Higher Classes are Fiercely Loyal to their “Socially-Fit” Brands of Choice

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Preface The influence of social classes on the consumption behavior of their members cannot be underestimated. Based on a quantitative approach, this research examined the link between social class categories and brand-name loyalty, regarding the wearing of apparel in societies. The results suggested that high and upper-middle social class members are loyal to certain brand-names.

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Social Class Categories and Consumer Behavior

Within every society, individuals rank others into higher, middle and lower social positions of respect. “A social class is an open group of individuals who have similar social rank. A class is referred to as “open” because people can move into and out of it. The criteria used to group people into classes vary from one society to another,” (Pride and Ferrel, 2000, P. 210). Most writers and researchers (e.g., Richard Coleman 1983, p. 267; Tim Triplett, 1994 pp. 1-11; James E., Roger D., 1995, p. 4) have reported that, consumers with similar social classes develop similar patterns of behavior.

Social class influences many aspects of our lives. For example, it affects our chances of having children and their chances of surviving infancy. It influences our occupation, religion, childhood training, and educational attainment.

Because social class affects so many aspects of a person’s life, it also influences buying decisions. In the complicated world of business, marketers have relied on various ways of the concept of social class in studying consumers’ behavior and market segmentation. The social class approach, in studying consumers, has added valuable details to other consumer behavior concepts. For example, in their study on “Intermarket patronage: A psychographic study of consumer outshoppers”, concluded a high social class profile of buying behavior. Reynolds and Darden (1972, pp. 50-54) wrote:

“When compared to the infrequent out-shopper, tend to be better educated, has a higher income level, …, prefers to shop in the evening, is a more frequent buyer by maiL…. Frequent out-shoppers, as defined here, tend to be very active and urban-oriented, yet neither time-conscious nor loyal to any particular store. Furthermore, they express an over all dissatisfaction with local shopping conditions and a strong preference for larger urban shopping areas. Out-shopping behavior was found not to be product specific, but applicable to many types of merchandise”.

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Social class and brand loyalty

Previous research, (e.g., Bruce and Dommermuth 1968, p. 6; Fry and Stiller 1970, p. 335; Richard Coleman 1983, p. 267; Anderson and Ratchford 1987, p. 190; Henry Assael 1987, p. 364) reported a positive link between consumer’s social class and brand loyalty. For example, Richard Coleman reported a positive relationship between upper social classes and the number of stores visited in search of a brand. He, also, found more frequent shopping behavior in the upper social classes.

The emphasis of previous research was on explaining why consumers choose a particular product and on describing the social class characteristics of the buyer. Some researchers have concluded that high social class consumers lead an active, urban existence and out-of-home activities as leadership of clubs or societies. These activities may require the concerned consumer to be associated with certain brands of products. Social scientists have endorsed social class membership as a determinant of consumption behavior. The phenomena on that consumers’ behavior is largely affected by a frame of influences produced by members of the social class to which they belong is long-accepted (Aaker D. and Keller K., 1990, p. 30; Sherry J. 1990, p. 15; Aaker D. 1991, p. 60; Mehta R. and Russel B. 1991, p. 402; Macklin C. 1996, p. 257).

In addition to examining the existence of social class influences within identifiable groups, there have been a number of consumer studies into specific aspects of social class influence on brand loyalty. Richard Coleman (1983, p. 267) reported that consumers use evaluations of their social class members to choose a brand. This is true, especially, when consumers hold favourable attitudes toward members or activities of that social class.

The concept of social class and brand choice was also studied by others (e.g., Bruce and Dommermuth 1968, p. 5; Olsen B. 1996, p. 270; Douglas H. 1997, p. 341; Alex C. 1997, p. 307) and reported that cohesiveness of social class members influences brand choice of each other.

This concept has been used by advertisers in their efforts to persuade consumers to purchase products and brands. The portraying of products as being consumed in socially pleasant situations, the use of prominent/attractive people endorsing products, and the use of obvious social class members as spokespersons in advertisements, are all evidence that marketers and advertisers make substantial use of potential social class influence on consumer behavior in the advertising campaign of their promotional mix strategy (Leon Schiffman and Leslie Kanuk, 1997, p. 32).

The symbolic importance of the product and the structure of social class members affect the level of influence on consumers’ brand choice. It can be concluded that social class members can have a major influence on the purchase of conspicuous goods and services. A brand is conspicuous to the extent that it can be seen and identified by others. Although education, job and income are considered as the main factors in determining a person’s social class, other researchers (e.g., Joseph Plummer 1974, p. 34; Leon Schiffman and Leslie Kanuk 1997, p. 48; Pride and Ferrel 2000, pp. 210) have stressed the importance of including other social activities of the person. Therefore, the following variables are used in this study to determine a person’s social class category:

a- Education
b- Job
c- Income
d- Hobbies
e- Social events
f- Vacation
h-Club membership
i- Community
j- Shopping
k- Sports

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