Social Factors in Consumer Behavior

Marketers use their understanding of social factors that affect consumer behavior to maximize their effectiveness and profit.
Marketers use their understanding of social factors that affect consumer behavior to maximize their effectiveness and profit. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

The wants, needs, and purchases of consumers are affected by more than just personal and psychological factors. Humans are social beings, and multiple social factors affect purchasing behavior. Corporations and marketers take advantage of these social factors to maximize their effectiveness in advertising.

Reference Group

A reference group is any group that an individual belongs to, such as a sorority, coworker cohort, or the sixth grade. An individual’s reference group can have a huge impact on his behavior as a consumer. Generally speaking, if the majority of the reference group are behaving a certain way, the individual wants to behave that way as well. For example, if most individuals in a teenage boy’s peer group own a certain brand of portable music player, the boy is likely to want to own one as well.

Social Class

Social class is a type of rank based on multiple factors such as income, education, occupation, race, and ethnic group. According to Richard L. Sandhusen and other consumer behavior theorists, social class is often indicative of the types and quality of products the individual will purchase. Individuals belonging to a lower social class are unlikely to make certain purchases, such as personal hot tubs or expensive sports cars, whereas higher class individuals are more likely to do so.


Culture is a set of values, attitudes, and ideals shared by a group of people. Culture often determines how people dress and what they eat, among other lifestyle factors. A person’s culture often impacts what items they purchase — for example, a Muslim woman is likely to be more interested in traditional modest clothing dictated by her religion than are members of religious groups that have different guidelines for clothing.

Family Influences

Family is the most basic group any individual belongs to, which makes family influence especially important to consumer behavior. Purchasing decisions are often made by more than one member of the family. For example, many home furnishing purchasing decisions are made jointly by husband and wife; therefore, marketers often target both the husband and the wife when advertising their products by appealing to both individuals rather than one -- for example, by producing commercials depicting both a man and a woman approving of a piece of furniture, rather than commercials depicting only a woman or only a man.

Social Roles

Social roles can also have a sizable effect on consumer behavior. Most individuals have multiple social roles that influence how they act and what they buy. A man may be a father, a husband, and a car salesman. Each social role influences him in a different way. As a father, he may be interested in a less expensive but still high-quality diaper brand; as a husband he might want to locate a nice Christmas gift for his wife; and as a car salesman, he may be looking for a comfortable pair of work shoes. Marketers take social roles like these into account when designing their advertisements in order to take advantage of their influences.

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