Dimensions of Credibility in Marketing Communication

ABSTRACT - The purpose of this study is to conceptualize the credibility of different objects in marketing communication. Credibility is defined as a multi-dimensional variable attributed by the consumer to different objects (spokesperson, salesperson, advertisement message, company, medium). In the survey, students were required to rate the credibility of different objects when given the same information. To overcome the weakness of previous factor models of credibility, a factor-model approach with higher-order factors as well as criteria of validity and reliability based on confirmatory factor analysis is applied to the data. Conceptualizations of credibility for each object are identified and discussed.



Citation:

Martin Eisend (2002) ,"Dimensions of Credibility in Marketing Communication", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 366-373.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 366-373

DIMENSIONS OF CREDIBILITY IN MARKETING COMMUNICATION

Martin Eisend, Freie UniversitSt Berlin, Germany

ABSTRACT -

The purpose of this study is to conceptualize the credibility of different objects in marketing communication. Credibility is defined as a multi-dimensional variable attributed by the consumer to different objects (spokesperson, salesperson, advertisement message, company, medium). In the survey, students were required to rate the credibility of different objects when given the same information. To overcome the weakness of previous factor models of credibility, a factor-model approach with higher-order factors as well as criteria of validity and reliability based on confirmatory factor analysis is applied to the data. Conceptualizations of credibility for each object are identified and discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Credibility is an intuitive concept. The scholarly examination of the idea of credibility is as old as the discussion of rhetoric itself, having originated with the ancient Greeks. Nevertheless, its intuitive quality obscures its underlying complexity, leading to a plentiful, contradictory and sometimes confused literature about credibility. The definitions and conceptualizations of credibility are manifold, as are the theories that credibility is based on and the work that has been done to sort out the meaning of the construct (see Self 1996). Marketing researchers who are interested in credibility also have to face the complexity of this subject.

The focus of this study is to shed some light on the concept of credibility in marketing communication. Credibility is seen as a multidimensional concept related to different objects. These dimensions can function as clues for enhancing the credibility of the object. For each object, the dimensionsBand compositionsBcan differ. Exploring the dimensions, however, requires some theoretical background that briefly explains the concept of credibility in marketing communication.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Credibility describes a person’s perception of the truth of a piece of information. It is a multi-dimensional concept that serves as a criterion for the receiver of the information to rate the communicative system or its elements (source, message, medium) related to the information. This rating correlates with the willingness of the receiver to attribute truth and substance to the information (see Unger 1986; Wirth 1999).

Credibility is becoming crucial under specific basic conditions, namely communication, uncertainty and relevance. Credibility is tied to information, and therefore to communication, and can be described as a communication phenomenon (K÷hnken 1990, p. 149). Communication takes place between at least two parties. If communication takes place between a supplier and a consumer, it is called marketing communication (see Shimp 2000). Marketing communication can be defined as any kind of communication whose intention is to influence economic transfers. A company or its representatives (salespersons or spokespersons in advertisement) are the sources of communication, whereas the consumer is the receiver of the message. UncertaintyBanother condition of credibilityBcan be described as the perception of information as imperfect (Downey & Slocum 1975). That means the consumer does not know whether the information is true or false. To reduce uncertainty, a consumer can either gather more information or ascertain the quality of the information (Gemnnden 1985). Finally, credibility becomes crucial only in the case that decisions or actions are based on information that cannot be proven by the individual (K÷hnken 1990). Therefore, the information to be qualified must have relevance to the individual.

Three major aspects of credibility are revealed in the definition mentioned above. First, credibility is perceived by the recipient and is therefore a perception or an attribution to an object and not an inherent quality of the object. Second, credibility is related to different objects that can be true or false or can deliver a true or biased account. Possible objects of credibility in marketing communication include the message (e.g. the message of an advertising), the sources of information (especially the company, the spokesperson in advertisement and the salesperson), the advertisement as a communicative system, and the medium (provided it can influence the message and doesn’t merely function as a transmitter of the message. Finally, credibility is a multi-dimensional concept and therefore not applicable to direct measurement.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH

A variety of studies have already dealt with the detection of dimensions of credibility using explorative factor analysis. The usual procedure is to confront subjects with a number of adjectives as items of a semantic differential. Subjects rate different objects by using the semantic differential. The resulting data are then combined to factors by using factor analysis. The factors are than interpreted as dimensions of credibility. The entire procedure is called the factor-model of credibility. Figure 1 gives an overview of the factor-model studies and also the various dimensions of credibility explored in these studies. The huge number and variability of the dimensions indicate some fundamental problems with the procedure. The use of the same items for different dimensions leads one to assume that the factors are not always independent ones (Nawratil 1997, p. 65). Sometimes different expressions are used by researchers to describe dimensions with loadings on identical items, e.g. expertness and qualification. Aside from this, different factors can indicate the same meaning with respect to different objects of credibility, e.g. the competence of a person and the accuracy of a message.

