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) 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.
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.
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.
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