This is part one of a two part blog on how social influences effect consumer behavior (i.e. what drives people to buy ‘stuff’ on a psychosocial level). Part one is on Normative Influences and part two is on Informational Influence.


Part One- Normative Influences

Normative Influences are an individual’s perception of the “norm”. These “norms” dictate how a person decides to behave attributable to perceiving that there is a degree of social pressure, this degree of social pressure can range from strong to weak. A normative influence implies that if consumers do not follow these norms they will be excluded or frowned upon by peers. Consider the Apple I-phone, when I worked in advertising I knew junior staff members who would forego an entire week or two’s salary in order to purchase an I-phone 4 because the entire agency had them and it was the perceived norm to have an I-phone (versus say an Android phone for example).

Normative social influence is one form of conformity. It is “the influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them.” This often leads to public compliance—but not necessarily private acceptance—of the group’s social norms.

Bibb Latane’s social impact theory states that the more important the group is, the closer the physical distance is between the group and oneself, and the number of people in the group all affect the likelihood that one will conform to the group’s social norms.


There are three key sources of influence with regards to Normative Influences.

1)      General Sources, e.g. marketers, advertising initiatives, media.

2)      Special Influences, e.g. opinion leaders. An opinion leader might be David Beckham to me and Beyonce to you. Or George Bush to Republicans and Barack Obama to Democrats.

3)      Groups as influences. Here we can break the groups in our lives into three sub-categories a) associative (groups we hang out with/are involved with/associate with), b) aspirational (groups we aspire to be like/ associate with) and c) dissociative (groups we strongly desire not to associate with e.g. emo kids or ad wankers who own I-phones so you go out and buy Android to prove that you aren’t anything like them.)

These three sources of normative influences can affect brand choice, conformity (behaving like the group behaves, this is generally more about brand choice than the product itself), compliance (doing what someone asks you to do) and reactance (doing the opposite/opposing what the individual or group wants us to do.)

Normative influences create congruence. Congruence is basically the process of people or things locking in together, a “becoming one” type concept. Brand choice congruence is the effect of normative influences on the likelihood that consumers will buy what others buy.

So… these normative influences can force decisions such as whether or not to buy into a product category (Do I buy hair gel or hair wax?) and then which brand they may choose to go with (Okay I’ll buy hair wax because Dave and John do. But do I buy Dax-Wax or Sweet Georgia Brown wax? I better check with Dave and John.)

Another important point to explore is as to whether or not the product/brand is for public or private consumption. For example, I bought an Audi once because it’s a product/brand that you will see me interact with out in public. Thus, social norms of a group I aspired to be like drove me to buying an Audi because they might see me using it. But do I really care if I buy a brand/product which I’ll only be using in private? Like, Peanut Butter for example or perhaps a brand of underwear (under wear might be a bad example because in some cases I hope certain people will see it… eventually). Again the I-phone 4 in the ad agency is a good example here. Everyone sees your phone, it better be Apple. No one sees your underwear generally speaking so hey- wear what you want or even better why even wear any at all? J

Using Compliance Techniques- making the great unwashed buy your cool “stuff”


A compliance technique is basically a means to an ends – the end being that a potential customer inevitably buys into your product or brand. The average sales manager will have seen these one hundred times before. Use these, but use them strategically and ethically:

  • Foot in the door technique; Get a consumer to agree to a small favor.
  • Door in the face technique;  Shock consumer with big request, than contrast to small request
  •  Even a penny will help technique; Ask consumer for a favor so small it hardly qualifies .e.g. Can I have one minute of your time?
  • Ask Consumer to predict Behavior; e.g. How are you helping the environment? Do you recycle? Our product is made of recycled parts.
  •  Provide freedom of choice;  e.g. Vodafone displays a range of cell phones, thus giving the consumer a sense of freedom through empowerment to choose.

Okay so that’s Normative Influences. Next week I’ll write up part two on Social Influences and how they effect Consumer Behavior (a blog on Informational Influences and how they effect brand/product choice.)

Happy to be keeping you clever

O W Lovell

Thanks to:

Wikipedia (sorry, yes I went to wiki for a concise definition on Normative Influences)

and also;

Hoyer & MacInnis (n.d.). Consumer Behaviour (4th ed.).