A reference group is a group with whom an individual
identifies to the point where the group dictates a standard of behavior. Reference groups exert tremendous influence on consumers’ hospitality and tourism purchase decisions. Every individual is influenced directly and indirectly. Marketing research has identified three types of reference groups: comparative, status, and normative.
First, individual consumers use reference groups to compare their own feelings and thoughts with those of others. For example, an individual may have gone to dinner at a restaurant and felt that the food and service were excellent. Before these perceptions are internalized, however, a reference group is often consulted to validate the perceptions. An individual may check with friends who are members of a reference group, asking for their perceptions of the restaurant. The individual will then compare her friends’ perceptions against her own. In many cases, the perceptions of a reference group can influence purchase and repeat purchase behavior.
Second, reference groups also serve a status function. For example, when an individual seeks to become a member of a group, his or her actions are likely to emulate the group members’ behaviors. If someone looks up to a reference group as a source of status, he or she is likely to model the behavior exhibited by the members of the reference group.
Third, reference groups establish norms and values that regulate the behavior of individuals. For example, consider a high-school-age reference group dining out. The group norm may state that patronizing chain restaurant A is more desirable than going to locally owned restaurant B, yet objective analysis indicates that restaurant B’s product-service mix is superior. The group’s norms and values might still point toward the established chain restaurant. Simply put, dining at restaurant A is “cool” and dining at restaurant B is not. What is in favor within the reference group will change over time. For example, 10 to 15 years ago college students seeking the most exciting destination for a spring break getaway often went to Daytona Beach, Florida. In recent years, Cancun, Mexico, and cruises in the Caribbean have become more popular.
A hospitality manager can also influence consumer behavior through the use of opinion leaders. Opinion leaders include formal and/or informal leaders of reference groups, and their opinions normally influence opinion formation in others. Common opinion leaders are leaders within the community, such as doctors, lawyers, and politicians, and those who are viewed as subject matter experts. For example, a travel agent is clearly an opinion leader for travel-related products. Potential travelers often seek advice from a travel agent because they believe that the agent has knowledge far superior to their own. Another example is the food critic who writes for a local newspaper. The opinions that the critic expresses in a newspaper column have direct and immediate influence on readers.
Internal Influences on Consumer Behavior
In addition to external influences, internal influences affect consumers’ choices as well—personal needs and motives, experience, personality and self-image, and perceptions and attitudes. The exact influence of internal factors is less well known than the external factors, as internal factors are not as observable and therefore are not as well documented and understood.
PERSONAL NEEDS AND MOTIVES. A need is defined as a lack of something or the difference between someone’s desired and actual states. Motive is defined as a person’s inner state that directs the individual toward satisfying a felt need. For example, consumers may be hungry and tired (their actual state), yet they desire to be well fed and rested (desired state). This felt need would, therefore, cause them to have the motivation to seek out a restaurant where this need could be satisfied.
figure 3.1 • Needs related to...