Thursday, 7 April 2011

Group Conformity, Peer Pressure and Opinion Leaders...

Right so the next topic on the agenda is.... Group Conformity, Opinion Leaders and Peer Pressure! Not just one topic but three thrown in together. So how exactly does this big topic relate to Buyer behaviour? Well, lets begin with the basics...

A simple definition of a Group is "a collection of individuals who have regular contact, frequent interaction, mutual influence, common feeling of camaraderie, and who work together to achieve a common set of goals," (businessdictionary 2011).

According to Solomon et al (2010) conformity is described as a change in the beliefs or actions of a person due to real or perceived group pressure.  In psychological terms explained by about.com (2011) conformity is based upon an individuals tendency to follow the unspoken rules or behaviours of the social group which a person belongs.  Therefore putting these definitions together Group Conformity is when a person conforms, and changes their beliefs or actions based upon a certain group who have rules or behaviours which they intend to follow.  Conformity actually is not an automatic process, there are many factors which contribute to the likelihood that consumers will change their behaviour due to others.  Here are a few reasons that Solomon et al (2010) has detailed as to why people conform:

1) Cultural Pressures

2) Fear of deviance

3) Commitment:

4) Group unanimity, size and expertise

5) Susceptibility to interpersonal influence

During the 1950s psychologist Solomon Asch conducted many experiments which were used to show the power of conformity in groups.  In these experiments, the participants were told they were taking a 'vision test.'  They were shown 4 lines, 2 of which were the same length, they were asked to choose the matching pair of lines.  However the subject did not know the other participants were all assistants of the experimenter.  They would provide correct answers for a few but then provided incorrect answers.  This was used to discover if a person chose the same incorrect line as the group or if they decided to chose the correct line which no one else identified.  After these trials it was shown that the individual participants did conform to the group incorrect answer at least one third of the time.  These experiments also showed how a number of people who effect if a person conforms or not.  When one other person was present it had no impact, two participants caused a tiny effect whilst three or more people cause a far more significant effect.

Therefore these results suggest that conformity can be influenced by the need to fit in and a feeling that all other people are smarter or better informed. Due to Asch's experiments, conformity may be even stronger in real life situations where stimuli are more ambiguous or difficult to judge, (about.com 2011).  Therefore Marketers will use this when trying to sell a product or service to a consumer.   They know that in society today many people feel the pressure to conform within a group.   Marketers have realised that some groups and individuals have a greater influence on a consumers decision, for an individual this could be a person, celebrity, friends, team members etc. An example of an advert which does this is:



This advert is a good example of group conformity.  It shows a popular boy group 'JLS' playing the wii and Mario Kart for this console.  It makes people believe that this is a 'trendy' and 'cool' thing to do and as they are celebrities they influence a consumers decision.  As there are also many of them, it makes the audience believe that they should conform and play the game like JLS are.

Group conformity is also related to self concept and the way a consumer wants others to perceive them.  A major influence on a consumers choice of a certain brand is that an individual feels the brand will enhance their image and how others perceive them.  If a group of people all have a similar brand because it is 'trendy' it is more likely a person will conform to that brand too. This also leads to stereotyping and the grouping of people because they wear the same brand or similar clothes.  Such as 'Chavs' or 'Goths':



Group Conformity also relates to the subject of Peer Pressure, Using dictionary.com (2011) the definition of Peer Pressure is "The social influence a peer group exerts on its individual members, as each member attempts to conform to the expectations of the group." Many people feel the pressure that once they are part of a group, they should be similar to other members in clothes, the way they talk, interests etc.  They feel the need to 'fit' into the group and pressure is put onto a person if they are different in any aspects.  Normally peer pressure affects the way a person thinks about either a product or brand, if members of a group dislike a brand they use peer pressure to make others think and believe the same things as them.  Advertisers use this in the same way as Group Conformity.
Opinion Leaders - According to Solomon et al., even though consumers get information from personal sources many tend to ask others about purchases.  People who are knowledgeable about products and whose opinions are taken seriously are known as 'Opinion Leaders.'  They frequently are able to influence other's attitudes and behaviours.  Marketers would use opinion leaders to help sell their product to a group of people.  Due to the fact that many opinion leaders are very influential, this is usually a success.  Marketers will usually try and gain consumer acceptance for their products through the use of professional opinion leaders such as; doctors or scientists, who can recommend products to their customers

Many opinion leaders are everyday consumers who feel strongly about a product, they also have certain social characteristics that helps them sell a product these include;
  • They are technically competent and therefore are convincing because they possess expert power.
  • They have pre-screened, evaluated and synthesized product information in an unbiased way.  Therefore they possess knowledge power.
  • They tend to be socially active and highly interconnected in their community
  • They usually hold offices in community groups and clubs.  This means they already have legitimate power due to their social standing.
  • They have similar values and beliefs to their consumer.
  • They have slightly higher educational attainment and status therefore can influence people in lower social classes as them.
  • They tend to buy the newest products therefore absorb more of the risk.  This means that it reduces the uncertainty of others who listen to the opinion leader as they know they have experienced it first.
However it is hard for marketers to find a person with all these characteristics, therefore due to the fact that influential opinion leaders such as celebrities are easier to find, many advertisers will use them in their adverts to influence others about how good a product is.  A good example of this is:


This advert shows 'Gary Lineker' as an opinion leader.  Even though he does not describe a product or recommend it.  He influences people because he has been the face of Walkers for a long time therefore the product must be good to keep is loyalty.  Furthermore consumers are influenced by this Opinion Leader to go and buy the product as it is being shown in a good light by an influential celebrity.
Marketers use Opinion Leaders due to the fact that Word of Mouth marketing is normally are more influential on the consumers than actual advertising is.  People believe what others consumers say about a product whether good or bad more than they would if a brand presented it in a good or bad way.  Also word of mouth from opinion leaders help spread the word of new products.  Therefore it is a good tool to marketers.
 Have You Ever Felt The Need To Conform?

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