Reference Group Influence on Innovation Adoption Behavior: Incorporating Comparative and Normative Referents

ABSTRACT - In a recent paper Fisher and Price (1992) test the influence of a superordinate reference group on intention to adopt an innovation. This paper replicates their model and extends it to include the referent influence of parents and peers (comparative reference group). The structural equation model reveals both reference groups having an influence on intention to adopt and suggests that the role of reference groups in innovative behavior is more complex than earlier models suggest. Implications for future research are discussed.



Citation:

Suresh Subramanian and Alka Subramanian (1995) ,"Reference Group Influence on Innovation Adoption Behavior: Incorporating Comparative and Normative Referents", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 14-18.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 14-18

REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCE ON INNOVATION ADOPTION BEHAVIOR: INCORPORATING COMPARATIVE AND NORMATIVE REFERENTS

Suresh Subramanian, University of South Dakota

Alka Subramanian, University of South Dakota

ABSTRACT -

In a recent paper Fisher and Price (1992) test the influence of a superordinate reference group on intention to adopt an innovation. This paper replicates their model and extends it to include the referent influence of parents and peers (comparative reference group). The structural equation model reveals both reference groups having an influence on intention to adopt and suggests that the role of reference groups in innovative behavior is more complex than earlier models suggest. Implications for future research are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Recent research on innovative behavior has seen a shift in attention toward uncovering social influences as possible antecedents. While the works of Reingen and Kernan (1986) and Brown and Reingen (1987) have examined social communication within the marketplace as antecedent to purchase behavior, Fisher and Price (1992) have presented a causal model outlining the influence of reference groups on innovative behavior. The authors test their model with one category of referents and study the impact of such influences on intention to adopt an electronic consumer innovation. This paper acknowledges the contribution of the Fisher and Price model but feels that it assumes a somewhat restricted view of the reference group construct, especially since the phenomenon under investigation is as socially embedded as diffusion of innovations. Accordingly, this paper does the following. In the first part the paper builds the theory for a more comprehensive model incorporating interpersonal influences in addition to superordinate groups influences. Next, the paper describes the methodology adopted to replicate the Fisher and Price model as well as test the proposed new model. Finally, the paper presents a discussion of some questions that arise as a consequence of the new model.

DIFFUSION OF INNOVATIONS AND SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Diffusion of innovations is a special form of communication. As Rogers (1983) defines it, "diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among members of a social system." The key elements here are (1) the innovation, (2) the communication channels, (3) the social system, and (4) time. While research in marketing has focused to some degree on each of the elements, much of the research focus has been restricted to the study of individual innovativeness, or relative earliness of adoption with emphasis on the uncovering of correlates rather than antecedents to innovative behavior.

An alternative explanation to innovative behavior may lie in the "social" aspects of diffusion of innovations. That is, while the adoption process has been studied by focusing on the "member" as removed from the social context, perhaps we need to address more seriously the "member within the social context." This viewpoint is slowly gaining increased attention with tools and theories like social network analysis (e.g. Brown and Reingen) and reference group theory (e.g. Fisher and Price 1992) being brought to explain the adoption of new innovations and the diffusion of new products. The next section will briefly review reference group influence and the Fisher and Price model.

Referent Influence

The influence of reference groups on consumer decisions within the marketplace has accumulated empirical support over the past three decades. Studies have focused on the effect of reference groups on overall marketplace conformity (e.g. Hansen 1969) to product and brand conformity (Bearden and Etzel 1982; Stafford 1966; Witt and Bruce 1972).

In general, two types of reference groups have been discussed in the literature. Socially proximal referents such as parents, close relatives, and peers have been classified as normative referents who are viewed as providing factual information as well establishing the norms for behavior. The influence from this group is largely transmitted through modeling and direct interaction, and the "peer pressure" construct discussed more often within the context of negative consumption behavior (e.g. Urberg, Shyu and Liang 1990) is one example of this influence. The second category of reference groups comprises of more socially distant individuals and groups collectively classified as comparative referents. The impact of this group on behavior is through modeling and social comparison based on publicly-observed behavior.

