In the Trust Stakes, Word-of-Mouth Beats Websites, Which in Turn Top Ads

March 14, 2022

Word-of-mouth has long been found to be the most effective influencer of purchases as well as the channel that most influences people to try a new brand. Perhaps the reason for that is that people tend to trust the information they get through word-of-mouth more than any other source, per data from Nielsen.

Before proceeding to the results regarding word-of-mouth, it’s worth noting that people who are considering a new brand are 25% more likely than average to say that their ideal relationship with a brand involves trust.

According to Nielsen’s survey, fielded among 2,000 US consumers ages 15 and older, about one-third (33.1%) completely trust word-of-mouth. That’s about twice the share who completely trust branded websites (17.6%) and consumer opinions posted online (16.4%), with fewer completely trusting ads before movies (14%) and ads in newspapers (13.9%). These five channels are the most trusted of all, per the report.

It’s worth noting that at least half of the respondents also say they “somewhat trust” each of the above channels, such that between two-thirds and 9 in 10 respondents have trust in these channels.

Indeed, although newspapers ads and ads before movies are less trusted than branded websites and a brand’s reputation (as reflected by word-of-mouth and online reviews), those legacy media ads remain more trustworthy to respondents than digital ads such as mobile text, online banners, and social media.

A recent study has found that marketers may be underestimating the power of word-of-mouth, with more believing that consumers want to learn about new brands via digital ads than through word-of-mouth, with consumers themselves in disagreement. Even so, it may be that marketers aren’t that out of touch: Nielsen notes that its Commspoint Journey research has found that fewer than 1 in 5 people recall using reviews along their purchase journey, with more than twice as many (45%) instead saying that advertising was useful or influential to them.

Gen Xers Trust W-O-M the Most

In comparison to other generations, Gen Xers seem the most trusting of what they hear through friends and family, with about 4 in 10 fully trusting this channel. From there, trust seems to drop off, with only 28.5% of Boomers and 25.1% of the Silent Generation completely trusting word-of-mouth.

A somewhat similar trend plays out among other channels analyzed, with Boomers and the Silent Generation also the least trusting of branded websites and consumer opinions posted online, and the Silent Generation the least trusting of ads in newspapers and ads before movies. Worth noting is that there is not a linear correlation between age and lack of trust, though: Gen Z also seem to be less trusting of these various channels than the average.

Overall, it appears that Millennials and Gen Xers are the most likely to put their complete trust in the various channels listed above.

About the Data: The results are based on an online survey of more than 2,000 people ages 15 and older.

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