Wharton Customer Analytics

Research Paper Series

What Do People Talk About? Drivers of Immediate and Ongoing Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth has impacts on diffusion and sales, but why are certain products talked about more than others, both right after consumers first experience them and in the months that follow? This paper examines how product characteristics shape immediate and ongoing WOM. The authors use a hierarchical model (simultaneously reflecting underlying differences across people and products) to analyze a unique dataset of everyday conversations for over 300 different products. They also conduct both a large field experiment across various cities and a controlled laboratory experiment with real conversations. Results indicate that more interesting products get more immediate WOM, but contrary to intuition, do not receive more ongoing WOM over a multi-month period or overall. Products that are cued more by the environment, however, or are more publicly visible, receive more WOM both right away as well as over time. Additional analyses demonstrate which promotional giveaways in WOM marketing campaigns are associated with increased WOM. Overall, the findings shed light on psychological drivers of word-of-mouth and provide insight into designing more effective WOM campaigns.

Keywords: Word-of-Mouth, Buzz Marketing, Diffusion, Product Characteristics, Social Contagion, Field Experiment