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The Science and Psychology Behind Word of Mouth 

Word of mouth marketing

“A customer talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.”

David J. Greer, Wind In Your Sails

 

Word of mouth is nothing new, for years, people have been sharing brands, and products that they personally know and love with others. In recent years, this sharing of information has been ramped up thanks to social media, which allows for users to share their opinions of products they know and love with a larger audience, faster. At a glance, this makes it seem as though, word of mouth is easy and everyone is going to be successful who attempts it. When in fact, there is a lot that goes into a successful word of mouth marketing campaign; and the key is to know and understand the science and psychology behind why people share brands and products that they know and love with others. 

 

Word of mouth is dependent upon consumers, which is why it is imperative that businesses take the time to work on what they have control over (i.e., their products and services), which leaves customers with an experience that compels them to share with others. 

 

There is a reason as to why certain products and brands are talked about and others aren’t. These reasons go beyond the simple fact of “I liked it”, to the psychological level, which is often subconscious yet lurking beneath the surface all the same. There are countless reasons why consumers spread word of mouth, most of which can be classified into three different categories: ethos, logos, and pathos. 

 

Ethos

Ethos is an appeal to our personal involvement or the emotional reasoning behind why we do or don’t do something.  This helps consumers make purchases that make the most sense for them. This can apply to why we share a specific brand, service, subscription, or product; or we choose not to. 

 

Oftentimes, when making a purchase we don’t have all the facts directly in front of us, such is often the case when making an impulse purchase while at the store, or pursuing an online store. For other purchases that we have time to make a decision, we often don’t jump in and purchase the first one that we find. 

 

Thanks in part to social media and the internet, finding the answers to questions regarding purchases are easier to get answered. The opinion of others who have personal involvement and experience is powerful when it comes to appealing to our ethos when making a decision.

 

For example, a few years ago, I was in the market for a new vehicle. Based on my experience with my current vehicle, I knew there were some features that I wasn’t willing to forgo in a new vehicle (i.e., automatic locks and windows), and there were other features that I didn’t necessarily want either (compact style car). Based on this limited insight based on my personal experience with my current car, I had a general idea of what I wanted to find in my next car. 

 

From there, I began to talk to people I knew who had similar cars to what I was looking to get. How does it do in the snow? How much storage space does it have? Would you recommend this car, why or why not? Knowing that I would have this next car purchase for the foreseeable future, I was also interested in how a particular vehicle would work with perceived changes in my lifestyle that I anticipated happening while owning the vehicle. All of these different personal investments played into my decision as to what type of vehicle I wanted to purchase 

 

Companies also know and understand this type of thinking as well, which is why in a lot of print and TV marketing, they will highlight the most popular features that get consumers talking. For a vehicle, it might be that they highlight the safety features of the vehicle, or the storage capacity, for electronics it could be the battery life or high-speed processor. These different elements that are highlighted, are often the most talked about when it comes to word of mouth, as they are the things that consumers need and want to know. Every product out there is designed and intended to appeal to the consumer’s personal involvement in the product. 

 

Pathos

Pathos is our emotional involvement, after having the facts, or establishing our personal involvement, we then are able to use our emotions to make the right decision for us based on the facts. As a consumer, emotions are an important part of the buying process as we want to feel satisfied with our purchase long after we have left the store.

 

When it comes to gathering all the facts, we are often influenced by many different sources: print and web advertisements, friends and family, and our own knowledge and experiences. It is through these different influences that we are able to rely on our emotions and our gut instincts to help us make the right decision for us to meet our unique needs. 

 

Continuing with my car buying experience, I did a lot of research to appease my ethos, but I then had to use all that I had learned to appease my pathos to make the correct decision based on the facts that I had gathered. This included looking online at countless different makes and models that fit within what style of car I had decided upon. I was able to narrow down my list of possible vehicles based on what I was seeing and what was appealing to my emotional investment. 

 

Vehicles that were over a certain mileage got dismissed as they would limit my love for road trips sooner than I’d like. Vehicles that were older than a certain year also got dismissed based on the belief that older vehicles required more maintenance. These and other emotional factors played into narrowing down my vehicle search.  After deciding on a couple of different types of vehicles that seemed to check every box, I then proceeded to visit local dealerships where I was able to physically see the vehicles and test drive different ones. 

