Research sheds new light on word-of-mouth drivers

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 26, 2005

Recent research from NOP World has revealed that face-to-face recommendation remains the strongest medium for spreading word-of-mouth recommendation, with telephone recommendations running a close second.

When asked how they make recommendations, four out of five of the 1000 consumers questioned (80%) said that they make them in person. Some 68% said that they make them over the telephone. The NOP research found that this phenomenon is even stronger among the Influentials (the one in ten Americans who tell the other nine how to vote, where to eat and what to buy), with 90% of this group making in-person recommendations and 79% making recommendations by phone.

Surprisingly, the study found that fewer than 40% of consumers use e-mail to make recommendations to others. This was broken down further into: personal e-mail (37%); e-mail forwarding (32%); and mass e-mails (12%). While slightly higher percentages of Influentials use e-mail (personal e-mail 53%; e-mail forwarding 39%; and mass e-mails 18%), face-to-face communication still far outweighs this medium.

According to Jon Berry, Vice President for NOP World: "Despite widespread technology adoption, marketers must understand that the majority of word-of-mouth is still done at the coffee house, in the mall, over brunch or at the gym. Although technology and the Internet play a significant role in spreading word-of-mouth, live discussions are still driving the trend."

Conversation Catalysts
Recommendations are triggered by a variety of factors, because individual consumers are inspired by different forms of marketing and media. Respondents said the following contributed to a recommendation made in the past year:

Medium General consumers Influential consumers
Magazine 54% 61%
In-store 53% 58%
Television 53% 55%
Newspaper 47% 53%
Discount coupon 44% 49%
Radio 37% 44%
Web 25% 45%
Free sample 31% 39%
E-mail 18% 26%

Table 1: Contribution to recommendation made in the past year
Source: NOP World

"It is crucial that buzz marketing and blogs do not replace conventional print and television advertising," explained Berry. "Companies should avoid putting all of their eggs into one marketing basket, by developing integrated plans that incorporate all media."

Familiarity and geography
Familiarity breeds word of mouth: respondents say they are most likely to pass along a recommendation to friends (88%), family members (87%), people who share the same interests (66%) and colleagues (61%).

Geography also breeds word of mouth: significant numbers say they spread the word to neighbours (42%), community group members (42%), other consumers (35%) and fellow parents at kids' activities (27%).

Double-edged sword
While generating word of mouth is crucial to any marketing campaign, criticism can be spread as easily as recommendation. More than 40% of Americans share their negative opinions about travel (51%), health and fitness issues (50%), technology (48%), TV programmes (46%) and investments (41%).

According to Berry, "Word-of-mouth can be extremely powerful, but it is not a one-way street. Disgruntled consumers are ready, willing and able to use this medium, and companies must take steps to identify, reach out to and pacify this group."

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