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Word-of-mouth communications in marketing: a meta-analytic review of the antecedents and moderators

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J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: DOI /s ORIGINAL EMPIRICAL RESEARCH Word-of-mouth communications in marketing: a meta-analytic review of the antecedents and moderators
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J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: DOI /s ORIGINAL EMPIRICAL RESEARCH Word-of-mouth communications in marketing: a meta-analytic review of the antecedents and moderators Celso Augusto de Matos & Carlos Alberto Vargas Rossi Received: 27 February 2008 / Accepted: 8 September 2008 / Published online: 23 September 2008 # Academy of Marketing Science 2008 Abstract Although word-of-mouth (WOM) activity has been studied as an outcome variable of other constructs such as satisfaction, less attention has been given to the antecedents and moderators of WOM when considering WOM as a central construct. Hence, we propose a model of WOM antecedents and moderators using a meta-analytic review. The results show that all antecedents have significant effects on WOM activity, with customer commitment showing the strongest effect. The following hypotheses are also supported: (1) WOM valence is a significant moderator, (2) cross-sectional studies show a stronger influence of satisfaction and loyalty on WOM activity than longitudinal studies, and (3) studies of WOM behavior show a weaker link between loyalty and WOM activity than studies of WOM intentions. In addition, we show that satisfaction has a stronger relationship with positive WOM than loyalty, whereas (dis)loyalty has a stronger relationship with negative WOM than does (dis)satisfaction. We discuss this finding based on the different natures of positive and negative WOM. Keywords Word-of-mouth activity. Word-of-mouth valence. Antecedents. Moderators. Meta-analysis This article is based on the first author s dissertation. C. A. de Matos (*) Marketing Department, School of Management, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (PPGA-EA-UFRGS), P.O. Box 532, , Sapucaia do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil C. A. V. Rossi Marketing Department, School of Management, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (PPGA-EA-UFRGS), Rua Washington Luiz, 855, Centro, , Porto Alegre/RS, Brazil Interpersonal influence has received great attention in social psychology and there is ample evidence for the relevance of interpersonal communications when individuals make choices in different contexts, including those of consumption (Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955). This effect is also investigated in consumer behavior, and its models consider this interpersonal influence when information is sought as well as given (Engel et al. 1995). Empirical studies show that customers are even more likely to rely on these interpersonal communications, known as word of mouth (WOM), in the service context because of the intangibility and experiential nature of services (Murray 1991; Zeithaml et al.1993). In the marketing context, WOM communications are defined as informal communications directed at other consumers about the ownership, usage, or characteristics of particular goods and services and/or their sellers (Westbrook 1987, p. 261). Arndt (1967) defined word of mouth as oral, person-to-person communication between a perceived non-commercial communicator and a receiver concerning a brand, a product, or a service offered for sale (p. 190). These definitions are consistent with recent studies about WOM (Gruen et al. 2006; Harrison-Walker 2001; Wangenheim 2005; Wangenheim and Bayón 2007). There have been a great number of studies about WOM since the frequently cited Arndt (1967) study, although many of these investigations are focused on other constructs, such as satisfaction, and consider WOM merely as one of the behavioral consequences (Mittal et al. 1999; Oliver 1980; Swan and Oliver 1989). A recent investigation by Mazzarol et al. (2007, p. 1478) has emphasized exactly this point in saying, Little research, however, has addressed antecedents of WOM when considering WOM as a focal construct. Although the positive effects of the antecedents of WOM, such as satisfaction, loyalty, quality, commitment, trust, and perceived value, are well established in the literature, there is still a lack of integration for J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: the bivariate relationships involving WOM. Hence, we conduct a systematic review of these antecedents using a meta-analysis in order to provide a quantitative integration of the previous studies after adjusting for measurement and sampling error, to make comparisons about the strength of each antecedent in influencing WOM, and to identify studies characteristics as possible moderators. Using the systematic and quantitative meta-analytic review, this study makes several contributions to the field. Primarily, it is the first meta-analytic effort to assess WOM as a focal construct and to