The word-of-mouth paradox

April 16, 2012 By Jamie Hanlon, University of Alberta

Sarah Moore researches how word-of-mouth stories affect our feelings about our experiences.
(Medical Xpress) -- Sarah Moore says that if you want your memorable family resort vacation to stay memorable, move away from the keyboard. Seriously.

Moore researches how word-of-mouth stories affect our feelings about our experiences, and she has found that our feelings change when we share them. She says that when the storyteller analyzes or thinks about an experience like a family vacation, it reduces the emotions, positive or negative, about the event. However, she notes that for practical experiences, such as buying and using a USB stick, analyzing and thinking more about the experience will amplify our feelings about it, be they positive or negative.

Moore, an assistant professor with the Alberta School of Business, says this is one important area of consumer research that remains virtually unexplored.

“Nobody had ever asked, ‘What happens to me if I tell you that the restaurant I went to last night was fantastic?’ We know that this makes you, the recipient of word of mouth, more likely to go to the restaurant, but what does it do to my feelings about the restaurant, as the storyteller? It’s an important question because it’s going to determine, for example, whether I go back to the restaurant and whether I’m likely to ever tell anyone else the story,” said Moore. “It can affect both the consumer’s actual behaviour and future word of mouth.”

Positively speaking: Don’t think, just feel

She says that when we have an , such as travelling or watching a movie, we develop feelings about those experiences. When telling stories about these experiences later, we can describe them and express our appreciation or dislike for them—but once we start to analyze them, the lustre of that emotion fades.

Moore says it is similar to work that clinical psychologists have done to help people overcome traumatic experiences by analyzing and processing them. Thus, thinking about a negative experience may mean giving that restaurant with bad service a second try. But for positive experiences, the best thing is not to think too much.

“There’s a saying that you should never ask anyone why they love you. This is true—don’t do it. You shouldn’t be rationalizing or analyzing that feeling because the more you do, the more it fades,” she said. “If you have a positive emotion that you’d like to preserve, don’t think about ‘why’. Just relive it.”

Practical experiences: Thinking only makes it worse (or better)

On the other hand, Moore says, analyzing utilitarian experiences only reinforces our feelings and beliefs about those experiences. The difference is that these experiences are related to things that have a specific purpose; they tend to be more cognitive than emotional. For example, using tax software, driving a commuter vehicle or taking an airplane ride will each elicit positive or negative feelings. And the more we think about what we did or didn’t like about these practical experiences, the more certain we will feel about whether to use the product or service again.

“For cognitive experiences, if we think about those, if we analyze and rationalize them, it actually amplifies our ,” she said. “We’re figuring things out. We’re becoming more certain and more extreme in our opinions.”

Tailored for optimal customer interaction

Moore says that companies seeking to manage consumer storytelling can help consumers generate word of mouth that will be helpful to the business and to the consumer. She notes that some reviewer websites, such as Epinions.com, provide consumers with guidelines on what to include in a review. She says that helping customer-service staff learn to elicit functional feedback from customers—or generate explanations of what they didn’t like—works in the best interests of company and customer alike.

“I think this is one of those instances where marketers’ and consumers’ ultimate goals are aligned,” said Moore. “Both want to preserve happy experiences. Both want to get over negative . So at least their incentives are going in the same direction in this case.”

Explore further: Why does explaining why a cupcake is delicious make us love it less?

Related Stories

Why does explaining why a cupcake is delicious make us love it less?

October 21, 2011
When consumers share their thoughts about products or experiences, their opinions can intensify, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. But it depends on whether they're talking about something sensory ...

The unconscious at the helm

August 26, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new University of Alberta study says when it comes to goal setting, your unconscious mind can be a great motivator.

Traumatic experiences may make you tough

December 16, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Your parents were right: Hard experiences may indeed make you tough. Psychological scientists have found that, while going through many experiences like assault, hurricanes, and bereavement can be psychologically ...

Stress changes how people make decisions: study

February 28, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Trying to make a big decision while you’re also preparing for a scary presentation? You might want to hold off on that. Feeling stressed changes how people weigh risk and reward. A new article published ...

What kind of chocolate is best? The last you taste, says a new study

February 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Like to save the best for last? Here’s good news: If it’s the last, you’ll like it the best. That is the finding of a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

Marketing expert tracks online shoppers

November 28, 2011
Online retailers have long wondered if trumpeting consumer-behavior statistics on their websites could hurt business. Qi Wang’s new findings should ease their fears, just in time for Cyber Monday.

Recommended for you

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

Length of eye blinks might act as conversational cue

December 12, 2018
Blinking may feel like an unconscious activity, but new research by Paul Hömke and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, suggests that humans unknowingly perceive eye blinks as nonverbal cues when ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.