Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is an increasingly important technique in which marketers intentionally attempt to influence the content and conduct of consumer-to-consumer communications. In this article, the authors review and synthesize extant theories of WOM. Marketing understanding initially acknowledged the importance of naturally occurring, or “organic,” consumer WOM. Word-of-mouth communications are now viewed as coproduced in consumer groups, communities, or networks, which has led to marketers’ uses of new tactics and metrics to deliberately and directly target and influence consumer opinion leaders in these networks, as well as the knowledge that market messages and meanings are exchanged among members of a consumer network. This article presents a study of a marketing campaign in which mobile phones were seeded with prominent bloggers. Eighty-three blogs were followed carefully for six months using a marketing research methodology known as “netnography.” The WOM marketing campaign’s insertion of commercial concerns into communal space created social tension. The findings indicate that bloggers responded to this tension with four types of WOM communication strategies—evaluation, embracing, endorsement, and explanation. Evaluation strategies focus on the good or service promoted rather than the marketing campaign and attempt to link to the community’s goals. Embracing strategies offer a bold, self-interested justification of participation in the WOM campaign alongside their open adoption of their dual role as a consumer and marketer. Endorsement strategies disclose the marketing campaign and discuss its potential drawbacks but appeal for communal assistance, support, and understanding. Explanation strategies openly disclose and analyze the marketing campaign, acknowledging its potential conflict while asserting the importance and interests of the community. Each of these communication strategies is influenced by character narrative, communications forum, communal norms, and the nature of the marketing promotion. The narrative model shows that communal WOM does not simply increase or amplify marketing messages. Rather, marketing messages and meanings are systematically altered in the process of embedding them. The theory has definite, pragmatic implications for how marketers should plan, target, and leverage WOM. Managers should begin to work with an understanding of WOM marketing’s cultural complexity by attempting to foster and develop particular kinds of WOM narrative strategies that are congruent with particular communicator character types and community norms and practices. For example, evaluation and explanation narratives are congruent with communally oriented communicators who are members of close-knit communities. Alternatively, an embracing or endorsement narrative fits with an individualistic communicator participating in a community that is more distanced or inclined more favorably toward marketplace concerns. Hard-sell offers would lend themselves to narrative strategies of explanation and evaluation, while embracing and endorsing narratives would be congruent with soft sell, long-term brand-building campaigns. With a more detailed understanding and new sets of metrics and concepts such as those reviewed here, marketing managers will find themselves increasingly able to adapt to this new age of the networked coproduction of marketing messages and meanings.
Robert V. Kozinets is a globally recognized expert on online communities, online market research, and online marketing strategy, whose opinions and work have been featured in global media, from the New York Times and Newsweek to the Discovery Channel, the CBS National News, Brazil’s Bites Magazine, Canada’s National Post, and Australia’s Boss Magazine. His interests focus on the interface of technology, culture, consumption, and media. He has extensive market research, consulting, and speaking experience, working with companies such as Sony, the Campbell Soup Company, American Express, Nissan, eBay, and Merck. An anthropologist by training, he is Associate Professor of Marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, with research published in more than 60 chapters, proceedings, and articles in some of the world’s top marketing journals. His 2010 book, published by Sage Publications, is titled Netnography. Brandthroposophy, his popular blog about branding, marketing, and technology, is available at www.kozinets.net.
Kristine de Valck is Assistant Professor of Marketing at HEC School of Management, Paris. She earned her PhD at RSM Erasmus University, with a dissertation about the knowledge and friendship networks in virtual communities of consumption. Her research continues to focus on consumer tribes, “word of mouse,” and the role of the Web 2.0 in cocreation, marketing, and market research. She is also interested in the method of videography, and she has recently produced a videography about the paintball marketplace culture. Her work has been published in British Journal of Management and Decision Support Systems. She has also contributed to various edited books.
Professor Andrea C. Wojnicki earned her doctorate in Marketing from Harvard Business School and is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto. Her research focuses primarily on word of mouth, particularly who is talking, about what, and why. She is an advisory board member of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA.org). She has also written several Harvard Business School cases and teaching notes. Professor Wojnicki has been interviewed and her research has been cited in several media venues, including Time magazine, Financial Post Business magazine, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and CBC Business, CTV National News, and Global National News, among others. Professor Wojnicki has consulted for firms in the automotive, banking, consumer packaged goods, and communications industries. Before her academic career, Professor Wojnicki worked in various marketing industry positions at Ogilvy & Mather, Toys “R” Us, and Kraft Foods.
Sarah J.S. Wilner is a doctoral student in Marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. Her research interests include products as expressive and connective artifacts of managerial practice and consumer culture; innovation and new product development; and the cultural and managerial implications of design, including industrial, service, and graphic design. Wilner’s current research examines the spaces in which and processes by which firms and consumers interact, particularly through interpretation, sensemaking, and the coconstitution of the consumer in new product development. Previous degrees include a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Women’s Studies, a postbaccalaureate in Communication Studies, and an MBA in Marketing. Before her doctoral studies, Wilner spent almost two decades as a marketing manager in the public sector.Journal of Marketing, Volume 74, Number 2, March 2010
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