Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Word of mouth

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Word of mouth or viva voce, is the passing of information from person to person by oral communication, which could be as simple as telling someone the time of day. Storytelling is a common form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others a story about a real event or something made up. Oral tradition is cultural material and traditions transmitted by word of mouth through successive generations. Storytelling and oral tradition are forms of word of mouth that play important roles in folklore and mythology. Another example of oral communication is oral history—the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials collected by word of mouth, whatever format they may be in.


In marketing, word-of-mouth communication (WOM) involves the passing of information between a non-commercial communicator (i.e. someone who is not rewarded) and a receiver concerning a brand, a product, or a service. When WOM is mediated through electronic means, the resulting electronic word of mouth (eWoM) refers to any statement consumers share via the Internet (e.g., web sites, social networks, instant messages, news feeds) about a product, service, brand, or company. eWOM is typically executed via social media or social networking platforms. The process in which the sender of word-of-mouth communication is rewarded is referred to as word-of-mouth marketing. This process relies on the added credibility of person-to-person communication, a personal recommendation. Using WOM as an opposing force to commercially motivated word-of-mouth marketing has been coined Proconsumer WOM. Researchers have formulated a series of recommendations for how nonprofits and public sector organizations can utilize Proconsumer WOM effectively.

A recent study by A. Mohammed Abubakar and colleagues introduced electronic referral (eReferral) marketing. eReferral is define as a process by which consumers pass along a company’s marketing message and/or their product or service evaluations to their close allies, e.g. friends, family members, colleagues and group members via the internet. The authors argued that eReferral is often confused with eWOM, and that the two concepts are different. eWOM is anonymous in nature (i.e., a hotel review by unknown) while eReferral is onymous in nature (i.e., a hotel review by a friend or colleague on social media). eReferral is common among individuals with strong social ties, whereas eWOM is common among individuals with weak social ties.

WOM has been researched for many years and as a result much is known about what drives WOM (e.g. customer satisfaction, trust and brand commitment) and its far-reaching consequences (e.g. affective/emotional, cognitive, and behavioral) for both consumers and organizations. WOM's effectiveness as an information source for consumers can be broken down into two factors: WOM's reach and WOM's impact. These two factors are in turn explained by 13 other drivers.


Storytelling often involves improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values.

The earliest forms of storytelling were thought to have been primarily oral combined with gesture storytelling for many of the ancient cultures. The Australian Aboriginal people painted symbols from stories on cave walls as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story. The story was then told using a combination of oral narrative, music, rock art, and dance.

Traditionally, oral stories were committed to memory and then passed from generation to generation. However, in literate societies, written and televised media have largely replaced this method of communicating local, family, and cultural histories. Oral storytelling remains the dominant medium of learning in some countries with low literacy rates.

Oral tradition

Oral tradition (sometimes referred to as "oral culture" or "oral lore") is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law and other knowledges across generations without a writing system.

Sociologists emphasize a requirement that the material is held in common by a group of people, over several generations, and thus distinguish oral tradition from testimony or oral history. In a general sense, "oral tradition" refers to the transmission of cultural material through vocal utterance, and was long held to be a key descriptor of folklore (a criterion no longer rigidly held by all folklorists). As an academic discipline, it refers both to a set of objects of study and a method by which they are studied—the method may be called variously "oral traditional theory", "the theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition" and the "Parry-Lord theory" (after two of its founders). The study of oral tradition is distinct from the academic discipline of oral history, which is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events. It is also distinct from the study of orality, which can be defined as thought and its verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most of the population.

Oral history

Oral history is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events. Oral history is a method of historical documentation, using interviews with living survivors of the time being investigated. Oral history often touches on topics scarcely touched on by written documents, and by doing so, fills in the gaps of records that make up early historical documents. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials, whatever format they may be in.


Word-of-mouth marketing implies that an organisation takes active steps to encourage WOM (e.g. offering a reward to the WOM sender), whereas normal WOM implies that the sender is not rewarded. Word-of-mouth marketing, which encompasses a variety of subcategories, including buzz, blog, viral, grassroots, brand advocates, cause influencers and social media marketing, as well as ambassador programs, work with consumer-generated media and more, can be highly valued by product, social media and performance marketers. Proconsumer WOM has been suggested to act as counterbalance to commercially motivated word-of-mouth marketing. Because of the personal nature of the communications between individuals, it is believed that they are more credible. Research points to individuals being more inclined to believe WOMM than more formal forms of promotion methods; the listener tends to believe that the communicator is being honest and doesn't have an ulterior motive (i.e. the receiver believes that the sender is not rewarded for engaging in WOM). Word-of-mouth depends on the extent of customer satisfaction with the product or service, and on the degree of its perceived value.

To promote and manage word-of-mouth communications, marketers use publicity techniques as well as viral marketing methods to achieve desired behavioral response. Companies can focus on brand advocates, the people who proactively recommend their favorite brands and products online and offline without being paid to do so. Influencer marketing is also increasingly used to seed WOMM by targeting key individuals who have authority and many personal connections.

Marketers place significant value on positive word-of-mouth, which is traditionally achieved by creating products, services and customer experiences that generate conversation-worthy "buzz" naturally. The relatively new practice of word-of-mouth marketing attempts to inject positive "buzz" into conversations directly. While marketers have always hoped to achieve positive word-of-mouth, intentional marketing relying on such techniques is subject to regulation in some jurisdictions. For example, in the United States, deliberate efforts to generate beneficial consumer conversations must be transparent and honestly conducted in order to meet the requirements of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts or practices". To help marketers understand the difference between legitimate and unfair practices, a number of professional organizations have put forward recommendations for ethical conduct. A Nielsen global survey in 2013 found that word-of-mouth is not only the most trusted source of consumer information, but it is the most likely to be acted upon.

Despite the belief that most word of mouth is now online (or on mobile) the truth is the very opposite. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science has shown that to achieve growth, brands must create word of mouth beyond core fan groups - meaning marketers should not focus solely on communities such as Facebook. According to Deloitte, further research has shown that ‘most advocacy takes place offline’. According to the Journal of Advertising Research: 75% of all consumer conversations about brands happen face-to-face, 15% happen over the phone and just 10% online. This is backed up by research by WOM specialists, Keller Fay.

WOM and media are intertwined. Although WOM is seen by consumers as being different from and more credible than paid media, most instances of brands being mentioned in WOM refer to paid media and marketing touchpoints. Furthermore, marketing mix modeling confirms the power of WOM (attributing 13% of sales across several industries), including a 15% uplift in paid-media effectiveness. Thus, there can be synergy between WOM and other forms of marketing.


Long-established systems utilising word-of-mouth include:

  • the "grapevine"
  • the salon
  • the "bush telegraph"
  • the lecture circuit
  • preaching
  • References

    Word of mouth Wikipedia

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