Opinion Leadership

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The purpose of this research is to critically examine the principle and practice of opinion leadership. To achieve this feat, the researcher critically examines the epistemology of existing literature on the topic. Marketers must try to study and utilize to full capacity the potential opportunity in opinion leaders. Also indentified were the two models of communication flow on opinion leadership.
The concept of opinion leadership is becoming an integral part of marketing communication (Nisbet, 2005: 3). Recent activities and events have shown that individuals do exist or live their daily life just by solitary living. Everyone is or wishes to be associated with a particular group. This group is otherwise known as the reference group. 
Reference group according to Bearden & Etzel (1982), reference group is 'a person or group of people that significantly influences an individual's behaviour'. Pickton & broderick (2005) also described reference group as 'the group of people to whom an individual relates such that her/his behaviour is potentially influenced by those of others in the group'. Peter & Olson (2005) gave a well articulated definition of reference group stating that it 'involves one or more people whom someone uses as a basis for comparison or point of reference in forming affective and cognitive responses and performing behaviours. This however points out that the individual actions and decisions are influenced by the group he/she is associated with. These groups can either be family, friends, peer groups, colleagues, professional bodies, and lots more. Therefore, it is of paramount important for marketers to study individual association with reference groups and what their attitudes are. However, one very important individual(s) in the reference group that should be carefully studied is the Opinion leader.
Jobber (2007) described Opinion leader as 'someone in the reference group from whom other members seek guidance on a particular topic'. The above description however reveals the influential strength and control Opinion leader has over the followers' decision making. Scholars (Pickton & Broderick, 2005; Jobber, 2007) opine that this enormous influence cut-across every aspect of the individual's life. Interestingly, Jobber's description emphasis the limit of influence of the opinion leader over the followers to just a 'particular topic. This however means that apparently there will be lots of opinion leaders in various aspect of the individual life and various reference groups. 
The aim of this research work however, is to critically evaluate the principles of opinion leadership and its practices. 
Most scholarly works on this topic have tried to define the concept using the functional role of Opinion leaders. Evans et al (2009) described Opinion leader as 'those that influence others' (p.353). Other scholars also described opinion leader accordingly. Jobber (2007) argued that he/ she is someone that people seek guidance from about particular topic. Therefore, the opinion leader is a member of a reference group which exert influences on the decision of various consumers.
Most consumers tend to prefer to back up the available personal information on a particular product or service of interest with guide and information from other individuals or groups they belong to. In doing this, the role of the opinion leaders influence pops up. Evans et al referred to an opinion leader as market mavens. They stated that 'Market mavens not only hold useful information for others about products but also they are so interested in buying and consumption generally that they can provide information about prices and availability at different stores as well as details of products themselves' (p.365). Therefore, the level of influence accredited to this individual (opinion leader) is centred on his knowledge of the subject matter. Also, the opinion leader is not necessary an expert or a special, like the case of the opinion former, he is well informed and has a credibility respected and appreciated by members of the reference group.
Therefore, his influence has an appreciable impact on brand popularity. Marketing communication experts tends to identify such figures and use them for products adverts. A good example of this is Wayne Rooney's lucozade energy drink advert. Although, an opinion leader is necessarily expected to be a known celebrity, but he is known and respected by his group. Roch (2003) supporting this arguments, opine that 'the opinion leaders are very much like the people they influence. Although, Roch agreed that opinion leaders are not simply high status citizens, they may be more elite than non leaders.

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