Purpose - Organizations continually seek new ways to achieve competitive advantage and word of mouth (WOM) represents such an opportunity because it has a powerful influence on consumers' attitudes and behaviors. However, prior research offers little insight into what WOM really means. The present study aims to investigate the complexities of the WOM concept and simultaneously examine the triggers that motivate people to offer WOM and the conditions that enhance the chance of WOM occurring.Design/methodology/approach - A series of six focus groups were undertaken with consumers, these were supplemented by more than 100 critical incident questionnaires.Findings - Two key WOM themes, termed "richness of message" and "strength of implied or explicit advocacy", were identified, as well as various triggers and conditions that affect WOM occurrence.Research limitations/implications - The study was based on two kinds of qualitative research, but quantitative research is required to fully test the derived WOM model. Further, the study focused on WOM from a giver's point of view. Research into WOM from a receiver's viewpoint is also needed.Practical implications - The present study suggested that WOM activity is more complex than previous research has argued. Managers should consider various WOM facets and, in particular, recognize WOM will be most favorable when it is positive, richly described and conveyed in a strong manner.Originality/value - The paper developed a WOM model that incorporates these additional themes and provides a basis for future quantitative research into WOM.