Chapter 2: Word-of-Mouth
Anderson (1998) has suggested that WOM only takes form when consumers’ consump-tion-related expectations are non validated while Sundaram et al. (1998) have said that the motives for positive WOM may differ from the motives for negative WOM. However, only a few studies have addressed the specific motives explaining WOM behavior (Sundaram et al., 1998). Table 2.1 lists the motives for WOM suggested in the literature.
|Dichter (1966)||Product-involve-ment||a customer feels so strongly about the product that a pressure builds up in wanting to do|
|something about it; recommending the product|
|to others reduces the tension caused by the|
|Self-involvement||the product serves as a means through which|
|the speaker can gratify certain emotional needs|
|Other-involvement||WOM activity addresses the need to give something to the receiver|
|Message-involve-||refers to discussion which is stimulated by ad|
|ment||vertisements, commercials, or public relations|
|Engel, Blackwell,||Involvement||level of interest or involvement in the topic|
|and||under consideration serves to stimulate discus-|
|Self-enhancement||recommendations allow person to gain attention, show connoisseurship, suggest status, give the impression of possessing inside information, and assert superiority|
|Concern for others||a genuine desire to help a friend or relative|
|make a better purchase decision|
|Message intrigue||entertainment resulting from talking about certain ads or selling appeals|
|Dissonance reduction||reduces cognitive dissonance (doubts) following a major purchase decision|
|Sundaram,||Altruism (positive||the act of doing something for others without|
|Mitra, and||WOM)||anticipating any reward in return|
|Product involve-||personal interest in the product, excitement|
|ment||resulting from product ownership and product|
|Self-enhancement||enhancing images among other consumers by|
|projecting themselves as intelligent shoppers|
|Helping the company||desire to help the company|
|Altruism (negative WOM)||to prevent others from experiencing the problems they had encountered|
|Anxiety reduction||easing anger, anxiety, and frustration|
|Vengeance||to retaliate against the company associated with a negative consumption experience|
|Advice seeking||obtaining advice on how to resolve problems|
The most well-known (or most referenced to) study of WOM motives is by Dichter (1966), who identified four main motivational categories of positive WOM:
Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard (1993) have updated Dichter’s typology, renaming the categories and insert an new motive entitled 'dissonance reduction' which they see as a reason for expressing negative WOM only. The most detailed study on WOM motives to date is by Sundaram et al. (1998). In this study there were 390 interviews and they identified eight motives for (consumer) WOM. Some of them match with categories suggested by Dichter and Engel et al. Four of the recognized motives explain positive WOM (i.e., altruism, helping the company, product involvement, and self-enhancement) while the other four motives give an explanation for negative WOM (i.e., altruism, advice seeking, anxiety reduction, and vengeance).
Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) have investigated what motivates consumers to make WOM recommendations through on the Internet. They find evidence for eight different motivations that largely match to motivations found for participating in WOM in the traditional, face-to-face setting: 1) venting negative feelings, 2) concern for other consumers, 3) self-enhancement, 4) advice seeking, 5) social benefits, 6) economic incentives, 7) platform assistance and 8) helping the company.
Furthermore, Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) analyze the number of visits, as well as the number of messages written, are a function of those eight motivations. In both cases, because of the social advantage consumers are motivated to visit the Internet and write messages.
Balasubramanian and Mahajan (2001) provided a model for considering the integration of economic and social activity within a online community. The model includes three types of social interaction utility:
- Focus-Related Utility;
- Consumption Utility;
- Approval Utility.
Focus-related utility is the utility the consumer experience when submitting value to a community through his or her (voluntary) contributions (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001). In a web based opinion-platform context, such contributions would include submitting reviews and commentary on products which other web users are able to use (e.g., Pricewatch.com, Amazon.com). This utility is based on the hypothesis that “submitting value” to a community is an important goal of the individual. Based on the traditional WOM literature, Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) identify four motives that are part of focus-related utility:
- concern for other consumers;
- helping the company;
- social benefits;
- exerting power.
eWOM on web based opinion platforms is a way for individuals to help others with their (purchase) decisions concerning a particular product. It may be possible that this is initiated to save others from negative experiences and/or just to help. This way of communication includes both positive as negative consumer experience with a product.
It is possible for consumers to become part of an online community because of their comments and messages. Identification and social integration are two reasons why consumers would like to be part of an online community. It can be assumed that consumers participate in eWOM to belong to online communities (McWilliam, 2000; Oliver, 1999). It is known that consumers are capable of writing comments on opinion platforms as such behaviour means their participation in and presence with the community. This will enable the consumer to receive social benefits from the community membership. A consumer's comment can influence (i.e., contribute) because of:
- the great number of potential receivers of eWOM;
- the long-term availability of the comments;
- their accessibility by companies.
Negative comments can influence the way a company and its image are perceived, comments may be used by consumers as an instrument of power. Therefore, eWOM give back (i.e., returns) the power from companies to consumers, especially in cases where criticism is done by many consumers simultaneously.
Consumption utility refers to consumers receive value through “direct consumption of the contributions of other community constituents” (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001, p. 125). On websites like Pricewatch.com and Amazon.com (see figure 2.2), individuals read product reviews and comments written by other consumers. These reviews and comments can motivate the individual for consumption.
Many consumers also ask for help for problems they face. By joining an opinion platform the consumer is able to get more information and, hopefully, personal help. This postpurchase advice-seeking motive is concerned with developing the skills essential to better understand, use, modify, and/or repair a product.
Approval utility is concerned with a consumer’s gratification that comes “when other constituents consume and approve of the constituent’s own contributions” (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001, p. 126). Feedback can be either formal or informal. Informal approval may come when another user either publicly praises one’s contributions to the group or privately communicates to the individual regarding the usefulness of the information provided. More formal “contribution rankings” are being enacted by platform operators. For example, Amazon.com provides a mechanism which allows product reviews to be evaluated by other users on the basis of helpfulness. This information is then used to the most helpful review which is identified as the “spotlight review.”
eWOM information providers (e.g., iSquad.com) give away prizes to the consumer who provides the same information to communities and websites. This characteristic of eWOM on web based opinion platforms makes it distinct from traditional WOM.
Rewards (economic or other) are an important driver of human behavior in general. Recipients consider rewards as a sign of appreciation of his or her own behavior by the reward giver (e.g., Lawler, 1984). As such, the acknowledge of (economic) rewards for eWOM from operators is another form of approval utility.
Other researchers have focused on the effects of eWOM. Chatterjee (2001) reports the results of an experiment that examines the effect of negative online reviews. This research shows that existing 'interpersonal influence'-theories in the traditional setting also apply to the online context. Consumers are more expected to search for and accept (negative) eWOM in a position in which they lack information and/or experience, as well as in a situation in which risk is higher (cf., Rogers, 1983; Richins, 1983; Herr et al., 1991). Chevalier and Mayzlin (2003) address the value of eWOM recommendations in terms of their economical influence and their revenue prediction potential. Chevalier and Mayzlin show that online reviews about a book is related to book sales. They also find that negative reviews have a stronger effect than positive reviews which has been shown before in the offline context. Dellarocas et al. (2004) show that online reviews about movies are representative of the movie-going audience at large, and that the online reviews are better predictors of movie revenues than professional reviews. Together, their findings back up the viewpoint that online reviews are coming forth as alternative and influential sources of information.