investigate its antecedents and moderators. Additionally, it identifies the different methodological approaches and the main antecedents of WOM in empirical studies. It evaluates the moderating effects of studies characteristics and different WOM approaches such as WOM valence and WOM incidence. Moreover, it finds that satisfaction has a stronger relationship with positive WOM than loyalty, while (dis)loyalty has a stronger relationship with negative WOM than does (dis)satisfaction. Lastly, it identifies research questions worthy of future investigations into WOM. Our review is structured as follows. First, we present a conceptual framework with the proposed hypotheses to guide the meta-analysis. Second, we describe the metaanalytic procedures, including the search process, database development, effect sizes computation, and integration. Third, we present a quantitative summary of the adjusted mean effect sizes for the pair-wise relationships between WOM and its antecedents. Fourth, we present the moderating analysis and the test of the different roles of satisfaction and loyalty for positive and negative WOM activity. Finally, we discuss the main findings. Conceptual framework We developed the conceptual framework shown in Fig. 1 based on the literature review of WOM. This meta-analytic framework describes the relationships between WOM and the most investigated antecedents. Although the positive effects of the WOM antecedents depicted in Fig. 1 are well established in the literature, a systematic review of these antecedents using a meta-analysis enables us to make comparisons about the strength of each in influencing WOM. Among the potential moderators, we focus on WOM valence, WOM incidence, and the studies characteristics. It is common for meta-analyses to investigate the variability of effect sizes across studies characteristics (Assmus et al. 1984; Pan and Zinkhan 2006). It has been suggested that other variables, such as switching costs and customer experience, could also intervene between WOM and its correlates, but the limited number of studies testing these variables as moderators precluded their assessment in our Antecedents Satisfaction Loyalty Quality Commitment Trust Perceived Value analyses. The theoretical rationale for the relationships presented in Fig. 1 is discussed next. Antecedents of WOM Satisfaction WOM Approach - WOM valence (positive, negative or mixed) - WOM incidence (intention or behavior) Studies Characteristics - Survey or experiment - Cross-sectional or longitudinal - Student or non-student - Products or services Word-of-Mouth Activity Figure 1 Conceptual framework of the antecedents and moderators of word-of-mouth activity. The dominant model for conceptualizing and measuring customer satisfaction has been the expectancy disconfirmation theory. This view holds that customers evaluate a product or service performance and compare their evaluation with their expectations prior to purchase or consumption (Oliver 1980). In this approach to satisfaction as a post-choice evaluative judgment regarding a specific purchase selection, satisfaction is understood by its transactionspecific component (Oliver 1981). Another approach sees satisfaction as the customers evaluations of multiple experiences with the same product or service provider over time (Bolton and Drew 1991), and given that this cumulative construct incorporates previous experiences, the cumulative satisfaction construct will contain an element of customer attitude (Westbrook and Oliver 1991). Subsequent studies, however, have demonstrated that, in addition to the cognitive view, customer satisfaction also contains emotional components (Liljander and Strandvik 1997; Oliver and Westbrook 1993; Straus and Neuhaus 1997). A recent study (Martin et al. 2008) agrees with Zeelenberg and Pieters (2004) in suggesting that emotionally based satis- 580 J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: faction is a stronger predictor of future behavioral intentions than traditional cognitive measures. The level of customer satisfaction has an influence on two purchase behaviors, namely, repurchase intentions and WOM (Bearden and Teel 1983; Maxham and Netemeyer 2002a, b; Oliver1980; Ranaweera and Prabhu 2003; Richins 1983). Specifically, the likelihood of customers spreading WOM will depend on their satisfaction level for at least two reasons. First, the extent to which the product or service performance exceeds the customer s expectations might motivate him or her to tell others about his or her positive experience. In the context of service recovery, for instance, the salience and recency of the experience might explain why satisfaction with the recovery prompts customers to tell family and friends about their positive experience (Maxham and Netemeyer 2002b). Second, to the extent that the customer s expectations are not fulfilled, possibly creating a customer regret experience, this customer will engage in WOM behavior as a form of venting his or her negative emotions, such as anger and frustration, reducing anxiety, warning others, and/or seeking retaliation (Anderson 1998; Oliver 1997; Richins 