Two types of referent influence have been discussed in the literature (e.g. Burnkrant and Cousineau 1975). The first, informational influence has been defined as influence that provides "evidence about reality." This includes, but is not limited to the beliefs, opinions, arguments, and factual information about the judged issue. The second, normative influence, is concerned with transmitting group norms and expectations. Choices and judgment shifts are assumed to be influenced by exposure to the norms of the group (see Burnkrant and Cousineau 1975 for a detailed discussion on the two types of referent influence).

The Fisher and Price Model

In a recent paper Fisher and Price (1992) build and test a model of reference group influence on the adoption of new innovations. The authors' stated objective is to test a model of the effects of (1) perceived consumption visibility and (2) superordinate group influence on new product intention formation. A structural equation model was used and Figure 1 presents the Fisher and Price model along with their structural coefficients. The innovation used for the task was the concept of a new kind of stereo headphones. The U.S. Ski team was conceived as the "superordinate group" and superordinate group influence was measured using a 4-item scale. Personal and normative outcomes reflecting the likelihood that the innovation was of a sound quality and would meet the social approval of the referents were measured by two 4-item scales. Perceived visibility referred to subjects' perceptions that the new product would be noticed by the referents and was measured by a 4-item scale. Finally, the dependent variable behavioral intention, measured by a 4-item scale, concerned the stated intention of the subjects to adopt the innovation earlier than other members of their social group.

Specifically, Fisher and Price test the following two hypotheses:

H1: Perceived consumption visibility has a positive influence on expectations of normative outcomes from early adoption behavior.

H2: Perceptions of superordinate group influence have a positive effect on (a) perceived consumption visibility, (b) expectations of normative outcomes, and (c) expectations of personal outcomes from early adoption behavior.

FIGURE 1

REPLICATION OF FISHER & PRICE MODEL

Based on the results the authors conclude that (1) superordinate groups had an influence on intention to adopt an innovation early, and (2) perceived visibility was found to have an influence on intention to adopt an innovation early.

The Proposed Model

The proposed model builds upon the Fisher and Price model and attempts to extend their model in the following ways:

1. The Fisher and Price model studies the influence of one superordinate group (the U.S. Ski Team) which would classify as a comparative reference group. While comparative referents do influence marketplace behavior, we believe that normative referents including parents and peers would also influence the early adoption of innovations. Accordingly our model includes in addition to a superordinate group, a normative referent influence as antecedent.

2. The Fisher and Price model studies the influence of referent influence on the adoption of one innovation. We believe that more consistent effects may be found by investigating for a class of products. Accordingly, our study utilizes the category of latest fashion clothing as the stimulus.

3. The proposed model, in addition, adopts the multidimensional view of referent influence and investigates independently for normative influence and informational influence.

Specifically the following hypotheses are tested:

H1: Perceived consumption visibility has a positive influence on expectations of normative outcomes from early adoption behavior.

H2: Perceptions of superordinate group influence have a positive effect on (a) perceived consumption visibility, (b) expectations of normative outcomes, and (c) expectations of personal outcomes from early adoption behavior.

H3: Perceptions of normative interpersonal influence have a positive influence on (a) perceived consumption visibility, (b) expectations of normative outcomes, and (c) expectations of personal outcomes from early adoption behavior.

H4: Perceptions of informational interpersonal influence have a positive influence on (a) expectations of normative outcomes, and (b) expectations of personal outcomes from early adoption behavior.

METHODOLOGY

Subjects

Subjects were 151 undergraduate students at a midwestern university who participated in the study for partial credit in a course.

Instrument

The instrument included scales to measure the following (a) perceived visibility, (b) superordinate group influence, (c) informational interpersonal influence, (4) normative interpersonal influence, (5) personal outcomes, (6) normative outcomes, and (7) intention to adopt the innovation early.

TABLE 1

ESTIMATED PARAMETERS FOR NEW STRUCTURAL MODEL

In order to retain consistency all variables used in the Fisher and Price study were measured using the same scales but modified for fashion products and pretested for psychometric qualities.

