Understanding the Value of Stories in Experiential Reviews

Tom van Laer, Stephan Ludwig, and Jennifer Edson Escalas, 2017, 17-127-12

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After recommendations from family and friends, consumer online reviews are the most influential form of word of mouth. Prior research to understand effects on consumer behavior has tended to focus on reviews of material purchases.

In this study, Tom van Laer, Stephan Ludwig, and Jennifer Edson Escalas investigate the content and consequences of reviews of experiential purchases. Using a multimethod approach, they examine how online reviews—reconstructions of consumption experiences into stories—create value for consumers and how this “narrativity” affects consumer responses.

They mine 190,461 reviews of 989 experiences on TripAdvisor, adapt contemporary quantitative techniques, and conduct an automated text analysis and two experiments to facilitate a more in-depth, comprehensive understanding of consumer stories.

Their findings provide several important insights for marketers:

First, they demonstrate a reliable and valid automatic assessment of narrative elements from big (textual) data.

Second, they show that the more that reviews of experiential purchases include narrative “building blocks”—identifiable characters, an imaginable plot, and genres that involve changing emotional story shapes—the more they receive positive feedback (helpfulness votes).

Third, with two experimental studies they establish that “narrative transportation” drives consumer responses, including attitude toward and intention to purchase the reviewed experience.

Their research has implications for consumer behavior in the overall marketplace. Because of the growing popularity and impact of online consumer reviews, it is empirically important to understand their influence on how consumers enter the narrative worlds evoked by reviews and make consequential decisions.

Tom van Laer is Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Cass Business School, University of London. Stephan Ludwig is Reader of Marketing, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Surrey. Jennifer Edson Escalas is Associate Professor of Marketing, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the suggestions of Ellis A. van den Hende, Ashlee Humphreys, Francisco Villarroel Ordenes, and Luca M. Visconti on a previous version of this working paper. They also gratefully acknowledge the text-mining assistance of Sean Rhea and James T. Robbins.


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