Jacob Goldenberg

What Drives Word of Mouth? The Role of Product Originality and Usefulness

Coauthor(s): Sarit Moldovan, Amitava Chattophadayay.


While studies agree that word-of-mouth (WOM) is important to new product success, there has been little systematic research that examines the drivers of word-of-mouth. Here, authors Moldovan, Goldenberg, and Chattopadhyay focus on the antecedents of WOM prior to product purchase or direct experience with the product. In three studies, they explore how two dimensions of innovation—originality and usefulness—affect word-of-mouth and, hence, the adoption of a new product.

The first study, based on consumers' self-reports, finds that originality and usefulness affect WOM intentions differently: while product originality increases consumers' willingness to exchange information about the product (the amount of WOM), product usefulness determines whether that information is positive or negative (the valence of WOM). Interestingly, the combination of high originality and low usefulness leads to high amounts of negative WOM, which may hasten product failure.

Based on market penetration data, their second study reaffirms that originality increases WOM and finds that usefulness, by increasing positive WOM and decreasing negative WOM, determines the market size for an innovation. The third study finds that WOM decreases over time as consumers get used to the product and it no longer appears to be original.

Overall, the results of the three studies suggest that although originality is important to generate buzz about the product, which may accelerate the diffusion of the product in the market, consumers will not adopt useless products. Further, since managers have some control over product originality and usefulness, the findings suggest that they have some control over word-of-mouth as well. By linking marketer-controlled variables to consumers' intentions to initiate WOM, these studies lay a foundation for marketing strategies that may influence market growth, speed of diffusion, and product success.

Source: MSI working paper, Report No. 06-111
Exact Citation:
Moldovan, Sarit, Jacob Goldenberg, and Amitava Chattophadayay. "What Drives Word of Mouth? The Role of Product Originality and Usefulness." MSI working paper, Report No. 06-111, MSI, 2006.
Date: 2006