Normative and informational interpersonal influence was measured using the Bearden, Netemeyer and Teel (1989) scale modified appropriately for fashion products and pretested.

RESULTS

Findings

The proposed hypotheses were tested using LISREL 7 with maximum likelihood estimation (Joreskog and Sorbom 1987). The analysis involved two stages.

In stage 1 the Fisher and Price model was replicated. The model had a chi-square statistic of 263.76 (df=164, p=.00) with a GFI=.837, an adjusted GFI=.791, and RMSR=.073. In stage 2 the model proposed in this paper was tested. The model had an overall chi-square statistic of 749.99 (df=449, p=.00), a GFI=0.754, an adjusted GFI=0.711, and RMSR of 0.08. Both models have thus demonstrated a less than acceptable fit though T-values for all the parameters estimated were high while the normalized residuals were low. See Tables 1 and 2 for a summary of the model parameters. Figures 1 and 2 present the two models with path coefficients.

A study of the estimation coefficients of the proposed model reveal that when combined with normative referent influence, superordinate groups (comparative referents) tend to have a weaker influence on intention to adopt an innovation early. However, the influence from both reference groups is significant. While this may be a product-specific result for fashion clothes it suggests that the influence of peers and parents and proximal referents is stronger for fashion clothing. It may be that distant referents such as product spokespersons and sports stars increase awareness of the innovation, however, it is the closer referents such as peers and family who make a more immediate impact on the innovative behavior.

Second, it is interesting to note the negative coefficients involved with normative referent influence. In other words, while distant referents have a positive causal influence on intention to adopt an innovation, the normative influence from closer referents exerts a negative influence and the informational influence from closer referents exerts a positive influence. Taken together this presents a picture of an innovator who chooses to gather information from peers and parents and models his/her decisions upon distant referents, but chooses to buck the accepted norm within his closer reference group while making the innovation decision. In many ways this is a validation of previous studies in consumer behavior and sociology that describe the innovator as one who is high on media exposure, information seeking, and product knowledge, but is also at the same time is novelty seeking and less dogmatic (see Rogers 1983 for a summary).

DISCUSSION

Reference groups, both comparative and normative, appear to significantly influence intention to adopt an innovation early. This is the first finding of this paper. This experiment partially supported our starting assumption that in the intention to adopt an innovation the influence of proximal reference groups including parents and peers would be at least as much or more than that of distant reference groups such as sports idols and product spokespersons. Given the weight of evidence supporting the influence of reference groups on various aspects of buyer behavior this finding is not totally surprising.

Second, given the strong positive and negative influence of comparative and normative referents within this study, the findings, especially the strength of the normative referent influence raise a number of questions for investigation.

1. Symbolic and Technological Products. First, this study utilized an innovation with a greater symbolic component. In such a scenario it seems plausible that normative influence would be significant. We believe that for technical products especially those with a low symbolic content, the normative influence may not be as strong as the informational aspects of reference group influence.

2. Impact of cultural characteristics. Diffusion of innovations is a phenomenon embedded in the cultural context. The study reported in this paper reflects the relative strengths of comparative and normative referents on innovative behavior for one culture, i.e. the United States. Hofstede's (1980) concept of individualism-collectivism with the accompanying categorization of people as being in the ingroup or outgroup would suggest that transported cross-culturally this model may reveal different results. It could be argued that in truly collectivist cultures the influence of the normative referents would be a stronger factor than that of comparative referents and vice-versa.

TABLE 2

ESTIMATED PARAMETERS FOR FISHER AND PRICE MODEL

FIGURE 2

NEW MODEL

3. Public versus private goods. In a recent paper Childers and Rao (1992) investigate the relative impact of family and peers on the purchase of public versus privately consumed goods. While the products utilized as stimulus in that study were not "innovations," the results could be usefully extended. It could be argued that for publicly consumed innovations influence from close referents may be greater, while for goods consumed in private influence from the more distant but visible superordinate group may be stronger.

