SEO & The Zero Moment of Truth

February 29, 2016

The Zero Moment of Truth

80% of success is showing up.

Woody Allen

Fifteen years ago, the marketing messages we received were all thrust at us via TV, radio, print, PR and word of mouth.

Now, everything has changed. We no longer take the marketing messages delivered to us at face value. We take matters into our own hands and seek out information on the products we wish to purchase.

For marketers, every one of these search moments is an opportunity to help shape the decisions your customers make.

In this post, I take a look at these crucial moments of truth and how we as marketers can capitalize on them. In particular, I look at one of the newer additions to this thinking — what Google is calling the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) — and how our always-on internet connections and mobile devices are driving purchase decisions as never before.

Moments Of Truth

In 1981, the then-CEO of the struggling Scandinavian Airlines suggested a change to the prevailing customer service philosophy, which became known as Moments of Truth. These moments were focused on really dealing with the emotional needs of the airline’s customers during customer service interactions.

The company could experience thousands of these moments throughout any given day, and a positive interaction could result in a favorable feeling towards the brand and continued loyalty. Customer loyalty would then lead to profits in subsequent interactions. Increased customer service focusing on emotionally charged moments led to more brand loyalty and further business. Soon, the airline was struggling no more.

Fast forward 35 years, and the only thing that has changed is everything. Customer touch points with brands have multiplied: smartphones, social media, search engines, reviews, live chat, email, phone or in person. There are now many more moments of truth, and dealing with the emotional needs of the customer is more important than ever over multiple touch points.

People expect answers quickly, via multiple channels. And we — as marketers, businesses and brands — must provide the information they seek.

First Moments Of Truth

The First Moment of Truth (FMOT) is a concept proposed by Procter & Gamble in 2005. If you’re unsure what P&G is, the company owns a portfolio of brands that you will most certainly know, some of which are products that you likely buy and have in your house right now.

The FMOT relates to that moment when a potential customer experiences a product on a store shelf (physical or digital in 2016). In this micro-moment, the brand has the best possible chance of creating an unplanned or impulse purchase and converting a browser into a buyer. Impulse purchases are largely emotionally driven, so this is achieved by appealing to the customer’s senses, values and emotions at the point of sale (POS).

If you have ever wondered why the supermarket moves everything around, then you will find answers in the studies conducted into impulse or unplanned purchases. Certainly, there are indications that reducing shopper efficiency results in more time in store, more product interaction and more unplanned or impulse purchases.

In our modern marketing environment, the First Moment of Truth is not restricted to viewing products on shelves. It could also occur in a variety of instances, such as:

  • A customer viewing a range of products on a store shelf or in a POS display.
  • A potential diner viewing a restaurant menu in the window.
  • A customer visiting the website of a potential service provider for the first time.
  • A traveler looking for hotel ratings and reviews for a trip away.
  • An office manager comparing prices for a printer toner.

It’s important to realize that this is not the beginning of this customer’s journey, and the first moment of truth is essentially crunch time. This is where the presales marketing and branding rubber hits the road. In most cases, a user would have been exposed to a stimulus — be that some advertising or even possibly word of mouth — that set up the FMOT.

Second Moment Of Truth

The second moment of truth is when the customer uses your product. Whether this is eating the meal that sounded so good on the menu (FMOT) or shaving with the shaving foam that promises no skin irritation.

This is where your product or service has to deliver on the promises made by your marketing. Fail at the second moment of truth, and your chances of repeat customers are slim.

Third Moment Of Truth

This is the moment of advocacy. Much like a typical sales funnel, we must go from awareness (stimulus) through to the sale, and ideally, to post-sale recommendation. This is where you transform a customer into a fan. This is where you build true brand loyalty.

In the real world, generating advocacy often requires a business process to stimulate those happy customers to review you or share positive feelings on your social media channels.