1984; Sweeney et al. 2005). Indeed, there are a number of studies supporting the significant effect of satisfaction on WOM (Brown et al. 2005; Heckman and Guskey 1998; Heitmann et al. 2007; Hennig- Thurau et al. 2002; Mittal et al. 1999; Price and Arnould 1999; Söderlund 2006; Swan and Oliver 1989; Wangenheim and Bayón 2007). Thus, our conceptual framework proposes: Loyalty H1a: There is a significant positive effect of satisfaction on WOM activity. Loyalty is defined in the marketing context as an intention to perform a diverse set of behaviors that signal a motivation to maintain a relationship with the focal firm, including allocating a higher share of the category wallet to the specific service provider, engaging in positive word of mouth (WOM), and repeat purchasing (Sirdeshmukh et al. 2002, p. 20). Note that this conceptualization considers positive WOM as a component of loyalty. This approach is common in a great number of studies in the marketing literature (Bloemer et al. 1999; Jones and Sasser 1995; Jones and Taylor 2007; Lam et al. 2004; Zeithaml et al. 1996), and we found that it was employed in 40 studies reviewed in our meta-analysis. These studies could not, however, be included because they did not present specific results for the WOM construct. However, a recent study has questioned this cocktail approach in which loyalty is measured by an aggregated mix of items that form different components of loyalty (Söderlund 2006). Söderlund (2006) states that this approach is commonly used to include repatronage intentions and WOM intentions as items of a unidimensional loyalty construct. Two empirical studies conducted by Söderlund (2006) support the argument that repurchase intentions and WOM should be considered as separate constructs and the cocktail approach should be avoided. There are also other authors modeling repurchase intentions and WOM as independent constructs, including Blodgett et al. (1993), Gruen et al. (2006), Jones and Reynolds (2006), Maxham (2001), and Maxham and Netemeyer (2002a, b). Dick and Basu (1994) called attention to the fact that there were few studies investigating the influence of loyalty on WOM. Yet, even after a decade, there have been very few studies which have empirically tested the unidirectional effect of loyalty on WOM (Carpenter and Fairhurst 2005; Gounaris and Stathakopoulos 2004; Reynolds and Arnold 2000; and Sichtmann 2007). It is more common to measure the bi-directional association (correlation) between these two constructs when considering them as behavioral outcomes, especially of customer satisfaction (Arnett et al. 2003; Gremler and Gwinner 2000; Jones and Reynolds 2006; Macintosh 2007; Maxham and Netemeyer 2002a, b, 2003; Price and Arnould 1999; Reynolds and Beatty 1999; Söderlund 1998). Thus, because of the availability of the correlations between loyalty and WOM, we could test the effects of loyalty on WOM in our meta-analysis. Loyalty is hypothesized as an antecedent of WOM because to the extent customers are more loyal to a given provider, they are also more likely to (1) give positive recommendations of the company to the individuals in their reference group (friends and relatives), (2) have greater motivation for processing new information about the company, and (3) have stronger resistance to being persuaded by contrary information (Dick and Basu 1994, p. 107). Moreover, in a disloyalty situation, in which customers switch providers, they are also likely to spread negative WOM about the provider in order to reduce their cognitive dissonance (Wangenheim 2005). In other words, they try to convince themselves about their decision by convincing others, which is one of the strategies often used for reducing post-decision dissonance. As mentioned before, customers might also engage in negative WOW for other reasons such as to release negative emotions, to warn others, and/or to retaliate (Richins 1984; Sweeney et al. 2005). Based on this rationale, we propose: Quality H1b: There is a significant positive effect of loyalty on WOM activity. Our framework focuses on quality of services, rather than that of products, because the available studies do so. Only J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: one of the observations investigated a product, namely an e-crm software. We show in the Results section that this observation produced findings similar to those studies investigating services. Different models have been proposed to measure and evaluate the determinants of service quality. Parasuraman et al. (1985, 1988) developed the SERVQUAL model in which quality is evaluated from the eyes of the customers and defined as the discrepancy between customers expectations or desires and their perceptions. In other words, quality is understood as the ability to meet or exceed customers expectations. The instrument proposed by these authors (SERVQUAL) suggests that service quality is composed of five dimensions tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. Customers perceptions of service quality have an important relationship with their behavioral responses, especially loyalty and WOM. For WOM, when