Study confirms bad experiences travel fastest

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on March 14, 2011

Study confirms bad experiences travel fastest

More than one quarter of US consumers say they are far more likely to spread the word about a bad experience than a good one, suggesting a strong inclination to engage in negative word-of-mouth, according to a study by Colloquy.

Of the 3,295 consumers surveyed, 26% said they were more likely to spread the word to family, friends and co-workers about a bad experience with a product or service than about a good one.

In fact, even among consumers who are most loyal to, engaged with, and willing to recommend brands they like (a group which Colloquy terms 'WOM Champions'), 31% still said they are far more likely to share information about a bad experience than a good one.

Among key demographic groups, Affluent consumers, at 30%, scored highest for saying they're far more likely to spread a bad experience. Seniors scored the lowest at 19%. In the other demographics, 25% of Young Adults and 25% of Women said they're far more likely to share a bad experience. Hispanics' score was 21%.

Colloquy has dubbed those who are predisposed to engage in negative WOM practices "Madvocates", so the corresponding attitude can be called "Madvocacy".

"Negative word of mouth is a function of the bad experience we all may have on occasion," said Colloquy managing partner Kelly Hlavinka. "But rather than uncovering a separate group of brand curmudgeons, we instead discovered an overlap of positive and negative stances found among all groups."

Interestingly, madvocacy is significantly more prevalent among word-of-mouth champions (31%) than the general population (26%). According to Hlavinka, "One lesson is clear: hell hath no fury like a champion scorned. Since madvocacy is an attitude that nearly a third of all champions share - and are willing to act upon - loyalty marketers must accept their responsibility for the impact their programmes can have on generating both positive and negative word of mouth."

The study also found that only 7% of the general population are "pure madvocates" - that is, consumers who aren't connected to brands and aren't willing to advocate for them, but who are predisposed to negative WOM activity.

As many similar studies have also found in the past, 75% of the general population said that when they've had a bad experience with a product or service they advise their friends and family. That surpasses the 42% who said they always recommend a product or service they really like, along with the 71% who said they're "always looking to experience something new", and the 67% who said they "love telling people about something new they've learned".

"Marketers trying to locate WOM Champions will have a far better chance if they look within their rewards programmes rather than outside of them. Our research has shown, in fact, that they would be three times more likely to find champions within a rewards programme than not," concluded Colloquy partner Jim Sullivan. "Loyalty marketers have already built a great WOM platform in the form of their rewards programme, but they must remember that WOM Champions can also switch to madvocacy mode depending on the treatment they receive."

As a result, Colloquy suggests the following brand conversation best practices for turning Madvocates into Advocates:

  1. Make sure customers not only have an opportunity for a dialogue (not a monologue) with the brand, but with each other. This is what Colloquy has dubbed "the trialogue": get the conversations started by asking for opinions and insights, and then also recognise contributions.  
  2. Involve customers in WOM programmes by forming online social sharing communities, panels and co-development platforms. Take control of your own social media initiatives.  
  3. Be innovative and make sure your content is relevant, fresh and rewarding. Start by transforming your marketing mindset from "incentive" to "service", and be sure to nip any service problems in the bud in order to head off any negative WOM that could potentially go viral thanks to all those well-connected customers.

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