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Online Reviews vs. (?) Traditional Word Of Mouth


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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.


Posted by

Growth obsessed startup co-founder (MusicBox) and strategist-for-hire.

3 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Honestly, and just from my own experience as a user of online reviews, I don’t really think buzz building marketing tactics really ‘ignites’ online reviews at least in terms of using them to make purchase decisions. I look at online reviews all the time and I use them as a substitute for WOM. I am looking to see what a preponderance of users of a product are reporting that their experience with that product is. I want to know what the 5-star reviewers loved and what the 1 and 2-star reviewers hated, filtering out the the junk reviews that may be there.


  2. Hi Tony – thanks for jumping in with your thoughts. To clarify what I meant, the heart of word of mouth marketing is filled with the notion that we (as marketers / brand managers) can inject a whole bunch of awesomeness into the customer experience (whether that’s service, product quality, packaging design, etc.) that will leave people no choice but to shout their love for us off the top of a mountain. If WOMM is done correctly (and honestly), then brands should see more online reviews because of this. So, I agree with you, that WOMM doesn’t necessarily change the behavior of the purchaser in terms of their desire to check online reviews, but it should change the actual content of the reviews themselves (thus affecting the purchaser!).

    Does that change your outlook?

    Thanks again!



  3. Pingback: Our Top Five Posts Of 2012 | Be Interesting Or Be Forgotten Blog

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