Not only the number and variability of the dimensions, but also the methodological approach of factor-model studies have been criticized. One point of criticism is directed against the procedure of generating the items (see Wirth 1999): if existing literature is the source for the items, one has to face the problem of a missing theory of credibility. On the other hand, there is a possibility, that respondents, when characterizing different objects of credibility, will have associations not only with the credibility of an object but also with the image of an object in general (Delia 1976). Since the researcher is able to determine a priori the possible factors through his selection of the items, and even to influence the outcome of the factor loadings in his choice of the number of similar items, factor-models are claimed to produce artificial and instable factors (Cronkhite & Liska 1976; McLaughlin 1975; Powell & Wanzenried 1995). Besides the influence of the researcher, a few other sources of variance are claimed to influence the results of the factor model. Most important is the fact that different subjects use different rating criteria when responding to credibility scales (rater-scale interaction) (Cronkhite & Liska 1976) and that different objects cannot be rated with the same result by using the same scale (concept-scale interaction) (Baudhuin & Davis 1972).

FIGURE 1

PREVIOUS RESEARCH ON DIMENSIONS OF CREDIBILITY (FACTOR-MODEL STUDIES)

PRESENT STUDY

The purpose of the study is to conceptualize and operationalize credibility and the composition of the credibility dimensions of different objects in marketing communication. To overcome the weakness of previous research, we have to face methodological constraints and possible sources of variance, and to improve criteria of validity and reliability. We consider these aspects as follows. First, we conceptualize credibility as a multi-dimensional construct (see Bagozzi & Fornell 1982). Since previous research has detected too many factors that are also intercorrelated, second-order factors for the dimensions of credibility can be assumed (Iacobucci 1994). Second, we assume indicators to be reflexive that means measurements with measurement error for each factor. Furthermore, in order to consider validity and reliability for the measurement model, we use criteria suggested by Churchill (1979) and add the so called second generation criteria, which is based on confirmatory factor analysis in order to improve the reliability and validity of the concepts (Gerbing & Anderson 1988; Homburg & Giering 1996). We also intent to consider rater-scale interaction and concept-scale interaction as possible sources of variance.

The entire procedure of the conceptualization and operationalization can be divided into a qualitative and a quantitative analysis. The qualitative analysis covers item development and selection as well as the selection of appropriate objects and the development of the questionnaire for the main survey. Based on the data of the main survey, quantitative analysis covers various steps for the development of a valid and reliable credibility concept for various objects in marketing communication.

Qualitative Analysis

Items were generated from existing studies dealing with credibility in marketing communication and using the semantic differential technique to measure credibility. Altogether, we evaluated 41 studies. Since the majority of these studies generated the items for their scales through an evaluation of literature far from marketing literature, we can assume that most relevant items for credibility are included, whereas most irrelevant items are not.

A translation of the items to German forced us to leave out those items with a similar meaning in German and to add some items in the case that an English adjective had more than one specific meaning in German. This resulted in a list of 98 items. These items were than rated by a group of 30 students. They were instructed to carefully study each adjective and to rate each word as either familiar and appropriate for associations or not. Words that were rated unfamiliar by more than 25% of the subjects were eliminated, since they are not suitable for the impression formation task that is the central idea of the semantic differential technique. This process reduced the list to a smaller set of 64 items.

In order to develop the final questionnaire, appropriate objects of credibility in marketing communication had to be found. Since the respondents were students, the message had to deal with a product that was relevant to them and that could result in an extensive buying process. The product should not be a search good since consumers don’t experience uncertainty when buying a search good. In order to identify appropriate products and appropriate objects of credibility, 28 students were instructed to write about a product they were highly interested in and to describe the appropriate company, spokesperson, medium and salesperson for this product. Thus, we selected a notebook and a cellular as products. The message for the cellular dealt with characteristics like stability, design, and safety. Verona Feldbusch, a popular German TV star, was chosen as the spokesperson, Siemens was chosen for company, "Der Spiegel", a popular weekly political magazine in Germany, was chosen as the medium chosen and a middle-aged female person in an electrical shop was chosen as the salesperson. The message for the notebook gave some unspecific information about the weight, performance, potential, and other features of the notebook. For the notebook, Harald Schmidt, a popular late night talk show host in German TV, functioned as spokesperson, SONY functioned as the company, the online edition of the German political magazine "Focus" functioned as medium and a middle-aged male salesperson in an electrical shop as salesperson.

