Word of Mouth research group

The WOM research group draws together academics with interest and expertise in the field of word of mouth communication. We focus on this emergent area of marketing, drawing on the international reputations of its members. Our research findings are disseminated through top international journals, and international and national conferences.

Research has focused extensively on the impact of word of mouth (WOM) on consumers' purchase intentions and their loyalty to the firm. Studies have considered WOM among varying consumer groups in a range of product sectors. Ongoing projects focus on understanding offline consumer conversations, identifying the drivers of online consumer conversations, and the impact of firm-induced consumer conversations.

We aim to provide an accessible point of contact for external audiences, focusing on consumers' purchase intentions and their loyalty to the firm in a range of product sectors. Members of the group work closely with marketing practitioners and are involved in research that has direct practical applications in the commercial world.

Project collaborators include Keller Fay (UK), Massey University in New Zealand, and the Universities of South Australia and New South Wales (Australia).

Our aims

  • Encourage collaboration with fellow researchers in other institutions
  • Engage with practitioners
  • Consolidate Kingston's reputation for WOM research

Recent and ongoing research projects

Relative impact of positive and negative WOM

We examined the changes in purchase intention in response to positive and negative WOM. Rather to our surprise, we found that negative WOM generally has less impact than positive WOM. In contrast, a recent analysis suggests that negative WOM more often brings people to the certainty that they will not buy than positive WOM brings people to the certainty that they will buy, so this issue remains unclear. What is clear is that there is far less negative WOM than positive WOM so that the total effect of positive WOM on purchasing is considerably greater than the total effect of negative WOM.

The consequences of WOM on the sender

This stream of WOM research focuses on understanding the impact of giving WOM on the sender, the neglected participant in the WOM communication dyad. Findings of our research suggests that articulating both positive and negative WOM influences the sender's own self-enhancement (self-related outcome) and their firm-related outcomes such as their commitment, loyalty and intentions to give future WOM about the firm. We challenge the implicit notion in the WOM literature that effect of WOM on the sender is restricted to either self-related outcomes or firm-related outcomes.

We provide empirical evidence that singular WOM episodes hold implications for both the firm and the self. Interestingly, our research suggests that the influence of tie strength between the WOM participants on the effectiveness of WOM given is a localised phenomenon, wherein the influence of tie strength on the effectiveness of WOM given is restricted only to the recipient's attitudes and behaviour and is not extended to the sender.

Understanding the motivators of and inhibitors to online review production

Our study based on the travel industry examines why consumers do and do not post online reviews. A large variety of factors emerge including homophily, reciprocity, role of prompting, potential social embarrassment and perceived usefulness. We develop measurement items for inhibitors to benefit both practitioners and future researchers. Previous research has focused on motivators but there is a mismatch between the large number of those using reviews and the small number of those posting which needs addressing.

The role of WOM in encouraging brand uptake

Advertising may work with recommendation and purchase opportunities to create purchase and it is difficult to extract the contribution of each. When we ask respondents about the primary factor behind purchase, recommendation is given twice as often as advertising in surveys across a range of categories. In recent work we have looked more carefully at services compared with durables. We find that people claim that their service purchases are more often dependent on recommendation than durable purchases, perhaps because the latter are advertised more.

We also find that nearly half of all durable recommendations are stimulated by advertising whereas less than 10 per cent of service recommendation is so based. This indicates that durable advertising has a strong indirect effect through recommendation. Interestingly, it is not customary to test ads for their carryover into WOM and our evidence suggests that this should be done.

WOM and the older consumer

In other work we have examined how recommendation affects the spending of older consumers. This group is notoriously conservative, often repurchasing the same brand or showing a reluctance to engage in replacement purchases at all. We found that one factor here was the volume of recommendations received by old people. Without workmates and with children no longer at home, the over-65s receive much less advice than younger consumers and this lack of advice is associated with longer replacement intervals.

Advertising to older age groups could be adapted to take account of this lack of recommendations, perhaps taking the form of advice from older peers or encouraging those with influence on older consumers (such as their children) to exert that influence.

Analysis of use of online WOM pre- and post-purchase

An innovative approach to examining the attitudes and processes in the use of eWOM is taken, using accompanied re-browsing, and a longitudinal study covering pre- and post-purchase phases. We find that consumers' experience of using reviews affects their decisions to post reviews and the subsequent content. Understanding of the learning of users is critical in underpinning our knowledge of role of eWOM in the buying process.

Evaluating the differences between perceived valence of WOM from sender and receiver perspectives

Our research examines the difference between what senders believe they are saying and what receivers take from it. We show a difference between the perceptions of the two groups demonstrating issues with the encoding/decoding process. This initial study used the context of streamed movies and TV series; we are extending this to other contexts.

Referral success and failure under PWOM and NWOM conditions

Understanding the impact of articulating WOM on the sender is still in embryonic stage. This ongoing project looks at the effect of referral failure and success on the sender's firm-and self-related outcomes under both positive and negative WOM conditions.