8/31 Communication Channels and Word of Mouth: How the Medium Shapes the Message – Cherry

In Communication Channels and Word of Mouth: How the Medium Shapes the Message, Jonah Berger and Raghuram Iyengar show that different modalities of communication have different synchronicity; compared to oral communication, written communication leads people to mention more interesting products and brands. In addition, self-enhancement and accessibility are two key elements in the discussion.

Jonah Berger and Raghuram Iyengar verify their findings by applying three laboratory experiments and two field studies. Study 1 demonstrates that written communication provides people more time to think about what to mention, leading people to mention more interesting products and brands. Study 2 goes deeper, concluding that “making oral communication more asynchronous, however, by having people pause before communicating, led them to mention more interesting products and brands because they had more time to construct and refine what to say”. If people have an oral communication with others, they usually would talk about whatever products and brands that are top of mind, and that can be explained by accessibility. They applied study 3 to test the role of self-presentation. Compared to oral communication, “written communication again led participants to talk about more interesting products and brands, but these effects were stronger among participants whose self-enhancement concerns were greater”.

In study 4 and 5, actual word of mouth in the field is consistent with the results of the laboratory experiments. Looking across a variety of oral and written communication channels, such as face-to-face communication, phone, online, text, and e-mail, the conclusion always would be that more interesting products and brands received was greater in written communication.

The argument would be valid and convincing. There are sufficient experimenters and broad set of data to support the findings. Jonah Berger and Raghuram Iyengar added a third condition to make the experiment be more integrated, and they provided alternative explanations to discuss some doubts. They also provided clearly explanations and examples to demonstrate what can be defined as interesting.

Connecting to marketing, the article provides takeaways for marketers and policy makers who may have strong interests in generating word of mouth. If the marketing strategy is to get more online discussion, framing the product in an interesting way would help. If the goal is to get more face-to-face word of mouth, making the product accessible in consumer minds, or publicly visible would be more important than just making it interesting.


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