The Effects of Gender and Argument Strength on the Processing of Word-of-Mouth Communication

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study explores the effects of gender and message argument strength in a unique context: word-of-mouth (WOM) communication. We report the results of an experiment (n=130) in which communicator gender and argument strength are manipulated, and crossed with WOM recipient gender. Our results show that while women describe themselves as being more receptive to WOM in general than males, when specific WOM information is received and processed, both sexes rate that information as equally diagnostic in forming product judgments.

As expected, argument strength showed powerful main effects in that stronger arguments led to more positive perceptions of the WOM information's diagnosticity (usefulness), higher post-WOM brand evaluations, and greater perceived communicator credibility (regardless of the sex of the speaker or the recipient). However, a significant interaction between speaker gender and argument strength was found. Interestingly, male communicators presenting strong arguments fostered the most positive brand attitudes of all the conditions, but male communicators presenting weak arguments led to the lowest brand attitudes.

Our results show that positive WOM is most influential on brand evaluations when the communicator's sex and the WOM recipient's sex are opposite (i.e., males' brand evaluations were more influenced by WOM information communicated by a woman and vice versa).

INTRODUCTION

Word-of-mouth (WOM) communication is an important marketplace phenomenon by which consumers receive information about product offerings. Consumers have been shown to prefer informal, personal information sources when making purchases, because they find their peers and reference groups to be credible sources of information (Murray, 1991; Richins, 1983). WOM communication about products has been shown to be a vivid source of information compared to written information, and to be more influential on brand attitude (Herr, Kardes, & Kim, 1991). Consequently, WOM communication is likely to be more influential on consumers' product evaluations than information received through commercial sources such as advertising (Smith & Vogt, 1995), making WOM communication an important topic of study for marketers. Indeed, WOM is considered to be so powerful that a new type of marketing--"buzz marketing"--is devoted exclusively to stimulating and managing consumer WOM.

One issue that has not been explored with respect to WOM communication is the impact of gender on the source-receiver relationship. Specifically, does the biological sex of the WOM communicator affect the persuasiveness of the message in the mind of the WOM receiver? Do consumers find information communicated by males to be more credible than information communicated by females? Or vice-versa? Does preference for a male or female communicator depend on whether the receiver is male or female?

The major purposes of this paper are to test hypotheses regarding the effects of argument strength on consumers' response to WOM communication and to examine the effect of biological sex of the consumer on WOM communication processing. We also conduct a preliminary examination of the potentially interactive effect of the referent's (communicator's) biological sex and the consumer's (WOM recipient's) biological sex and gender identity on consumers' responses to WOM communication.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Word-of-Mouth Communication Research

Word-of-mouth communication is a process of interpersonal influence that can play an important role in the consumer decision making process (e.g., Leonard-Barton, 1985; Richins, 1983), substantially influencing product evaluations (Brown & Reingen, 1987; Price & Feick, 1984). While numerous studies regarding WOM communication have been conducted, a review of the relevant literature revealed very few studies exploring gender effects on WOM communication. …