 

Upon physically seeing different vehicles that I had been considering, I was able to further narrow down my options to those that I felt would truly fill my needs. Along with relying on my own instinct, I was also able to receive input and word of mouth from the dealer regarding which vehicles I was comparing would meet the needs I’d listed, and those whom I took with me. Although my research had provided me valuable information and got me started in the right direction, I still placed a lot of trust in those whom I know and trust. 

 

Logos

Finally, logos is where our logical thinking and rational understanding comes into play. Why did we make the purchase that we did? Is it because we read great reviews on it? Someone, we know bought it and told us that we needed to buy one too? Or is it something that we need? Did we hear some positive word of mouth experience and wanted the same experience for ourselves?  

 

When we have made the decision to make a purchase, we know that we made that decision for a specific reason. But was that reason influenced by an outside source, such as word of mouth from someone we know and trust or not? When multiple people agree on a product, the power of word of mouth becomes even stronger. Even more so when someone who is viewed as being an expert with the product, expresses their view in favor of a product (i.e., a scientist, engineer, car salesman, etc.). 

 

Rationalizing that we made the right decision, after making the purchase is our logos, our rational involvement, that is satisfied when the item we purchased meets our needs or solves a problem. Even after we have made a purchase, our opinion regarding our purchase can be affected by word of mouth, both positively and negatively. The feeling of satisfaction that we experience when initially making the purchase, is further felt when others confirm that we did in fact make the right decision with making the purchase.

 

To finish my car buying experience, I eventually found the right car for me. The one that I settled on fit my needs the most by checking all the boxes I had for buying a new vehicle. I purchased a vehicle that has adequate storage space, gets good gas mileage, had low mileage, and filled the needs of my lifestyle. Not only did I feel satisfied with my decision to purchase the vehicle that I did, but I also found satisfaction from those who are closest to me. By the time I made the decision on which vehicle to purchase, I had gone through the various different emotional and intellectual thought processes (ethos, pathos, and logos), to ensure that I would be happy and satisfied with my new car for years to come.  

 

So what do ethos, logos, and pathos have to do with word of mouth?  To recap, ethos simply means that consumers want purchases that are going to make sense to them on a personal level; pathos is the feeling of satisfaction following a purchase; and logos is looking back and understanding that the purchase we made was the right choice as it solves our initial problem. When all three of these elements are satisfied, consumers are more inclined to share their experience with others through word of mouth, so that they too can have the same experience.  

 

Throughout the different stages of the buying process, our decisions can be altered based on word of mouth; whether we have knowledge about the product or not. When we listen to others who have personal experience it can alter our perception, regardless of where we are at in the buying process. 

 

During the ethos phase, we might think we know what will make personal sense to us, but after talking to others, we might discover there is something better to fill the need than we initially thought. The opposite is true as well, word of mouth can confirm that our initial thoughts were accurate in filling a need. In instances where we aren’t sure what will fill a need that we have, talking to others and experiencing word of mouth from those we know and trust, can help us to discover options to consider. So, as you can see, word of mouth plays an instrumental role in the ethos phase of the purchasing process. 

 

Our pathos comes into play when we are able to successfully meet our emotional needs through the purchase of a product or service. Our emotional intelligence guides us to listen to what others are saying to ensure that our needs are being met. Word of mouth appeals to our pathos by appealing to our emotions. Statements such as, “I am so happy with this purchase”, “I wish I had found this product sooner”, or “I wish I had never bought this item”, are examples of how word of mouth affects our pathos.  

 

Following the successful purchase of a product, consumers want to experience feelings of satisfaction as is deemed by our logos. They want to be reaffirmed that they did in fact make the right choice, which is where positive word of mouth comes into play. Even after making a purchase, word of mouth can alter the consumer’s view and opinion on the purchase but positively and negatively. Based on the word of mouth that the consumer receives, and if it continues to provide a feeling of satisfaction or not, will affect word of mouth for that same product moving forward.  

 

As you can see, word of mouth can have both a positive and negative effect on our psychological thinking. Understanding the process behind how and why we make decisions, can help us to better understand the importance of word of mouth, especially from those whom we know personally. There is a process that goes into making purchases, especially larger purchases, than simply showing up at the store and walking out with the first item we see. Our subconscious plays a major role in helping us make the right purchasing decisions that will satisfy our needs the most. Word of mouth gives us more insight and knowledge to help us make the right decision for us. 

 

Author: Ashley Christensen 

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