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Group Marketing: Theory, Mechanisms, and Dynamics

Group Marketing: Theory, Mechanisms, and Dynamics

Colleen M. Harmeling, Robert W. Palmatier, Eric (Er) Fang and Dianwen Wang

JM Insights in the Classroom

Teaching Insight:

Group marketing is the use of the psychological mechanisms underlying group influence to guide customer behaviors that are beneficial to the firm. It can be implemented along a continuum in which firms can become group providers or they can leverage existing consumer groups or somewhere in between. For example, Nike, as a group provider, has shifted one-third of its multibillion dollar marketing budget to support group based initiatives such at the Nike + system. Toms, falling more on the leveraging side, provides resources to more than 1,000 consumer-initiated groups that contribute to the tom’s mission. This lesson examines what makes these group-based initiatives effective. 

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Brand Management; Consumer Behavior; Marketing Communications; Marketing Strategy; and Social Media​​​​ Marketing

Full Citation: ​
Harmeling, Colleen M., Robert W. Palmatier, Eric (Er) Fang, and Dianwen Wang (2017), “Group Marketing: Theory, Mechanisms, and Dynamics,” Journal of Marketing, 81 (4) 1-24 .

Article Abstract
Group marketing uses the psychological mechanisms underlying group influence to drive customer behaviors that are beneficial to the firm. It is predicated on the firm’s ability to guide two necessary and sufficient conditions: (1) a customer’s awareness of an affiliation with the focal group and (2) exposure to group norms. By examining what it means to be affiliated with a group; determining how group norms are inferred, applied, and maintained; and testing a wide variety of ways in which these conditions become manifest, this research demonstrates the theoretical foundations of group marketing. Groups influence purchase behaviors by altering information and identity appraisals during decision making. Time in a purchase domain emerges as a critical determinant of the strength of group influence. Although previous research has suggested that social influence diminishes over time, a longitudinal field study and an experiment reveal that this prediction holds only when information appraisal dominates; an opposite effect arises when identity appraisal dominates. Group efficacy strengthens, but product price weakens, the effects of groups on purchase behaviors​ .  ​


Special thanks to Kelley Gullo, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, for her support in working with authors on submissions to this program. 

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Colleen M. Harmeling is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Florida State University.

Robert W. Palmatier is Professor of Marketing and John C. Narver Chair in Business Administration, University of Washington, USA.

Eric (Er) Fang is Professor of Marketing, Iacocca Chair of Business, and Director of Center of Digital Marketing Strategy and Analytics, Lehigh University, USA.