Courting ZMOT: Defining the Zero Moment of Truth and How to Make the Most of It

The explosion of the digital landscape has changed marketing forever. Traditionally, success involved moving customers from stimulus to store shelf, where they made a purchase—the First Moment of Truth (FMOT). Customers then shared their experiences with others—the Second Moment of Truth (SMOT). However, in today’s world of instant access to information, customers have created a much more powerful Moment of Truth (MOT), which is uniquely suited to their individual needs. This Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) occurs whenever and wherever the customer starts thinking about a product and is defined long before the FMOT has had time to evolve.

Here, we’ll dig into the details of ZMOT with Google, one of the early players in understanding its new and critical role.

Who uses ZMOT?

To determine just how important ZMOT is in driving purchasing decisions—and who is using it—Google commissioned a comprehensive study of 5,000 consumers across 12 categories. With 84 percent of the consumers indicating that ZMOT shapes their decisions, Google concluded that ZMOT is now just as important as stimulus and FMOT to help influence customer decisions. Check out this video on ZMOT.

At first glance, ZMOT may appear to appeal to consumers alone. However, Google notes that this dynamic is at work across all industries, both in business-to-business and business-to-consumer settings as well as atypical marketing environments such as education and politics.

What does ZMOT look like?

A basic premise of ZMOT is that it happens online, typically starting with a search. Instead of the previous lag created by trekking to the store after stimulus occurs, ZMOT happens in real time, at any time of the day and increasingly while consumers are on the go. The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and increase in mobile-responsive sites continue to feed the ZMOT frenzy, which has several key characteristics:

  • Consumers are now in charge, pulling in the information they want instead of having a cacophony of irrelevant marketing efforts pushed in their direction.
  • Emotions are critical since the consumer seeks such information based on a need that requires satisfaction.
  • Conversations are multidirectional with a variety of parties vying for attention, including marketers, friends, strangers, web sites and experts.

When does ZMOT occur?

ZMOT occurs at the moment that a customer grabs a device and starts learning about a product or service that they’re considering purchasing. Google cites some powerful statistics about this “pre-shopping” dynamic:

  • 70 percent of Americans say they look at product reviews before making a purchase.
  • 79 percent of consumers say they use a smartphone to help with shopping.
  • 83 percent of mothers say they do online research after seeing TV commercials for products that interest them.

Companies who capitalize on ZMOT have a powerful opportunity to significantly influence customers in those critical “before the store” moments when buying decisions are being formed.

Where does ZMOT take place?

ZMOT takes place anywhere that the customer is able to connect to the information they need. That could be the front seat of a car, in a home office or in front of the store shelf with smartphone in hand.

ZMOT’s location is limited only by the customer’s ability to access the information and the company’s ability to provide it. That means that an online presence isn’t enough. Companies who want to capture ZMOT must occupy the most relevant places online and be mobile-responsive, recognizing that mobile devices are, according to Google,  “ … MOT machines. As mobile usage grows, the zero, first and second moments of truth are converging.”

Why has ZMOT emerged?

One of the primary reasons that ZMOT has emerged is that today’s technologies offer fewer barriers to access. As Google notes, “Today’s shoppers carry access in their pockets. They create their own consumer guides a million times a minute with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network posts and videos for products of all kinds. It’s simply the new mental model and the new conversation we all have to be a part of now.”

In addition, consumers have a variety of “ZMOTivations,” including the need to seek and share new ideas, arm themselves for battle and make smart choices fast. Since the effort is now minimal, these needs can be easily and quickly met—which only fortifies the power of ZMOT.

How does ZMOT evolve?

A unique characteristic of ZMOT’s evolution has to do with the influence that comes by word of mouth, which happens differently online. Here, word of mouth includes direct conversations, reviews, comments, ratings, message boards and online community sites. All of these are “little signposts left by decision-makers for other decision-makers.” Old-fashioned word of mouth was a one-to-one conversation, but in the digital version, it’s “one-to-millions.”

In addition, shoppers now think in a less linear manner. In contrast to the traditional and narrowing sales funnel, they can now widen their choices. As Google notes, “The funnel is now more like a neuron, with branches that let shoppers move forward and backward through the process until they’re ready to make a decision.” Check out this video on Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.

How can ZMOT be optimized?

According to Jim Lecinski, vice president of Americas Customer Solutions at Google, the explosion of the digital era means that there are now more ZMOTs than ever—and they’re spreading across the globe at viral speed. To make the most of these dynamics, Lecinski recommends four strategies to help organizations tap into the power of ZMOT.

  1. Use search to understand the moments that matter, and then act on them across your entire marketing platform.
  1. Be present in the moments that matter, which are increasingly occurring on mobile devices.
  1. Have something interesting, relevant and/or engaging to say, and link to rich content on your web site or social media platforms.
  1. Measure the impact by understanding how ZMOT successes advance key performance indicators (KPIs).

Although FMOT and SMOT are still critical components of the marketing equation, the rise of digital has created a new MOT—the ZMOT. In order to achieve and maintain a competitive edge, every organization must court it—recognizing and embracing its power.