Feel nothing, say nothing: How emotion and word of mouth are linked

Thursday, 17 April 2014 / Published in Blog, Insights, News & Events

by Ed Keller

Keller Fay and other commentators have noted the link between emotion and brand word of mouth (WOM) on a number of occasions.  In particular, a major academic study (On Brands and Word of Mouth) notes that emotion is a key trigger of brand buzz: “the motive to share positive or negative feelings about brands in order to express these emotions or balance emotional arousal.”  A similar point is made by Wharton professor Jonah Berger in his bestselling book Contagious:  Why Things Catch On, noting that emotion is one of the major ingredients that causes things to be talked about or shared: “When we care, we share.”

Some emotion-driven buzz is a reaction to a brand experience or event – a great product or service experience, an ad, etc.  Brands will be doing all they can to maximise positive incidents and minimise brand ‘fails’.  But people also have underlying and less transient emotional feelings about brands, and these too can promote and influence brand conversations.

Recently, Keller Fay has joined forces with behavioural sciences experts BrainJuicer to assess the relationship between WOM and emotion, and uncover new insights that brands can use to tap this powerful combination to their business advantage.  Combining Keller Fay’s brand WOM volume and sentiment measures with BrainJuicer’s measures of emotional brand appeal, the study looked at these relationships across 52 of the UK’s leading brands, spread across a wide variety of sectors.

The analysis shows a clear relationship between emotion and WOM: brands which stir people emotions in some way are more likely to be talked-about.  The worst emotional response in many respects is no response at all – a ‘neutral’ emotional response means a brand is significantly less talked about (we controlled for brand awareness in this analysis).

In fact, brands which provoke a more intense emotional response are significantly more likely to be discussed on a day-to-day basis –  the most ‘emotional’ brands get 3 times more WOM than the least emotional:


Most WOM is positive, according to the research, and indeed ‘happiness’ is the single emotion most likely to be associated with levels of brand WOM.

Of course it is positive WOM and advocacy which brands seek.  We’ve also established that the emotional power of the brand is strongly associated with the sentiment of the WOM it receives.  Brands which provoke positive emotion are much more likely to receive positive sentiment and recommendation during conversation.  These in turn are often highly predictive of business effects – for example, within UK supermarkets the strongest consumer sentiment was reserved for premium operator Waitrose and discounters Aldi and Lidl – and all three have experienced strong business performance over the past year.

Brand-building is not a quick-fix undertaking, and many of the strong performers in the top third on the chart above are reaping the rewards of a strong customer offer and delivery combined with vibrant communications.  WOM amplifies the effects of these positive brand actions, and of course will play a role in further reinforcing the emotional appeal of brands.

In summary, brands should seek to establish & reinforce strong emotional connections to maximise social relevance – viral gimmicks might work on occasion but as a rule are not likely the route to brand talkability.  And ‘It’s all about the positive’ – hence deliver great brand stories & experiences to drive positive WOM and advocacy and capitalise on strong emotion.


Did you miss our fascinating webinar with behavioural science experts BrainJuicer and Keller Fay’s Steve Thomson on the relationship between between brand emotion and word of mouth?

Click HERE to view the webinar recording.

Leave a Reply