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How Social Power Influences Consumption

Social power can be defined as the influence a person or a group has on the behavior and actions of others. This has been a trending topic of discussion in the marketing community and has been important in the study of reference groups and group influence. Social power can be divided into five different categories, each having their own influences on individuals.

  1. Referent Power. This refers to the act of consumers copying the behaviors and actions of groups in order to associate themselves as part of it. An example of this would be buying a particular pair of Nike shoes because everyone in the group owns a pair. This kind of power can drive consumers to purchase certain brands or products because of the group they want to identify with.
  2. Legitimate Power. This can be defined as differing levels of power that are dependent upon one’s position in a group and are dictated by social arrangements. An example of legitimate power would be the power that bosses have over their subordinates. Often, employees will comply with all the demands of their boss even if they don’t want to because their boss has the authority to fire them if they don’t.
  3. Expert Power. This can be described as the knowledge an individual or group has on a certain subject and their ability to influence a consumer based on that knowledge. A perfect example of this would be beauty bloggers. Based on their experiences with products or brands, they can share their experiences through a social platform that can then influence consumers to buy or not to buy the product/brand that is being promoted.
  4. Reward Power. This is described as the power to reward members for complying with expectations. An example of reward power is rewarding players with awards such as “most valuable player” or “most improved” at the end of a season. This drives motivation and can influence consumption by encouraging players to seek extra training with private coaches or personal trainers.
  5. Coercive Power. This power refers to groups that have the authority to penalize members for failing to meet expectations or breaking the rules. For example, during a competitive sports season, there is a strict “dry season” rule, which prohibits any athlete from consuming alcohol during that time. If they break this rule, then the player will be kicked off the team. This can influence consumption by encouraging players not to purchase alcohol during in-season.

Social power can influence different consumers in different ways. This pushes consumers to believe that others have a strong impact on their behavior, which, in most instances, is true. Next time you buy something think about this question: “Did social power influence my purchase?”

Source: Babin, B. & Harris, E. (2016). Consumer Behavior (7th ed., pp. 160, 161). Boston: Engage Learning.

Graphic Created by Claire DeSantis


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