No, that question mark is not a typing error. It’s a self-imposed question as a reaction to this article claiming that “consumers now pay more attention to online reviews than word of mouth”. The claim seems to come from one survey question in particular, in which 31% of respondents state they read online reviews before making a purchase compared to 23% whom consult friends and family.
My initial reactions are below (note that I have not yet read the entire study nor analyzed its approach).
I appreciate the author adding the descriptor “traditional” in front of word of mouth, as it attempts to delineate the important difference between face-to-face brand discussions and online conversations (including reviews). There is a difference and, when viewed through this frame, you can realize the power and influence in online reviews.
The study left me wondering where the purchase timeline comes into play here. A 2010 blog post of mine analyzed my purchase decision process, step-by-step, and both traditional WOM and online reviews played important roles. Even more important, the timing of each also played a crucial role. Which leads me to my next thought…
The relationship between traditional WOM and online reviews is not necessarily a matter of “versus”. While this study calls out online reviews as a leader in driving purchase decisions, what do you think is the spark that ignites these online reviews? I’d bet it can be traced to buzz-building WOM tactics (remember, “people don’t spread mediocre“).
While word of mouth is the act of people sharing messages to other people, word of mouth marketing adds another layer to the process, a layer that involves giving those people something worthwhile to share. It is in this sense that I take this study as a positive head nod to the WOMM industry. Well done, guys. We’re giving people a reason to talk…and they are choosing to talk in a high volume manner.