Opinion leaders are those people who, in a given situation, are able to exert personal influence. They are the ones most likely to influence others through word-of-mouth communication because others seek advice and information from them.
Opinion leaders can informally influence the behavior of consumers towards products or services, either positively or negatively. If they are satisfied with a product and like it, their word-of-mouth communication can be helpful in ensuring its success; their dissatisfaction and dislike can exert more influence on its failure.
In a marketing context, opinion leadership is important and is found at all levels of society. Consumers tend to be influenced by those with whom they identify. Opinion leaders are present at each status level and in every group. However, the personal influence seems to be more functional at higher income and status levels.
Marketing Implications of Opinion Leaders
Stimulating opinion leadership involves having an acknowledged opinion leader. For example, the print ad of Colgate Total toothpaste says, “Approved by independent dental associations in 30 countries.” Marketers may target experts in their fields, such as doctors, to help consumers learn about health-related products and services.
Opinion leaders may also be used in advertising as spokespersons. Although their influence may be less effective when it is delivered through a marketer-dominated than a non-marketer-dominated source, their expertise and association with a product or service can still make them effective.
For example, spokespersons dressed as doctors are used in ads to communicate about toothpaste benefits. Attractive movie actresses, Miss World or Miss Universe are used as spokespersons for beauty care products.
Marketers can also target consumers and ask them to refer to a knowledgeable opinion leader such as a doctor about how the advertiser’s product can help the consumer.
Sending a sample of a product, to a group of potential and influential customers, such as beauty care clinics, can help generate communications concerning the product from opinion leaders.
Cosmetic manufacturers can create “advisory boards” composed of skin and beauty care experts from their target market, and clothing stores can also constitute “fashion advisory boards’ from their target market.
Salespeople and retailers can encourage their current customers to pass along information to friends and other potential new customers.