How Reference Groups Exert Influence on Consumer Behavior

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A reference group is any person or group that serves as a point of comparison (or reference) for an individual in forming either general or specific values, attitudes, or a specific guide for behavior. They help us understand the impact of other people on an individual’s consumption beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. It helps marketers choose their methodology to affect desired changes in consumer behavior. From a marketing perspective, reference groups are groups that serve as frames of reference for individuals in their purchase or consumption decisions. Reference groups that influence general or broadly defined values or behavior are called normative reference groups. Reference groups that serve as benchmarks for specific or narrowly defined attitudes or behavior are called comparative reference groups. A comparative reference group might be a neighboring family whose lifestyle appears to be admirable and worthy of imitation. Normative reference groups influence the development of a basic code of behavior. Comparative reference groups influence the expression of specific consumer attitudes and behavior. The meaning of “reference group” has changed over the years. Originally, reference groups were narrowly defined to include only those groups with which a person interacted on a direct basis. The concept gradually has broadened to include both direct and indirect individual and group influences. Indirect reference groups consist of those individuals or groups with whom a person does not have direct face-to-face contact, such as movie stars, sports heroes, political leaders, TV personalities, or even a well-dressed and interesting looking person on a street corner. References a person might use in evaluating his or her own general or specific attitudes or behavior vary. THE INFLUENCE OF REFERENCE GROUPS

Reference groups influence consumer behavior in two ways:
1) They set levels of aspiration for the individual, i.e. they offer clues as to what Lifestyle should be led.
2) They define items appropriate for a member of the group to lead that lifestyle. Consumers also look to reference groups for guidance and advice. Reference groups are usually small groups, and are not as broad as an entire social class. The reference group concept was, in fact, originally developed in connection with small groups. These include the family, close friends, neighbors, religious groups, work groups and also, athletic groups. The family is recognized as an important reference group. In addition, various family members may play different roles in the purchase consumption process. Like the family, there are several other social groups that have an enormous influence on our lives. They regulate our lives through establishing standards of dress and conduct, and the accomplishment of tasks on a face-to-face basis. Issues of importance to marketing concerning reference group influence include: • What influence do reference groups exert on individuals? • How does reference group influence vary across products and brands? How Reference Groups Influence Consumption

Reference groups affect consumers through a variety of means: through norms, through information, and through influencing the value expressive needs of consumers. They influence consumers through bringing about attitude changes by encouraging the expression of certain values and attitudes expressed through the group. Because an individual wants t be a part of a group, he or she will be influenced by the values and attitudes of the group. Furthermore, groups whose members exhibit similar social characteristics are more susceptible to attitude change than groups whose members are less homogeneous. Thus people frequently buy products that others in their group buy. You must remember, of course, that individuals who feel a strong sense of identification with a group do so because they derive strong psychological or material benefit from being associated with the group....
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