Word-of-Mouth Communications :A Motivational Analysis
INTRODUCTION Word-of-mouth (WOM), a form of interpersonal communication among consumers concerning their personal experiences with a firm or a product (Richins 1984), has undoubtedly always been a powerful marketing force. WOM has acquired significance because of its high incidence rate in the marketplace as well as the persuasive role it plays in influencing consumers' attitudes and purchase decisions(Bone 1995). Both positive and negative WOM communications can have a strong influence on consumer’ behavior and on ensuing business performance (Arndt 1967). Studies show that positive WOM (PWOM) is likely to increase consumers purchase intentions for innovative products by reducing risks (Dichter 1966), help create a favorable image toward the brand and the firm (Arndt 1967), and subsequently decrease a firm's overall promotional expenditures. Conversely, negative WOM (NWOM) is likely to dissuade potential buyers from considering a particular product or brand, thus damaging the company's reputation and financial position (Holmes and Lett 1977). Therefore, it is imperative for marketers to create an environment that is conducive for PWOM to develop and propagate. Further, marketing managers must understand how WOM operates in the marketplace and learn manage it effectively. In an effort to provide managerial input to the marketers interested in stimulating PWOM and decreasing NWOM, this study investigates the critical consumption experiences that lend themselves to both PWOM and NWOM communications. Further, we explore consumers' motivations to engage in the dissemination of WOM communications and examine the nature of the relationship between consumption experiences and consumers' motivations to engage in unsolicited WOM
communication. CATEGORIZATION OF MOTIVATIONS The grouping of motivations for engaging in PWOM communication resulted in four major categories: (1) altruism, (2) product involvement, (3) self enhancement,
and (4) helping the company. Altruism. Altruism is the act of doing something for others without anticipating any reward in return. In about 28.7 percent of the PWOM conversations, altruistic motives were found to guide people to share consumption experiences with others. These individuals had the intention of aiding the receiver to make a satisfying purchase decision. Product involvement. The purchase and use of products that are perceived highly important or relevant tends to create excitement and WOM is employed to vent the positive feelings. Personal interest in the product, excitement resulting from product ownership, and product use were cited as reasons by 33.3 percent of the respondents for engaging in PWOM. Self-enhancement. Respondents appeared to have the need to share their positive consumption experiences through WOM communication in an effort to enhance their image among others by projecting themselves as intelligent shoppers. About 20 percent of the respondents had initiated PWOM to show connoisseurship, to project themselves as experts, to enhance status, and to seek appreciation. Helping the company. The final motive for engaging in PWOM communication is the desire to help the company. Although this is an act of altruism, a separate category was created because the objective here was to help the company rather than the receiver of the WOM. In these conversations, the source of the Messages suggests explicitly that the receiver patronize a particular company. Nearly 18 percent of the PWOM conversations were initiated with the motive of helping the company. The grouping of motivations for engaging in NWOM communication produced the following categories: (1) altruism, (2) anxiety reduction, (3) vengeance, and (4) advice seeking. The motivations for engaging in PWOM and NWOM communication differed except for the motive of altruism which was found in both types. Altruism. Almost 23 percent of the respondents indicated that their motive for engaging in NWOM communication was to prevent others from experiencing the problems that they had encountered. The motive was to help others by warning them about negative consequences of a particular action.
Anxiety reduction. A considerable number of respondents had used NWOM communication as an avenue lo vent their anger About 25 percent of the respondents indicated that sharing their negative experiences with others helped in easing their anger anxiety, and frustration. Vengeance. NWOM communication was used by 36.5 percent of the respondents to retaliate against the company associated with the negative consumption experiences. Consumers shared their negative experiences with the motive of deterring others from patronizing the businesses that they perceived did not care enough about customers, did not listen to customer complaints, and consequently should not be allowed to operate. The respondents guided by the motive of vengeance explicitly advised others not to patronize a particular business. Advice seeking. Consumers who had encountered negative consumption experiences and were unaware of the means to seek redress tend to share their negative experiences to obtain some advice on how to resolve their problems. Seventeen percent of the respondents were found to be motivated to seek advice when engaging in NWOM communications. DISCUSSION Our study found that satisfying product performance and employee-consumer contact experiences accounted l or about 60%of PWOM. Further, inadequate responses to product problems and consumers' poor value perceptions during post-purchase evaluations accounted for about 58% of the NWOM. These findings suggest that providing superior product performance experiences by selling only high quality, reliable, and durable products and ensuring satisfying employee-consumer contact experiences are likely to spark PWOM in the marketplace as these two types of experiences constitute major components of PWOV communications. Otherwise, not solving product problems o customers' satisfaction prompt them to engage in NWOM conversations. Consumers who fail to perceive that their purchase was not a "value buy" based on post-purchase cost-benefit evaluation s are likely to share the experience with others in the form of NWOM. An understanding of the types of experiences that are likely to trigger WOM
communications is useful to managers interested in orchestrating WOM messages. For example, knowing that inadequate responses to product problems are likely to increase NWOM and satisfying responses spark PWOM, the marketers should emphasize on programs that improve their response to customer problems. Consistent with past research, our findings suggest also that friendly, empathetic, responsive, and caring employee behaviors are associated with PWOM. These findings indicate that businesses develop programs to ensure that employees are caring, empathetic, and friendly towards consumers. With respect to the relationship between consumption experiences and the motivation to engage in NWOM communication, inadequate responses to customers' problems and unsatisfactory employee behavior were found to be related to the motive of vengeance. In addition, unsatisfactory product performance and the motive of vengeance were related. The findings reported here suggest also that the consumers who experienced poor value perceptions utilize NWOM as a mean of anxiety reduction. Further consumers who were unhappy with product performance and who did not receive adequate help from the company are likely to engage in NWOM to seek advice from others. These findings suggest that managers can minimize NWOM communication by ensuring quality product performance, solving customer problems without delay, and ensuring employee competence. Given that motivations are a function of consumption experiences, managers can influence NWOM by eliminating negative consumption experiences.