Quantitative Analysis

The subjects of the study were students of the social sciences. The questionnaires were randomly assigned to the students and every student had to rate one object of credibility for one of the products. Altogether, 960 questionnaires were found suitable for analysis, resulting in about 190 questionnaires for each object of credibility.

The procedure of the analysis contains various steps of analysis for factors and dimensions with specific methods of analysis and test criteria. Figure 2 gives an overview of the procedure.

In step A, data were submitted to factor analysis. Since we assume correlated factors, a principal-axis solution followed by an oblique rotation of the factor matrix was utilized (Stewart 1981). Items that did not meet the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin-test (KMO) in the initial correlation matrix were successively eliminated until each item of the matrix reached a measure of sampling adequacy (MSA) greater than .60 and the whole matrix an MSA greater than .70. An eigenvalue of 1.0 was established as the criterion for termination of factor extraction. With respect to the sample size of about 200 students for each object, for an item to be considered loaded on a resulting factor, a loading of .40 or higher was required with no high loadings on any other factor (Hair et al. 1998, p. 385). At least two scales mus be loaded on a factor for it to be considered meaningful.

In step B we analyze each factor. For each factor, an acceptable level of reliability is required (Cronbach’s alpha>.7, see Peterson 1994). Each factor was submitted to an exploratory and a confirmatory factor analysis. In the exploratory analysis for each factor, only one factor should be extracted, accounting for at least 50 % of the total variance. In the confirmatory analysis, the fit for each model was measured by the c2-statistic and for each item by the squared multiple correlation (SMC) (see Bollen 1989). The relation between the c2 and the degrees of freedom should not exceed 3 and the SMC should account for at least .36. If the criteria are not met, weak indicators have to be eliminated. At the end of this step, every factor can be assumed as having high reliability and convergent validity (see Homburg & Giering 1996).

In order to explore the dimensions of credibility as higher-order factors, we submit the factors to factor analysis in step C, again utilizing a principal-axis solution followed by an oblique rotation of the factor matrix.

In step D, the resulting dimensions were analyzed, a process similar to the procedure for the factors in step B by utilizing exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Model fit was tested by SMC for indicators and factors and c2-statistic and goodness of fit index (GFI) for the whole model. SMC should not fall below .36 for an indicator and below .49 for a factor, and the relation between the c2 and the degrees of freedom should not exceed 3 and the GFI should not fall below .9. Again, if the stated criteria are not met, weak indicators have to be eliminated. Additionally, the discriminant validity of the factors of each dimension was tested by application of a c2-difference test (J÷reskog & S÷rbom 1982).

In step E, all remaining indicators were analyzed by utilizing exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Again, if the stated criteria are not met, weak indicators have to be eliminated. Discriminant validity for each factor of the whole model was tested by the c2-difference test. To test the dimensionality of the model, an exploratory factor analysis based upon all factors was undertaken. Factor scores were computed as means of related indicators. A loading of more than .5 was considered as meaningful. In addition, the dimensions were tested for discriminant validity, since justification for the level of the dimensions requires higher order factors with a substantial degree of discriminant validity. Next, the resulting model was tested for possible sources of variance. To consider the rater-scale interaction, each model was tested for the groups of female and male students. Next, to consider concept-scale interaction, each model was tested for the subjects rating the scenario with the cellular and the scenario with the notebook. Since the small sample of each subgroup can result in weak overall fit measures, we consider measures for factors and indicators. Here, SMC should not fall below .36 for an indicator and below .49 for a factor in more than two of the subgroups. Finally, content validity for the resulting concepts was analyzed by the freely formulated statements of the students concerning the credibility of each object. The statements were subjected to content analysis (Kassarjian 1977). Frequencies of references to the factors were interpreted as degree of content validity.

