We know that people talk to others about products, brands and services. Word-of-mouth has always existed, long before online media did. And so has word-of-mouth marketing.
But with the arrival of digital channels and social media, word-of-mouth is increasingly used for marketing purposes. The fact that people rely more on peer advice, the explosion of online ‘conversations’ and the increasingly public nature of word-of-mouth in a digital space, provides businesses both opportunities and challenges.
To understand word-of-mouth and thus word-of-mouth marketing, we need to understand why people share stories, including brand and customer experiences, product recommendations etc. with others. For the record: word-of-mouth (WOM) is still predominantly an offline matter but things are changing fast…
There are lots of reasons why people share “commercial” experiences, many of them psychological, and it’s important to know and understand them because in the end word of mouth is about the willingness and motivation of people to share your story with others.
Here are some of them.
The desire for social acceptance and recognition
People want to belong to their environment, on micro- and macro-levels. They like to contribute, in relationships as well as in social groups. They seek recognition and appreciation. One of the major psychological motivations why people discuss their product and brand experiences with others is about belonging and contributing to the social group(s) to which they belong.
The desire to distinguish ourselves
People are not only looking for social acceptance, they want to belong to but also distinguish themselves from the group. And that includes talking about the unique experiences they have witnessed or the products they have bought. It’s often a way of attracting attention and distinguishing ourselves. In a way WOM can thrive on the need to excel, be different and even the jealousy of others.
The desire to eradiate wisdom, power, influence and authority
Some people like to position themselves as specialists in a specific area, whether it is in smaller social groups (family) or larger social groups (an industry). Like uncle Bob that really knows everything about computers but also like the (sometimes self-proclaimed) thought leaders and experts. If the expertise of these people is recognized by others, they are very important sources of WOM. Their expertise makes them a reliable source of information in the perception of their acquaintances or ‘followers’.
The desire to do well
People like to do others a favour now and then. They like to please and do well. Although often the psychological motivation behind this is to feel good about ourselves, we like to care and share. This is different than looking for social acceptance and recognition. It’s about the pure joy when someone appreciates what we do. Doing something good can often be giving good advice. If someone doubts about buying a product or service and we can offer him or her good advice, based on our personal experience, knowing that they will be happy with what we advised them to buy, we are rewarded with gratitude and a positive sense of self-esteem.
The desire to share experiences and tell stories
Human beings differ from other species in many ways, one of them being the fact that we have advanced ways of communicating in the form of language. Human beings also like to tell stories. Much of human communication is informative: we share experiences and information. It’s a basic human need. In conversations products and brands are often discussed: amusement parks that we have visited, restaurants where we went dining or products that we have purchased. If the experience with the products or brands was positive, the story is positive and so is the perception of the listener.
These are some of the main psychological motivations why people talk about products and brands and engage in word of mouth.
With the increase of channels to fulfil these human needs, it’s obvious that the number of conversations has risen and on top of that the experiences and stories spread themselves at a speed we have never witnessed before.
Listening to these stories, understanding them and participating is crucial but understanding why they occur is the first step.