In this essay I will explain how groups in society can influence consumer consumption and behaviour by exploring various subcultures such as the age subculture (baby boomers) and the biker subculture (Harley Davidson). Schouten and McAlexander (1995) defined “subcultures of consumption” as a unique subgroup of society in which members are united and selected on foundation of their commitment to a product, brand or their spending activity.
Each consumer in society is a member of different groups depending on their culture, various subcultures or even social class can influence their consumer purchase (Carmen, n.d). A group can be formed when two or more individuals share a set of norms and beliefs. A group becomes a reference group when an individual recognizes with the group and takes on many of the values, attitudes or personal standards of group members and use it as the base of his/her day to day behaviour.
Reference group is defined as having significant relevance upon an ‘individual’s evaluations, aspirations or behaviour’ influencing the consumer (Park and Lessig 1977). The nature of reference group influence can take three forms, this is because some groups and individuals are able to influence greater than others and affect a range of consumption (Carmen, n.d).
Informational influence: This is when the reference group is used as a knowledgeable source in the different parts of the buyer’s decision process. This type of influence emerges when an individual or the member uses the behaviours and beliefs of the reference group as dependable sources. This influence is based either on the similarity of the buyer’s desires with the ones of the group members (Carmen, n.d). For example in the biker subculture the members all share similar desires for purchasing Harley Davidson products therefore influencing the individual decision process in selecting certain products. The members in baby boomer subculture are also likely to purchase similar latest fashion products.
Normative influence known as (utilitarian influence): The reference group creates a level of values and norms of an individual, in the process of purchasing brands or products. For example both the Harley Davidson biker subculture and baby boomer subculture will have an influence on the member’s decisions on which types of products to consumer to fit in with the values and attitudes of the subculture. Schouten and McAlexander (1995) research found that Harley Davidson subculture values can affect the characteristics of the member’s lives such as their ‘social, political and spiritual’ aspects.
Identification influence known as (value-expressive influence): The reference group is used to confirm the consumer’s attitudes, norms and actual behaviour. The individual behaves reliable with the group’s norms and beliefs because the individual’s and the group’s norms, attitudes and beliefs are the same. For example this can be seen in Harley Davidson subculture in which the members view the subculture as a ‘religious icon’ sharing the same values and norms as other members (Schouten and McAlexander 1995).
Hawkins, Best and Kenneth (1998) found in his research that the group’s power of influence on consumer’s behaviour will depend on a number of factors For example degree of visibility of the product or trademark used by the group members. The group’s power of influence is higher for the products used visibly such as shoes, cars and fashion products compared to non-visibly products. In the Harley Davidson subculture their power to influence other members is through visible displays such as tattoos and motorcycle customization, this is done to emphasise the commitment to the group (Schouten and McAlexander 1995). The product’s degree of necessity for example the group’s power of influence is higher for the luxury products such as jewels, fashion etc and lower for necessity products. For example the baby boomers subcultures are likely to influence other members in purchasing luxury products than necessity products.
The group’s power of influence will depend on the individual’s degree of involvement for example if an individual is reliant to a group; it is more likely to conform to the group. The group’s influence will depend on the degree of confident of the buyer during the buying process. The group influence is noticeable when there are specialised products such as PC sets or mobiles. These are the products for which the buyer depends on the expert knowledge of the reference group. Solomon et al (2006) found that the influence of the reference groups is not influential for all types of products or services that consumers purchase. For example products that are not complex, that are low in perceived risk are unlikely to be influenced by the reference groups. The impact of the reference groups can vary. Reference group might determine the choosing of a certain kind of product instead of others. It can further influence the option of a brand or trademark of a product such as Iphone or Blackberry. (Carmen, n.d) found in his research that an individual will want to belong to a group because of their significance and position they obtain. They will want to be associated with groups that have an attractive social position. Due to the unique characteristics certain groups are seen to have a greater social power influence than other groups. Groups have power due to their ability to influence individuals to become members. The group’s ability to influence the behaviour of various individuals that are members or non-members of the group is called social power and can have a number of types. These social powers can influence the consumer behaviour in buying certain products and brands. Research found that reference groups are very important for marketers. This is because they can influence and inform members to purchase specific products and brands. It can provide the members with factors to compare with their own values, with the values and behaviour of the group. This can therefore influence the members to adopt the groups’ values and attitudes
(Lessig and Park, 1978; Schiffman and Kanuk 2007). Bristol and Mangleburg (2005) found that reference groups can influence members on what products are ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ to purchase. For example the Harley Davidson subculture the individuals are committed to the group beliefs and values of consumption (Schouten and McAlexander 1995).
Group influence is “non controllable” by the marketer but must be taken into consideration when designing new products (Carmen, n.d). The marketer will need to seek out to understand all the group influences that affect consumers so that the marketing mix can be adjusted to give the maximum effect. Consumer behaviour is greatly influenced by cultural, social, personal, and psychological factors. Culture is the most fundamental determinant of a person’s wants and behaviour. Culture contains smaller subcultures or groups of people with shared values systems based on common life experiences and situations. These subcultures can influence the consumer behaviour. Subcultures include nationalities, religions, racial groups and geographic regions (Solomon et al 2006). Age subculture (age cohort) is an example of how consumers cultural bond with each other. This is because these consumers are more likely to face similar experiences and share common memories by growing up and living in the same time frame. Many subcultures make up important market segments and marketers often need to design products and marketing programmers’ tailored to their needs and wants (Kotler 2008). For example Coleman et al (2006) research found that the automobile industry are taking on the baby boomer subculture market and dealing with boomers changing needs in the industry. Toyota’s campaign of the redesign of the new Avalon was to provide a youthful image that reminds the baby boomers of the late 1960s.
