The most important thing for the marketer is to understand about the role of ‘opinion leadership’ in marketing of goods and services. Opinion leadership which is otherwise known as word of mouth communication is an important personal influence on consumers. With the proliferation of cell phone usage and e-mail, many people are always available to friends, family and business associates. Message spreads like virus among people. Opinion leaders offer advice or information about a product, service and how a particular product may be used. Words of mouth takes place through personal or face to face communication.
Definition of Opinion Leadership
Opinion leadership is defined as the process in which one person influences the attitudes or actions of other person informally, who may be identified as opinion leader. They offer informal advice about the product or service. Opinion leaders are part of the social groups. They have social communication network. The communication is informal and interpersonal in nature which happens between those who are not associated with the commercial selling source directly.
Examples of Opinion Leadership
The role of opinion leadership could be seen in the following examples.
- During casual talk, a friend talks about the car he recently bought. He recommends buying it.
- A person shows a friend photographs of his recent tour abroad. He suggests that by using a particular make of camera, better pictures could be shot.
- A family wants to have a swimming pool in their spacious house. The family head asks neighbors which pool construction company they should call.
- A parent wants admission for his child in a particular school. He contacts other parents sending their children to the same school.
Characteristics of Opinion Leaders
Opinion leadership is a dynamic process. It is the most powerful consumer force. As informal communication sources, it effectively influences consumers in their product related decisions. The dynamics of the opinion leadership may be discussed under the following headings:
- Credible source of information,
- Provision of both positive and negative product information,
- Source of information and advice,
- Two-way street,
- Specific characteristics.
(A) Credible Source
Opinion leaders are knowledgeable. Their advice about a product or service is considered reliable. As opinion leaders are informal sources of information, it is perceived that they give advice in the best interest of opinion seekers. The first hand information received from opinion leaders helps in reducing perceived risks. It properly tackles the anxiety in buying new products as the opinion is based on the first hand experience.
(B) Provision of Both Positive and Negative Product Information
Marketers provide information which is invariably favorable to the products they are marketing. But opinion leaders are not directly associated with marketers. They provide both favorable and unfavorable information about the product. So, opinion seekers have faith in opinion leaders. They are confident that they are receiving both positive and negative information in an accurate way.
(C) Sources of Information and Advice
Opinion leaders are the source of both information and advice. They simply share their experience about a product or service. Their talk is related to what they know about a product. In their more aggressive talks, they advise others to buy or avoid a specific product. They base their advice on proper reasons.
(D) Two-way Street
Opinion leaders in one product related situation become opinion receivers in another situation even for the same product. For example, a new homeowner thinking of buying a lawn mover seeks information and advice from other people about which brand to select. After purchasing the lawn mover, he may be satisfied with the product (in the post purchase experience). Now he has a compelling need to talk favorably about the purchase to other people to confirm the correctness of his choice. In the first instance, he is an opinion receiver and in the second he is an opinion leader.
Sometimes, an opinion leader is influenced by an opinion receiver. For example, a person may recommend a favorite hotel to his friend. In response the opinion receiver gives his own comments on that hotel. Finally, the opinion leader may come to realize that the hotel is too small, too isolated and offers fewer amenities than other hotels.
(E) Specific Characteristics
Opinion leaders possess distinct personality traits. These include self-confidence and gregariousness. They are socially inclined, outspoken and are knowledgeable.