The Role of Reference Groups in Influencing Hispanic Consumer Behavior [INSIGHT]

  Hispanics are influenced in many ways by the people they identify with, and these influences directly affect not only the general behavior of the individual but more specifically, his or her consumer behavior. As explained by Faber, O’Guinn & McCarty (1987), all of our behavior is subject to the pressures of cultural norms and expectations. These pressures also include influences exerted by the individual’s reference groups, that is, the persons, groups and institutions that the individual use as point of reference and to look up to for guidance in establishing his/her behaviors (Avery, et. al., 2010).

For Hispanics, as well as any other population group, reference groups may include people from the same place of origin, same culture and language, as these will have a strong emotional appeal and influence over the individual. But reference groups are not exclusive to a similar background. They may also include people from different cultures, language and origin, as they may serve as role models to which Hispanics may identify with, or develop a sense of belonging to. This is typically seen in environments like the workplace, the neighborhood, and/or church, among many other possibilities (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2012).

As explained by Cross, Borgatti & Parker (2001), Hispanics tend to seek their social networks, that is, people, family, acquaintances, etc., to serve in a variety of functions. These organic networks, or reference groups, can be tapped to get assistance with the provision of solutions and/or alternatives. Reference groups can also serve as pointers to people and/or resources (referrals); to assist reformulating problems and to identify potential solutions; to confirm and/or affirm solutions; and, to confirm and/or legitimize resources (Rodriguez-Mori, 2009). By assisting the consumer in those roles, the reference group not only helps, but influences the behavior of the consumer.

As indicated through the professional literature, the collectivist nature of Hispanics makes them to feel a strong sense of obligation to their family, which tends to extend to their reference group (Marin and Gamba, 2003). This strong identification and attachment results in feelings of loyalty, reciprocity and solidarity (Marin, Organista & Chun, 2003) and these feelings have strong influences on consumer decisions. Consider a Hispanic person who is considering the purchase of a BMW and ask his family for their opinion. Korzenny and Korzenny (2012) explains that: “while the family as a reference group may not have made BMW part of the [purchasing] consideration set, the consideration of how the family will accept or reject the product will be part of the equation” (p. 82) and sometimes this may be the deciding factor.

Hispanics, as per Edward Hall, are a high-context culture (1989). As so, they seek meaning not only by the spoken word, but even more on the context and implications surrounding the spoken message. This means that Hispanics seek to interpret meaning and expectations of their environment, and even ascribe meaning to perceived or implied non-verbal messages. Interpretations of context includes, among other things, social norms, expectations, and basically what the individual must do in order to be accepted by, or to belong to, the group. That is the nature of high-context cultures; even when things are not said verbally, the interpretations of the context (environment, tone of voice, implied messages, perceptions) will have a direct effect on their overall and consuming behaviors.  

Furthermore, similar to many other high-context cultures, Hispanics depends on, and require, acceptable levels of trust before they commit to something (Hall, 1989). In the case of Hispanics, membership to their reference group means there is an implied (and often tested) level of trust. This trust on the reference group is one of the most influential forces on Hispanic consumers. Many purchase decisions are made based on the referral of the reference group (trusted person or group). Implied trust is so influential on Hispanics that in some instances, even if no direct referral or recommendation is sought or made, the fact that a trusted member of the reference group owns or purchase the desired product or service becomes sufficient reason to decide on its favor. That is because if the product or service is good enough for that someone he or she trust, it should also be good for him or her (Korzenny and Korzenny, 2012).   

Human behavior is not immune to the influences of society (Farber, et. al., 1987) and Hispanics are no different than anyone else. Given how much influence reference groups exert on Hispanics, it is almost a certainty that their consumer behavior will also be affected. It would be advisable for marketers to take heed and consider appropriate strategies so their marketing endeavors effectively engage not only Hispanic consumers, but also the people in whom they trust; their reference groups.

By Howard Rodriguez-Mori / student Florida State University

Works Cited

Avery, J., Beatty, S., Holbrook, M. B., Kozinets, R. V., Mittal, B., Raghubir, P., et al. (2010).
Consumer behavior : human pursuit of happiness in the world of goods [Cincinnati, OH]: Open Mentis.

Cross, R., Borgatti, S. P., & Parker, A. (2001). Beyond answers: Dimensions of the advice
network. Social Networks, 23, 215-235.

Faber, R. J., O’Guinn, T. C., & McCarty, J. A. (1987). Ethnicity, acculturation, and the importance
of product attributes. Psychology & Marketing, 4, 121-134.

Hall, E. T. (1989). Beyond culture. New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday.

Korzenny, F., & Korzenny, B. A. (2012). Hispanic marketing: A cultural perspective. Amsterdam;
Boston, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Marin, G., & Gamba, R. J. (2003). Acculturation and changes in cultural values. In K. M. Chun, P.
B. Organista & G. Marin (Eds.), Acculturation (pp. 83-94). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Marin, G., Organista, P. B., & Chun, K. M. (2003). Acculturation research: Current issues and
findings. In G. Bernal, J. E. Trimble, A. K. Burlew & F. T. L. Leong (Eds.), Handbook of racial and ethnic minority psychology (pp. 208-219). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Rodriguez-Mori, H. (2009). The information behavior of Puerto Rican migrants in Central Florida,
2003-2009: Grounded analysis of six case studies-use of social networks during the migration process. Tallahassee, FL: College of Information, Florida State University.


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