instance, “teaser” advertising campaigns are run in advance of new-product introductions to stimulate conversations. Other techniques such as advertising slogans, music, and humor also heighten positive word of mouth. Many commercials shown during the Super Bowl are created expressly to initiate conversations about the advertisements and featured product or service the next day. Increasingly, companies recruit and deploy people to produce buzz—popularity created by consumer word of mouth. Read the Marketing Matters box to learn how this is done by BzzAgent.28 Then scan the quick response code in the margin to see a video of BzzAgent’s campaign for Dove hair care products.
Unfortunately, word of mouth can also be a source of negative information. For example, consider the damaging (and untrue) rumors that have plagued Kmart (snake eggs in clothing), Taco Bell (beef content in taco meat filling), Corona Extra beer (contamination), and Snickers candy bars in Russia (a cause of diabetes). Overcoming or neutralizing negative word of mouth is difficult and costly. However, supplying factual information, providing toll-free numbers for consumers to call the company, and giving appropriate product demonstrations have proven helpful.
The power of word of mouth is magnified by the Internet through online forums, blogs, social media, and websites. In fact, companies use special software to monitor online messages and find out what consumers are saying about their products, services, and brands. They have found that 30 percent of people spreading negative information have never owned or used the product, service, or brand!29
Reference Group Influence
Reference groups are people to whom an individual looks as a basis for self-appraisal or as a source of personal standards. Reference groups affect consumer purchases because they influence the information, attitudes, and aspiration levels that help set a consumer’s standards. For example, one of the first questions one asks others when planning to attend a social occasion is, “What are you going to wear?” Reference groups influence the purchase of luxury products rather than necessities—particularly when the use or consumption of a chosen brand will be highly visible to others.
Consumers have many reference groups, but three groups have clear marketing implications.30 An associative group is one to which a person actually belongs, including fraternities and sororities and alumni associations. Such groups are easily identifiable and are targeted by firms selling insurance, insignia products, and charter vacations.
The Harley Owners Group (HOG) has over 1 million members and is a prototypical brand community Read the text to learn about the characteristics of a brand community.
Associative reference groups can also form around a brand, as is the case with clubs like the HOG (Harley Owners Group), which is made up of Harley-Davidson fans. A brand community is a specialized group of consumers with a structured set of relationships involving a particular brand, fellow customers of that brand, and the product in use. A consumer who is a member of a brand community thinks about brand names (e.g., Harley-Davidson), the product category (e.g., motorcycles), other customers who use the brand (e.g., HOG members), and the marketer that makes and promotes the brand.
An aspiration group is one that a person wishes to be a member of or wishes to be identified with, such as a professional society or sports team. Firms frequently rely on spokes-people or settings associated with their target market’s aspiration group in their advertising.
A dissociative group is one that a person wishes to maintain a distance from because of differences in values or behaviors. Firms often avoid dissociative reference groups in their marketing. For example, retailer Abercrombie & Fitch offered to pay cast members of the controversial TV reality show Jersey Shore to not wear its clothing. “We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans,” the retailer stated.31
Family influences on consumer behavior result from three sources: consumer socialization, passage through the family life cycle, and decision making within the family or household.
Consumer Socialization The process by which people acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to function as consumers is called consumer socialization .32 Children learn how to purchase (1) by interacting with adults in purchase situations and (2) through their own purchasing and product usage experiences. Research shows that children evidence brand preferences at age two, and these preferences often last a lifetime. This knowledge prompted the licensing of the well-known Craftsman brand name to MGA Entertainment for its children’s line of My First Craftsman toys and power tools and Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated Kids.
Family Life Cycle Consumers act and purchase differently as they go through life. The family life cycle concept describes the distinct phases that a family progresses through from formation to retirement, each phase bringing with it identifiable purchasing behaviors.33 Figure 5–6 illustrates the traditional progression as well as contemporary variations of the family life cycle. Today, the traditional family—married couple with children younger than 18 years—constitutes just 21 percent of all U.S. households. The remaining 78 percent of U.S. households include single parents; unmarried couples; divorced, never-married, or widowed individuals; and older married couples whose children no longer live at home.
