Opinion Leaders Types, Characteristics and Role

Table of Contents:-

  • Types and Role of Opinion Leaders
  • Types of Opinion Leaders
  • Role of Opinion Leaders
  • Characteristics of Opinion Leaders 
  • Importance of Opinion Leaders

Types and Role of Opinion Leaders

Opinion leaders are those who have mastered a specific area in the market and have established trust and loyalty within a community as decision-makers or insiders of the market.

Types of Opinion Leaders

Opinion leaders are of different types which have been explained below:

1) Generalised Opinion Leaders

A generalised opinion leader holds knowledge and expertise in all subjects/product categories like consumer durables goods, speciality products, books, services, etc. However, such opinion leaders are rare to find. Most opinion leaders have high involvement in one product category which is why they are experts in only one product.

2) Market Mavens

Unlike regular opinion leaders, market mavens are the ones who are highly involved in the market rather than the product. These people vigorously try to gather market information which they feel can be helpful for relatives and friends and they act as a huge source of information.

This information includes what new products or brands are available in the market, the new outlets launched in town, which specific outlet to visit for a particular product, which places in town offer the best deals, which outlets are offering discounts currently, etc. Like most opinion leaders they may not necessarily fall among the category of early adopters of products which they recommend.

3) Surrogate Buyer

The professionals recruited by actual buyers are called surrogate buyers. These surrogate buyers are responsible for assessing the different product options available, filtering a large amount of product, store & brand information available and giving suggestions at times. They also make transactions on behalf of their employer.

There are several reasons behind recruiting a surrogate buyer which can range from personal to environmental issues such as low interest in shopping, high perceived risk, inadequate product knowledge, lack of time and insufficient product availability. A diverse range of roles is played by surrogate buyers such as stock brokers, interior designers, tax consultants, wardrobe consultants, etc.

4) Purchase Pals

Individuals who accompany the buyer on his/her shopping outings are termed as ‘purchase pals’. Such opinion leaders fairly influence the in-store purchase decisions of the person whom they are accompanying. Every person experiences stress and nervousness, particularly when buying expensive or high-involvement products.

Purchase pals reduce such kinds of stress and nervousness. Moreover, they also extend information support to the buyers (such as knowledge of products, prices and stores) and have effective bargaining skills.

Role of Opinion Leaders

The role of opinion leaders is explained as follows:

1) Authority Figure

The one role performed by opinion leaders is the authority figure role. In this, the opinion leader offers his/her personal experiences along with providing product information and advice. In this way, the different needs and wants of current as well as potential customers are fulfilled. Just because of being an expert or authority related to a product, opinion leaders perform the authority figure role.

All kinds of knowledge, experience and expertise are available with the opinion leaders. They know exactly the different parameters based on which products in the market are evaluated. They also know the decision making rules which help make purchase decisions.

2) Trend Setter

Another role of opinion leaders is the trendsetter. They follow their instinct and behave accordingly, thus setting a trend. Opinion leaders do not care about the reactions of society. They prefer to try new products in the market and through their buying and using such new products they set a trend.

When these opinion leaders use new products or services and share their personal experiences with others more to be emulated, they tend to play the trendsetter role. Here, describing the personal experience important than describing the product (unlike the authority role).

3) Local Opinion Leader

Opinion leaders also act as local opinion leaders:

i) They belong to the customer’s reference group and

ii) They satisfy the consumer’s needs and wants by providing product or brand-related information in a way relevant to group values and norms.

Along with giving knowledge and advice local opinion leaders describe their personal experiences with products.

4) Channel of Information

Opinion leaders also act as channels of information between the promotion, media and audiences. As soon as they pass the product-related information to friends, relatives, etc. they make the promotion message genuine. Moreover, they play a crucial role in spreading the advertising message. The more the advertisement message is appealing to the opinion leaders the more it will work with the target audiences.

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Characteristics of Opinion Leaders 

Mentioned below are the main characteristics of opinion leaders:

1) Higher Social Status

Both non-leaders and opinion leaders have nearly the same social-class positions. However, opinion leaders have higher social stems within a particular social class. This does not imply that various class lines are not affected by personal influences; it does not occur frequently and happens more verbally than visually.

2) Media Exposure

Opinion leaders are highly exposed to mass media according to their interest areas. For example, an opinion leader for women’s style and trends may have high exposure to magazines like Femina. Verve, etc. Similarly, opinion leaders for automobiles may read magazines like Autocar, Top Gear, etc.

