Opinion Leadership in Consumer Behaviour

Opinion Leadership

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Opinion Leadership in Consumer Behaviour

Opinion leadership in consumer behaviour refers to the extent to which an individual can informally influence the attitudes or overt behaviour of others in a desired way with relative frequency. Opinion leaders are individuals who play a leading role in influencing the opinions of others. The behaviour of opinion leaders is essential in determining the adoption rate of innovation within a system. The diffusion curve is S-shaped because, once opinion leaders adopt and share creation information, the number of adopters per unit of time takes off in an exponential curve.

Meaning of Opinion Leadership

Some people offer product or product category-related information to the consumers. These people tell individuals how to use the product, whether buying the new product would be useful or not, which is the best brand among the available ones and from where it can be purchased. These people are called opinion leaders and this overall process is called opinion leadership.

An opinion leader can be defined as a person whose ideologies and conduct play a vital role in influencing people. He serves as a model to others. Such opinion leaders convey messages to a primary group which in turn influence the behaviour and attitude of their followers. Hence, in some marketing situations, directly communicating the advertising message to the opinion leaders might prove beneficial in speeding up the approval of the message among customers. Several advertisers have customarily made use of opinion leaders to give their recommendations to customers due to the significant role played by them in controlling markets. 

For example, some advertisers target influential personalities or celebrities to convey their message to the target individuals.

Opinion leadership is the process through which actions or attitudes of individuals (opinion recipients or opinion seekers) are influenced by opinion leaders. The influence induced by the opinion leader is primarily informal and interpersonal and happens between two or more persons, none of them indicating a commercial source of sales that would earn profits directly from selling something. It can be personal in the form of face-to-face communication (also known as word of mouth marketing) or it can also happen over the telephone or through e-mails or chat groups using the internet.

Opinion Leadership Process

In simple words, the opinion leadership process can be considered as a two-stage communication flow, where ideas move from media to opinion leaders and further to society. With this two-stage communication flow, Opinion leaders directly receive data from anonymous marketing sources and thus act as an important linkage for transmitting data.

The following two concepts form the basis for explaining the opinion leadership process:

1) Two-stage Communication Flow

Commercial influencers like advertisers and publicists affect the general public through opinion leaders. As shown in the figure, the model of two-stage communication flow illustrates opinion leaders as the direct receivers of data obtained from the advertisement. It further explains that opinion leaders correctly interpret the received data and adopt a word of mouth strategy to spread it further to other people. This theory assumes that the flow of mass media content is mediated through opinion leaders, which rarely happens. At present, the mass media influence both the seekers as well as the opinion leaders. It can also encourage the seekers to take advice from other people instead of opinion leaders.

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Opinion Leadership Process

The Complex Dynamics of Personal Influence: Beyond the Two-Stage Information Flow Model

Although the process of personal influence can be understood with the help of a two-stage information flow, due to the following reasons, it does not fully explain:

i) There are chances that the followers are not active seekers of data. On the other side, they are not completely inactive, due to which they may purposely request data and focus on the spontaneous opinions of different people.

ii) Opinion leaders tend to obtain data from their followers and often get affected by their word-of-mouth. Hence, there is a two-way communication flow between followers and leaders through word-of-mouth.

iii) It is not right to say that mass media is open only for opinion leaders because it is exposed to and affects both opinion leaders and their followers. Apart from opinion leaders who receive all communications, there can be “gatekeepers” or “information gatherers” who also perform a similar function. In comparison to opinion leaders, they act differently and help in introducing data and concepts to the group without affecting it. One of the main characteristics of opinion leaders is that they are particular about a product or category. Contrary to this, there exist various other persons who retain knowledge about various kinds of products/services, their quality, usual prices, availability, features of store employees, and so on. There can be only one demographical difference between the experts of markets and those who are provided with data; market experts are more likely to be female. They act as gatekeepers for different categories of products due to their market knowledge and nature of providing crucial information to others.

2) Multi-stage Communication Flow Theory

The multi-stage flow of communication theory was developed when it was identified that every person is prone to mass media and is getting affected by it. This theory explains that the flow of information is direct to different consumers including opinion seekers, gatekeepers, and opinion leaders. Since the gatekeepers are the one who neither affects nor are affected by others, it is they who decide whether the members of the group should obtain the required data or not. For example, some parents tend to control their child’s activities by restricting the TV programmes or monitoring the websites the child visits; thus playing the role of gatekeepers.

Opinion Leadership

The Dynamics of Information Flow Between Opinion Leaders and Seekers in Marketing Communication

The process through which opinion leaders obtain data, forward it to the information seekers and obtain their feedback.

