Who are Opinion Leaders and Why do They Matter
Have you ever asked someone for some advice before making an important decision? We are sure you have. We have all asked someone for their advice at one point or another in our lives. We depend on it sometimes, especially before making a key purchase.
Case in point, you are buying a new car from an automobile dealer and you want some guidance from somebody you trust. Hence, you bring your friend along who happens to be into cars and knows them very well. If you had gone alone, you would have had to ask the car dealer many questions, such as “Which type of car is the most reliable?”, “What type of fuel does this car run on?”, and “Is this a safe car?” In almost all cases, a car dealer will spoon feed you answers that will make you happy rather than bluntly tell you the truth. Their job is to sell and will do whatever it takes to sell a car. However, your friend knows cars very well and they will keep your best interests in mind.
You could have done some cursory research on your own but that may not be enough to make the right choice based on your requirements. A car is a major investment and you do not want to be careless when buying on. Your friend knows your budget and they will find the best car for you. You trust this person’s opinions and it makes it easier for you to make an important decision. For you, this person is an opinion leader.
Another example to consider is going to the clothes store to buy a new dress for an upcoming cocktail party. While you may have bought dresses in the past, you want to pick the best one for this occasion and you rely on your friend’s advice to buy the right outfit. You could go on your own and go through the entire store, looking at multiple outfits and even asking the personnel at the store for their advice. Usually, they will say that everything they have is good and they would be very happy if you fork over more cash for the more expensive dresses. Instead, you decide to take your friend along who is a fashionista and they can find the right dress for the occasion.
Since your friend knows fashion and more importantly knows you, they can pick out the right dress that matches your body shape, taking into account your favorite color and style. After trying out the dress, they will tell you what they think about it and reaffirm your own feelings of how you feel wearing it. You value their opinion on the dress and it helps you make a faster decision on which dress to purchase. This person is your opinion leader.
As we see from these two examples, opinion leaders are very important to us and we count on them in so many situations. We want to explain to you what exactly makes an opinion leader so knowledgeable and what makes them so important in our daily lives. We want you to walk away after reading this with the notion that opinion leaders have a lot to contribute and can sway people’s opinion.
WHO ARE OPINION LEADERS
We want to preface this section with a brief definition of opinion leaders in general.
“Opinion leaders are influential members of a community, group, or society who others turn to for advice, opinions, and views” – Business Dictionary
Additionally, we want to present to you another definition of opinion leaders. This one is more pertinent to product marketing, something that is also quite important.
“Opinion leaders are early adopters of a technology, product, or service who pass the information they have acquired to the less informed part of the general population.” – Business Dictionary
When looking at the first definition of opinion leaders, we see that this definition perfectly describes the two examples listed in the Introduction section of this article. Your friends are people you trust who are a part of your group and community. They are the ones you count on to give you some insight on something you are not very familiar with. They are your opinion leaders in some regards. The people in your immediate circle or second- or third-degree connections who are your acquaintances can have an influence in your purchasing choices. Opinion leaders do play a vital role in marketing goods, something we will look at later on in this article.
As for the second definition of opinion leaders, this requires you to observe the world around you and notice who influenced you to use certain things in your life, in a more indirect manner. Perhaps you were persuaded by your friends or family members to use certain things, but there is a deeper inherent influence by the creators of those products and services. If you consider the iPhone you are carrying around in your pocket, Steve Jobs influenced you to buy a smartphone.
If you think about how you order products online, normally on Amazon, then you have Jeff Bezos to thank for that change in your buying habits. When it comes to using your newly purchased electric car, Elon Musk was responsible for convincing people to purchase an environmental friendly automobile. These great minds were influential in creating change in society and inciting an action on the side of buyers. They are the opinion leaders of their respective industries. The directly marketed their products and services and influenced consumer behavior to adopt these technologies.
As you can see, opinion leadership is the degree to which an individual can influence other people’s attitudes or behavior in a nuanced way in order to incite a certain action in people. An opinion leader influences the actions or attitudes of other people who are looking for an expert opinion.
For the examples listed thus far, you were directly looking for advice from your friends when you wanted to buy a new dress or a new car. They are your expert advice for helping you make a purchase. In the case of industry leaders, they indirectly influenced you through brand marketing and product marketing, planting in you the seeds of the importance of using their products and services.
Characteristics of Opinion Leaders
Opinion leaders can build their organization’s brand by enabling themselves to be advocates for their products and services. Back in the day, the chairpersons and CEOs of a company would almost never go out of their way to appear on TV and press conferences to present their new goods.