The Zero Moment Of Truth

Whether we are shopping for cars, hobbies or holidays, the internet has changed how we decide what to buy. Now, after the initial stimulus and before users reach the First Moment of Truth, they will encounter multiple decision-making moments that Google calls the “Zero Moment of Truth,” or ZMOT for short.

The Zero Moment of Truth was initially conceived on the back of a study conducted by Google in 2011. The study determined that the customer journey is changing:

  • 50 percent of shoppers used a search engine to research a product or brand.
  • 38 percent comparison shopped online (reviews, prices and so on).
  • 36 percent checked out the brand/manufacturer’s website.
  • 31 percent read online endorsements, reviews or recommendations.

This was in 2011, and smartphone adoption has only grown ever since. In fact, a follow-up study in 2014 showed that users are grabbing their smartphone to research a product even earlier now, and there are even more touch points on the way to a purchase.

The Zero Moment of Truth is this new moment that sits between a stimulus (ad) and the FMOT. Let’s say a mother sees an ad detailing how important an eye test is for children. Where in the past she might call the optician from the ad directly, today she would pull out her smartphone and begin to research the best brands, prices, reviews and (in the case of local) business locations.

The ZMOT can happen on search engines and social networks, and the net result is a more confident and well-informed purchase decision.

The 2011 study indicated that 79 percent of consumers use a smartphone to help with shopping, and 83 percent of mothers claim to do online research after seeing a TV ad. Given the age of these stats and the stratospheric rise of smartphones and the mobile internet, we can only imagine these statistics are conservative at best.

The takeaway here is that users now conduct research, read reviews, compare brands, talk to friends, watch videos, interact on socially driven sites (from Facebook to Trip Advisor), read news and even visit brand websites to make decisions — and all of this is done at the Zero Moment of Truth.

A New Marketing Model

The basic concept here is that the customer journey is now broken into hundreds of micro-moments. Want-to-know moments, want-to-go moments, want-to-do and want-to-buy moments. What is the best mortgage product in 2016? What is the best dog shampoo? What is the best UK mountain bike brand? Where do I buy a sled? Where can I buy a guitar tuner?

The following diagram shows where the ZMOT exists in this newly proposed model:

ZMOT - from stimulus to advocacy

It is these micro-moments that represent the Zero Moment of Truth and present an opportunity for your brand to get in front of a potential customer. As an example: This morning, whilst researching tinnitus for a friend, I stumbled across an article detailing how diet affects the condition. The article was published by a company that produces a range of tinnitus supplements.

I am now aware of these supplements, and if the company is as savvy as their content marketing would suggest, then I will likely see remarketing and offers to drive me towards their digital storefront and the First Moment of Truth when I decide whether to buy.

In fact, I will likely go away and conduct further ZMOT research. I will search for the brand. I will read up on the specific products. I will look for reviews. I will look for customer testimonials (on the brand site but also on specific forums where I feel they may be more trustworthy). I will look for alternatives. And, being a bit (lot) of a geek, I will likely look into the science and studies that back up the claims made by the product.

My ZMOT for this product will be a fairly lengthy research process. I could imagine a few hours and lots of reading. For some purchases, this will be much quicker. For major purchases — from technology to cars — it may be a process that takes place of days, weeks or even months.

In addition to the studies, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Google is in direct control of what must be the greatest consumer insight platform the world has ever seen: billions of queries every single day along the entire spectrum of the customer journey.

Whilst some of this information is available via tools like Google Trends, Google Insights and the Google Keyword Planner, we can only imagine the analysis done by Google itself to better hone its ad products. As such, we should pay attention to these studies and determine what we can do to better help the products, businesses and brands we service as marketers in this fast paced environment. (I am also a big fan of tools like Übersuggest and for aiding in the research of customer questions.)

Users no longer wait for what they need. We can search, educate ourselves and make purchases at any time. Patience is at an all-time low, and we can act immediately and expect to find relevant, useful content to aid us in our decision-making process. It is these micro-moments that shape our needs and…

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