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normative social influenceWhether we realize it or not, we have all succumbed to normative social influence at different points throughout our lives. Normative social influence is the act of behaving in a way to fit in or be accepted and liked by other people. Even in our highly individualistic culture, fitting in and being accepted by other people becomes important to the forming of our identities and the strength of the relationships and community that we build around us. From childhood development to maturity and relationships, or in understanding how customers respond to marketing, normative social influence is an important concept that defines how and why we operate in groups.

As we grow up we begin to shift from receiving the majority of our acceptance and identity from our family to seeking acceptance and identity from our friend groups. Parents play a key role in helping their children adjust to the world around them. Different parenting styles can be used to help children develop the self-esteem and discipline that will give them a chance to flourish and understand the role of normative social influence. The sought after feelings of acceptance come as we realize we are similar to the people we are friends with. It may be in our personalities, our style, our aspirations, or our background that we find mutual understanding and respect from the people we are surround by. This helps form our identities as individuals and parts of a larger group and these relationships influence what our priorities are and how we make decisions – both of which influence the way we live out the rest of our lives.

By seeking acceptance we naturally gravitate towards the actions and decisions that will make us part of the group. In high school it may have been wearing a certain brand of clothing, being part of specific teams at school, or having the same extracurricular activities as others. These decisions made us part of the group that we wanted to associate with and they may have created a separation from the groups that we didn’t want to associate with.

As we grow up and into adulthood we continue to surround ourselves by the people that are similar to us and accept behaviors and decisions that fit that group. If the majority of your friends received advanced degrees, you are likely to consider doing the same so you remain part of the group. If the majority of people you know are in the phase of life where they are buying houses, having children and working their way up the career ladder, you are likely to consider integrating these same decisions into your own life so that relationships continue and there is mutual understanding, shared stories, and easy conversation.

Normative Social Influence and Social Behavior

In social situations, normative social influence is how people decide what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable. If you have ever been traveling and experienced what was thought to be an inconsiderate passenger on the train or air plane, you were judging those actions based on your idea of what normal social behaviors are.  The person that was acting outside of those norms was not responding to normative social influence which would have told them that their behaviors were out of the ordinary and needed to be adjusted in order to fit in and be accepted by the other passengers.

For example, if you are traveling on a quiet train between cities and a passenger near you is talking loudly on the phone, expressing a lot of emotion to the person on the other end of the conversation, perhaps even arguing or crying loudly and saying things that you feel should be for more private conversations, they are acting outside of normative social influence. It is likely in this situation that other passengers would be aggravated by the loud passenger, and would perhaps request that they be quieter or moved to a location where they wouldn’t bother as many people.  These requests would be made in order to reestablish the normative behavior of the group and the status quo of accepted social actions in public.

Normative Social Influence and Buyer Behavior

Normative social influence also affects the way we buy and shop. This theory of conformity can influence the way advertisers and marketers tell us about their brands. If you work in advertising or marketing, it is important to understand the behavior of buyers and how they will respond to your ads so you can create a marketing plan for your business that is beneficial to you and your customers.

People want to be accepted and included into a group of people or a community of people that mean something to them, so they respond when advertisements are geared toward helping them accomplish that ideal. It is really important for both consumers and businesses to understand who is buying the products that are offered so that messages can be tailored to that group of people and be effective.  This, in turn, creates bigger profits for the company. Cosmetics companies use this tactic when they advertise for anti-aging creams and serums. These advertisements make aging seem unacceptable and highlight the faces of woman that do not have the wrinkles or dark spots that other women of a similar age do. In order to fit that ideal and be accepted as a beautiful older woman, the viewer of the advertisement may go out and purchase the cosmetics line or skin care that is mentioned. This form of advertising works with any number of things – from making a restaurant seem popular, to highlighting the number of people that own a specific car. In order to fit in, the viewer is persuaded to make the same purchases.

Normative social influence is so important to buyer behavior that marketing strategies always start with an effort to understand marketing segments and build from there.  Marketing segments are the slice of society that is likely to pay attention and be influenced to action with a particular advertising campaign. Anti-aging creams are focused to older woman who may be experiencing changes to their skin that come with aging. If they were focused on men the commercials would show older men talking about their desire to look younger.

With the rise in social media marketing, businesses now use segmentation for advertising on Facebook to increase profits.  When advertising on social media, the advertiser choices the gender, age range, ethnicity, location, even interests of the person who will view the ad, further utilizing marketing segments to increase the chance that the ad will inspire the right people to action. Since the average user of social media connects mainly with people that are like themselves, these tactics help to spread the messages to those that would also be interested in products and service. Modern technology is employing the theory of normative social influence everyday!


Page Last Updated: February 2020

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