Word Of Mouth: Men Trust Authority, Women Trust Common Experience

Spence - harry and sally 
I read a fascinating article by Jeff Sexton – The Asymmetry of Trust.  Jeff talks about the fact that people tend to trust negative reviews more than positive ones.

As he points out: 

Basically, we grant others authority in the matter of their own personal experiences. If they say their favorite color is blue, we believe them.  If they say they had a bad experience with such and such a product or service provider, we believe that too, because they are speaking from their own personal experience in that one situation.

You don’t have to be an expert on vacuum cleaners to know that the one you bought has failed you miserably. And your experience alone is often enough to sway someone from buying that brand.

What he's saying, In a nutshell, is you don't need to be an "authority" to know something doesn't work.  But it's also pretty black and white if a product "failed you miserably."   That strikes me not as opinion but as fact.  

But do you then need to be an authority to know something does work?  If you recommend a product, is that now a personal opinion without authority?   Will you need to back up that personal opinion with information that displays your expertise and authority in order for people to believe you?

For men, yes.  For women, not necessarily.

Men value credibility, women value connection

As Jeff Sexton points out, men can look at testimonials and personal anecdotes as opinions of individuals.   In order for that individual to be taken seriously, he or she must establish credibility or authority.  In an example of choosing a chair, Jeff has these suggestions:

To believe and act on your recommendation, I’d need to know:

  • that your use of the chair is similar to mine,
  • that you’ve already tried a bunch of chairs, and
  • what your criteria were for selecting the chair you did.

With men, credibility building specifics must be addressed before your "opinion" will be taken seriously.  

Women use personal anecdotes as proof

Listen to a woman making a case for something, and she'll likely tell a personal story of something that has happened to her or someone she knows. 

Women cite personal experience (aka opinion) as proof.  Other women understand this. Women respond to testimonials and reviews of "people like them."  

The basis for this could be research that shows men focus on hierarchy and women focus on relationships

Women believe people who they feel they have something in common with.  It is that commonality that gives people credibility.

Men believe people who they feel know what they are talking about.  It is that expertise and authority that gives people credibility. 

When women use personal anecdotes as proof, they fail to convince men.  I've seen this happen more times than I can count. 

Women,, if you're trying to convince a man of "your opinion," you have to build credibility first.  (See Jeff's suggestions above)  Otherwise he's likely to think, "Well, that's just her.  That's not how other people think/feel/act."

Men, if you're trying to convince a woman of "your opinion," show her ways in which you are like her.   Demonstrate ways in which your lives/values/beliefs are similar. 

 Why word of mouth is so strong with women

Because women trust opinions of "someone like me," they put a lot of faith in what other women say about products and services.  They will often turn to product reviews, Facebook, Twitter and other sources when making a buying decision.  

If I'm buying a digital camera, an expert rating won't have the same influence of a woman like me who has a camera and loves it.  

Temperpedic uses the power of word of mouth and social media

Temperpedic understands this and uses the power of word of mouth personal recommendations to sell their mattresses. 


Some research points to the fact that people trust social media less than they used to.   What can you do to increase her trust?   Find out in my post Do Women Still Trust Social Media.

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17 Responses to Word Of Mouth: Men Trust Authority, Women Trust Common Experience

  1. Steve says:

    It is hard to believe that women do not consider that the person recommending something may have different criteria from them. I’m going to ask my wife about it, plus several of her female friends and coworkers of mine (to build up a good sample) before I put much faith in that.

  2. Holly,
    Great post on differences – very important distinction in marketing. I read a similar article on the differences that put it like this…
    Men talk vertically – did what I say make you think higher or lower of me? Women talk horizontally – did what I say draw me in closer or push me away further?
    It’s a good explanation of why men won’t stop and ask for directions – if I admit to being lost, you’ll think lower of me. It also explains why signs in stores work better for men than women (from Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy”). Men would rather read a sign than ask for help. Women would rather ask for help than read a sign, primarily because of these differences in communication.

