Product Conspicuousness and Buying Motives As Determinants of Reference Group Influences

ABSTRACT - Reference group influence is an important concept in consumer behavior. An empirical examination of reference group influence reveals two underlying dimensions: informational and normative components. Results suggest that the role of product conspicuousness in determining consumers' susceptibility to reference group influences depends on whether affective or cognitive buying motives are aroused in purchase decisions. Normative social influence is pronounced when affective buying motives are aroused for conspicuous products. Informational social influence, on the other hand, is dominant when buying motives are cognitive in nature regardless of product conspicuousness.



Citation:

Pamela E. Grimm, Jagdish Agrawal, and Paul S. Richardson (1999) ,"Product Conspicuousness and Buying Motives As Determinants of Reference Group Influences", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 97-103.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 97-103

PRODUCT CONSPICUOUSNESS AND BUYING MOTIVES AS DETERMINANTS OF REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCES

Pamela E. Grimm, Kent State University, U.S.A.

Jagdish Agrawal, California State University, Hayward, U.S.A.

Paul S. Richardson, Loyola University of Chicago, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

Reference group influence is an important concept in consumer behavior. An empirical examination of reference group influence reveals two underlying dimensions: informational and normative components. Results suggest that the role of product conspicuousness in determining consumers' susceptibility to reference group influences depends on whether affective or cognitive buying motives are aroused in purchase decisions. Normative social influence is pronounced when affective buying motives are aroused for conspicuous products. Informational social influence, on the other hand, is dominant when buying motives are cognitive in nature regardless of product conspicuousness.

OVERVIEW

A reference group is an individual or a group of individuals to whom a person refers for information or the transmission of social norms and values. Several studies in marketing have documented the effect of reference group influence on consumers' evaluations of products and choice behavior (Bearden and Etzel, 1982; Childers and Rao, 1992; Park and Lessig, 1977; Stafford, 1966; Venkatesan, 1966). The two approaches used most frequently in advertising are image (also referred to as symbolic or value expressive) and functional or utilitarian appeals (Johar and Sirgy, 1991). Reference groups have been used for both of these approaches. Millions of dollars are spent annually on compensation to celebrities or other admired spokespersons to recommend the purchase of particular brands. The portrayal of products as symbols of membership in esteemed reference groups is also a common advertising strategy (McCracken, 1989).

Reference group influence has been conceptualized as a multi-dimensional construct (Bearden, Netemeyer and Teel, 1989; Burnkrant and Cousineau, 1975; Deutsch and Gerard, 1955; Kelman, 1961; McGuire, 1985). The two dominant influences recognized in the literature are informational and normative. Informational social influence refers to the tendency to accept information from others as evidence about reality. Normative social influence refers to the tendency to conform with the expectations of others (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955). These two influences operate through different mechanisms. Message content, source credibility, and trustworthiness are the major determinants of informational social influence whereas characteristics of the referent, such as appearance and social status, determine the degree of normative social influence.

Park and Lessig (1977) proposed further decomposition of normative influence into two distinct dimensions: value expressive and utilitarian influences. In addition, these researchers proposed a scale to measure consumers' susceptibility to different kinds of reference group influence. Park and Lessig's scale provided the impetus for survey-based research on reference group influences in a marketing context. Researchers have used these scales to examine the effect of product conspicuousness on consumers' susceptibility to informational, utilitarian, and value expressive reference group influences (Bearden and Etzel, 1982; Childers and Rao, 1992).

The primary contribution of this paper is the examination of the impact of buying motives, as well as product conspicuousness, on consumers' susceptibility to reference group influences. We also examine the dimensionality of Park and Lessig's scale of reference group influence which has been used in past studies. In the following section we discuss the dimensions of reference group influence identified in the literature.

DIMENSIONS OF REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCE

Informational Social Influence

Informational social influence is the tendency to accept information from others as evidence about reality (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955). When making purchase decisions, consumers tend to seek others' evaluations of different alternatives or derive inferences from the brands reference group members own (Park and Lessig, 1977). Individuals acting as referents may provide new information instrumental to the solution of a problem or add to what the individual already believes (Burnkrant and Cousineau, 1975). The referent's influence is based on his or her credibility (Kelman, 1961; McGuire, 1969). In an advertising context, perceived experts are often employed for product endorsements.

Normative Social Influence

Normative social influence is defined as an influence to conform to the perceived expectations of another person, group, or one's self (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955). The study of this social influence dominated the early research on reference group effects in social psychology and marketing. For example, Venkatesan (1966) studied subjects' choice of a "best suit" and argued that a strong normative effect determined subjects' evaluations. In a similar study, Stafford (1966) reported group members' tendencies to conform with the group leader in brand selection.

