Allan Kimmel's Book Publications

WEYGANDT J. J., KIMMEL A. J., KIESO D. E., (2012), Financial accounting : IFRS edition, Wiley, Hoboken [New Jersey], 2nd ed., 735 p.

KIMMEL A. J., (2012), Psychological foundations of marketing, Routledge, London, 282 p.

KIMMEL A. J., (2012), Psychological foundations of marketing, Routledge, London, 282 p.

 

KIMMEL A. J., (2010), Connecting with consumers : Marketing for new marketplace realities, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 336 p.

KIMMEL A. J., (2007), Ethical issues in behavioral research : Basic and applied perspectives, Blackwell Publishers, Malden [Massachusetts], 2nd ed., 405 p.

KIMMEL A. J., (2007), Marketing communication: New approaches, technologies, and styles, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 3rd ed., 300 p.

KIMMEL A. J., (2003), Rumors and rumor control : A manager's guide to understanding and combatting rumors, LEA's communication series, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Mahwah [New Jersey], 256 p.

 

KIMMEL A. J., (1988), Ethics and Values in Applied Social Research, Sage, Newbury Park.

KIMMEL A. J., (1981), Ethics of human subject research, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

 


Knowledge @ ESCP Europe

Social Media and Viral Marketing

Word of Mouth and social media: Presaging future directions for research and practice

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Allan J. Kimmel is Professor of Marketing at the ESCP Europe Paris Campus.

Allan J. Kimmel is Professor of Marketing at the ESCP Europe Paris Campus.

In the contemporary world in which people increasingly consume and are consumed by their smart phones, tablets, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like, word of mouth (WOM)—the informal communications among consumers about ownership, usage, or characteristics of particular goods and services (or their sellers)—has taken a central position within the marketing spectrum.  These days, it seems everyone in business has discovered the power of consumer conversations. Yet WOM did not begin with the Internet 2.0 era, or even the computer—it is as old as human discourse.  Early social scientists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave LeBon discussed the role of WOM in the spread of new innovations more than a century ago.  What has changed in recent decades with new technologies and growing consumer connectedness is how quickly and widely marketing messages can spread.

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WOM Facts and Fallacies

Over the years, a number of assumptions about the nature and dynamics of WOM have entered the popular and trade literature, several of which run counter to the preponderance of controlled research on the topic.  In my recent research, which I discuss in my paper in the Journal of Marketing Communications and is more fully explicated in my forthcoming publication in the Journal of Customer Behaviour, I have focused on the extent to which the beliefs about WOM among business students and practitioners conform more to popular wisdom or empirical research and theory.

Whenever you have so much attention devoted to a trendy social media-related topic, there is bound to be plenty of hyperbole, and WOM is no exception. For example, experts have argued that “WOM is more powerful than all of the other marketing methods put together” (George Silverman, author of The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing) and “the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to anymore” (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point). Whether or not the hype exceeds the true promise of WOM marketing remains to be seen; however, it is important to acknowledge that in some circumstances, WOM can have less of an influence on consumers than more traditional forms of marketing communication, and certain types of WOM can have more of an impact than others. Thus, the assumption that WOM marketing efforts will always have their intended effects or that consumers will always respond accordingly is both misguided and oversimplified.

WOM Antecedents. A majority of the business students and practitioners I surveyed believe the popular wisdom that holds that most WOM is driven by customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction; that is, when people are satisfied, they transmit positive WOM and when they are dissatisfied, they convey negative WOM.  Although it is true that consumers tend to give more WOM at extreme levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, various studies have shown that when people are relatively neutral about something, they still transmit high levels of WOM.  In fact, a wide variety of motivations (ego-related, altruistic, etc.) and opportunities (a conversation leads to advice, an effort by friends to make a joint decision, etc.) can, and frequently do, give rise to WOM, in addition to satisfaction level.  When WOM is only considered in relation to satisfaction/dissatisfaction, practitioners stand to lose the opportunity to leverage WOM among consumers who are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their offerings.  The misleading assumption also is likely to point practitioners to over-rely on satisfaction surveys to measure WOM, such as the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which may ultimately serve to underestimate the amount and impact of WOM that is positive (PWOM) and negative (NWOM).

Relative Frequency and Impact of PWOM and NWOM. The results of my studies also revealed that business students and practitioners tend to accept the popular assumptions that NWOM is both more common and more powerful than PWOM.  However, across more than 20 product and service categories, WOM studies dating from the mid-1970s to the current period consistently find that PWOM tends to be more common than NWOM, at a ratio exceeding 4:1. PWOM may be more common because most products are satisfactory for consumers and a greater percentage of WOM instances is likely to concern the consumer’s main brand (i.e., the one currently purchased and used).  There does appear to be some support for the claim that NWOM can have a stronger impact on consumers due to the greater rarity of negative information; however, research shows that this effect is largely limited to measures of brand attitude as opposed to the more critical measure of shifts in purchase probability, where PWOM has been found to have a stronger impact across various product and service categories.  The issue of relative impact is a complex one, and the blanket statement that NWOM has greater influence than PWOM is not justified.  Adherence to popular wisdom in this case could encourage practitioners to focus their efforts on strategies to counter negative talk (e.g., crisis management, rumor control) as opposed to efforts more inclined to promote and leverage positive talk (e.g., referral marketing).

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Online (eWOM) Versus Offline WOM

Another area in which student and practitioner beliefs tend to be in agreement with popular wisdom pertains to where WOM exchanges take place.  People tend to get carried away with the power of technology and fall prey to what has been labeled the “social steroids myth,” which holds that if a face-to-face conversation is one awesome WOM interaction, then a comment on social media will equal the same quality interaction multiplied by the number of people in the network.  However, research by agencies KellerFay and TRND, among others, have demonstrated that  a majority of sharing occurs in the normal fashion in real-world, personal WOM conversations among friends and family members, where exchanges tend to be more credible and more likely to influence consumer decision making.

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Interestingly, the participants in my research greatly underestimated the average number of times that a person transmits (10.6 times per week) and receives (16.3 times per week) WOM.  In reality, the average consumer has about 125 conversations per week that mention products and services, with specific brands mentioned 90 times.  When asked what made recalled instances of WOM memorable, the respondents mentioned its utilitarian value in assisting a product/service decision, characteristics of the source of the information, and their personal involvement in the product/service category.

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Future Directions for WOM Research and Practice

As communication technologies and usage habits continue to evolve, facts and fallacies regarding the nature, prevalence, and impact of WOM are also likely to change.  As in many areas of marketing communication, our understanding is in flux and will continue to be enriched by further research.  For example, investigators have begun to treat WOM exchanges as conversations involving multiple participants who may play multiple, dynamic roles as opposed to the  long-standing conceptualization of WOM as comprised of a simple dyadic transaction involving a WOM sender and receiver. 

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