Nowadays, with the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, many CEOs have become very influential in their spheres and their consumers. Even people who are not members of an organization can be opinion leaders. Case in point, your friends who do not work at the company they are praising.
We have enumerated some of the characteristics opinion leaders embody that make them very good at the things they do – giving advice to others in need of it.
- They are respected
- They have a view that carries weight and significance in the community
- They are very interested in an issue
- They catalyze the formation of public opinion on any subject matter
- They are very knowledgeable in their field
- They let their opinions be known
- They actively share information to the public on social media
- They consume and interpret media content
Opinion leaders have to be deemed credible by the audience listening to them. If you have friends who you trust and rely on for advice, you certainly respect their opinions on some topics because you find them to be credible. They have a breadth of knowledge of a particular topic and you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice how passionate they are about a cause. If you have a friend who loves technology and is a gadget freak, you probably ask them for advice when you buy, say, a new smartphone or a TV.
They can give you some incredible insight into these products. They know the landscape of tech and they know you, so they will guide you in buying something that is good for you. They will be there with you as you walk through the electronics store or be at your home as you browse through the electronics section of Amazon.
When opinion leaders happen to be people in your circle, you trust them even more because they provide unbiased information and advice. Oftentimes, when somebody acts as a spokesperson for a brand, they are usually doing it because a company paid them. They receive some sort of commission for the boost in sales they are responsible for and generally, they will only say positive things about a product or service. They will paint an amazing picture of the product, talking about it as if it was perfect and nothing comes close to it.
On the other hand, your friends or family members, who have no affiliation with a company in terms of marketing, will mention the pros and cons of any product. They have your best interests in mind and want you to be happy. They will paint a picture with all the colors available and show you exactly what it is.
The good opinion leaders, the ones who really matter and have a direct impact on consumer behavior, are usually very self-confident in their knowledge of the products they themselves have used. Because they are confident, they are willing to talk to others about the products and services they used and want others to buy them, too. They are usually quite friendly and nice, getting along very well with other people because they tend to come from the same social class as many other customers. This is why they resonate so well with a vast majority of people; they are one of the crowd. Nobody special or elite, just another regular person who is exposed to things that others want to be a part of.
Celebrities as Opinion Leaders
Oftentimes, you will see commercials of products or services being presented by a celebrity of some kind. There is a very good reason for this. Due to their overwhelming popularity and fame with the public, celebrities have a huge following and can turn the tides of companies in their favor. Many TV and film stars have appeared in commercials of various products and said something positive about the brand.
This has a major psychological impact on consumers because these celebrities are trustworthy. For example, if a company is not very well known by the public, they can use a celebrity to endorse their products and spread the word. People may know the celebrity very well and trust their opinion on the matter when they say something.
As a result, people will start buying the product that they would not have thought about otherwise. These celebrities have influenced consumer behavior just by sponsoring some product. There are many examples of this and we would like to show you one successful instance of celebrity endorsements as effective use of opinion leadership.
Example – Fitness Celebrities Marketing Supplements
A good example of this is for marketing vitamin and mineral supplements. Dietary supplements are tablets that you can take to give you some nutrients and vitamins while you are exercising and dieting. They were never very popular until quite recently, when celebrities started branding them. Up until about a decade ago, people going to the gym did not frequently use these tablets.
The average gym-goer was content with their exercise routine and change in diet. They did not need anything else. However, in the past decade, many fitness celebrities have started showing off their body transformations on social media (Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and this inspired many people to hit the gym and start exercising. As these fitness celebrities were posting photos of their fit bodies, they also sponsored some nutritional supplements in their pictures, stating how they used them to help them get fit.
When people saw that these celebrities were sponsoring these vitamin supplements and talking about how it benefitted them, they started thinking that they also required these tablets to help them get the body of their dreams. The social media posts had an influence on their behavior and thought process.
In a very short time, the dietary supplements industry experienced a surge in sales. The number of supplements being sold spiked over the past few years, with more people buying them from the local department store or online. These fitness celebrities had influence in their fan base and companies used this to their advantage, getting their products endorsed by opinion leaders who can bring in more consumers for them.
Doing it Right with Care
Speaking of celebrities being opinion leaders, this has to be done a certain way. Otherwise, it will backfire and there will be no returns for the company. An endorsement from a celebrity is most effective and simply only makes sense when the celebrities sponsoring the products are actually relevant to that particular industry. You see many home shopping network channels, such as HSN and QVC, market new products to people at home. They typically have some sort of celebrity appear on TV because these networks know that people like celebrities and will take their word for it.
