These questions have bothered epistemologists and socials psychologists for decades. Herbert Kelman, a professor of Harvard, identified the essential characteristics behind a person’s attitude towards conforming to a social structure. He proposed a model of social influence and opinion change that predicts the conditions of a social structure under which an individual conforms to the demands of the influencing agent.
Kelman described a tripartite influence model, through which an individual orients oneself to a social system. The essential components are compliance, identification and internalisation. He particularly emphasised on the minute distinctions between each process of influence and how it affects the decision-making process of an individual. Drawing from this model of social influence, we can study the behavioural pattern of the consumers in a market.
Kelman’s social influence theory: An overview
The vast dichotomy of public conformity and private acceptance was the primary reason behind Kelman’s predilection of the tripartite social influence model. He saw that the social processes greatly affected the opinions and attitudes of an individual. But it still did not quite explain the distinctions between the phenomenon ‘true-believer’ and ‘brainwashed’. This made him dive deep into the analysis of basic behavioural patterns of an individual and the social processes that shape those patterns.
Kelman mainly uses the term ‘opinion change’ rather than ‘attitude change’ in his study of social processes. But as any opinion is an expression of an individual’s attitude, his remarks on opinion change hold true for modifications in attitude as well.
According to Kelman, attitudinal change or opinion change is greatly affected by social influence. Social influence can affect a person so much so that he conforms to it blindly and merely says or thinks what he perceives would be approved by the ‘change-agent’. In certain cases, the individual’s opinions may be so profound that he himself endorses the opinions and attitudes of the ‘change agent’.
Source and Social influence
Let us now look at the three major types of conformity (compliance, identification and internalisation) that he analysed in his studies. It will help us to shed light upon the social aspects that play a significant role in changing the opinions of an individual.
Kelman proposes that compliance occurs, "when an individual accepts influence from another person or group because he hopes to achieve a favourable reaction from the other."
In this case, a person expresses a ‘correct’ opinion merely because he believes that it is expected of him. Here the subject is only concerned with the effects or outcomes of his behaviour. Compliance is not intended to be loaded. It may be functional or dysfunctional depending upon the social circumstances and the viewpoint of the individual who is making the judgement.
"Identification can be said to occur when an individual adopts behaviour derived from another person or a group because this behaviour is associated with a satisfying self-defining relationship to this person or group”- Kelman
This behaviour is associated with how a subject perceives his self-image in relation to the ‘change-agent’. This is a middle level of conformity. In this case, a person changes his beliefs and public behaviour only when they are in the presence of a group. It is usually a short term change of behaviour that results from a ‘normative social influence’.
For example, a person might pose himself as a vegetarian as all his flatmates are vegetarian, but cannot resist a McDonalds or BigMac whenever his flatmates are away.
According to Kelman, internalisation occurs "when an individual accepts influence because the induced behaviour is congruent with his value system."
The characteristics of the ‘change-agent’ become unimportant and the agent’s credibility plays a vital role in shaping the individual’s conformity. Internalisation is usually a long term change that happens as a result of ‘informational social influence.’
In this case, the subject is not influenced by the opinions of the group leader who adopt the attitudes that seem conducive to maximise his own values.
A close inspection upon Kelman’s tripartite social influence model helps us understand how public opinion affects consumer behaviour to a great extent. He also sheds light upon how it dictates market policies and advertisement strategies.
Kelman's Source Characteristics
Kelman’s description of social influence fits perfectly in the context of today’s marketing scenario. A study on the cooperative behaviour of the customers becomes essential to manage marketing decisions effectively.
It has been observed by theoreticians and management study specialists, that it is the cooperative behaviour of the consumers that facilitates the provision of a service in a market. To avail any type of service, be it medical care to investing in a mutual fund, the consumers interact with the service providers as well as with other customers simultaneously. This particular behaviour influences the quality of service being delivered as well as the service received by the fellow consumers.
Co-operative behaviour can also be linked with helping behaviour and altruism. Several firms often involve the consumers directly with the production of service or ‘servuction’ process. For example, pumping your own gas, clearing your own tables, carrying your own bags or such other services that would be otherwise performed by the service provider itself are nowadays often assigned to the customers.
The degree, to which a consumer will comply with the system depends solely on the role-relationship of the customer and the service provider. That is, it depends on the extent to which the customers feel in control of the service encounter, directly affects the willingness to participate in the cooperative behaviour.
Incorporating Kelman's theory of social influence process into this context will provide unique insights into consumer cooperation. In the field of marketing theory, Kelman has become a real influencer. Kelman’s theory of source characteristics is streamlined to understand the essential characteristics of successful marketing communication. They are:
- Source attractiveness
- Source power
- Source credibility
Each of these characteristics focuses on the salience of social influence, i.e. compliance, identification and internalisation and uses the same to explain the social behaviour of the consumers.
Marketing practitioners and researchers have tended to assume that a trustworthy source approved by several consumers is more credible than a weak or less popular source. However, previous studies have either jumbled up trustworthiness with expertise or attractiveness or found that their trust did not influence any kind of persuasion. The concept of credibility is loosely linked to mental proximity of a consumer with the source.
When a film star is used in the advertisement of a product, revenues for the product are expected to increase manifold. This happens as the consumers share a deep sense of proximity with the person endorsing the brand.
In essence, people buy the words of the source rather than the product itself as observed in compliance and identification theory of Kelman. This is where source credibility comes to play a major role in marketing communication.
Source attractiveness is another key factor that combines with source credibility to form remarkable marketing strategies. Both these terms are easily interchanged and confused, but there are subtle differences between the two.
The theory of source attractiveness suggests that a credible source must also be appealing in the eyes of the consumer. Here a marketer exploits each of the factors of social influence, i.e. compliance, identification and internalisation to create its customer base. The theory states that the consumer should, in a way be able to relate to the source, so much so that the former feels both of them are leading similar lives. It becomes essential for a source to make sure that a customer feels in communion with the product.
By applying Kelman’s theory of source attractiveness in the context of marketing communication, we can see that a credible source needs to reflect on the lives of the target audience attractively. It is this attractive solution to a problem, coming from a credible source that invites customers.
A powerful source is the one that ushers in a sense of compliance among the customers. In this case, the customers believe that the source has the power to administer punishments and rewards to the receiver. Due to this power, the source might also be able to administer a positive or negative response for the position he/she is advocating from the receiver.
When a receiver perceives the power of influence of the source, he/she accepts the opinion in the hope of a favourable reaction or to avoid the risk of punishment. A receiver’s compliance might be superficial to a great extent and lasts only as long as he believes the source is capable of administering some reward or punishment.
Examples of Kelman's Source Characteristics
This is a fine example of source credibility. When people identify the person as an expert scientist or doctor, they instantly believe in the scientific benefits of using the product.
Source attractiveness: A brilliant example of source attractiveness can be found in the advertisement of Nike, which only uses eminent athletes in its advertisements. Therefore, when Messi is featured in a Nike ad, the attractiveness of Messi ensures a significant rise in sales with respect to when the advertisement focused on the shoes alone.
Source power: Powerful source is often used in advertisements to make the receivers conform to a set of beliefs. This is why ads on safety measures always have policemen in them. Law enforcement officials, doctors, ex- politicians, film stars with a self-righteous image often play the role of a powerful source in advertisements and it has one big influence in generating more revenue.
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