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Study highlights how consumer behaviour is influenced by social norms

ANI | Updated: Aug 09, 2021 17:59 IST

Washington [US], August 9 (ANI): A meta-analysis of extant research on social norms, to establish several new empirical generalisations, was recently performed by researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, HEC Montreal, and University of New South Wales, UNSW Sydney.
The study, published in the Journal of Marketing, titled "The Influence of Social Norms on Consumer Behavior: A Meta-Analysis" has been authored by Vladimir Melnyk, Francois A. Carrillat, and Valentyna Melnyk.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in several new behaviours that health experts want to discourage, such as reusing the same mask, because they are detrimental to society.
The good news is that social norms, which consists in communicating what others do (e.g., "2/3 of people avoid reusing the same mask") or what one should do (e.g., "not reusing the same mask is essential"), are most useful to prevent people from adopting these behaviours.

Defined by researchers as "rules and standards that are understood by members of a group, and that guide and/or constrain social behaviour without the force of laws," social norms influence various forms of everyday consumption, including food choices, responses to new products, and loyalty.
For example, signs in a hotel stating that other hotel guests reuse their towels increase towel reuse. Social norms are often leveraged by marketers and policy makers to encourage various socially approved behaviours, such as conserving energy, complying with product recalls, and making tax payments. They are also used to discourage socially disapproved behaviours, such as polluting the environment, smoking, and excessive alcohol or drug use.

In this study, the researchers specify the effects of social norms for a broad spectrum of consumer behaviours and detail how practitioners and government officials can utilize actionable moderators, such as using appropriate communication elements for certain behaviours, countries, and consumers.
This should improve the success of such policies and recommendations, which has been mixed to date. They also uncover how cultural differences can determine the effects of social norms on both socially approved and disapproved behaviours.
Communication Strategies for Marketers:
The content of communications should feature descriptive rather than injunctive forms of social norms, (i.e., describe what (most) people actually do rather than what they should do). Vladimir Melnyk adds that "We also recommend that marketers avoid specifying explicit sanctions and rewards associated with social norms. Instead, strategies that highlight benefits to others or to consumer freedom, for example a communication with a postscript that says "it's your decision," may mitigate resistance and thus be more effective at inducing the target behaviour."

Practitioners might worry about highlighting a specific organization when communicating about social norms, but the results suggest that referring to a specific firm, governmental body, or NGO can make communications about social norms more influential.
Social norms are also more powerful when they cite people who are perceived as close to the target consumers. In contrast, the results indicate that references to authority figures does not enhance the influence of social norms on consumer behaviour.

When communicating norms, marketers can acknowledge the monetary costs associated with the targeted behaviours. Francois Carrillat explains that "Although a financial barrier, monetary costs seem to also increase the desirability of the behaviour, so social norms can be particularly effective for promoting costly behaviours like donations or buying (more expensive) organic food. Furthermore, social norms are equally effective irrespective of required effort and the time investment in complying."
Cultural Differences between Countries:
The impact of social norms on socially disapproved behaviours varies significantly depending on the country of implementation, but it is stable across countries for socially approved behaviours.
Social norms have weaker influences on socially disapproved behaviours in countries where religion is less important, that value variety and self-expression, and where people are freer to make choices for themselves (i.e., most Western countries).
These findings have important public health implications when group behaviour is essential. To encourage mask wearing in most Western countries, for example, public officials should communicate that wearing a mask is a socially approved behaviour that others close to them adopt.
In most developing countries, the communications should highlight that not wearing a mask is socially disapproved.

"These findings offer insights for marketers and public policy makers by identifying effective, and some commonly used but ineffective, strategies for enhancing the impact of social norms on consumer behaviour," says Valentyna Melnyk.
The results also suggest that the influence of social norms can prompt private acceptance. Thus, this research can assist marketers and policymakers to leverage social norms to encourage both private and public behaviours. (ANI)