3) Knowledge

As compared to non-leaders, opinion leaders have abundant knowledge and interests in their influence area. Although knowledge is not considered essential for creating opinion leader influence, a good influence occurs on people who do not have much knowledge regarding a particular product/service.

4) Social/Outgoing

When compared to non-leaders, opinion leaders are more outgoing and social. They influence most of the people they meet with. Their companionship is liked and appreciated.

5) Innovator

Opinion leaders are usually innovative. However, this does not imply that they buy new products for the first time and become the first purchaser. Rather, it means that they innovatively do their part.

6) Familiar

As compared to non-leaders, opinion leaders are more familiar with group values and standards. It is because they have been chosen as leaders by the group members and thus they need to be familiar with the group norms and values to retain their leadership position and authority. For example, the clothing trend cannot go beyond or stay behind the current clothing standards. 

7) Individuated

Individuation is a condition in which a person may feel or act differently as compared to the rest of the people. Sometimes, opinion leaders tend to show the personality traits of public individuation. Such personality traits may involve self-esteem, high confidence, the capability of enduring blame or disapproval, etc.

Importance of Opinion Leaders

Marketers try to influence opinion leaders to use a certain product by using direct media and marketing communications and offering them benefits such as discounts, prizes, coupons and samples thereby implementing opinion leadership in marketing strategies frequently.

All these attempts are made with the aim that the opinion leaders will preferentially communicate favourable word of mouth about the marketer’s product/brand. Besides using opinion leaders in marketing strategies, another approach through which marketers make use of opinion leadership is advertising.

This approach enables consumers to communicate indirectly with other consumers through social communication. Marketers of new products find this approach, especially significant as they desire to extend to the product innovators.

The significance level of opinion leadership varies from different products to target markets. Hence, the foremost step in employing opinion leaders is to establish with the help of experience, logic or research, the exact role of opinion leadership in the existing conditions.

Marketing strategies can then be formulated to employ opinion leadership to get positive results.

1) Product Sampling

Sending a sample of a particular product to a prospective customer is called “product sampling. It can act as an effective method of developing interpersonal communication regarding the product. Therefore, the individuals who are likely to become opinion leaders should be preferred to send the samples by the marketers, rather than choosing any random sample.

2) Identifying Opinion Leaders

A list of questions designed by marketers can help identify prospective opinion leaders. Such types of questionnaires can help identify only a limited solution to the identification problem because opinion leaders are greatly engaged in mass media, especially on different channels of media that concentrate on their areas of leadership.

3) Marketing Research

Marketing research refers to the tests and studies related to product usage, choice of media and testing of advertising copy. Marketing research must emphasise marketing messages that are usually received understood and communicated to others by the opinion leaders instead of “representative” samples in those product groups and classes in which opinion leaders play a high-priority role.

Therefore, individuals who are most likely to be opinion leaders should be considered as samples for the marketing research and thus, these persons must be exposed to, and give a positive response to the company’s marketing mix. It is indeed evident that such a marketing strategy would be foolish for those product categories or groups in which opinion leadership is not required. 

4) Advertising

There is a dual effect of advertising on opinion leadership, i.e., to replicate and motivate. The process of stimulation or motivation includes special themes formulated in the advertisement to encourage prospective users to inquire about existing owners or someone else who owns the product, about their views about the product or existing owners to communicate about the product or brand to their friends or relatives. The company should be sure that there is a high level of contentment among customers who are already using their products or services, before employing such a campaign.

5) Retailing/Personal Selling

Salespeople and retailers have several opportunities to make use of opinion leadership. For example, clothing and apparel stores can develop “fashion advisory boards”. Such boards would consist of probable style opinion leaders from the brand’s target audience. A store serving a teenage audience can appoint opinion leaders in the form of class officers and cheerleaders.

Another example would be restaurant managers sending special invitations, menus and 2-for-1 meal coupons to their target audience including officers in the Rotary, League of Women Voters and Junior League.

6) Negative Word of Mouth (WOM)

Research has given credibility to the fact that customers talk and share their experiences with the products, services and stores they prefer. Hence, meeting and even exceeding the desires and expectations of customers regarding the products offered by the marketer is very important. In case this does not happen. the marketers must be just prompt in resolving the complaints of the customers as nine other customers come to know about customer dissatisfaction through an unhappy customer.

Therefore, positive influence creates advertisements and thus gets nullified by such a negative word of mouth.

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