Word of Mouth

In marketing on November 17, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

In 1984 Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet  stated, contrary to principal theories about mass media communication of the 40s, that the mass media has limited effects in the process of mass persuasion. These authors questioned the validity of “the bullet theory” or “the hypodermic-needle theory”. This theory predicts that mass communication messages have a strong and universal effect on all the members of the audience who are exposed to them.  They concluded that opinions and attitudes of individuals are rooted in the social spheres they belong, and mass media do not influence directly the audiences. In fact, they influence a reduced group of individuals (“influencers” or “opinion leaders”).They interpret the message of the mass media and spread it though their interpersonal relationships (two-step flow in the effect of mass media).

Lazarsfeld and Katz (1955) investigated the role of the personal influence in the daily household purchase decisions. They found that members of interpersonal communication networks (family, friends and colleagues) were the most important source of influence in the purchase of household goods and food products. They concluded that personal influence, which was called later “ word of mouth” by Ditcher (1966) and Merton (1968), was seven times as effective as newspapers and magazines, four times as effective as personal selling, and twice as effective as radio advertising in influencing consumers to switch brands.

Merton (1968) was one of the first authors who coined the term word of mouth communication. He defined this concept as a process of personal influence, in which interpersonal communications between a sender and a receiver can change the receiver’s behaviour or attitudes. The influence of personal sources as friends, relatives or colleagues plays a fundamental role in affecting perceptions and attitudes.

Since the 1960s several studies have documented the importance and determinant influence of word of mouth on consumer behaviour . Customers pay more attention to word of mouth because it is perceived as a reliable source of information. The senders of the message (friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.) are seen by the consumer as having no self-interest in promoting a product or a brand.

Nowadays, new technologies such as mobile phone and Internet have changed the scenario where the interpersonal communications are developed. This new scenario requires a more comprehensive definition as the one provided by The Word of Mouth Marketing Association: “The act of a consumer creating and/or distributing marketing-relevant information to another consumer”. This is more suitable definition of the concept of word of mouth in the current context.

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