FIGURE 2

PROCEDURE OF QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS

FIGURE 3

CONCEPTUALIZATION OF MESSAGE CREDIBILITY

FIGURE 4

CONCEPTUALIZATION OF SPOKESPERSON CREDIBILITY

RESULTS

The results for the different objects of credibility in marketing communication are presented in figures 3 to 7. In every case, a solution resulted with two second-order factors that were interpreted as independent dimensions. The first dimension describes the perceived inclination toward truth and corresponds to the idea of trustworthiness. The second dimension describes the perceived potential for truth and corresponds to the idea of skills (competence, qalification) as well as appearances (attraction, dynamism).

For the message credibility, a solution resulted with four first-order factors. Truth and honesty are related to the perceived inclination toward truth; dynamism/attraction and professionalism/substance are related to the perceived potential for truth. The whole model resulted in a c2 (df) of 261,824(90) and a GFI of 0,902.

For the advertising spokesperson, a solution resulted with four first-order factors. Honesty and objectivity are related to the perceived inclination toward truth; charisma and competence are related to the perceived potential for truth. The whole model resulted in a c2(df) of 234,829 (116) and GFI of 0,897.

For the company, a solution resulted with four first-order factors. Reliability, usefulness and competence are related to the perceived inclination toward truth; usefulness, competence and representation are related to the perceived potential for truth. The double links are interpretable because of the abstractness of the company as a relative object of credibility that gives both characteristics a hidden quality for the consumer and is a matter of trust. The whole model resulted in a c2(df) of 249,798(114) and a GFI of 0,913.

FIGURE 5

CONCEPTUALIZATION OF COMPANY CREDIBILITY

FIGURE 6

CONCEPTUALIZATION OF SALESPERSON CREDIBILITY

FIGURE 7

CONCEPTUALIZATION OF MEDIA CREDIBILITY

For the salesperson, a solution resulted with five first-order factors. Sympathy/reliance, honesty/fairness and persuasiveness are related to the perceived inclination toward truth; usefulness/ability, dynamism/attractiveness and persuasiveness are related to the perceived potential for truth. The double link of persuasiveness indicates that it is dependent on both dimensions. The whole model resulted in a c2(df) of 342,858(184) and a GFI of 0,914.

For the medium, a solution resulted with four first-order factors. Honesty and Seriousness are related to the perceived inclination toward truth; usefulness/competence, attraction/dynamism and seriousness are related to the perceived potential for truth. The double link of seriousness indicates that it is dependent on both dimensions. The whole model resulted in a c2(df) of 215,647(87) and a GFI of 0,894.

DISCUSSION

The focus of the study was the conceptualization of credibility in marketing communication as a multi-dimensional concept. Previous work has detected many different dimensions of credibility. Our study covers this weakness by applying second-order factors. Thus, it can be shown that there are two main dimensions of credibility that give a general character to the acknowledged dimensions identified by the founders of source credibility research: competence and trustworthiness were identified in the works of Hovland et al. (Hovland, Janis & Kelley 1953; Hovland & Weiss 1951); later, dimensions like dynamism, attraction or attractiveness were added by different authors (e.g. Baudhuin & Davis 1972; Berlo, Lemert & Mertz 1969; Ohanian 1990). Since competence and attractiveness, attraction or dynamism seem to be highly correlated, they emerged as one dimension of the perceived potential of truth. This perception of the consumer is obviously dependent on skills as well as appearances of objects in marketing communication. The second dimension describes the perceived inclination toward truth and corresponds to the dimension of trustworthiness. These dimensions can be generalized over different objects of credibility in marketing communication. However, beneath the dimensions, we found various factors differing for the various objects that do not claim universality.

The present study has a number of limitations, and their recognition should help refine future research efforts. Since we used existing items to measure credibility, it can be assured that the quantitative analysis established the reliability and validity of the concepts, but it can not be assured that we really discovered the existence of the concepts. With regard to validity and reliability it would be useful to apply the questionnaire with additional measures to a second sample. Thus, nomological validity, as well as additional reliability and validity tests, can be applied. With regard to generalization, cross-validation of the resulting model would be a useful first approach. Additionally, the study should also be applied to subjects other than students. Further research should also emphasize the sources of variance tested here (different products, male vs. female respondents) and add further sources of variance that might have an influence on the factor solution of credibility, e.g., the communication situation (e.g. print vs. television advertisement) or the level of credibility of an object (high vs. low).

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Authors

Martin Eisend, Freie UniversitSt Berlin, Germany



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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