Lars Perner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing
Department of Marketing
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0443, USA
(213) 740-7127
Cell: (213) 304-1726

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Group Influences

Humans are inherently social animals, and individuals greatly influence each other.

A useful framework of analysis of group influence on the individual is the so called reference group—the term comes about because an individual uses a relevant group as a standard of reference against which oneself is compared. Reference groups come in several different forms.

Reference groups come with various degrees of influence. Primary reference groups come with a great deal of influence—e.g., members of a fraternity/sorority. Secondary reference groups tend to have somewhat less influence—e.g., members of a boating club that one encounters only during week-ends are likely to have their influence limited to consumption during that time period.

Another typology divides reference groups into the informational kind (influence is based almost entirely on members’ knowledge), normative (members influence what is perceived to be "right," "proper," "responsible," or "cool"), or identification. The difference between the latter two categories involves the individual’s motivation for compliance. In case of the normative reference group, the individual tends to comply largely for utilitarian reasons—dressing according to company standards is likely to help your career, but there is no real motivation to dress that way outside the job. In contrast, people comply with identification groups’ standards for the sake of belonging—for example, a member of a religious group may wear a symbol even outside the house of worship because the religion is a part of the person’s identity.

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