HomeDissertation:Rethinking BtoB Communications from the Perspective of Involvement

Rethinking BtoB Communications from the Perspective of Involvement

3.Reference Group Dominates Recommendations

Next I would like to consider the aspect of recommendations, which is a strong point of net technology. In marketing, promotion activities, whether explicit or implicit, are also a form of recommendation, but on the net the term “recommendation” has acquired a specific meaning.

Most everyone is familiar with the recommendations that bookselling sites provide to their customers. One often hears comments to the effect that these recommendations are very accurate, but this is really not so surprising, given the fact that they are based on the prior purchase history of the customer. Expressed in somewhat negative terms, one could say that they simply restate what one likes.

With products such as books, if one takes the favorite subjects and likes of a customer, adds new titles by previously purchased authors, and modulates the data somewhat by general sales figures, one should be able to come up with almost ideal recommendations. In areas of low involvement, however, this is in fact not so easy. And with regard to BtoB transactions and business goods, decision making usually involves several persons, which makes mechanical recommendations difficult to establish.

The issue of recommendations in a sociological sense is related to the concept of the “reference group.” A reference group is a social group that an individual uses as a frame of reference when making decisions with regard to beliefs, attitudes, and values. This is not necessarily a number of people; it can also be another individual. Often one’s family, friends, or other close associates will be a reference group, but it can also be a group to whom one does not belong but with whose aims one strongly sympathizes or to which one aspires. When people use the expression “everybody knows that . . . ,” the “everybody” also functions as a vaguely defined reference group.

In making decisions with regard to BtoB transactions, one’s superiors and colleagues, as well of course as the organization to which one belongs, can be the reference group, but the concept of “everybody” or something close to it also sometimes enters the picture. When referring to something as being “standard in the industry,” the “industry” is the reference group.

In recent years, marketing based on analysis of a large pool of purchase histories or other related data, known as “big data marketing,” has given rise to considerable expectations. Big data indeed can bring purchasing patterns or the correlation between individual attributes and purchases (including quasi-correlations) into clearer focus, but the influence of reference groups will not be directly visible. Big data analysis will probably serve as a powerful tool for clarifying and quantifying purchasing rules that have been heuristically recognized, but its possible contribution to the clarification of purchasing mechanisms that include reference group elements has yet to be determined. So far, its application to promotional activities therefore tends to be limited to direct suggestions. In BtoB transactions where group purchasing elements are strong, this problem may become more pronounced.

In the above, I have reexamined the aspects of “involvement” and “recommendations.” As a matter of course, it cannot be claimed that communication problems can simply be solved through interactive means, without considering the degree of involvement by a given consumer or customer (recipient) in a given subject area, or the reference group aspect that looks at what influences a decision.

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