How Implicit Self-Theories and Dual-Brand Personalities Enhance Word of Mouth

Prof. Arvind Sahay

Consumers have different mindsets or implicit theories of personality malleability, namely, fixed and growth mindsets. The key purpose of the study is to investigate how and why consumers' mindsets can influence their word-of-mouth (WOM) intentions toward a brand and the consequent implications for a brand's personality. We find that messages resonating with a particular consumer mindset lead to greater WOM; the same message can combine different messages targeted at different consumer mindsets with varying levels of salience for enhanced WOM.

Consider a scenario where consumers are exposed to two real advertising communications from Nike for its tracksuit; one uses the ad appeal, "I'm Making Myself Stylish", while the other claims, "Rise. Run. Rest. Repeat". Some consumers like the first advertisement more and are more favourably inclined to spread WOM about the product. Others may find the second advertisement more appealing. A reason for this divergent outcome may be distinctive consumer mindsets or consumers' implicit self-theories, because different implicit self-theories inspire divergent goals.

However, what are implicit self-theories? Implicit self-theories are views people have about the malleability of human personalities. People who consider human traits to be relatively fixed subscribe to a fixed mindset. In contrast, those who believe that people can significantly change themselves and their behaviour subscribe to a growth mindset. Unlike fixed-mindset consumers driven by performance goals and subscribing to a philosophy of effortless success, growth-mindset consumers are driven by learning goals and believe in exerting efforts. Consequently, fixed-mindset consumers like the first advertisement and growth-mindset consumers like the second advertisement.

No existing research has explored the idea of positioning brands along dual-personality dimensions simultaneously and effectively designing ad appeals under such circumstances and its associated benefits. This demands an investigation because it can help managers attract customers with divergent mindsets by positioning the same brand differentially to different consumer groups through targeted advertising.

This study proposes and demonstrates the use of simultaneous dual-brand personalities as an optimal branding strategy. It aims to fill the above-mentioned gaps by asking the following questions: (1) When consumers believe human traits to be relatively fixed rather than malleable, what motives drive their WOM intentions for a brand? (2) What implications do such beliefs hold for a brand's personality dimension and its concomitant ad appeal? (3) What mechanism underlies the fit between consumers' beliefs of personality malleability and a brand's personality dimension?

The paper uses three mall-intercept studies and one online study to demonstrate the influence of consumers' fixed and growth mindsets on their WOM intentions. The first two mall-intercept studies identify motivations underlying consumers' WOM intentions as a function of their mindset orientations and shows the impact on the intent to do WOM. The third mall-intercept study examines the implications of such mindset-oriented WOM intentions for a brand's personality dimension and the underlying psychological mechanism, thereof. The fourth and online study demonstrates the link between mindset orientations and actual WOM behaviour.

Results show that fixed (growth) mindset individuals exhibit greater WOM intentions than growth (fixed) mindset individuals for motives of "impression management" (learning and information acquisition). Findings further demonstrate that brands exhibiting dual-personality dimensions simultaneously, one salient and the other nonsalient at any instant, garner equivalent WOM intentions from both fixed- and growth-mindset individuals, contingent on the fit between the salient brand personality dimension and the dominant consumer mindset. Finally, using a real brand, we can see that WOM intentions actually translate into behaviour. However, the study has certain limitations. While it measures the offline WOM intent, it does not study offline WOM behaviour; that said, it does demonstrate online WOM behavior.

The research paper aims to make two key contributions to theory and three contributions from a managerial perspective. In terms of theory, it first contributes to the WOM literature by examining the transmitter's intrinsic motivation rather than the WOM nature. Though extant research has explored brand-related motives contributing to WOM - such as quality, perceived value, satisfaction, trust, commitment and loyalty - little is known about consumers' intrinsic motivations of engaging in WOM as a function of their implicit self-theories. Second, research also demonstrates the mechanism engendering the fit between a consumer's dominant mindset and a brand's salient personality dimension. By isolating the effect a salient brand personality dimension has in increasing consumer's engagement between the brand's ad appeal and the dominant consumer mindset, the research theoretically justifies why simultaneous dual-brand personalities engender equivalent WOM intentions from consumers with divergent mindsets.

From a managerial perspective unique to the marketing literature, the research first proposes the concept of dual-brand personalities, thereby challenging the conventional wisdom of positioning brands along a single-personality dimension. Second, the research practically demonstrates one possible technique marketers can use to frame ad appeals for implementing such a strategy. Third, this research elucidates the mechanism underlying the fit between a consumer's dominant mindset and a brand's salient personality dimension.

You can read the full paper here: Mandal, S., Sahay, A., Terron, A., & Mahto, K. (2021). How implicit self-theories and dual-brand personalities enhance word-of-mouth. European Journal of Marketing.

About The Author

Prof. Arvind Sahay

Prof. Arvind Sahay

Ph.D. The University of Texas at Austin