Word of Mouth Study


I came across a very interesting study about word of mouth advertising while reading the NYU PR graduate school blog.

Here’s a paragraph to give you a flavor of the article:

Surprisingly, the study found that less than 40% of consumers use e-mail to make recommendations to others, including via personal e-mail (37%), by e-mail forwarding (32%) or through mass e-mails (12%). While slightly higher percentages of Influentials use e-mail (personal e-mail 53%, e-mail forwarding 39% and mass e-mails 18%), face-to-face communication still far outweighs this medium.

By |2016-10-24T14:25:51+00:00July 8th, 2006|Categories: Marketing and Sales|20 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. John Dodds July 8, 2006 at 9:01 am - Reply

    The surprise is that they find this surprising – there is a reason why it’s called word of mouth and all the technologists in the world won’t chnage human nature.

  2. argos July 8, 2006 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I’m with John Dodds on this one. I continue to find it very curious that companies, marketers and now even associations ( the word of mouth marketing association-please!) believe they can affect some change regarding the creation of word of mouth, outside of a remarkable or compelling product or service speaking for itself. As an artist, I can’t relate at all to the notion of affecting someones reaction to the offering and what they might share with others. It is what it is. To attempt to do so is outrageously silly, possibly insane. How do you create honor, other than being honorable?

  3. Scott Ahlsmith CTC July 9, 2006 at 7:36 am - Reply

    It would be interesting to survey Gen Y’ers and rate SMS and IM text messaging.

  4. Reynold July 9, 2006 at 9:32 am - Reply

    I think this study may be right in so far as face to face communication (does that include talking to people on the phone?) is a bigger source of word of mouth, but doesn’t it miss blogs and websites like epinions.com?
    I recently wrote about the future of advertising and brand communication – clearly the role of direct advertising is growing increasingly limited to placing a brand into the consideration set. User experiences and word of mouth are growing in importance. Many marketeers are seeking to influence word of mouth but I think that delivering good brand experiences will make a bigger impact.

  5. Marilyn Scott-Waters July 9, 2006 at 9:48 am - Reply

    I find it hard to believe that people, when recommending a cool website or blog, “Tell” their friends the link rather than just emailing it. Have you ever tried spelling a URL over the phone?
    “It’s a great blog! You have to read it! Here, write this down, Bee El Oh Gee period Gee You Kay… ah fugettit, I’ll just send you the link.”
    Sometimes people throw stuff at the wall, draw a circle around it and say they hit the target.

  6. Vijay July 9, 2006 at 11:41 am - Reply

    No surprises. I kinda thought the results were expected.

  7. Capture the Conversation Internet Marketing Blog July 9, 2006 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Word of Mouth – Facing the Reality

    Guy Kawasaki pointed to a recent study that shows face-to-face is the most powerful means of influence in word of mouth marketing. A sample of the study: When asked how they make recommendations, 80% of consumers say they make them…

  8. Brad Hutchings July 9, 2006 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    It’s only going to get “worse”, as effectiveness of getting the word out via e-mail channels will continue to drop as junk mail increases and increases. E-mail as a viral marketing tool is a very tough play now.

  9. Steve Baker July 9, 2006 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    I think the report has a questionable summary of the data and suffers from a failure to understand the nature of conversation.
    The GfK NOP summary states that 37% of ‘consumers’ use email to make personal recommendations, but only a “slightly higher percentage of Influential Americans®” do. The figure they give though, is 53%. It’s unclear whether these Influentials, who they not only define as ‘the one in ten Americans who tell the other nine how to vote’, but actually have a registered mark for, are also included in the set of consumer numbers but even if we assume they aren’t, that’s a 43% increase. If I had a 43% increase in sales I wouldn’t be describing it as ‘slightly higher’. I’d be moving house.
    Of course face-to-face word-of-mouth is going to stimulate more recommendations. The nature of spontaneous, in person conversation is all about sharing ideas and reacting quickly with one’s own personal experiences to what is said. Email is by far a more deliberate and slow method of communicating with friends, but it may also provide a richer level of content (links, images, music etc). Blogs are even more deliberate and considered, especially as they are effectively broadcast to the connected world.
    Scott Ahlsmith points out it would be useful to see SMS and IM data as well – both fast and reactive forms of communication. While John Dodds may be right about technology not changing human nature, it does respond to it. Humans have an unstoppable need to communicate and technology acts swiftly to enable this with a host of options.
    In any case, the data that formed this survey is already 17 months old. In communication technology terms, that’s ancient history.

