Word of Mouth and the Purchase Decision Process

What Will Sell on Facebook? Insights from Word-of-Mouth Research

If you are considering selling on Facebook, what should you sell?  The short answer we suggested yesterday, was that f-commerce is best suited to sale of products most likely to be purchased on impulse – fun products that provide immediate gratification and that have some symbolic value.

But that’s just one half of the picture.  The other is word of mouth.

One of the key features of Facebook, as a utility for connecting and sharing, is that it facilitates word-of-mouth – consumer-to-consumer communication. Word-of-mouth is valuable commodity for brands: Decades of research consistently shows that word-of-mouth can act as a sales accelerator – it potentiates the impact of marketing, drives customer acquisition via referrals, and through the principle of psychological consistency boosts customer loyalty (see hereherehereherehere and here for overviews).

Facebook facilitates word-of-mouth and therefore facilitates word-of-mouth influence on buyer behavior by allowing people to tap their network ties more readily – particularly weak ties (people we don’t see frequently, exchange or are intimate with) – to get more, more diverse and better quality information – in order to make smarter decisions.

In other words, Facebook word-of-mouth augments the role of word-of-mouth in the purchase decision-making process. Facebook further enhances this influence on buyer behavior by allowing us to tap our networks in real time and on-the-go, turning what was once a linear purchase decision process – generating and then selecting purchase options from a consideration set – into a dynamic loop; we can continue to add and remove items from consideration sets right up to the point of purchase.  This generate-and-select loop might sound abstract, but it’s essentially what the cognitive philosopher Daniel Dennett has dubbed the best idea anyone ever had; the same Darwinian loop that drives evolution, science, culture – and now thanks to Facebook, and more generally social media, smart decisions.

Finally, Facebook has the potential to further boost word of mouth sales by creating a second post-purchase word-of-mouth loop, enabling customers to support each other via Facebook word-of-mouth and thereby influence post-purchase evaluation, which when positive, can create what McKinsey has dubbed a virtuous “loyalty loop” promoting repurchase.

Word of Mouth and the Purchase Decision Process

The point of all this is to show that Facebook and word-of-mouth work symbiotically together – and it therefore follows that f-commerce is ideally suited to the selling of products most likely to benefit from word-of-mouth.  Fortunately, the findings of research into products most susceptible to word-of-mouth influence are a lot more immediate than the underlying processes driving word-of-mouth influence.

Sixty years of research reveals that word of mouth products have two key characteristics – they are new, and they are remarkable. People tend to talk about, and are influenced by talk about, the new and the remarkable.  It’s as simple as that.

A more nuanced summary of word-of-mouth influence on buyer behavior is that it exerts itself primarily for first-time purchases of original and new products from ‘high involvement’ categories (products for which the buyer is prepared to spend considerable time and effort in searching) that are perceived to solve problems and where there is a perceived risk (physical, performance, financial, social, psychological or time loss) of making the wrong decision.  These include:

  • ‘Interest’ categories – for which there is a high level of category engagement – such as professional, hobby, beauty, fashion and sports purchases
  • ‘Experiential’ categories – such as media and entertainment (movies, gaming, music, TV, books), restaurants and events
  • ‘Service’ categories – where products are intangible – such as financial services, professional services, telecoms and travel services
  • ‘High Price’ categories – including computers, vacations, autos

From a word-of-mouth perspective, consumer brands with new, remarkable (expectation-beating) products in these word-of-mouth categories are most likely to benefit from selling on Facebook.

Finally, in combining these insights with those from the evidence-based research into impulse purchasing covered yesterday, brands and retailers have a clear answer for what to sell on Facebook – new, remarkable impulse buys.

Written by
Paul Marsden

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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Written by Paul Marsden