4. A reconsideration of the Midgley and Dowling conceptualization of innovativeness. Midgley and Dowling suggest that innovativeness may be a trait inherent to consumers and conceptualize this trait as the tendency to adopt new products without the "communicated experience of others." The intent of their conceptualization was to portray the innovator as one who prosecuted the innovative behavior driven solely by an internal drive and not by external influences. The model presented here suggests that informational influence is only one component of the antecedent influences on innovative behavior. While informational influence may play a large part for some products, for many others (e.g. fashion products) modeling based on normative influence from close referents may be a stronger influence. Perhaps the Midgley conceptualization could be modified to define an innovator as one who adopts a new product without any referent influence. We are unclear at this time how such a conceptualization could be operationalized.

5. Relative influence of parents versus peers across age and type of good. While this study viewed parents and peers as part of a combined comparative reference group, it is likely that the influence of the two groups would vary across products and across age groups. Recent work in this domain from Bachmann, John and Rao (1993) suggests that peer group influence tends to strengthen for public luxuries and increases with children's age. We believe their study could be extended through our model to investigate peer versus parental influence in innovative behavior among children and any interaction this may have with type of good.

6. Finally, this study begs extension to the realm of negative innovations, products whose adoption is generally accepted as being detrimental to the adopter. Hirschman (1992) has raised the importance of the study of consumption decision making for addictive substances. In many instances the decision to "try" drugs or alcohol for the first time is an "innovative" consumption decision, and analogies with diffusion of innovation are not unrealistic. A survey of this literature reveals that the issue of parental versus peer influence has been investigated for alcohol consumption and the general consensus appears to be that youthful drinking is part of the socialization process (Kanel 1980). It would however, be worthwhile to study the relative influences of parents, and peers relative to comparative less proximal referents such as rock stars and movie idols on such behavior. In addition, given that smoking, alcohol, and drugs vary in the perceived visibility of consumption, it would be of interest to study the relative influence of the referents with variation in the consumption visibility of the product.

REFERENCES

Bearden, William O. and Michael J. Etzel (1982), "Reference Group Influence on Product and Brand Purchase Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 183-194.

Bearden, William O., Richard G. Netemeyer and Jesse E. Teel (1989), "Measurement of Consumer Susceptibility to Interpersonal Influence," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (March), 473-81.

Brown, Jacqueline J., and Peter H. Reingen (1987), "Social Ties and Word-of-Mouth Referral Behavior," Journal of Consumer Behavior, 14 (December), 350-362.

Burnkrant, Robert E. and Alain Cousineau (1975), "Informational and Normative Social Influence in Buyer Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (December), 206-215.

Childers, Terry L. and Akshay R. Rao (1992), "The Influence of Familial and Peer-Based Reference Groups on Consumer Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 198-211.

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Hofstede, Geert (1980), Culture's Consequences: National Differences in Thinking and Organizing. Beverley Hills, Calif: Sage Press.

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Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1992), "The Consciousness of Addiction: Toward a General Theory of Compulsive Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 155-179.

Kanel, D.B. (1980), "Drug and Drinking Behavior Among Youth," Annual Review of Sociology, 6, 235-85.

Midgley, David F. and Grahame R. Dowling (1978), "Innovativeness: The Concept and Its Measurement," Journal of Consumer Research, 4 (March), 229-242.

Reingen, Peter H. and Jerome B. Kernan (1986), "Analysis of Referral Networks in Marketing: Methods and Illustration, Journal of Marketing Research, 23 (November), 370-378.

Rogers, Everett M. (1983), Diffusion of Innovations, third edition, New York: The Free Press.

Stafford, James E.(1966), "Effects of Group Influence on Consumer Brand Preferences," Journal of Marketing Research, 3 (February), 68-75.

Urberg, Kathryn A., Shiang-Jeou Shyu and Jersey Liang (1990), "Peer Influence in Adolescent Cigarette Smoking," Addictive Behaviors, (15), 247-255.

Witt, Robert E. and Grady D. Bruce (1972), "Group Influence and Brand Choice Congruence," Journal of Marketing Research, 9 (November), 440.

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Authors

Suresh Subramanian, University of South Dakota
Alka Subramanian, University of South Dakota



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995



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