Infographic: The Evolution of Word of Mouth (From Ancient Camp Fires to Keyboards)

Advertising, in all its forms, isn’t working.
Less than 25% of online consumers trust print ads. The numbers are even worse for digital ads (AdAge). Consumers are suspicious of claims made in ads, yet they are inundated with them. So much so that they ignore them—either with mind tricks or ad blockers. Or worse, consumers are irritated and the intention of the advertisement is not only lost, but works in reverse.
There’s nothing a brand or retailer can say in an ad or otherwise that can touch the opinion of a real person who’s had an experience with a product.

The Evolution of Word of Mouth

Word of mouth (WOM) has long been atop the list of most trusted sources of information. Let’s go back to ancient times when a trusted elder would tell a family member about Caleb, who grew the sweetest bananas. Or Sara, who weaved strong baskets. The topics have changed, but not the trust. Today, these recommendations take place at cocktail parties, family reunions, and retail shops, and it ranges from running shoes to refrigerators.
With the advent of the internet, WOM has gained reach and trust. It started with widespread adoption of social media, which gave influencers a platform to speak their mind. But this platform isn’t always product-specific and does contain a certain amount of “noise”. When seeking product information, shoppers must listen through this noise.
Then came product reviews, led by Amazon. Today, reviews have unprecedented reach and trust compared to any other source of WOM. Let’s take a look.

Evolution of Word of Mouth
View the full PDF here.

The New WOM Channel

A recent survey shows that 50% of product searches begin with reviews on Amazon.
Consistency of low price, selection and convenience have been the most touted factors in making Amazon the go-to source for e-commerce. But their longtime dedication to building a database of product reviews from users after the purchase has been a game changer.
Knowing that consumers generally don’t trust brand-generated information and that they do trust WOM, it’s no surprise product reviews are the most impactful decision making source out there today. Regardless of claims of fake reviews, they are the second highest trusted source of product information next to peer recommendations.
Where product reviews really take the cake is their reach. 44% of U.S. online shoppers and 68% of Prime members purchase something on Amazon once per month (NPR). Amazon offers huge product variety, and it isn’t practical, and kind of weird, to ask a friend or neighbor their opinion every time. We live in a world of instant gratification and that comes with product review research: for a dish washer, running shoes, hunting pants or a dollhouse. Consumers can get specific WOM opinions quickly, and without running over to Margo’s house to ask about her dishwasher, blow dryer or lawn mower.
There’s a complete user experience data set at these shoppers’ fingertips, and that’s where they’re heading first.

How Brands Can Evolve with the WOM Revolution

Paul Kirwin Quote on Today's ExecsBrands’ success depends on understanding the sea-change in the marketplace.  They aren’t in charge, the people are. “Power to the People” might be a good motto to bring into the board room.
Speaking of the board room, it’s time to get the user experience data in the conversation. Channel Signal CEO Paul Kirwin likes to say that “executives need to walk down the long spiral staircase of the Ivory Tower, loosen their ties, go to a taco stand and have lunch with their customers.”
One of the most attainable, quantifiable and actionable ways to do this is to bring the user experience into every segment of a company: marketing, sales, product development and yes, the board room.  Brands don’t need to take action on every opinion, but when the townsfolk are voting them “off the island”, they’d better be listening. Changes should be made based on trends, not one-off comments.
If the common folk are ignored, the talk grows. The momentum shifts, and now brands are talking with their ad agencies about an apology tour. And good luck reversing that momentum.
Instead, do it right. Listen, measure and be one with the most powerful in the marketplace today: the user and her experience. It’s the newest way to become the sweetest banana vendor. Want to learn how? Watch a quick video demo here.


  1. 83% Trust in Friends & Family: Recommendations from Friends Remain Most Credible Form of Advertising, September 28, 2015, Nielsen
  2. 38% Influence of Social Media: Influence of Social Media on Americans’ Purchasing Decisions, January 2013, Gallup – 2013 Mobile Retail Panel Study, Gallup
  3. 82% Consult Ratings & Online Reviews: Online Shopping and E-commerce, December 9, 2016, Pew Internet
  4. 50% of shoppers seek advice when they enter a store: Experienced Sales Staff Boost Retail Sales, Study Finds, 2014, CNBC
  5. Reach: We define “reach” as the potential estimated number of product-relevant persons within each channel. For example:
    1. Family, Friends & Colleagues – The number of people in a person’s network is typically pretty small, when excluding social media. Factor in the relevancy of each user’s product experience (i.e. if you’re shopping for a kid’s pool, would your next door neighbor have experience with that?), and this number is pretty low.
    2. Retail Associates – While the relevancy of retail associate opinions and experience is likely to be higher, the reach is lower. This is because there are only so many physical stores in your local area carrying the product . you’re seeking. In our society of convenience and instant gratification, the likelihood of driving to a local retailer to poll the associate for his opinion is decreasing.
    3. Social Media – The reach jumps up significantly above the first two WOM segments due to the sheer volume of people on social networks. But, relevancy is not high. Networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t meant for product-specific reviews (maybe business reviews, but not product). Therefore, actually finding product opinions from a social network becomes difficult, putting the overall reach of this somewhere in the middle.
    4. Product Reviews – There are at least hundreds of millions of reviews on Amazon and counting. And other sites hold their own for review volume as well. With this amount of volume and the extremely high relevancy score of product reviews (you can search for any product category and be likely to find consumer opinions on them), this has the highest Reach score of any WOM channel.

Free Product Review Assessment