Some researchers have argued that the nature of normative social influences may differ according to whether compliance with group norms is voluntary or involuntary (Burnkrant and Cousineau, 1975; Park and Lessig, 1977). For example, an individual may involuntarily comply with group norms because of the group's power to administer punishment or withhold rewards. Park and Lessig call this type of influence utilitarian. In this case, the individual is concerned with the social effect of behavior that can be monitored by reference group members. Utilitarian influence is used in advertising by showing how the usage of particular products/brands protects consumers from embarrassment or rejection by reference group members in social settings.

On the other hand, voluntary compliance may stem from an individual's desire to enhance his or her image or self concept by identifying with the norms or practices of an esteemed group (McGuire, 1969; Park and Lessig, 1977; Park and Mittal, 1985). This influence is called value expressive by Park and Lessig. One way to attain this goal is to psychologically associate or identify with a referent by adopting the referent's opinions and/or behavior (Kelman, 1961). Psychological association with respected referents enhances self esteem and self concept by providing a model on which to base one's own behavior (Burnkrant and Cousineau, 1975; Kelman, 1961). Value expressive influence depends on the referent's attractiveness. Attractiveness is the extent to which the referent possesses desired characteristics or occupies an esteemed role within the reference group (Kelman, 1961; McGuire, 1974). Value expressive influence is manipulated in advertising by using celebrities or famous spokespersons in commercials and by associating the usage of products with membership in admired reference groups (McCracken, 1989).

DETERMINANTS OF REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCE

Despite the frequent use of reference group influences in advertising, it is unclear under what conditions marketers should attempt to utilize one type of influence instead of another. In this section we identify some determinants of reference group influences.

Product Conspicuousness

Bourne (1957) proposed that susceptibility to reference group influence in product and brand choice depends on product conspicuousness. At the product level, conspicuousness refers to the extent to which a product "stands out" or is noticeable by consumers. At the brand level, conspicuousness refers to the ease with which people can identify a specific brand of a product that another is using. Goods that can be easily identified are designated public goods, whereas products whose brand names are less easily identified are termed private goods (Bourne, 1957).

Park and Lessig (1977) argue that informational social influence is analogous to Kelman's (1961) concept of internalization. Kelman contends that this kind of influence operates regardless of the degree to which the referent is able to observe or monitor behavior. Kelman's position is supported by Cohen and Golden (1972). These researchers found no significant difference in evaluations of a "new" coffee between high and low visibility conditions when information regarding others' evaluations was held constant. Thus, some evidence suggests that informational social influence operates independent of product conspicuousness.

Normative influence, however, is expected to be greater under conditions of high rather than low product visibility. Some consumer behavior studies show that product conspicuousness is positively related to value expressiveness (Bearden and Etzel, 1982; Sirgy, Johar and Wood, 1986). Johar and Sirgy (1991) describe the theoretical underpinning of these findings in the following way: public products can be associated with characteristics of users to a greater extent than private products. Thus, consensual beliefs about the stereotypical user can be more readily formed. Those seeking self enhancement or expression refer to the stereotypical user in their search for self defining relationships. Therefore, both theory and empirical evidence seem to suggest that value expressive influence will be greater for public rather than for private products.

It logically follows from the preceding discussion that product conspicuousness induces greater susceptibility to normative rather than informational social influences in brand choice. Although the relative importance of informational versus normative influence has not been tested, theory indicates the dominance of normative over informational influence for public products (Johar and Sirgy, 1991; Kelman, 1961).

Affective Versus Cognitive Buying Motives

Researchers have identified a number of different motives that may underlie purchase behaviors. A fundamental dichotomy used in the classification of motives is that of cognitive versus affective motives (Katz, 1960; McGuire, 1974). Cognitive motives describe the motivation behind the "economic man" who is guided by issues such as quality, price, or the functional performance of products. Affective buying motives are those associated with the need for self expression, social belonging, or ego gratification (McGuire, 1974; Vaughn, 1980).

The extent to which purchase decisions are accompanied by affective or cognitive buying motives may partly explain consumers' susceptibility to reference group influences. Cognitively motivated purchases entail information search to learn about products that are superior in terms of attributes such as price, quality, and value (Ratchford, 1987). For such products, informational social influence is likely to dominate normative social influence since referents are mediators of facts relating to product attributes. Affectively motivated purchases are characterized by the desire to satisfy social belonging, ego gratification, or self expression needs. For such products, normative influences, whether they be utilitarian or value expressive in nature, are likely to dominate informational influences because of the underlying affective motives associated with product choice. Based upon this discussion, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H1a: Informational social influence in purchase decisions is greater for cognitive buying motives than for affective buying motives.

