Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Choice of Content by Information Providers in Word of Mouth Communications

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Choice of Content by Information Providers in Word of Mouth Communications

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Word-of-Mouth (WOM) communication is a central input to consumer decision making (Bansal & Voyer, 2000; Whyte, 1954). Understanding interpersonal exchanges is therefore important for both marketing theory and practice. The vast majority of WOM research has focused on three substantive areas: (1) how information flows through interpersonal networks (Burt, 1980; Granovetter, 1982); (2) the sources and types of information that decision makers seek (Brown & Reingen, 1987; Gilly, Graham, Wolfinbarger, & Yale, 1998; Price & Feick, 1984; Sweeney , Soutar & Mazzarol, 2008); and (3) how this information is used for purchase decisions (Bansal & Voyer, 2000; Still, Barnes Jr., & Kooyman, 1984; Nam, Manchanda, & Chintagunta, 2010). This research largely focuses on the receiver and their need for information. It demonstrates that receivers engage in WOM as an uncertainty reduction strategy during decision making. The literature often explains this phenomenon as a function of the perceived credibility or usefulness of the information source (Grewal, Gotlieb, & Marmorstein, 1994; Jacoby et al., 1994).

Despite consumer preferences for credible information, particularly in WOM communication, individuals are poor knowledge seekers (Graesser, Swamer, Baggett, & Sell, 1996). Generally consumers focus on common rather than unique knowledge, failing to identify what information is missing or needed (Stasser & Titus, 1985). Often their judgements are based on what has been provided whilst ignoring what has been excluded (Islam, Louviere, & Burke, 2007; Kardes, Posavac, & Cronley, 2004). Indeed, this can lead to a 'provision bias', even to the extent that non-diagnostic or irrelevant information can influence product choices (Meyvis & Janiszewski, 2002; Zukier, 1982). Such findings highlight the importance of the search for and use of WOM on the part of receivers, and the inadequacy of that search behaviour. Based on this, it can be argued that practitioners and researchers should balance their focus on receivers with attention to information providers and their choices regarding what information they provide. Supporting this argument is the recognition that information providers are higher order gatekeepers of information (Frenzen & Nakamoto, 1993). Providers have the ability to override the preferences of information seekers by providing alternative information to that requested.

The role of information providers in WOM exchanges remains relatively unexplored in WOM literature (Godes & Mayzlin, 2009). Information providers are motivated to engage in WOM communication for many reasons, including such things as reducing personal anxiety and the desire to help others (Dichter, 1966; Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, Walsh, & Gremler, 2004; Laughlin & MacDonald, 2010; Sundaram, Mitra, & Webster, 2007). In particular though, network based theories often assert that an altruistic type motive is necessary for the successful maintenance of relationships (Burt, 1980; Granovetter, 1982). Without some basis of altruism among exchange partners, relationship breakdown is all but inevitable leading to social malfunction. Thus, this altruistic type motive is assumed to be the basis for most WOM exchanges.

This research is motivated by the influential nature of WOM on receiver decision making, as well as the centrality of interpersonal networks to the dissemination of information (Frenzen & Nakamoto, 1993; Rogers, 1995). We aim to establish a more complete conceptualisation of WOM by modelling how information providers choose what to communicate under conditions of information scarcity. To do so, it is suggested that while the information that one consumer could provide to another is essentially unlimited, the actual amount of information that they can provide is limited, due to the provider and receiver's cognitive and time limitations (Lussier & Olshavsky, 1979). …

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