Customer ReviewsWith some 70 percent of consumers worldwide reporting they trust online reviews, according to Nielsen, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research is likely to be music to marketers’ ears. As it turns out, negative word-of-mouth advertising might not be so negative after all.

When less-than-stellar customer reviews are written in a polite manner, they can actually have a positive effect by boosting a brand’s appeal and making it seem more genuine to consumers.

Polite, but negative reviews can also entice people to pay more for a product by inadvertently raising a brand’s sincerity level in potential buyers’ eyes, the Journal study concluded.

The study included a set of experiments that were designed to determine how a polite phrase or introduction affected perceptions of negative product reviews.

When reviewers use terms such as “I don’t want to be mean,” or “I’ll be honest,” to lessen the blow of a negative comment, brands can actually realize benefits from negative reviews, the study asserts.

Four of the five experiments were conducted in the United States. The final experiment was staged in the Netherlands to demonstrate whether or not the positive effect of polite, but negative reviews was limited only to English speakers.

All five experiments, including the one staged in the Netherlands, had similar results with markers of politeness in negative reviews actually having positive effects on readers’ perceptions about brands and products.

One experiment involved having 125 American undergraduate students read about a luxurious wristwatch. One version of the description included a politely-worded complaint from a customer. The other did not.

Study participants who read the description that included the negative, but polite review said they would pay a higher price for the watch even though the reviewer claimed its band pinched a little.

Participants were also asked to give their impression on brand’s personality. Those who read the description with the negative review found the brand more likeable, saying it was honest and real.

“Our findings indicate that a few simple words to soften negative assessments of a product are enough to evoke a positive response in others and can affect judgments of the communicator and product alike,” the study’s authors concluded.

The study was conducted by Ryan Hamilton of Emory University, Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota and Ann L. McGill of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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