H1b: Susceptibility to informational social influence is not significantly influenced by product conspicuousness.

H2: Normative social influence in purchase decisions is most pronounced when the product under consideration is conspicuous and buying motives are affective in nature.

H3a: When buying motives are cognitive in nature, informational social influence is greater than normative social influence in purchase decisions regardless of product conspicuousness.

H3b: When buying motives are affective in nature and the product under consideration is conspicuous, normative social influence is greater than informational social influence in purchase decisions.

No hypotheses are developed regarding the following situations:

1. Relative dominance of informational or normative influence for cognitive-inconspicuous products; and

2. Relative dominance of normative influence for affective-inconspicuous versus cognitive-conspicuous products.

METHOD

Measurement of Variables

Product conspicuousness is measured using Bearden and Etzel's (1982) single-item scale in which products are classified according to whether they are public (conspicuous) or private (inconspicuous). No scales that directly measure buying motives are available. However, cognitive and affective buying motives result in differences in information processing. Information processing for cognitively motivated purchases focuses on the functional aspects of the product and economic appeals. Information processing for affectively motivated purchases focuses on image, symbols, and expression of personality (Johar and Sirgy, 1991; Park and Mittal, 1985; Snyder and Debono, 1985).

Cognitive and affective modes of information processing provide the foundation for the FCB (Foote, Cone and Belding) Grid. The FCB Grid is an advertising planning tool first proposed by Vaughn (1980) and further developed by Ratchford (1987). The FCB Grid synthesizes a number of different theories on how advertising works. The three dimensions of the grid are (1) involvement, (2) "thinking" or cognitively based processing of advertising, and (3) "feeling" or affectively based processing of advertising.

The items developed by Ratchford (1987) to measure affective and cognitive processing of advertising are used as surrogate measures of buying motives. In Ratchford's scale, two items measure cognitive (think) responses while three items measure affective (feel) responses. These items are used to arrive at a single overall measure of think-feel motives [((Think Mean-Feel Mean)/2)+8] whereby a value approaching one indicates that cognitive motives dominate and a value approaching seven indicates that affective motives dominate. Ratchford's scale was chosen because of its extensive development and testing, and its published application to a wide range of product categories.

Informational, utilitarian, and value expressive dimensions of reference group influence were measured using the items developed by Park and Lessig (1977). Similar to the approach taken by Bearden and Etzel (1982), items were slightly modified and responses were measured on a seven point highly agree-highly disagree scale. In each item, the word "individual" was replaced with the word "consumer" in order to relate the statements to a purchase context.

Data

In order to develop a list of products appropriate for inclusion in the study, a pre-test sample of twenty undergraduate students rated twelve products on perceived conspicuousness and the degree to which rational or affective buying motives are typically associated with product choice. The initial list of products was generated on the basis of the past literature and the degree to which the products might generate student interest. Based on subjects' ratings of the products on the think-feel and conspicuousness dimensions in the pretest, four products were selected for the study. These products are: 35mm camera (Think-Public), calculators (Think-Private), running shoes (Feel-Public), and quilts (Feel-Private).

Questionnaires were distributed to 245 students enrolled in either undergraduate or graduate marketing classes of a large university in the northeast. Each questionnaire was accompanied by a cover letter asking the student to complete and return the survey to his or her instructor for extra credit points. Of the returned surveys, four were discarded because of missing values. The final sample consisted of 178 usable observations. The mean scores derived from the responses of our final sample confirm our initial classification of the four products included in the study. The mean scores on the Think-Feel scale (TF) and Public-Private scale (PP) are: Running Shoes (Feel-Public product) 4.9 TF and 1.9 PP; 35 MM Camera (Think-Public product) 3.1 TF and 2.5 PP; Calculator (Think-Private product) 2.7 TF and 4.2 PP; Quilt (Feel-Private Product) 5.1 TF and 5.0 PP. Note that for the Think-Feel scale, a mean approaching "1" ("7") indicates that thinking (feeling) motives dominate and that for the Public-Private scale, a mean approaching 6 indicates a private product.

