Word of mouth throughout history

by Kristofer Mencák on September 13, 2009

The origins of word of mouth
I believe word of mouth must have originated because of some evolutionary advantage. With a foundation in the rule of reciprocity, groups of humans that gave each other valuable tips about where to find food and shelter were able to survive and reproduce to a greater extent. People love to talk and give tips.

When society developed, and hunter/gatherers became farmers, the way to cultivate the land in the best way possible was also spread through word of mouth. And of course, people still hunted and gathered, as well as learnt how to build shelter from each other.

Markets are conversations
Development continued, and a new era for word of mouth came as farmers started to be able to produce more, and sell it on the market. We all know that markets are conversations. Word of mouth spread about who produced and sold the best corn, wheat, apples or what have you. Service also started to become important for the people working in the market. Another dimension was adde to word of mouth.

A world of abundance and marketing
As technological development moved faster and faster, and specialization moved us into the industrial revolution, we entered a world of abundance. We got more and more different products solving the same problem, with marketing becoming increasingly important. During the golden days for TV, word of mouth was still important, but the TV-medium, filled with advertising, could probably maintain a bad product on the market longer than before. If you had money, you could market your way to success.

The digital revolution
Then came the digital revolution. Word of mouth got rid of the chains called time and space. Powered by the Internet, word of mouth went viral. A positive review, posted in Australia could be read seconds later, in the US. The same for negative reviews, of course. Both positive and negative word of mouth could reach more people faster.

Word of mouth – from qualitative to quantitative
But word of mouth is becoming increasingly important not just because it is possible to reach much more people now. The most recent developments are that word of mouth is no longer just single individuals saying something about a product, that we then have to value and judge to make up our mind about the product.

Now word of mouth is also increasingly produced in an aggregated format, computing what people think about a product or service on average. Amazon.com (Amazon is just one example) gives us access to an almost unimaginable number of ratings.

Word of mouth is no longer just qualitative information. It is also quantitative. And I love it. I very rarely buy a book from Amazon if it doesn’t have at least 5 ratings and an average of 4 stars or above. That’s my first filter. If I want to dig deeper, I read the reviews, the qualitative information.

Customer satisfaction and evolution
I guess most companies that provide great products or services, that have happy customers, are happy too about this development. Providing great customer service is just one example of how to get positive word of mouth.

The ones that don’t provide great products or services will have a hard time, and will probably have to evolve or become extinct. So, speed up evolution!

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