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Ashesh Mukherjee, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Desautels Faculty of Management, has always been intrigued by how people tell stories and transmit information, and how advertisers use humour to sell products and services.
“It’s a tough job,” he cracked. “Conducting research in comedy clubs and watching Seinfeld.”
Over the years, however, his focus on the mass media has shifted away from traditional forms of advertising to word-of-mouth in marketing communications: non- commercial sources of information such as online forums and social networking, product review and brand community websites where contributors share opinions about products and services.
The proliferation of new technologies is accelerating the growth and importance of word-of-mouth, said Mukherjee.
“Consumers are increasingly distrustful of so-called conventional forms of advertising and they filter it out of their media consumption habits with TIVO, digital recorders and pop-up blockers.”
With myriad sources of information available to them, how do consumers decide which sources to trust?
Mukherjee’s results indicate that there is a ‘positivity’ effect – a bias in interpersonal judgments of others whereby positive (compared to negative) agreements on past opinions have the biggest impact on perceived trustworthiness.
Simply put, people trust others who share the same likes and will solicit advice from them.
When deciding what movie to see, for example, film fans are more likely to base their choices on the reviews of critics who have enjoyed the same films rather than those who have disliked the same films as themselves.
The finding is significant. Conventional marketing communications research held that, when considering inputs into product judgment, a negative opinion or evaluation is more informative than a positive evaluation.
Mukherjee has consulted with such research firms as Ipsos-Reid and Léger Marketing.
Companies can use his research to convince consumers to trust their recommendations, he said.
To gain this confidence, they should match consumers on alternatives based on what the consumer has liked (rather than disliked).
But there is a caveat. Mukherjee calls it a false consensus: a bias in judgment whereby individuals overestimate the extent to which their own views are shared by others. People believe that others agree with their personal opinions or viewpoints more often than they actually do.
People show greater false consensus for things they personally like as opposed to things they personally dislike.
This is important because you often have to guess as to what others like or dislike.
Before you offer advice to a friend or colleague about a movie or a restaurant, or before you buy a gift for a loved one, you must predict their likes and dislikes. Similarly, managers introducing new products or modifying existing ones need to forecast probable consumer reaction before implementing the change.
“People should exercise most caution when recommending products or services they personally like as compared to ones they personally dislike,” Mukherjee said.