Understanding word of mouth
While word of mouth is undeniably complex and has a multitude of potential origins and motivations, we have identified three forms of word of mouth that marketers should understand: experiential, consequential, and intentional.
Experiential word of mouth is the most common and powerful form, typically accounting for 50 to 80 percent of word-of-mouth activity in any given product category. It results from a consumer’s direct experience with a product or service, largely when that experience deviates from what’s expected. (Consumers rarely complain about or praise a company when they receive what they expect.) Complaints when airlines lose luggage are a classic example of experiential word of mouth, which adversely affects brand sentiment and, ultimately, equity, reducing both receptiveness to traditional marketing and the effect of positive word of mouth from other sources. Positive word of mouth, on the other hand, can generate a tailwind for a product or service.
Marketing activities also can trigger word of mouth. The most common is what we call consequential word of mouth, which occurs when consumers directly exposed to traditional marketing campaigns pass on messages about them or brands they publicize. The impact of those messages on consumers is often stronger than the direct effect of advertisements, because marketing campaigns that trigger positive word of mouth have comparatively higher campaign reach and influence. Marketers need to consider both the direct and the pass-on effects of word of mouth when determining the message and media mix that maximizes the return on their investments.
A less common form of word of mouth is intentional—for example, when marketers use celebrity endorsements to trigger positive buzz for product launches. Few companies invest in generating intentional word of mouth, partly because its effects are difficult to measure and because many marketers are unsure if they can successfully execute intentional wordof- mouth campaigns.
What marketers need for all three forms of word of mouth is a way to understand and measure its impact and financial ramifications, both good and bad.