The following points explain how the opinion leaders are related to the multi-stage communication flow. 

i) Consumers are directly influenced by every type of mass media and marketing communication

ii) The opinion leaders, opinion seekers and information receivers obtain the messages similarly transmitted over mass media. 

iii) Information related to marketing is obtained by opinion leaders through mass media which they analyse, interpret and forward to opinion seekers. i.e., customers.

iv) The opinion seekers or the customers obtain information from the following sources: 

a) Directly from marketing sources and mass media, and 

b) Interpreted and processed form of original information through opinion leaders.

v) The difference between opinion receivers and opinion leaders is unclear and fluid. Since the opinion leaders are specific towards a particular category of product, they are not standard. However, they are also not elite all the time. A single person can become an opinion leader or opinion seeker for different products.

Since both opinion seekers and opinion leaders interact with each other to obtain information, there is a two-way information exchange. The opinion leaders give product information and suggestions to the seekers according to their experiences. In exchange, they collect more data, personal viewpoints and experiences from the opinion seekers.

Methods of Measuring Opinion leadership

The four primary methods of measuring opinion leadership are given below:

i) Sociometric method
ii) Informant’s rating method
iii) Self-designating method
iv) Observation method

The choice of any of the four methods (Sociometric, key informants, self-designating, and observation) can be based on convenience, as all four are equally valid.

Sociometric Method

The Sociometric method involves asking respondents whom they sought (or hypothetically might seek) for information or advice on a given topic, such as a particular innovation. Opinion leaders are individuals within a system who receive the greatest number of Sociometric choices (and thus are involved in the largest number of network links). Undoubtedly, the Sociometric technique is a highly valid measure of opinion leadership, as it is gauged through the perceptions of followers. However, it requires interrogating a large number of respondents to locate a small number of opinion leaders. The Sociometric method is most applicable when all (or most) members of a social system provide network data, rather than when only a small sample of the total population is contacted.

It is common to specify the number of Sociometric network partners to be named by a respondent. For example, asking, “Who are the two (or three or four) other women in this village with whom you have discussed family-planning methods?” Such limited-choice questioning encourages respondents to identify only the most essential network members. However, it is possible that others with whom a respondent converses less often may exchange information crucial in the diffusion process. Another approach is to conduct a “roster study,” in which each respondent is presented with a list of all the other system members and is asked whether they talk with each of them and how often. The roster technique has the advantage of measuring both “weak” and “strong” links.

Advantages: Sociometric questions are easy to administer, adaptable to different settings and issues, and have the highest validity.

Limitations: Analysis of Sociometric data can be complex, requiring many respondents to identify a small number of opinion leaders. It does not apply to sample designs where only a portion of the social system is interviewed.

Informant’s Rating Method

An alternative to using Sociometric methods to identify opinion leaders is to ask critical informants with extensive knowledge about system networks. Often, a handful of informants can pinpoint opinion leaders in a system with a precision almost as accurate as Sociometric techniques, especially when the system is small and the informants are well-informed. Opinion leaders can be identified by asking key informants, such as religious leaders, town officials, school administrators, and other long-time residents, to nominate individuals others seek for information and advice. The opinion leaders are individuals appointed by two or more key informants.

Advantage: A cost-saving and time-saving method compared to the Sociometric process.

Limitation: Each informant must be thoroughly familiar with the system.

Self-designating Method

The self-designating method asks respondents to demonstrate the extent to which others in the system regard them as effective. Individuals select themselves to be peer leaders. For example, a typical self-designating question is, “Do you think people come to you for information or advice more often than to others?”

The self-designating method relies on the accuracy with which respondents can identify and report their images. This measure of opinion leadership is particularly suitable when interrogating a random sample of respondents in a system, a sampling design that precludes the effective use of Sociometric methods.

Advantage: Measures individuals’ perceptions of their opinion leadership, influencing their behaviour.

Limitation: Dependent upon the accuracy with which respondents can identify and report their self-images.

Observation Method

Opinion leadership can be measured through observation, where an investigator identifies and records the communication behaviour in a system. One advantage of observation is that the data usually have high validity. If network links are appropriately observed, there is no doubt that they occur. Observation works best in a minimal system, where the observer can see and record interpersonal interactions. Unfortunately, observation may be a very intrusive data gathering in such small systems. Because the system members know they are being observed, they may act differently. Additionally, an observer may need to be very patient if the diffusion network behaviour they want to watch rarely occurs. Observation has been infrequently used to measure diffusion networks and opinion leadership.

Advantage: High validity

Limitation: Obtrusive; works best in a minimal system and may require much patience from the observer.

Opinion Leadership

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