Influence of Culture and Subculture Social Class, Reference Group

An individual has his own choice and mindset. Consumer buying behavior eventually refers to the buying behavior of an individual. An individual can get affected by the environment in which he lives, his culture, his social class, his psychology and his personality. Now, marketers need to understand this psychology and the mindset of these consumers, also, understand what all factors influence their behavior to develop effective marketing strategies.


Culture is a very important aspect to understand the behavior of a consumer. It signifies the set of values of a particular community.

An individual decides to behave in a certain manner because of his culture. He gets all these values from his parents and family. Every individual has different sets of values as compared to others, what they see from their childhood when they start practicing those habits, they become their culture.

Culture does vary from individual to individual, region to region, and country to country, so the marketer needs to pay a lot of attention in analyzing the culture of various regions and groups. Throughout the process, the consumer is under influence of his culture as his friends, family, society, and his prestige influence him.

For a marketer, it is very crucial to take all these things into consideration while analyzing or observing a consumer’s behavior as they play a vital role in his behavior, perception and expectations.

For example, if we observe the taste and preferences, people in southern India prefers rice to roti whereas north Indian people prefer roti than rice.

Social Classes

The social groups or membership groups to which an individual belongs are the social classes that influence him. In the social classes, we usually find people with similar values, lifestyle and behavior. Now a marketer or a researcher needs to pay attention here because generally the buying behavior of people in a particular social class to some extent is similar, though the level of influence may be low or high, he can tailor his marketing activities according to different social classes. Social perception is a very important attribute that influences the buying behavior of an individual.

Example − A person from a low-income group may focus on price while making the purchase while a person from a higher income group may consider the quality and uniqueness of the product.

Sometimes an individual also is influenced by a social group to which he does not belong, but wishes to get connected with others. For example, in a college a student is in no need to buy a smart phone but purchases it to be part of that group and be accepted by them.

Marketers need to understand these situations well and plan their strategies accordingly for such social benefits. Individuals play various roles in the consumer buying process −

  • Initiator Initiator is usually the person who comes up with an idea and suggests the purchase.
  • Influencer He is the individual who actually pushes for the purchase. He highlights the benefits of the product. This individual can be from the family or friend or outside the group too.
  • Decision Maker He is generally the person who takes the final decision or the final call after analyzing all the pros and cons of the product. He may not necessarily be the final buyer as may also take the decision on behalf of the consumer.

For example, a father might decide on buying a laptop for his son or a brother might decide on the best career option for his sister.

  • Buyer Buyer is generally the end user or the final consumer who uses the product.

Social Status

A social status of an individual usually comprises of an individual’s attitude, class and prestige. It depends on the way he carries himself socially or the position at which he is in his work or family or even in his group of friends. The social status of an individual influences his consumption pattern.

Example − A CEO may want to have a celebration and give a party to his colleagues, friends and family, so for his social status he may want to book a five star hotel, something like Taj or Oberoi instead of any other normal hotel.

A purchase decision takes place because of the above-mentioned factors. A consumer is influenced by his culture, environment, family, social status and groups. Companies need to understand these factors and develop strategies and market themselves accordingly to meet the needs of the consumers and increase sales.

Reference Groups

In our daily lives, we all get influenced by a variety of people while making our purchase decisions. We, as humans do a lot to try to impress others. We make purchase to get compliments and try that others should not think less of us.

A reference group is the group whose perspective we consider. Now our reference could be very large or very small including few of our family members or few close friends. Reference groups influence people a lot in their buying decisions. They set the levels of lifestyle, purchasing patterns, etc.

Reference groups are of two types:

  • Primary Groups
  • Secondary Groups

Primary Groups

Primary reference groups are basically the set of people whom you meet every day. They can be from your family, your close friends, your roommates, etc.

These people from primary groups may have a direct and strong impact in your lives and your buying decisions since they are very significant to you. Primary groups make you comfortable and give you a feeling that they are with you when you are confused about a purchase. These people give you very honest and clear advices as they are so close to you, due to which you could be more confident about the purchase. Research shows that the bond between people leads people to be effectively social and as satisfied consumers.

Secondary Groups

Secondary reference groups are usually formal and they speak less frequently. They might be professionals, your collogues, your seniors at work or your acquaintance at club, etc.

In secondary reference groups the power to influence people is quite less as compared to primary reference groups as people in these groups are not that comfortable in sharing their thoughts or views on the purchase.

Let’s have a look at few more reference groups

Aspirational Group

Aspirational group is the one to which a person may want to become part of. They currently are not part of that group but wish to become and get with that group. For doing the same, they try to dress, talk, act and even think the way the members of that group do.

For example, people who like Salman Khan wish to become like him  and so start purchasing and using all those products that he endorses.

Dissociative Group

The people in these groups are totally opposite to the people in the aspirational group. Here people deny of becoming or getting connected to a particular group. They just hate being related to that group.

For example, if people don’t like a particular community, they would never like being connected to them. So they would try all the possible ways to avoid the way in which they dress, think or act.

Thus marketers need to understand the likes and dislikes of the consumers and also the groups to which they belong. Marketers should recognize the extent to which a reference group influences the consumer and he should also understand out of all the groups which group influences him the most.

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