For example, you will see a celebrity chef sponsor and sell cookware because they have extensive knowledge in using these products in their daily lives. Their opinions are credible and appreciated by the public. Another example is apparel being displayed on these networks, worn by attractive models and explained by a spokesperson of a company affiliated with the clothing line. Since they know their products and industry very well, people actually listen and pay attention.
Now imagine if we turned the tables on these situations. What do you think would happen if the celebrity chef started talking about clothing and apparel? Do you think it would resonate with the people watching at home? Of course not. Chefs are not in a position to give an expert opinion on fashion. They are not credible sources. The same could be said when a model or spokesperson of a clothing line tried selling cookware. They have no concrete knowledge of the product they are talking about. People will not trust them in any way whatsoever and the sales will be quite low.
When companies do enlist of the help of celebrities to market their products to influence consumer behavior, they always try to find somebody who is genuinely interested in the product and is popular by the consumers. There has to be some form of synergy between the products, the celebrities, and the mass public. When they are all aligned and in agreement, celebrities can be great opinion leaders for a cause.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OPINION LEADERS IN MARKETING
Businesses rely heavily on marketing tactics to get their products and services noticed by the consumers, to get them interested to buy their goods. Billions, even trillions, of dollars are spent every year by firms all across the world solely on marketing. The marketing industry is very expensive, with traditional print media marketing (newspapers, magazines, banners, etc.) and the newfound digital marketing (search engine advertising, social media marketing, etc.) being implemented by all of the major corporations to get their voices heard.
However, relying solely on these forms of marketing is not enough to get into the good graces of consumers. Since these methods lack a sort of physical touch, many consumers consider these methods a bit distant. They want something that speaks to them. Literally! That is where opinion leaders can make a world of difference.
Businesses soon realized that it would be more beneficial to the consumers, and ultimately themselves, to have opinion leaders brand and market these products on their behalf. If an organization wants to promote its brand and reach a wider audience by spreading the good word, they can have an opinion leader do their work for them. Rather than having things thrown at people in the form of ads, it is far more effective to have an experienced and influential person talk to the consumers and sell the product for you. Opinion leaders are perfect for influencing consumer behavior.
As a marketing technique, taking advantage of opinion leaders will surely work in the favor of a company. Companies do not need to market and advertise their products to an entire consumer base. If they project that 10 million people will eventually use their products, they can start very small and advertise only to a group of, say, 10,000 people. These 10,000 people are the first customers of a company’s product but more importantly, they are the influencers who can have a significant influence in how other people perceive the product.
According to Chris Breikss, Founding Partner of 6S Marketing (a marketing agency based in Vancouver), “The rise in popularity of key opinion leaders, or influencers, in marketing strategies is indicative of how influential they are in persuading others to follow suit and adopt a particular technology.”
Their Influence on the Purchasing Decision of Consumers
Opinion leaders are perfect for implementing the “word of mouth” strategy, a marketing technique where people convey to others their own thoughts on a particular product or service. The beauty of this technique – it is practically free of cost. It requires almost no investment on the part of an organization. According to several reports, influential people can affect the buying habits of, on average, 2 people by word of mouth. In case of online buyers, it jumps up to about 8 people on average.
That means for every influential person, there are potentially several other possible consumers out there who will be convinced into buying a product after hearing some good words from an opinion leader. Those who are listening are opinion seekers and after being successfully persuaded into buying a product, they become familiar with it and learn more about it. Eventually, the people who were once opinion seekers will become opinion leaders to others who are seeking advice. The message relays from one group of opinion leaders to another group of opinion seekers, and this transforms the seekers into leaders.
Opinion leaders have become such a common marketing strategy that in a recent study conducted in Europe, 7000 consumers were polled and 60% proclaimed that were influenced by friends and family members. These friends and family members are the opinion leaders in this case. Amity Business School conducted a study to see the implementation of word of mouth in various industries and sector. According to their report, 24% of people were influenced into buying consumer electronics by word of mouth. Likewise, 36% of people were influenced into buying computer hardware and software by a word of mouth.
This is indicative of how marketing is conducting my technology companies these days. Technology products are typically not marketed in an aggressive manner through traditional and digital means. Instead, plenty of people become aware of them via opinion leaders.
The tech industry, particularly when it comes to hardware, is heavily reliant on word of mouth to generate buzz within potential consumers. When potential consumers see other influential people using some new phone, drone, or electronic gadget of any kind, they become intrigued by them. They have their interests piqued by those who they trust and respect. The influential opinion leaders start to engage with the public and share their opinions on the products and services they have recently started using.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of non-celebrity opinion leaders who achieved internet fame on sites like YouTube and Instagram. Social media has changed the game and has ushered in normal, regular people into the forefront of marketing, as they can now be opinion leaders for others to listen to.