evaluations of service quality are high, the customer s behavioral intentions in terms of recommendations are favorable, strengthening the relationship between customers and the company (Parasuraman et al. 1988; Zeithaml et al. 1996). On the other hand, when customers perceive service performance as inferior, they are likely to manifest complaining behavior, including private responses (negative WOM) and/or defection (Zeithaml et al. 1996). Hence, customers recommend the company to others when they perceive high service quality and spread negative WOM when they perceive low service quality. Empirical studies have demonstrated that service quality is a relevant predictor of WOM (Bloemer et al. 1999; Boulding et al. 1993; Harrison-Walker 2001; Zeithaml et al. 1996). A positive relationship presented in these studies demonstrates that the higher (lower) the perceived quality, the higher (lower) the WOM activity of the customers. Based on this discussion, we propose: H1c: There is a significant positive effect of quality on WOM activity. Commitment Commitment can be defined as an enduring desire to maintain a valued relationship (Moorman et al. 1992, p. 316). This definition is in agreement with Dwyer et al. (1987) conceptualization of buyer-seller relationships and is also consistent with Morgan and Hunt s (1994, p. 23) definition of commitment as an exchange partner believing that an ongoing relationship with another is so important as to warrant maximum efforts at maintaining it. Commitment is measured in the marketing literature either as a multidimensional construct (Gruen, Summers, and Acito 2000) or a unidimensional construct (Morgan and Hunt 1994). In the multidimensional approach, commitment is composed of affective (positive emotional attachment), continuance (perceived costs associated with leaving the organization), and normative (perceived moral obligation toward the organization) commitment. Some authors consider two dimensions, namely affective and highsacrifice (calculative) commitment (Fullerton 2003; Harrison- Walker 2001; Jones et al. 2007). While the former is related to the customer identification with, and involvement in, a particular organization, the latter refers to the customer s sense of being locked in to the service provider, due to constraints like loss of benefits and costs for switching provider. On the other hand, the unidimensional approach measures commitment as an overall evaluation of the customers engagement with the organization. Higher commitment customers (relationship-oriented customers) are those who also present higher identification with the company and hold feelings of attachment to maintaining valued relationships, reflecting the affective dimension of the construct (Harrison-Walker 2001). Moreover, customers are more likely to increase their commitment with companies that recognize and reward their status of special customer (Lacey et al. 2007). Therefore, these customers are likely to provide favorable WOM about the company as a need to reinforce their decision to enter the relationship as a good one. Even when experiencing lower levels of satisfaction, these customers are likely to endorse the company in order to keep cognitive consistency and justify their favorable attitude and strong identification with the company (Brown et al. 2005). Indeed, Brown et al. (2005) have demonstrated in their longitudinal study that for higher-commitment customers, positive WOM behavior is less dependent on the satisfaction level. The reason is that high-commitment customers talk positively about the company regardless of their satisfaction level, whereas low-commitment customers will provide favorable recommendations to the extent that they are satisfied. This finding is in agreement with other studies which establish that commitment has a positive relationship with WOM (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2002; Lacey et al. 2007). Based on the above discussion, we expect that customers with higher commitment would have a greater likelihood of spreading positive WOM because their WOM behavior is stimulated by either (1) a high satisfaction condition (when satisfaction stimulates WOM) or (2) a low satisfaction state (when a cognitive consistency mechanism prompts the customer to endorse the company in order to reduce cognitive dissonance). Hence, we propose: H1d: There is a significant positive effect of commitment on WOM activity. We noticed in our review that some studies related only the dimensions of commitment (affective and continuance) 582 J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: with WOM without providing a relationship between overall commitment and WOM (Fullerton 2003; Harrison- Walker 2001). Since the meta-analysis had to combine similar studies, we included only those studies that related overall commitment with WOM. Trust Trust refers to a willingness to rely on an exchange partner in whom one has confidence (Moorman et al. 1993, p. 82). For Morgan and Hunt (1994, p. 23), trust exists when one party has confidence in an exchange partner s reliability and
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