Reference group influence in consumer role rehearsal narratives

Heather Marie Schulz (Department of Marketing, Supply Chain and Management Information Systems, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, Nebraska, United States of America)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Publication date: 13 April 2015



This paper aims to analyse reference group influence through the imagined audience construct of the role theory. Prior research has shown the influential nature of reference groups on an individuals’ behaviour. The studied theatrical metaphor supplies a new perspective to the social phenomenon of reference group dynamics in consumer behaviour.


Twenty face-to-face interviews were conducted utilizing a naturalistic research study design. The interviews took place in the participants’ homes, and participants were asked to create five outfits for various social situations. Then, the participants were asked about the outfits they created, and how that outfit aided in their role preparation process. An inductive analysis of the data resulted in narrative themes that align with several role theory constructs.


The consumer role rehearsal narratives that emerged describe the process individuals go through for anticipated social interactions. Depending on the social situation, role theory constructs such as role expectations, role location, role learning and role skill were highlighted. The imagined audience of various reference groups do impact the individual’s future behaviours.

Research limitations/implications

Future researchers could apply additional role theory constructs not only to reference groups but also to other aspects of consumer behaviour as well.


This paper supplies a role theory framework that can be used by future researchers when studying reference group influence on consumer behaviour.



Schulz, H.M. (2015), "Reference group influence in consumer role rehearsal narratives", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 210-229.

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