RESULTS

Prior to conducting tests of hypotheses, the dimensionality of Park and Lessig's scale of reference group influence was examined. A confirmatory factor analysis was performed on 13 of the 14 items proposed by Park and Lessig (1977). These 13 items are the ones most recently adopted in Bearden and Etzel's study. The item dropped in both Bearden and Etzel (1982) and the present study was " The brand of (product name) which consumers select is influenced by observing a seal of approval by an independent testing agency (such as Good Housekeeping or Consumer Reports Ratings)". This item was deleted because it was judged to be only marginally relevant to interpersonal influence.

Initially, a three-factor solution was specified for each of the four products. Examination of the reliability of each item, following the procedure outlined by Fornell and Larcker (1981), showed that the reliability of one item was poor ranging from 0.04 to 0.16 across the products (the item was "Consumers' decision to purchase a particular brand of (product name) is influenced by the preferences of family members"). Therefore, a second factor analysis was performed without this item.

For the three-factor solution, the c2 statistic was 534.9 (df=51, p<.001), and the adjusted goodness-of-fit index was 0.83. The estimates of reliabilities (r) of each dimension were .85, .74, and 0.91 for the informational, utilitarian, and value expressive dimensions, respectively. The variance extracted by each dimension (rvc) was .60, .38, and .67, respectively. The correlation between the utilitarian and value expressive dimensions showed a much stronger association (r=.98) than that found between the utilitarian and informational dimensions (r=.42) and between the value expressive and informational dimensions (r=.38). Since the correlation between the utilitarian and value expressive dimensions plus twice its standard error includes 1.0, it is clear that there is little discriminant validity between these two components (Burnkrant and Page, 1982).

Since the utilitarian and value expressive components of normative influence were found to be highly correlated, another confirmatory factor analysis was performed hypothesizing a two-factor correlated model (informational and normative). In this model, the four items related to information seeking were expected to load on the informational dimension, and the three utilitarian and five value expressive items were expected to load on the normative dimension. This analysis revealed very low reliability (r=.30) for one of the items related to utilitarian influence (the item was, "The desire to satisfy the expectations which others have of him/her has an impact on consumers' brand choice of (product name)"). Consequently, this item was deleted and the data were reanalyzed. The c2 for the two-factor correlated model was 322.8 (df=43, p<.001) with an adjusted goodness-of-fit index of .88. A one-factor model, hypothesizing an 11-item one dimensional construct was also tested. Its c2 value was 1269.2 (df=44, p<.001) with a goodness-of-fit index of .57. These statistics clearly indicate that the two-factor model shows a better fit to the data than the one-factor model.

Table 1 presents the factor loadings and t-values of the 11 items. All loadings are significant (p<.01). The reliabilities of the four-item informational and seven-item normative dimensions are .78 and .84, respectively. The variance extracted by each of these dimensions (.60 for informational and .65 for normative) is greater than their shared variance (r2=.14). Reliability (r) and Variance extracted (rvc) are computed using equations 10 and 11 of Fornell and Larcker (1981; 45-46). This test of the convergent validity of the two-factor model shows that although the two dimensions are correlated (r=.37), they capture distinct components of the construct. These results suggest that Park and Lessig's measures are able to capture informational and normative social influence. This result is empirically consistent with that reported by Bearden, Netemeyer and Teel (1989).

Based on the results of this analysis, two composite measures were developed. One was a measure of informational social influence based on the average of the four items that loaded on the first dimension of reference group influence. The second measure assessed normative social influence based on the average of the seven items that loaded on the second dimension. The average values of these two scales are 4.7 and 3.7 and show a correlation of .37.

TABLE 1

MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD PARAMETER ESTIMATES OF CONFIRMATORY FACTOR ANALYSIS

The mean responses for informational and normative social influences for each of the four products are presented in Table 2. The pattern of means is generally as predicted. Informational social influence is greater for the "think" (cognitively motivated) products than for the "feel" (affectively motivated) products. Normative social influence is greater for the "public-feel" product than any other product type. Statistical tests of the hypotheses are presented below.

H1: Informational Social Influence

In order to examine the effect of buying motive and product conspicuousness on informational social influence, a repeated measure MANOVA was performed by using a 2 (Think-Feel) X ( 2 (Public-Private) factorial design. Results are presented in Table 3. As expected, no significant interaction between buying motive (Think-Feel) and product conspicuousness (Public-Private) emerged from the analysis (F=2.4, p<.12). Also as expected, the effect of Think-Feel is significant (F=404.2, p<.001). However, contrary to expectations, a significant Private-Public effect was also found (F=188.3, p<.001).

