With the rise of social media’s ubiquitous consumer-to-consumer information sharing platforms, it becomes increasingly easy for individuals to inform and persuade one another about marketplace offerings outside the marketer’s control. However, not all consumer-to-consumer review platforms are equal: Whereas one may provide detailed profile information about a reviewer, including their photograph, name, location, age, and other product preferences, another may present only a username and/or a simple line silhouette of a consumer (which provides no identifying information). Does this difference in reviewer identification make any difference in understanding or predicting the effect of consumer-to-consumer reviews? Managers are likely already aware that positive reviews posted by individuals who are typical of their target market are likely to increase sales of the reviewed product. Similarly, if a negative review is written by a consumer who is clearly different from most of the firm’s target market, it is likely to have less impact on sales than a review written by a similar consumer.
The authors focus on the effects of reviews posted by ambiguously identified consumers to determine whether marketers have any reason to encourage or try to avoid reviewer ambiguity in an effort to motivate purchase of their products. Furthermore, they consider whether consumers need to be careful of falling into inferential traps that may lead them to make unsatisfying decisions. To understand these situations, the authors report a set of studies conducted in the context of the restaurant, vacation, and music industries. These experiments consistently show that ambiguous reviewers can wield substantial persuasive influence. This influence exists because consumers assume that ambiguously identified reviewers are much like themselves. They call this the use of an “egocentric anchor.” Because consumers make this inference, an ambiguously authored review has roughly the same persuasive impact as one written by a reviewer whom the consumer knows is similar to the self and a much greater persuasive impact than a review by a dissimilar reviewer. As such, a marketer who wants a positive review to be maximally persuasive may promote ambiguously authored reviews. In contrast, the persuasive power of a negative review may be offset by encouraging detailed self-description by a reviewer. However, marketers who adopt such tactics should be aware that they risk long-term consumer dissatisfaction, because the likelihood that an ambiguous reviewer’s preferences actually match the target consumer’s may be quite low.
Fortunately, these egocentric anchoring–driven effects are not unavoidable: The authors find that the persuasiveness of an ambiguously authored review can be attenuated in two ways. First, if thoughts about others (vs. the self) are made highly accessible, people no longer appear to project their own characteristics onto an ambiguous reviewer. Second, marketers can provide external cues about potential reviewer heterogeneity, using subtle communications such as website names, which draw attention to the breadth of their target market. The authors’ research suggests that for consumers to avoid being unduly persuaded by ambiguous reviewers, taking a moment to focus on external events or sensitivity to cues about the actual composition of the reviewer base may be very important.
Rebecca Walker Naylor received her PhD in marketing from The University of Texas at Austin in 2006. She joined the faculty of the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University in 2009 after serving on the faculty at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Naylor’s research focuses on the area of consumer behavior. Specifically, her research has explored consumer intuitions, consumer response to ethical products, food and health decision making, and consumer disposal practices. Current projects continue to explore these topics, as well as social influence and inference making. Dr. Naylor’s research has been published in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Psychology, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, and Marketing Letters.
Cait Poynor Lamberton is Assistant Professor and Fryrear Faculty Fellow in the Marketing Group at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. She holds a BA in English from Wheaton College and an MBA and PhD from the University of South Carolina. Recent publications in Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Marketing Research include work in the effects of large assortments, as well both external and internal categorization, as they apply to consumers’ learning, self-regulatory choices, and inference making. Before joining academia, Cait worked in marketing in the transportation consulting, heavy truck, and fragrance industries.
David A. Norton is a doctoral candidate in Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He holds a BBA in Marketing from The University of Texas at Austin and an MS in Marketing Research from The University of Texas at Arlington. Before entering doctoral studies, David worked in both supplier-side and client-side positions in the marketing research industry. His research surrounds consumers’ response to the resolution of ambiguous information.
Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 48, Number 3, June 2011
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