Understanding the psychology behind Word-of-Mouth marketing

July 04, 2016
by Pieter Moens

Imagine what strategic advertisement can do for your product opinion. Well, Word-of-Mouth (WOM) does it nine times better! It has the power to alter customer decisions before, during and after the buying process.

Although 90% of it still happens offline, the online sphere is growing exponentially in reputation.

More than ever, consumers are looking towards their peers to make the right decision or find confirmation in what they bought. In this post, we will discuss three influential stages WOM has on consumer psychology. More specifically on their:

  • Ethos or personal involvement
  • Pathos or emotional involvement  
  • Logos or rational involvement.

What seems to be a simple recommendation from a friend can have lasting effects on how we perceive our purchases.


Ethos is our personal involvement, it guides consumers into purchases that make sense for them. Often, even before we enter the buying process, we don't always have all the necessary information at hand.

When we are about to purchase for example a new Anti-virus program, where is the best place to start?

In this digitised age, consumers rely increasingly on others and their experience with certain products. A first step many of us take is to ask our friends, family or our social media circles.

When there is a 
lack of pre-information it's hard to have an own personal involvement with a purchase. Word Of Mouth (WOM) plays an influential role in this situation.

One study conducted on the effects of WOM with moviegoers shows how the lack of pre-information can alter consumers perception.

The experiment divided two groups about to see the same movie. Before going in, one group would overhear a positive opinion about the film by two people walking out of the cinema. The other group would listen in on a negative one. After the film ended, participants were asked to rate it. In both groups, there was a visible response to the conversation they overheard.

The positive WOM group gave a better critique of their experience than the negative WOM group.


Word Of Mouth

Consumers are often led by WOM because they feel it is a credible source of information. It is difficult to categorise the quality of a product or service before any given experience. Without being able to estimate your opinion, relating to someone else is helpful.

Whether it is offline or online, your personal involvement or Ethos is 
looking for a personal factor in its decision making. Therefore, the people around us are influential at how we perceive products we lack knowledge about. 


The next step in the buying process - when consumers already have an image of what the product will be- is where Pathos comes into play. Through our emotional involvement, we weigh out our options and see which one fits us.



In another study, two groups were presented with cookies. One group was presented with information on a leaflet that showed the cookie was of high quality. The other group was given a leaflet with information about the cookie being a cheap store-brand. During the tasting, there were two undercover scientists standing in front of the groups, also tasting the cookies.

Each time one of them said “Hmm they are actually good”, the other scientist agreed. In both cases, the two groups rated the cookies as tasty.

Printed advertisements are great at guiding our opinion.

Yet, when confronted with the actual product, consumers still put more trust in their peers. It might be that the one cookie was less positively advertised, but during the tasting process, a friendly nudge from a peer can alter that perception.

Purchases are an emotional process when you take into account that consumers want to feel satisfied in the end.


The logos is our rational understanding with purchases. It functions as a reasoning for why we buy a product. That is why WOM can also affect our post-purchase perception. Once we acquired the item we were looking for, we should be governed by our own logical conclusions. But that is not always the case.

The last study we will discuss is one that revolves around two groups of students, asked to listen and judge the performance of a tape recorder. Both groups are led by two undercover scientists.

In the first group, one scientist mentioned “This tape recorder has a great sound”, while the other scientist agrees. In the other group, the same thing happens but the first scientist adds 
“we use the same one in our radio station” to the script .

After the experiment is done, both groups rated the product as positive, but the group that received the additional information rated it even higher.

When there is a consensus between two consumers, the power of WOM becomes stronger. Even more so when one of the consumers mentions their expertise. Somebody with knowledge about a product is more effective at changing our opinions.

The act of understanding that we made the right purchase is our logos. In the end, we want to conclude that what we bought is the best solution to our a problem. Surprisingly, WOW still affects our post-purchase-satisfaction.

Our logical or rational belief of an owned product is still open to interpretation by others. When we're unsure about a new investment, a person with more knowledge on the product can explain us, for example, the cost and quality in regards to alternative products. Even after a purchase, our opinion can still be altered by WOM.

Our logos, or rational involvement with a purchase, is satisfied when the product solves our problem but that feeling grows stronger when others confirm we made the right decision.



On different levels in our behaviour and in different stages of the buying process, WOM is a game changer. Whether you have knowledge about the product or not, listening to others changes our perception.

  • Ethos: people want purchases that make personal sense to them.

  • Pathos: consumers want to feel satisfied with their purchase.

  • Logos: looking back to understand we made the right decision that solves our problem.  

Due to the rising online sphere of WOM, brands no longer have to sit on the sidelines. Brands can identify people that deliver powerful WOM about their products and invite them to an advocate community. 

Advocacy Marketing Game Plan

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