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81% of purchase decisions are influenced by friends

This is the ninth of 20 daily THOUGHTS examining emotions in marketing.A recent study found that 81% of all purchase decisions are influenced directly or indirectly by friends. Consumers are influenced by what friends have purchased or what friends say about a brand to them personally, on social media, or at a dinner party. The influence can follow what a friend says and even what they are reported to have said, what they think or are thought to think.

This being the case, why don’t more goods vendors and service providers work harder to establish friendships with their customers? Why don’t more shopkeepers, accountants, etc. become one of the friends that influence purchase behaviour? Service providers tend to be better than retailers, but both could improve – as could I.

The second question that occurs to me when considering the influence of friends is why do friends influence purchase behaviour as often as they do and to the extent they do? Certainly, there is an element of trust. We look for information before making a purchase, and a friend is a trusted source of information. There is, however, another reason – the need for belonging.

The fact is, there are few more powerful emotions than the need to avoid loneliness and belong. Human beings want, indeed, need to be part of a tribe and to feel that they belong in the tribe. ‘Belonging’  is one of the strongest and most significant influencers of purchase behaviour. People want to fit in.

The need to fit in and belong impacts both the decision to purchase and the brand that will be purchased. The need to belong affects purchase behaviour in relation to some products more than others. The categories most affected include:

  • Clothing
  • Motor vehicles
  • Houses

The need to fit in varies in intensity according to the age of the purchaser or potential purchaser. Younger buyers – millennials – are most significantly impacted by the need to belong – despite also claiming to be individuals. That is why a group of these ‘individuals’ seen out and about will often be dressed identically.

Although the need to belong and fit in varies with age and by the individual, it never goes away. Old people may be less obviously impacted by the need to fit in. They may have better skills in terms of rationalising their behaviour in ways they find comfortable, but they are still significantly impacted by the need to fit in and belong.

The need to fit in and belong also varies by culture. There has been much written about the orientation in some Asian communities to ‘save face’ and ‘enhance their prestige’ among friends and, indeed, people in general. I have found this kind of emotion to be most common in older cultures – but is certainly alive and well in all cultures, including Anglo-European cultures.

This is why so many US major corporations, as many as 63%, have now developed brand communities. These have been established with the objective of helping purchasers find an environment in which they feel that they fit in. Brands such as Apple (look in any Apple shop) and Harley Davidson are particularly good at this and have used it well to drive sales in both younger and older markets.


Make your customers friends and you will be more able to influence them.
Understand the power of the need to belong. People of all ages and all cultural backgrounds want to fit in and belong. Human beings are communal animals and are naturally drawn to social acceptance and belonging. The more a product and brand can deliver this – the greater the likelihood of sales, repeat sales, referrals, and higher margins


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