- Social Class and Reference Groups
Are there other ways that we can group consumers to understand and
predict their behaviors?
Some analysts use social class as an aggregate of several measures that
can describe a person or a household
Why? People who are similar on social class indicators are often
similar in their consumer behaviors
Social Class .…
Social class—a status hierarchy by which groups and individuals are classified
on the basis of esteem and prestige.—American Marketing Association
A social class is a group of people whom other members of the community
see as equal to one another in social prestige and whom others believe
to be superior or inferior in prestige to other groups that constitute
the social classes below them or above them (Warner).
Relatively permanent and homogenous divisions in a society in which
individuals or families sharing similar values, lifestyles, interests,
and behavior can be categorized
Measures typically are a combination of demographic identifiers which are
correlated with product bought, values held, etc.
Social Class Membership
Members of the same social class tend to share common values, beliefs,
and behaviors that unite them (as opposed to simple demographics).
Membership in a higher class generally leads to greater influence within
the workplace, organizations, and society as a whole.
What Is Social Class?
What is Your Social Class?
What is the social class of the person sitting next to you?
How can you tell? What info are you using to make this judgment?
Subjective (rank self), reputational (someone gives opinion of your social
class), objective methods (uses scores on various observable variables)
Occupation: best single indicator of social class
Personal performance: a person’s success relative to that of others (often
in the same occupation)
Interactions: the people with whom one associates and socializes
Possessions: symbols of class membership – living room scale
What a person does for a living
It is an indicator of other signs of class membership: income, personal
associations, and status
Further class assumptions within an occupation may be based on performance
Level of income is not by itself a good indicator of class.
Income source along with occupation may help us determine whether
two individuals that have the same income belong in the same class: investments,
inheritance, old wealth, etc.
What do you think?
Does a professional athlete making $20 million belong in the same social
class with a physician making $150,000/
A mechanic wins $50 million in the lottery…will his social class change?
Have you ever calculated Social Class?
Scores on weighted scales - each item represents something of value in
the specific culture. The weights represent the relative importance in
Computerized Status Index (CSI) – separates out data on both spouses
Hollingshead’s Index (residence x 6, occupation x 9, education x 5)
Warner’s Index: occupation, source of income, house type, dwelling
Social Class in the United States
A five-class hierarchy
Attend elite schools, engage in inconspicuous consumption
Professionals, independent businesspeople, corporate executives
Salespeople, clerical workers, supervisors, construction contractors,
small retail store owners
Skilled and semi-skilled blue-collar workers
Lower blue-collar workers, the unemployed, families on welfare,
and unskilled workers
Marketing to the poor
Social class is an important source of beliefs, values, and behaviors
Why? Look at the indicators: what one does for a living, what
one’s education is, where you life, what you earn
Different social classes value education differently
Attitudes toward family life, raising children, the role of women, etc.,
vary from class to class
Time with children, attitude toward work, care of self
People in various social classes exhibit markedly different lifestyles
Activities outside home, times of meals, types of sports
Can marketers use social class? Product influence
Its relevance may be product-specific
Products people buy: clothing, home furnisihings and appliances
Conspicuous items - things people are likely to talk about and compare
Certain brands are associated with specific social classes (occupations,
Brands of beer, wine, etc.
Social Class and Marketplace Behavior: Media Use
Influence on media use
Lower-class people are less likely to subscribe to newspapers than are
members of the middle class.
Choice of magazine is likely tied to education and reading ability
Broadcast media choice also varies by social class
Lower-middle class—Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal
Upper-middle class—Time, The New Yorker, etc.
Upper-middle class—NBC vs. lower-middle class: CBS
Lower-middle class—more responsive to audiovisual forms of communication
Influence on Advertising: Themes
Lower-status consumers are more receptive to advertising that depicts
activity, ongoing work and life, expressions of energy, etc. Why?
Upper-middle class consumers are more critical of advertising, suspicious
of emotional appeals, and skeptical of claims. Why?
Social Class: Shopping
Lower-class women are the most “impulsive” about shopping
Outlet choice varies by social class
Upper-lower class women are likely to respond to promotions offering
coupons or other special inducements
Members of the upper class prefer traditional home furnishings
Social Class and Leisure
Bowling, TV, and bingo are favorite lower-class leisure pursuits
Most activities enjoyed by middle- and upper-class people are less
time consuming than lower-class choices
Who is likely to influence your company’s customers?
Who do they want to imitate?
Who will they ask for advice?
Does your company have any social processes where your customers
are influenced by others?
Why are Reference Groups Important?
Any person or group (actual or imaginary) that serves as a point
of comparison for an individual in the formation of either general or specific
values, attitudes, or behavior
When shopping in a group, you bring your reference group with you.
Why? To get information or advice
To satisfy the expectations of others
To be like a certain type of admired person
Reference Group Influences
Members of a reference group are likely to influence your company’s consumers
E.g. which types of clothes to wear, food to serve, restaurants to patronize
These are people whom your customers tend to look to for influence or advice
How to identify them??
Social Norms and Conformity
Conformity pressures—actions taken to encourage or force members to act,
think, and/or express themselves in certain ways
Social norm—any rule or behavior for meeting societal expectations ? normative
The more important a group is in our lives, the greater our desire to accept
and conform to its norms
Reference Groups: Have you Ever Sought the Opinions of Others
in making a consumer decision?
What’s common about an Avon sales call, a Tupperware party, a Mary Kay
makeover party? The use of social pressure.
Many businesses try to set up group situations where there is pressure
to conform to “good behavior”
Coercion and Obligation: norms and rules of behavior, sets up expectations
Sanctions and Rewards (for being a good guest)
Social Psychology - the influence exerted on persons by agents (an individual,
a group, a norm, a role, or a value)
Types of Reference Groups:how much contact, familiarity
primary vs. secondary: people at your office vs. people in a professional
membership vs. aspirational: your gym friends vs. the Olympic team - want
to be trim so join an exercise club
positive vs. negative (dissociative): liked vs. disliked groups -
do not want to be unemployed, so seek degree with high employment rate
formal vs. informal: like SBC vs. a group of friends - learn the rules
of a company where you would like to work
NEW! Virtual group – internet communities
Remember - the question is how much impact the reference group has!
Public necessities: don’t need influence to get one - in U.S., watches
and cars - so weak product and strong brand influence – what brand of watch
Public luxuries: golf clubs - strong product and strong brand
Private necessities: washer and dryer - most everyone has these - weak
product and weak brand - people not talk about it
Private luxuries: hot tub - people not talk about brands - strong
product and weak brand
These vary by country
Promotional Messages and Power
Reward power: parental reward, peer approval, rebates
Coercive power: punishment, disappointment, “I should have bought
Legitimate power: your country says that here is what you ought to
do, “Buy American”
Referent power: be like someone you aspire to imitate - Olympics
Expert power: authorities, who can give you advice - Inquirer asks
professor to talk about Christmas shopping