  3. Holly Buchanan says:

    Phil – I love the horizontal/vertical explanation. I will have to steal that!
    Steve, you bring up a great point, so let me clarify.
    Women often determine if someone is “like them” if that person has the same criteria or motivation for buying a product.
    One of the reasons why women like product reviews by their peers is that the reviews talk about the criteria they themselves care about.
    If I’m looking for a quiet washer and dryer, and I see a review from another woman who says her washer/dryer is so quiet she doesn’t even know they’re running – I’m going to take that recommendation to heart.
    Women sometimes have different criteria of what matters to them than men do. Here’s some more information on that – http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/04/29/using-customer-review-keywords-to-pick-up-women-men/

  4. Holly, one cautionary tale…
    I used that explanation in a talk recently and got a lot of flack from one of the women present (the one sponsoring my talk, no less:-) Although she took offense to what I said, she went on to prove it by talking about how the sales*men* would often talk down to her with an “I know what’s best for you” attitude while sales*women* would focus more on the connection and relationship aspect of the sale.
    It was a surreal experience, for sure:-)

  5. Holly Buchanan says:

    Phil – sorry you had to “take one for the team” on that one 🙂 I don’t need to tell you that women (and men) are sensitive to being stereotyped.
    In my presentations I point out that some women have male communication styles and some men have female communication styles. It is a style of communicating. Not all women or all men communicate the same way.
    Also, if it helps, a lot of the giants in this field of research are women – like Deborah Tannen.

  6. Holly Buchanan says:

    Phil – one more thought on that.
    If you have a hostile audience member (I’ve run into that as well) use the rest of the audience to your advantage. If a guy makes a comment to me that he doesn’t agree with something I’ve said, I turn to the guys in the audience and ask their opinion. Every time I do that, someone in the audience will argue my side.
    If a woman objects to something you say, ask the other women in the audience what they think.

  7. Thanks Holly. I appreciate the tips and advice.
    In this case I allowed her to say her piece and then repeated her points to the audience that matched my points. I think it worked out well in the end, but I will certainly keep in mind the stereotyping and how I present that for future talks.

  8. It’s true that men and women react differently to situations.Thanks for sharing your observations and views.The post made for a delightful read.Look forward to hearing from you soon again.

  9. Emily Foshee says:

    Holly, very insightful post. Your information verifies the “Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus” theory. Generally speaking, men and woman are just different and always will be. Both perspectives are valid. Marketers need to keep in mind who their audience is: men or women, and create their marketing messages accordingly. When the audience consists of both men and women, marketers must create a message that will strike a chord in both.

  10. Pär Larsson says:

    Absolutely bloody love this post. Sure it’s a bit stereotyping, but then again it’s very true for a lot of women I care about. So much so that I blogged it http://reasonablydoubtingnews.blogspot.com/2010/12/vegans-homeopathic-medicine-snakeoil.html

  11. Sonia Roody says:

    I think most women are too meticulous. Most of the time, before they buy products, they often ask questions to salesmen and/or opinion of friends. That’s why good communication in business is truly important to reach out the target market. In a call center, every conversation matters because it aims to connect and build trust between clients and companies.

  12. Mark says:

    I turn to the guys in the audience and ask their opinion. Every time I do that, someone in the audience will argue my side.

  13. Monica Mattimore says:

    I don’t know how this fits into the research…
    In addition to the points made in the article, which I wholeheartedly agree with, when I am forming my opinion I tend to have a natural distrust of “authority”. Its not that I just value it less than another’s opinion. I find that I immediately assume that I am being sold something and question the source. Barriers are up and I am listening for the catch.
    Great article.

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    This is a great article it shows every information or advice I needs for a basic but good as a professional marketing strategy.

  15. Celsa says:

    Hey Keana,I wanted to get the kids totehger this summer when is the family coming back? I am so jealous of your alone time in the house! Lots of people say, when the kids go back to school, you get time to yourself, but I really don’t. It’s more scheduling and planning for me, making sure there’s food for snacks and lunches, and school requests are met 3 times over. September is super busy for me with the start up of school, getting to know a whole set of new teachers and coaching two soccer teams. Anyway, we are here for the duration and the kids don’t go back until September 6th; so maybe we can meet up the last week in August. Will email you.Thanks for your post!

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