Referral source selection in word of mouth communication : findings from export education movements of China and Malaysia
Gray, Vaughan Ronald
Abstract:Research attention on word of mouth (WOM) communication is growing in necessity and popularity as recent studies continue to confirm that WOM has a significant effect on consumer and organisational decision-making and buying behaviour. Much of the theory generated from this field of communications research has been based on product purchase situations that take place in the United States. More recent developments in the stream of research have begun to address WOM in service contexts and also driven a need to test the reliability of previous works in other countries and cultures.The research problem of this thesis emerged from such needs to further develop WOM theory and is defined by two key statements: (i) How does perceived source credibility and the content (message) of personal communication shape and determine the nature of a WOM system? (ii) What likely influence does culture have on a WOM system?The WOM system conceptualised within this thesis refers to a network of actors in which, personal, verbal, face to face communication occurs. It also refers to the nature of the information exchanged and how these messages determine which actors within the system participate. Addressing the need for further research into service-based contexts, the industry of export education was identified as an ideal environment in which to investigate the problem. In particular, international students (current and potential) were interviewed and surveyed on how WOM is used to gather information to make a decision on where to study.A predictive model of referral source selection is developed as the significant contribution to theory resulting from the qualitative and quantitative research employed in the methodology. The qualitative research was exploratory in nature and designed to understand the decision-making process international students went through before making a choice on their study destination. In depth interviews confirmed that WOM was used frequently throughout this process and identified the important pieces of information sought after by students and which sources the students consulted to obtain the information. International students are concerned about the international recognition of a university, teaching styles, tuition fees, graduate prospects and how compatible the lifestyle of the host country is for them amongst many issues. They consult a variety of personal sources including family, friends, alumni, university agents and even their school teachers.The main quantitative study in this thesis surveyed 420 university students from China and Malaysia and was designed to provide theory verification for the WOM system and explore potential impacts of culture on this system. Firstly, four common WOM themes were identified from all of the content exchanged through WOM between students and their referral sources. These themes are grouped as; informational messages, comparative messages, personal perspectives and guidance messages. The WOM system was then depicted as a predictive model of referral source selection based on which WOM themes are exchanged between actors.As consumers progress through a structured decision-making process, their information requirements (WOM themes) change and so do the sources selected to deliver the information. Secondly, important differences in WOM behaviour emerged between the Chinese and Malaysian samples. Although students from both countries are equally influenced by personal sources of communication, Malaysians considered alumni friends and parent/family sources to be more influential than the Chinese. Whereas the Chinese preferred talking with school teachers and close friends to help in their decisions. These findings added credible evidence of national culture effects to the predictive model of source selection.The thesis concludes by addressing limitations in the research - largely, that the study failed to produce evidence of cultural value dimensions impacting on the WOM system. The Chinese cultural value framework employed was well justified as an appropriate measure however, there were no equivalent measurements of Malaysian cultural values and the study was conducted on a limited convenience sample, making results difficult to generalise through Chinese and Malaysian populations. Further research was then suggested to address these limitations.
Advisor: Shyan Fam, Kim; Lawson, Rob
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Marketing
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis
264 leaves :ill. ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references. University of Otago department: Marketing.