Bad News Travels Fast

About one out of every four (26 percent) of consumers said they are far more likely to spread the word to family, friends and coworkers about a bad experience with a product or service than a good one.

That’s according to a recent survey by Colloquy, a provider of loyalty marketing publishing, education and research.

In a survey of 3,295 U.S. consumers, of those consumers who are most loyal to, engaged with and willing to recommend brands they like, 31 percent said they are far more likely to share information about a bad experience with a product or service than a good one. Among key demographic groups, affluent consumers, at 30 percent, scored highest for saying they’re far more likely to spread a bad experience. Seniors scored the lowest at 19 percent. In the other demographics, 25 percent of young adults and 25 percent of women said they’re far more likely to share a bad experience. Hispanics’ score was 21 percent.

Colloquy experts have adopted a little known term, “madvocates,” as an apt name for consumers predisposed to engage in negative word-of-mouth practices after suffering a bad experience. The corresponding attitude can be called “madvocacy.”

“Negative word of mouth is a function of the bad experience we all may have on occasion,” said Colloquy managing partner Kelly Hlavinka. “Rather than uncover a separate group of brand curmudgeons, we instead discovered an overlap of positive and negative stances found among all groups.

“It’s notable that the madvocacy attitude is significantly more prevalent among word-of-mouth champions (31 percent) than the general population (26 percent), Hlavinka added. “One lesson is clear, hell hath no fury like a champion scorned. Since madvocacy is an attitude that nearly a third of all champions share and are willing to act upon, loyalty marketers must accept their responsibility for the impact their programs can have on generating both positive and negative word of mouth.”

Colloquy has published a white paper presenting the complete results of its latest research. The paper will be available free of charge at

Other key madvocacy findings include the following:

- Just 7 percent of the general population are “pure madvocates” – consumers who aren’t connected to brands and aren't willing to advocate for them, but who are oriented to negative WOM.
- 75 percent of the general population said that when they’ve had a bad experience with a product or service, they advise friends and family. That surpasses the 42 percent who said they always recommend a product or service they really like; the 71 percent who said they’re always looking to experience something new; and the 67 percent who said they love telling people about something new they’ve learned.

“Loyalty marketers have already built a great WOM platform, the one provided by their rewards program,” said Colloquy partner Jim Sullivan.

Sullivan provided the following three brand conversation best-practice tips for turning madvocates into advocates:

- Make sure customers not only have an opportunity for a dialogue (not a monologue) with the brand, but with each other. Get the conversations started by asking for opinions and insights, and recognize contributions.
- Involve customers in WOM programs by forming online social sharing communities, panels and co-development platforms. Do your own social media.
- Be innovative and make sure content is relevant, fresh and rewarding. Start by transforming your marketing mindset from “incentive” to “service.” Be sure to nip any service problems in the bud and head off any negative WOM that can quickly go viral from these well-connected customers.

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