Social Media Plays a Key Role
In the last decade, social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram burst on to the scene, allowing people to post their own videos and photos, respectively. Several YouTubers buy and review tech products for a living. When they started their careers, they went out and purchased new smartphones, cameras, gadgets, toys – basically, any electronic device they could get their hands on and unboxed and reviewed them, filming the entire process. Because these people are part of the general population not working at a tech company, people looked to them for advice.
Why? Because consumers knew these people were once one of them. They were cut from the same cloth. The only difference was they had a very deep passion for electronics and they have used it to create a platform to share their views and opinion. These YouTubers are opinion leaders for everybody else who are watching their content. These reviewers have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and receive millions of views on their videos talking about various tech products. They can influence consumer behavior and affect a change in their purchasing habits.
Just as technology and electronic products are heavily advertised on YouTube, many people on Instagram post photos of their clothes and outfits for the world to see. Regular people who love fashion buy various items of clothing, such as t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, skirts, pants, shoes, etc., and post pictures of these items, either standalone or wearing them.
In the past few years, these Instagrammers became very popular, almost achieving success overnight, and have many followers who keep in touch and stay up-to-date with the latest trends. Which trends would that be? The trends being marketed by companies like H&M, C&A, Tom Tailors, Tommy Hilfiger, and many other apparel lines. Clothing is not necessarily cheap and people are usually unsure of what to buy for casual or office wear.
Fortunately for them, they can now count on dependable uploaders on Instagram for some sort of clothing and style inspiration. The ones uploading frequently are engaging with others and subtlely influencing their followers through their own styling choices. They can dictate consumers’ buying habits.
Example – MKBHD
We would like to point out a chief example of an internet celebrity who is a very strong opinion leader. When it comes to technology, where opinion leaders are very important and can influence a ton of power, the most famous opinion leader is without a shadow of a doubt Marques Brownlee. His YouTube channel, called MKBHD, is the home tech reviews and previews.
Millions of fans subscribe to his content and watch his videos that cover all of the latest technology product launches, primarily phones, cameras, and headphones. With so many products out there from over hundreds of companies, it can be quite difficult and challenging to know which the right product to buy is. With Marques’ help, people are influenced into buying a particular product since somebody who has used it before is giving their expert opinion on it. Over the years, Marques has established trust with his audience and through word of mouth, he is able to speak to the viewers and tell them the things to buy.
Many companies soon caught wind of this internet sensation and now use Marques as a platform of opinion leadership, giving him products to test out before the official launch to let consumers know how it is. He gives his honest opinion of the products and informs people of both the pros and cons. He is a conduit for companies to market their products through word of mouth, and his words mean a lot to millions of people around the world.
Adoption Diffusion Model and Opinion Leadership
Opinion leaders are one of the major segments within the adoption diffusion model, a model designed Everett Rogers that describes the rate of adoption of innovative products, from initial launch to dissemination and eventually the popularity with the mass public. The model represents a bell curve (seen below) and consists of 5 divisions – innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
The opinion leaders belong to the early adopters portion of this adoption diffusion model. They have the greatest influence on the other consumers who start to adopt the product later in the cycle.
Since opinion leaders tend to adopt a technology very early, they exert their influence on everybody else to get them on board and interested in a product or service. They are usually exposed to mass media and make their voices heard on social media platforms to reach out to more people. In case they do not use social media, they will simply let their immediate friends and family members in their community know of a new product.
These early adopters provide guidance to the early majority members who seek expert opinion from opinion leaders. These opinion seekers in the early majority portion are, in turn, opinion leaders to the opinion seekers in the late majority segment.
This is how the cycle is. Opinion leaders help opinion seekers and give them new information. These opinion seekers will in turn help other opinion seekers, becoming opinion leaders along the way. This is how companies make use of the word of mouth marketing scheme. This is how opinion leaders work their marketing magic.
As we can see, the importance of opinion leaders in today’s business landscape should not be underestimated. With the power of word of mouth, products and services can be advertised for cheap by getting the initial message to the right people who can influence the purchasing behavior of other consumers who are still on the fence.
Organizations do not need to spend millions of dollars on complex marketing and ad campaigns. Opinion leaders, with their social engagement, can get people to come off the fence and actually be interested in a product. All it takes is for opinion leaders to be trustworthy and dependable, and people will soon buy their message and be convinced to make a purchase.