Keywords: Referrals; Services; Language Abstractness; Prior Knowledge; Mental Imagery; Persuasiveness.
Due to the inherent risk and uncertainty characterizing pre-purchase service evaluation, consumers tend to rely on referrals from other consumers who already have experiences with that service. Thus, companies are eager to stimulate such referrals and improve their effectiveness. To this end, this research investigates how consumers' linguistic framing of service recommendations influences recipients' attitudes. Specifically, this study focuses on one key dimension of language - its abstractness (vs. concreteness) - and hypothesizes that the effect of language abstractness on referral persuasiveness depends on recipients' prior knowledge about the service in question. The results of an experiment in the context of medical services demonstrate that abstract language is more effective than concrete language for recipients with high prior knowledge. Moreover, this research shows that recipients' engagement in mental imagery processing is that makes abstract language more effective for those with high prior knowledge. This articles ends with a discussion of the study's implications for academic research, social communication and service management, along with its limitations and future research directions.