Project Discussion

Share your invention and marketing plan from the The Art and Science of Persuasion project assigned last week.

Social Influences on Consumer Behavior

Strangers, our environment, friends, family, celebrities, and media messages provide us with information and influence us.

They often exert a kind of social pressure on us, to which we respond by modifying our behavior, both as individuals and as consumers.

Forces that Influence Behavior

As individuals, we are often caught between imitating others in order to conform, and our desire to demonstrate uniqueness. We want to both fit in and stand out.

It is the job of marketers to identify, categorize, and make use of those forces for the benefit of both the companies they represent and the consumers they wish to attract.

Dynamics of Social Influence

Social influence means the information or pressure that is exerted on consumers by an individual, group, or media message.

Marketers are interested in knowing the following so that they can attempt to stimulate a purchase:

  • who wields the social influence
  • what types of influence they exert
  • how those influences affect the ultimate purchase

Responses to Social Influence

Can you think of examples of the following responses to social influence?

  • Conformity occurs when a person behaves like others in order to feel like “one of the group” or otherwise be accepted.
  • Compliance occurs when someone chooses to do something specific because he/she has been asked to.
  • Obedience occurs when a person strictly obeys an order from an authoritative individual or group.

What social influences are at play in the following experiment?

Sources of Influence

Social Class

Social classes are groups of individuals belonging to different levels of society. They are hierarchical, and typically depend upon one’s level of prosperity and opportunity.


Culture refers to the learned customs, values, and beliefs of a group of people who usually live in close proximity. Older members teach younger members what is accepted and expected in their behavior.


Subcultures are smaller groups that function within larger cultures.

External Influences

  • Salespeople
  • Advertisers
  • Entertainers/celebrities
  • Athletes
  • Politicians
  • Teachers
  • Role models
Media Types
  • TV shows
  • movies
  • websites
  • blogs
  • social media pages and groups


  • What kind of social influences have you noticed affecting your buying decisions?
  • Information pollution is the contamination of information supply with irrelevant, redundant, unsolicited and low-value information. It is described as a side effect of our information revolution. Share some examples of information pollution from your online experiences.

Influences on Fashion and Design

Members of society influence the fashion behavior of others.

Social Influences and Fashion Diffusion

Fashion diffusion is the spread of a fashion throughout different societal groups.

Downward Flow

Otherwise known as trickle-down theory, in downward flow people look to those they consider above them for fashion guidance. The styles that are adopted continue to trickle down the social ladder.

Upward Flow

In upward flow, also known as trickle-up theory, a fashion idea begins in a lower echelon of society and works its way up.

Horizontal Flow

Horizontal flow (trickle across) contends that influences among members of peer groups with similar demographic or psychographic profiles are what determines the adoption of fashions. (Psychographics is the study of attitudes, values, lifestyles, and opinions.)

Which fashion-diffusion theory do you think is most applicable in America right now? Why?

Types of Social Influence

There are two main categories of social influences.

Normative Social Influence

When people do things simply because that’s the way “things are done” in their social group, they typically are choosing not to question this behavior because they are rewarded with acceptance and approval.

We might conform to avoid rejection, or to establish a place within a group of peers.


  • sets expectations for behavior
  • evaluates an individual’s performance
  • uses rewards and punishments in response

Informational Social Influence

Otherwise known as “social proofing”, this category describes behavior that copies the behavior of others to obtain specific guidance and direction, in order to make the right choices.

We make assumptions about how “in the know” a certain role model is, and hope to gain some of their social cachet by following their example.

In the following scene from the Japanese film Tampopo, an older woman instructs younger women about the correct way to eat spaghetti in America (soundlessly). Who do the young women look to as an expert?

Marketers often must compete against informational influencers to get their messages heard, much like the woman in the scene above.

In this scene from the same film, how is this young man being perceived by the other members of his group? What might be the result later on?

Influential Information

People consider all kinds of information when making a purchase decision. These factors tend to be considered the most important:

  • ease of use of the product or service
  • types of risks involved with the purchase
  • the degree of expertise that they, the seller, and the influencer have
  • the degree of comfort, security, and convenience that can be obtained with the purchase

What are some of your own shopping and buying habits:

  • Do you rely on a friend?
  • Do you want other people to test the waters first before you buy?
  • Do you feel more secure about a product when you know that others are already buying and using it?

How Many Influencers Are Too Many?

Research has shown that the mere physical presence of other people in a buying situation may exert social pressure to purchase. However, overcrowding throughout a store  can cause consumers to respond negatively to the heightened level of social presence.

Social impact theory suggests that the probability of influence increases depending on the number of people involved and the importance and proximity (closeness) of the influencers.

As the number of influencers increase, however, the influence of any one person is reduced.

The Impact of Groups

A group is two or more people who share similar values and beliefs, and communicate independently. They share and rely on each others’ opinions.

A reference group is a specific type of group composed of individuals we admire, respect, and value. We use these groups as a guide when developing our own beliefs and behaviors.

Reference groups don’t always tell a person what to do. They rather serve as role models. Examples might be your church leaders, your school, or an entertainment group.

Who serves as a reference group in your life?

How the Reference Group Influences

The American Marketing Association (AMA) recognizing the following three influential purposes.


Provide data from credible and knowledgeable sources.


Offers rewards or recognition, or the avoidance of punishment.


Espouse similar core values held by the buyer.

Membership Influences

Our behavior is sometimes influenced by membership relationships.

  • Aspirational groups are groups we do not belong to but wish we did. The behaviors of these groups might influence our decisions.
  • Associative groups are those we already belong to. You might join a professional association, a political party, or a sports team, for example.
  • Disassociative groups are those that do not interest us. We might even choose to avoid people who belong to the group, or avoid behaviors that are associated with the group.

How can marketers use their understanding of these membership relationships in order to influence your purchasing behavior?


Gatekeepers are a type of individual who are knowledgeable and control access and information flow to their respective followers. They can influence people to act or not act in a specific way.

In the fields of fashion, design, and art, a number of people impact our choices even though we don’t know them (or even be aware of them):

  • critics
  • seasoned professionals
  • high-profile influencers

Consider again the scene from The Devil Wears Prada. How does the character Miranda Priestly explain her role as a gatekeeper?

In the realm of online activity, a new breed is coming into being: the e-gatekeeper. These are people who provide information, real or false, in order to influence readers to do or not do something.

One such individual is Food Babe, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook. She proclaims to have information no one else does about food, and urges followers to exert pressure on various companies to answer her charges or to change their business practices. However, her education is not consistent with nutrition advocacy; her degree is in computer science. She is frequently called out by real experts on nutrition and food history, yet continues to hold influence over many consumers.

An opinion leader is someone who is highly regarded by her peers and serves as a credible source. This person transmits and translates information from mass media to those seeking advice.

They don’t need to be famous but they need to have specific expertise, such as:

  • a friend who is a licensed nurse
  • a hair stylist who serves celebrities
  • the editor of a famous fashion magazine
  • a very successful businessperson
  • a public speaker who is an intellectual property attorney

What opinion leaders have influenced your selection of:

  • music
  • movies
  • clothing
  • friends
  • social events
  • career path?

Consumer Socialization Process

Children learn to function as consumers by acquiring certain skills, knowledge, attitudes, and experiences.

They learn from their parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, classmates, teachers, the media, and marketers.

In what ways do marketers “teach” children how to function as consumers?