Preparing a media plan aimed at opinion leaders requires accurately identifying and describing the attributes of this target as well as measuring its affinities with different media. Our research findings on women's fashion, particularly consumer magazines, reveal that a media plan targeted at opinion leaders can succeed, that these opinion leaders tend to be positive towards and discuss advertising media, that they read more women's fashion newspapers and have quite different affinities with such media than non opinion leaders.
Identification of opinion leaders
The current method used to identify opinion leaders measures the volume of information they exchange and the degree of influence they exert. Three methods are available to do this but only the aforementioned method applies to the marketing of consumer products and services.
- Sociometric. Respondents are asked to name the people they turn to for advice. An American survey conducted among 20,000 GPs and specialist physicians revealed that on average each physician seeks medical advice from five colleagues and friendly advice from three other colleagues (Collins, Hawks and Davis, 2000). This method is effective in industrial marketing since the parent populations are small, but this is unwieldy when applied to mass consumer products.
- Key informants. This method, applied in ethnography and psychosociology, uses participant observation: an observer (group member) appoints one or more individuals who act as opinion leaders. This approach is relevant to organisational research (sales forces, industrial buyers, etc.) but unsuitable for quantitative marketing studies.
- Self-designating. Respondents self assess their influence in a given category of consumer products or services by answering a series of standard questions. This is a suitable solution for quantitative studies. By using measurement scales with verbal ratings, opinion leaders can be identified within a given population. Different scales have been developed and compared in North America (King and Summers, 1970; Childers, 1986; Goldsmith and Desborde, 1991; Flynn and al. 1996).
Each method of identification has its pros and cons (Rogers, 1983). While identifying leaders by the sociometric method has the merit of being more objective, it is nonetheless admitted that this method is only feasible for delimited and uniform social networks and provided all members of the networks are mutually acquainted while remaining accessible to the researcher. Because of the scope of our study, we decided to make use of a self-assessment scale on opinion leadership. We chose the final version of the Childers’s scale (1986) that recommends eliminating the contentious item from the scale. We have therefore chosen 5 items measured on a five-point semantic scale. The five questions that make up the leadership scale are presented below. In practical terms, the total leadership score for each individual is obtained by adding together the scores that individual has obtained on the five questions: the higher the total score, the greater the individual’s opinion leadership in women’s fashion wear. The reliability and dimensionality of this scale has been verified in a French cultural context by Ben Miled and Le Louarn (1994). The latter have validated a two-dimensional factor structure (communication and influence) with alpha coefficients ranging from between .68 and .82 depending on the dimensions and consumer products concerned.
How must an individual score on the opinion leadership scale to be regarded as an opinion leader ? Answering this question is compounded by the fact that setting a ceiling is a basically arbitrary exercise. On a similar issue of setting a ceiling on an innovation scale, Goldsmith and Sith (1992) have argued that scores in the upper 12% range of the scale would point to innovators. This ceiling does not seem to be really selective since, according to Rogers (1983), innovators fall into the top 2.5% of a population who adopt innovations (average adoption time is less two standard deviations). On the other hand, opinion leaders would fit into the next 13.5% (average, less the interval between one and two standard deviations). It may therefore be argued that a little over 10% of a given population are potentially opinion leaders in a given category of consumer products ("TOP 10"). We have prudently defined a second group of more moderate opinion leaders who belong to the next 15% of the scale (upper 25% - upper 10%) that we call the "TOP 25". This group will be used to support certain assumptions where necessary.
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