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Opinion Leaders: The Diffusers of Innovation

· Marketing,Public Opinion,Engagement
Anneshia Hardy | The Hardy Exchange

Do you know how your target consumers make their purchase decisions?

Does your target marketing strategy include methods to reach the intervening audience?

If your answer to one of the above questions is no, maybe, or I don’t know – this post was designed with you in mind.

The significance of interpersonal influence in consumer decision making has been acknowledged for decades. Substantial research on interpersonal influence has fixated on opinion leaders. Mainly due to their product knowledge, opinion leaders sway, manipulate, or overall influence consumers in their purchase decisions.
Opinion leaders are usually individuals who are more educated or conversant regarding certain products or services than the average consumer. The internet and social media has created a global platform for opinion leaders to serve as brand ambassadors for products and services. Consequently, consumers are continuously searching the internet for product reviews from established bloggers, vloggers, social media friends, or acquaintances who can offer product knowledge, reviews, or decisions. Opinion leaders can be divided into two categories, formal  opinion leaders and informal opinion leaders. Formal opinion leaders are easily identified because of their position, such as doctors, stock brokers, and auto mechanics. Informal opinion leaders are those who have influence because they are perceived by their peers as being an expert or genuine about a subject matter.

Brief Characteristics of Opinion Leaders

Opinion leaders are generally people who have the ability to influence others. They usually have substantially deeper expertise in a certain area and are often regarded as the ideal guidance in making consumer decisions. For example, a local college marketing professor may be an opinion leader for an entrepreneur in developing a marketing strategy for their startup company. Often, an opinion leader is among the first to use a new product or service, after which, they are able to pass on their opinions of the product to others. Opinion leaders are often trustworthy, unbiased and have the social network of friends, family, and coworkers necessary to disperse information.

Opinion Leaders and Brand Awareness

Opinion leaders are exceptionally useful in marketing. For example, as a Marketing Strategist, by identifying key opinion leaders for a certain group, I am able to direct my marketing efforts towards attracting these individuals. In large corporation marketing, celebrities are often used as opinion leaders. Although they may not actually know more about a product or service, there is usually the perception that they do. Celebrity endorsements in marketing are a way to give notability to a product or service. Opinion leaders can have a profound influence on the success of a product and on one’s own consumer purchases. Emerging media platforms such as social media and content marketing sets a platform for companies to utilize opinion leaders as brand ambassadors. The Ford Fiesta social media campaign is a good example of an organization using opinion leaders or peer-to-peer marketing. During the campaign, they allowed several popular Facebook users with adequate amount of Facebook followers to drive a Ford Fiesta and document their experiences over time.

In a Ted Talk presented by Simon Sinek, he pointed out that the Diffusion Innovation Theory informs us that you cannot achieve mass-market acceptance of an idea until you reach the tipping point or chasm between 15 and 18 percent market penetration. In short, the Diffusion theory curve notes that 2.5 percent of the population is innovators, the next 13.5 are early adopters, the next 34 percent are early majority, late majority and laggards. (You can read more about the Diffusion of Innovation Theory in my previous post) He also went on to credit his theory called the Golden Circle as the reason great leaders are able to inspire action. I believe that his theory is favorable to informal opinion leaders, as they appeal to the emotions, feelings and trust of others. This characteristic is one of the reasons organizations target opinion leaders to assist in their branding efforts.

I often explain to clients that their target audience consists of 7 audience categories:

  1. Active audience – audience members who already are interested in an organization, issue, or cause. Instead of waiting to receive information on it, they seek it out from many sources and when doing so, they speak as well as listen.
  2. Passive audience – audience members who are not interested in an organization, issue, or cause or who are not interested at a specific time. Very few groups are made up entirely of active or passive members. The key often is to determine where the majority sits.
  3. Intervening audience – a group that can intervene with target audiences by passing on – even endorsing your message. This audience often is made up of individuals who are opinion leaders or key influencers with your target audience.
  4. Media audience – all those individuals who read, watch, or listen to a specific media outlet. Many media organizations compile demographic and psychographic information on their audiences.
  5. Delivered audience – all potential or actual viewers, readers, listeners, or participants who can be reached.
  6. Effective audience – all potential or actual viewers, readers, listeners, or participants in the target audience who are part of the delivered audience.

The two most effective audiences to target are the Active Audience and Intervening Audience. Once your organization is able to gain the attention of these two target audiences the other  target audiences will follow. The Intervening Audience is often made up of individuals who are considered opinion leaders or trendsetters within your target market. Due to today’s digital age and emerging media, opinion leaders have the ability to assist organizations in facilitating an creative bridge between present product consumers and future or potential product consumers.

So, I leave you with my initial question…. How are you appealing to the opinion leaders and trendsetters within your target market?

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