In order to test H1, simple effect tests were conducted (Keppel, 1992). Table 4 indicates that informational social influence is significantly greater for Think Products (=5.4) than for Feel products (=3.9; t=16.1, p<.01). These results support H1a. That is, cognitively motivated purchases induce greater reliance on informational social influence than do affectively motivated purchases.

However, contrary to H1b, informational social influence is significantly greater for public products (=5.2) than for private products (=4.1; t=10.8, p<.01). It is unclear why product conspicuousness should induce greater consumer susceptibility to this influence. One explanation may be that the four items used to assess informational influence do not indicate what type of information people seek. It is possible that information search includes eliciting opinions regarding the popularity of different products or brands. In this case, product conspicuousness may affect informational reference group influence. However, comparing the magnitude of the Think-Feel versus Public-Private effects, it is apparent that the buying motive treatment accounts for significantly greater variance in the dependent measure (F(404.2/188.3)=2.15, p<.05).

TABLE 2

REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCE ON PURCHASE DECISIONS MEAN RESPONSES

TABLE 3

RESULTS OF MANOVA ANALYSIS (WITHIN SUBJECTS DESIGN)

TABLE 4

MEANS OF INFORMATIONAL AND NORMATIVE SOCIAL INFLUENCES

TABLE 5

RELATIVE DOMINANCE OF INFORMATIONAL AND NORMATIVE SOCIAL INFLUENCES

H2: Normative Social Influence

To test H2, a second repeated measure MANOVA was conducted to observe buying motive and product conspicuousness effects on normative social influence (see Table 3). As expected, a significant buying motive by product conspicuousness interaction is evident from the analysis (F=69.8, p<.001). It can be observed from the table that whereas the buying motive treatment explains the greatest amount of variance in informational social influence (F=404.2), product conspicuousness explains the greatest amount of variance in normative social influence (F=284.7). Table 4 shows that, as hypothesized, normative social influence is significantly higher for the Feel-Public product (=4.8) than for products in any other condition including Think-Public (=4.0).

H3: Dominance of Informational Versus Normative Social Influence

In order to test the dominance of informational versus normative social influences, a series of pairwise comparisons were performed (Table 5). Results indicate that for cognitive buying motive, informational social influence is significantly greater than normative social influence for both private (Info=4.9, Norm=3.2) and public (Info=5.9, Norm=4.0) products. These results provide support for H3a.

Consistent with H3b, normative influence (=4.8) dominates informational influence (=4.5) for Feel-Public products (t=2.5, p<.05). It is interesting to note that normative influence (=2.9) is significantly less than informational influence (=3.3) for Feel-Private products (t=4.5, p<.01). Results provide strong evidence that normative social influence is pronounced only when affective buying motives are aroused for conspicuous (public) products.

LIMITATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

This study has several limitations. First, student subjects were used in the research. This limits the generalizability of the findings. Second, only four products were used. Therefore, our findings regarding the dimensionality of reference group influence may have been influenced by the products selected. Finally, the exclusion of two items relating to the utilitarian dimension because of low reliability may also have influenced our findings regarding the dimensions of reference group influence.

However, our results provide a framework that advertisers may use when considering manipulation of reference group influences in advertising. We argue that the appropriate reference group influence to manipulate depends on buying motives and product conspicuousness. Advertising for products dominated by affective motives and which are publicly consumed may utilize normative social influence. For products in this category, the source attractiveness model of advertising might be an appropriate framework. According to this model, celebrities or spokespersons should be selected on the basis of likeability, popularity, status, or appearance. The importance of affective buying motives suggests that advertisers might show how the advertised brand satisfies self expression, social belonging, or ego gratification needs.

For products dominated by cognitive motives, regardless of whether they are consumed publicly or privately, advertisers might manipulate informational social influence. For these products, the source credibility model may provide an appropriate framework. According to this model, attitude change and persuasion are positively related to the perceived credibility of the source. Credibility is conceptualized as consisting of an expertise or knowledge component and a trustworthiness component. Therefore, referents used in advertising might be selected based on the degree to which they are perceived to be credible and trustworthy or have specialized knowledge concerning product attributes and function.

Based on a lack of theoretical or empirical work, we made no prediction concerning the relative impact of informational versus normative reference group influences for products dominated by affective motives which are consumed privately. However, results show that for products in this category, informational social influence had the greater impact.

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Authors

Pamela E. Grimm, Kent State University, U.S.A.
Jagdish Agrawal, California State University, Hayward, U.S.A.
Paul S. Richardson, Loyola University of Chicago, U.S.A.



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E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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