Young singles’ buying preferences are for nondurable items, including prepared foods, clothing, personal care products, and entertainment. They represent a target market for recreational travel, automobile, and consumer electronics firms. Young married couples without children are typically more affluent than young singles because usually both spouses are employed. These couples exhibit preferences for furniture, housewares, and gift items for each other. Young marrieds with children are driven by the needs of their children. They make up a sizable market for life insurance, various children’s products, and home furnishings. Single parents with children are the least financially secure of households with children. Their buying preferences are often affected by a limited economic status and tend toward convenience foods, child care services, and personal care items.
Modern family life cycle stages and flows. Can you identify people you know in different stages? Do they follow the purchase patterns described in the text?
Middle-aged married couples with children are typically better off financially than their younger counterparts. They are a significant market for leisure products and home improvement items. Middle-aged couples without children typically have a large amount of discretionary income. These couples buy better home furnishings, status automobiles, and financial services. Persons in the last two phases—older married and older unmarried—make up a sizable market for prescription drugs, medical services, vacation trips, and gifts for younger relatives.
Today, 31 percent of men are the primary grocery shoppers in their households. Marketers that supply the $560 billion retail food industries are now adjusting store layouts and shelf placements to cater to men.
Family Decision Making A third source of family influence on consumer behavior involves the decision-making process that occurs within the family.34 Two decision-making styles exist: spouse-dominant and joint decision making. With a joint decision-making style, most decisions are made by both husband and wife. Spouse-dominant decisions are those for which either the husband or the wife is mostly responsible. Research indicates that wives tend to have more say when purchasing groceries, children’s toys, clothing, and medicines. Husbands tend to be more influential in home and car maintenance purchases. Joint decision making is common for cars, vacations, houses, home appliances and electronics, family finances, and medical care. As a rule, joint decision making increases with the education of the spouses.
Roles of individual family members in the purchase process are another element of family decision making. Five roles exist: (1) information gatherer, (2) influencer, (3) decision maker, (4) purchaser, and (5) user. Family members assume different roles for different products and services. This knowledge is important to firms. For example, 89 percent of wives either influence or make outright purchases of men’s clothing. Even though women are often the grocery decision makers, they are not necessarily the purchasers. Today, 31 percent of men are the primary grocery shoppers in their households.
Increasingly, preteens and teenagers are the information gatherers, influencers, decision makers, and purchasers of products and services for the family, given the prevalence of working parents and single-parent households. The market for products bought by or for preteens and teenagers surpasses $208 billion annually. These figures help explain why, for example, Johnson & Johnson, Apple, Kellogg, P&G, Nike, Sony, and Oscar Mayer, among countless other companies, spend more than $70 billion annually in electronic and print media that reach preteens and teens.
Social Class Influence
A more subtle influence on consumer behavior than direct contact with others is the social class to which people belong. Social class may be defined as the relatively permanent, homogeneous divisions in a society into which people sharing similar values, interests, and behavior can be grouped. A person’s occupation, source of income (not level of income), and education determine his or her social class. Generally speaking, three major social class categories exist—upper, middle, and lower—with subcategories within each. This structure has been observed in the United States, Great Britain, Western Europe, and Latin America.35
To some degree, persons within social classes exhibit common values, attitudes, beliefs, lifestyles, and buying behaviors. Compared with the middle classes, people in the lower classes have a more short-term time orientation, think in concrete rather than abstract terms, and see fewer personal opportunities. Members of the upper classes focus on achievements and the future and think in abstract or symbolic terms.
Companies use social class as a basis for identifying and reaching particularly good prospects for their products and services. For instance, JCPenney has historically appealed to the middle classes. New Yorker magazine reaches the upper classes. In general, people in the upper classes are targeted by companies for items such as financial investments, expensive cars, and formal evening wear. The middle classes represent a target market for home improvement centers, automobile parts stores, and personal hygiene products. Firms also recognize differences in media preferences among classes: lower and working classes prefer tabloid magazines; middle classes read fashion, romance, and celebrity (People) magazines; and upper classes tend to subscribe to literary, travel, and news magazines.