Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Word of Mouth: What We Know and What We Have Yet to Learn

Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Word of Mouth: What We Know and What We Have Yet to Learn

Article excerpt


One of the key consequences of customer satisfaction is word of mouth communication (WOM). WOM is a concept that has attracted sustained research attention. To confirm what we already know about this important construct, this article reviews and synthesizes 60 years of WOM literature and develops a parsimonious model of WOM's most important antecedents and consequences, and outlines some approaches to its management. The authors identify three key antecedents of WOM and a large number of affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences are also identified, illustrating WOM's farreaching effects. Three generic approaches to utilizing WOM are identified and illustrated. Lastly, 14 research questions pertaining to WOM's antecedents, its consequences, and its management are outlined to guide future research with the aim of developing a better understanding of this important construct.

Keywords: WOM, research questions, antecedents, consequences, management, customer satisfaction


Customer satisfaction has firmly established itself as an important construct for marketing practitioners and academics alike (Anderson and Sullivan 1993; Curtis et al. 2011; Korkofmgas 2010). This article focuses on one of its key consequences: word of mouth communication (WOM). WOM is communication between a non-commercial communicator and a receiver concerning a brand, a product, or a service (Anderson 1998; Dichter 1966; Westbrook 1987). WOM can occur through online or offline channels although the vast majority of WOM (perhaps as high as 90%) appears to take place offline (Keller 2007; Keller and Fay 2009). This article focuses largely on WOM by non-commercial senders as opposed to 'commercial WOM', where senders are incentivized to spread a message.

More than 60 years ago, researchers recognized that WOM was probably "the most powerful force shaping consumer behavior" (Whyte 1954, p.204), "the dominant decision clincher" (Arndt 1967c, p.197) and "almost irresistible" (Arndt 1967b, p.8). Researchers' appraisals of WOM have not reduced since then. More recent research has described WOM as a response that "may be among the most important" (Brown et al. 2005, p.123), "a dominant force in the marketplace" (Mangold et al. 1999, p.73), the "ultimate test of the customer's relationship" (Bendapudi and Berry 1997, p.30) and "the gift that keeps on giving" (Trusov et al. 2009, p.96).

WOM is more important than ever, as spending on WOM marketing (e.g. commercially incentivized WOM by 'WOM agents', WOM media/channels, research on WOM) is expected to reach $3 billion by the end of 2013 (PQ Media 2009) , yet its causes and its impact are not fully understood (Williams and Buttle 2011). WOM has become a central concern in contemporary practices of marketing as consumers increase their use of social networks (Facebook, Linkedln, Google+), content communities (e.g. YouTube, Pinterest), blogs (e.g. WordPress), microblogs (Twitter), and various other electronic means of sharing communications about products (Lee and Youn 2009; Okazaki 2009; Prendergast, Ko, and Siu Yin 2010; Shu-Chuan and Yoojung 2011; Strutton, Taylor, and Thompson 2011). WOM's ability to reach large numbers of consumers has dramatically increased through electronic channels which has led to renewed interest in commercially incentivized WOM, where the origin of a message is a commercial entity and where some consumers may receive an incentive for spreading a message (Leskovec, Adamic, and Huberman 2007; De Bruyn and Lilien 2008; Brown, Bhadury, and Pope 2010) . WOM has also become a central element in customers' engagement with market offerings (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2010; Verhoef, Reinartz, and Krafft 2010). As such, marketing in the new media can learn from a body of knowledge on principles of WOM that has built up over many decades. This review attempts to provide a baseline for what we do know about WOM, and then points out what we have yet to learn. …

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