How communication channels impact word of mouth


Word of mouth has become an important aspect of marketing. More specifically, word of mouth marketing is the most trusted form of marketing among consumers. According to Nielsen – a leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy, 92 percent of consumers trust word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family above all other advertising forms (Nielsen.com, 2012). Moreover, there are different channels through which word of mouth can be communicated. Examples of communication channels include social media, e-mail, face to face, or instant messaging, to name a few. Berger and Iyengar (2013) aimed to study the effects of how the communication medium can shape the message of word of mouth.

The main aim of their study was to uncover whether self-enhancement motives (i.e. wanting to seem cool or smart) and synchronicity (i.e. level of delay between the statement and response) of the communication channel impacts the brand or product being discussed. Furthermore, the authors distinguished the communication channels according to their modality (i.e. spoken or written). After conducting five related studies – three experiments and two field studies, the authors found that modality in fact influences what is discussed. Writing rather than oral communication leads to more interesting products and brands being mentioned. Regarding the impact of synchronicity, the studies showed that the asynchronous nature of written communication allows for greater construct and refinement of the discussion. Furthermore, asynchrony provides the opportunity to self-enhance, which in turn affect topic selection. On the other hand, when consumers have very little time to construct and refine their message (e.g. in oral communication), or have little urge to self-present, accessibility drives the topic of discussion. In these situations, consumers are more inclined to mention brands or products that are top of mind, regardless of how interesting these brands or products may be. (Berger and Iyengar, 2013)

In summary, these findings indicate that written word of mouth is the communication channel that naturally leads to the discussion of more interesting brands and products. This includes written discussions in blog posts, online reviews, and social networking sites, among others. The findings of this study are more relevant for explaining consumer behavior, however some managerial implications can be considered. Taking these findings, and the aforementioned fact that word of mouth and recommendations are regarded as the trustworthiest marketing channel, into account, impacts companies’ word of mouth strategy. Corporate blogs, in which employees interact with consumers in a more informal setting, have been around for a while, and many companies have attempted to launch viral campaigns, in order to stimulate word of mouth among consumers. However, some of these viral campaigns have caused backlash. For instance, McDonalds attempted to stimulate word of mouth by asking their followers on Twitter to share their #McDStories. However, this did not pan out the way they expected, as one user tweeted the following #McDStories:

mcdstories

All in all, it is important for companies to carefully consider their word of mouth marketing campaigns, as online communication channels have allowed for more elaborate and witty responses among consumers. This links back to the theory suggested by Berger and Iyengar (2013) that written communication channels provide consumers for better construct and review of their statement. Despite good intentions, a campaign can always pan out differently, as #McDstories has showed.

 

 

References:

Nielsen.com. (2012). Nielsen: Global Consumers’ Trust in ‘Earned’ Advertising Grows in Importance | Nielsen. [online] Available at: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2012/nielsen-global-consumers-trust-in-earned-advertising-grows.html [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

Berger, J. and Iyengar, R. (2013). Communication Channels and Word of Mouth: How the Medium Shapes the Message. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(3), pp.567-579.

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