  10. Mike July 10, 2006 at 2:03 am - Reply

    I attended a conference in San Francisco last month, held by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)…yes, curious, isn’t it? What I found most interesting was that they placed a lot of weight on the ethics of word-of-mouth, comparing it to what email was like when it started, not wanting their industry to go the same way. I believe slides from speakers are avaliable at their site, don’t bother with the case studies unless you’re really into this.

  11. John Dodds July 10, 2006 at 2:19 am - Reply

    I agree with Steve Baker that technology responds to and facilitates human nature. But I think I meant that it is human nature to ascribe greater validity to recommendations from people you truly trust and have an implict track record with you. The leap that follows is that I assume that this interaction is therefore more likely to occur face to face and that by being face to face it will be subconsciously weightier.
    This, of course, now leads me to question whether these personal recommendations should in fact be termed word of mouth. Maybe they are too intimate to be so classified.

  12. Digressions July 10, 2006 at 7:43 am - Reply

    92% of Word of Mouth Happens Offline

    My recent interview with Sam Decker provides additional facts that support the post from Guy Kawasaki on word of mouth advertising and email. 92% of word of mouth conversations take place offline, with 71% of word of mouth taking place

  13. jbp July 11, 2006 at 9:26 am - Reply

    The article was published in April 2005. Things have changed since then…

  14. Precipice July 11, 2006 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Where WOM starts – and how its passed on

    Guy Kawasaki links to a survey examining where most Word Of Mouth starts. Techies seem shocked its not from blogging. ,-)
    As far as where it all starts – check out this table lifted from the linked article:
    Conversation Catalysts

  15. Jeff Barson July 12, 2006 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Unhappy clients will tell 10 people. Zelots will still only tell 1.

  16. Bad Language July 14, 2006 at 12:11 am - Reply

    Pick of the web

    Bloggers anonymous. Its funny because its true.
    Why blog post frequency doesnt matter any more. I agree with the arguments but still post daily. My names Matthew. Im a blogaholic.
    Six principles of public relatio…

  17. olivier blanchard July 17, 2006 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    That’s because the types of conversations people are having with their peers about products and services are better suited for face-to-face situations (friendly dinner, lunch, a beer, a car ride, a game of golf, etc.)

  18. Michael Rubin, WOMMA July 27, 2006 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Thanks for the call-out, argos. *grin*
    People love to talk. As John Dodds said so eloquently, “All the technologists in the world won’t change human nature.” He’s right. They won’t. But what marketers and technologists can do is *work with* human nature. More marketers are starting to realize that consumers are ALREADY talking about your brand, whether they like it or not.
    What we’re trying to promote at WOMMA is the idea that, as a marketer, it’s more paramount than ever to join the conversation (note the keyword there: “join”). If it’s happening already, who cares if it’s on a blog or in the fresh produce section of your local grocery store? A smart marketer will use WOM to learn what consumers are talking about, find out their needs, and tailor their products accordingly.

  19. Jeremy Toeman July 27, 2006 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Hi. I run the grassroots/guerrilla/word-of-mouth/evangelism/etc programs for Sling Media, and I think there is a side-point to be had here. The amazing growth of blogging combined with online communities and discussion forums is rapidly changing the way people need to approach these kinds of efforts. Consumers have so much more access to information than ever before, and I personally believe that a groundswell of positive online reviews/feedback/discussion has a massive complementary effect to word-of-mouth.
    While I can’t track how many people are ‘talking’ about it, I can understand very well what will happen AFTER the conversation, when a consumer turns to Google, Digg, Technorati, etc, to get additional information on the given product/service/movie/etc.
    Just my $0.02.

  20. Todd Tweedy July 29, 2006 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Hey Guy,
    Thanks for your post. We published a 55 page study on word-of-mouth with Osterman Research titled Perceptions, Practices and Ethics in Word of Mouth Marketing. Here’s a link to the pdf
    The focus of the study was on the challenges advertisers are facing. There is also a number of recommendations for building out a plan.
    Looking forward to your thoughts on the recommendations.
    Many thanks,
    Todd Tweedy

Leave A Comment