The baby boomers age group subculture consists of individuals who were born in the time frame of 1946-1964. The consumers are in their mid-thirties and fifties. Members are likely to influence other baby boomers to purchase similar products. In the US market 78-80 million consumers account for the baby boomer market (Smart 2001). Baby boomers are important to marketers since they are the largest demographic in western countries age group therefore more companies and brands are focusing on the baby boomer market. The demographic qualities of the baby boomers include a wide range of factors such as, use of technology, looking young, their health and personal well-being. The baby boomer consumer will want the very latest fashions in the market and innovative products. Baby boomers have many subgroups which can be catered very easily in terms of each demographic factor. Companies are targeting baby boomer consumers because they generate a good source of revenue. For example Chura (2002) found that L’Oreal concentrated on the ‘self-indulgent’ aspect of baby boomers in looking young, their slogan for the brand “Because I’m worth it” was appealing to the baby boomers in capturing their youth side. Pepsi also realised how youth is important as many baby boomers wish to see themselves as youthful again. In 1961 Pepsi slogan was “for those who think young.” The slogan was perfect for baby boomers as it helped to capture the image and message of looking and thinking young, exactly what the boomers would want to believe. In 2001 Pepsi “Joy of Pepsi” campaign used a celebrity endorsement such as Britney Spears to promote and incorporate the young joy and entertainment of Pepsi. The commercial showed how Britney was able to grow through the time frame that started from the 1950s to the present day. This can be seen how baby boomers can reminisce with her. Baby boomers are more vulnerable to nostalgia appeals, especially the products and items associated with their childhood or adolescence memories. Therefore it can be seen that Pepsi had an advantage in creating this nostalgia appeal to the baby boomers, influencing the consumer behaviour purchase (Pepsi.com).
Harley Davidson is an example of a biker subculture group that unites and bonds consumers for the love of motorcycles (Schouten and McAlexander 1995). The subculture consists of many different subgroups that own Harleys within different social categories. The Harley Davidson subculture established a community of solidarity among individuals who own Harleys. The Harley Owners Group (HOG) is a successfully group that has over 1 million members around the world. The members unite in sharing their obsession for the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. Research conducted by Schouten and McAlexander (1995) found that the subculture is a ‘sacred’ feature in which the Harley owner is surrounded by everyday. This therefore can show how the subculture can influence the consumer behaviour. Such as influencing their buying patterns in looking the part of the traditional biker subculture by purchasing products such as the Harley jackets, sunglasses, riding pants and other Harley accessories. Schouten and McAlexander (1995) research findings showed that there was a strong sense of brand identification among the Harley owners that then transformed to extraordinary brand loyalty. For example they found that the most members of HOG group loyalty included purchasing the Harley-Davidson tattoos, bumper stickers and the frequent wearing of Harley apparel at work or to other social activities. The Harley Davidson members include males and females from the age range of 18-88. The subculture consists of many different subgroups that own Harleys within different social categories. Johnson (2008) found in his research that baby boomers are more likely to purchase a Harley-Davidson in re-living their youth again. This is because baby boomers believe that a Harley Davidson can offer fun, excitement, thrills and also a position of class envy. It is all about perception in onwing a Harley Davidson. For example the Harley motorcycles and Harley road trips are all part of the dream that unites the Boomer with his/her Harley motorcycle (Johnson 2008). An appeal that the baby boomers see in Harley Davidson is liberation. Schouten and McAlexander (1995) found that most bikers are able to identify with their Harley Davidson as object of freedom.
On the other hand Brand communities groups are different to subcultures but can also influence the consumer behaviour and their buying decision process. Studies of consumer culture have found that brands have become a way for consumers to communicate and form brand communities groups with other similar consumers (Fournier 1988 and Cooper et al 2005. Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) defined brand community as a bond relationship of brand admires. Brands have become an essential part of culture. This is because consumers rely upon brand names as substitute for information about the products they purchase. They consider their own brand usage, in terms of product value and a statement about themselves, their values, and their life choices. Research on brand communities has shown that these communities have positive effects on the consumers brand attitude, loyalty and attachment to a brand. Therefore influencing consumer behaviour and buying patterns on what brands and products to purchase (McAlexander, Schouten and Koenig 2002). Harley Davidson and Apple brands have created brand communities that represent the rebel consumers.
Overall the evidence found has shown that groups can influence consumer behaviour in a number of different ways. The consumer can be influenced in terms of what product or brand to consume affecting buying decision process. Group influence can take part in many forms such as different subcultures and brand communities. Bearden et al (1989) research found reference groups can influence the individual ‘product selection, information processing, attitude formation and shopping behaviour’.
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