Why Google wants you to win the zero moment of truth

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Jim Lecinksi wants marketers to respect the power of the zero moment of truth. And he just conducted an interview with me to tell you why.

In his new ebook, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth, Jim, Google’s managing director of U.S. Sales and Operations, describes why you need to connect with consumers at the moment they research a product or service — or the zero moment of truth.

Before we get to the Q&A with Jim, let me give you a little context about the book. I believe every marketing executive should read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. Jim articulates clearly why the act of researching a product (for instance, when people read customer review sites or simply use search engines to find information) is also an incredible opportunity for marketers to win  business. As he writes in his book:

Would it surprise you to know that a full 70% of Americans now say they look at product reviews before making a purchase? Or that 83% of moms say they do online research after seeing TV commercials for products that interest them? This is how consumers live and learn and make decisions today: from ratings and review sites, from friends on social media, at home and on the go, and (more than ever) from video.

He goes on to discuss how marketers can influence the consumer decision making process by being visible at the zero moment of truth – for instance, making it easier for people to find your website when they research products in your category or participating in the social sites where people talk with each other about products and services in your industry.

Jim was kind enough to answer some questions I posed about ZMOT and its importance to chief marketing officers. Here’s what he had to say:

What inspired you to write this book?

I think it started with search trends.  Particularly in the last few years, we at Google have seen a marked rise in searches for product reviews, coupons, and local information. This was the first bit of evidence that a significant change in consumer behavior was afoot, and it inspired us to dig deeper and learn more.

Your book defines the zero moment of truth – or ZMOT — as the moment when consumers research a product or service before purchase begins. People have been conducting researching prior to purchase for years. What’s changed?

Indeed, people have done their research before making purchases for quite some time.  The Internet — and access to the world’s information anytime, and virtually anywhere —  is the major shift that has made zero moments of truth so important for marketers.

Consider how you would have bought a car 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago, you would have talked with family and friends about cars they liked. Maybe you would have read some auto-specific magazines with reviews. You might also have read Consumer Reports.

After you had felt relatively comfortable with your choice, you would have walked into a dealership and made a decision based on factors such as the recommendations of a salesperson, price, or availability.

Today, the process is quite different.  You can still do the same things you did 20 years ago, but now you can read reviews on the web, browse a broad variety of car-related websites, and engage with your contacts online via social media to get their recommendations and thoughts.

You may turn to YouTube to actually see the cars in action, and you might strongly consider buying a car that you can find more easily online.  And you can do all this wherever you have access to the web — at home, from your desk, on your mobile device from the train.

Now you can show up at a dealership with a much richer, more defined sense of the car you want to buy.

Why should a CMO read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth?

ZMOT is an idea for the marketing world we live in right now.  The fact is, now that your customers can access the world’s information on the web — at their desks, at home, on mobile — they are smarter and more informed than they’ve ever been, especially when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

So much has changed so quickly in the marketing world lately (particularly with the growth of the web) that we thought it was important to zoom out and take a fresh look at marketing trends from a macro perspective.  As you know, P&G coined the term “First Moment of Truth” to refer to the process of “winning the shelf” — that is to say, marketing to a customer who is in the store and prepared to buy.  What we’ve seen more recently is that customers are turning to the web to make better purchasing decisions before they ever reach the shelf.  These are “zero” moments, or steps along the way to influencing a customer prepared to buy in the store.

CMOs today need to understand that the road to a purchase for customers is much richer with information today. And it’s critical that they understand how to leverage the zero moment of truth.

What are one or two examples of companies that really get ZMOT?

Winning the Zero Moment of Truth contains two great examples that I’ll highlight:

Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, explains how ZMOT applied in GE’s efforts to explain Electronic Medical Records.  She notes in particular the utility of video as a tool for engaging her audience.

In the world of small-to-medium-sized businesses, Butter Lane Cupcakes, a bakery in New York, tweets every time there is a last-minute opening in one of its baking/cake decorating classes so that Butter Lane can immediately fill the open spot, in real time, with interested customers who were probably waiting for the opportunity to open up. More about that here:

How does ZMOT apply to business-to-business brands?

ZMOT isn’t a concept that’s limited to business-to-consumer marketing.  Whether you’re buying a tube of toothpaste or a set of servers for new office space, it’s critical for marketers to understand how their customers are arriving at their decisions today.

Your book says that most consumer reviews online are positive. Which raises the question – how much credibility should I assign to them in the ZMOT world?

There are two questions here: what to make of positive reviews and what to make of online reviews, in general.

First, the fact that most consumer reviews are positive speaks to the enthusiasm of reviewers and fans on the web and suggests that engaging with customers in this conversational fashion can be very beneficial for your brand and business if done properly.  User reviews enable your customers to be your salespeople, and that’s hugely valuable.

Second, the world of online reviews is an important resource online, But user reviews are just one of many sources of information available to consumers on the web. Depending on how much you trust the source of the review and the reviewer, you will weigh that information with others that you accumulate prior to your purchase.

Much of your book focuses on the research that occurs before purchase begins. How about the research that occurs at point of purchase, though – for low-cost items that we don’t necessarily research ahead of time? This happens to me all the time — like when I’m in Best Buy, but I see a sale on Blu-rays, and I want to see if Amazon is matching the price. How does principle of ZMOT apply there?

It absolutely applies!

Even if you’re preparing to make a purchase in store, you may still want to do research about products before you get to the register.  Mobile is especially important here. When you’re staring at a shelf full of Blu-rays, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a good deal.  So, you pull out your smart phone and your check competitors’ prices.  It may be closer to the purchase than other examples, but certainly the idea still applies.

So much of ZMOT focuses on digital research by the consumer. What’s the role of offline marketing in a ZMOT world?

Smart advertising campaigns understand that the lines between online and offline are becoming increasingly blurred, and it’s important that they function in a way that’s complementary.

Here’s an example.  At Google, we recently worked on a campaign with HTC, in which HTC’s ad creative elements — on TV, in print, on billboards, and elsewhere — were “Goggles enabled.”  In other words, when people scanned those ads with our Google Goggles app, they would gain access to special content like videos, music, wallpapers, and more.  This was a great example of an advertiser understanding not only the magic of mobile but also how online and offline marketing can complement each other in very cool and useful ways.  You can learn more about that here.

Winning the Zero Moment of Truth says that “the behavior of individual shoppers now is iterative and nonlinear. Shoppers don’t always move through a funnel, narrowing choices as they go; at ZMOT, they can actually widen their choices.” Does the traditional consumer funnel still matter? Is it dead?

The components of the traditional funnel — awareness, consideration, and so on — certainly still matter, but they aren’t experienced in sequence.

Our data show us that there are a wide variety of sources of information used by the consumer, and they may be experienced at any point in the funnel.

For example, the consumer might come close to buying a product only to learn something at the zero moment of truth that opens up his or her consideration set again. Such a consumer then moves back into a prior step and widens his or her choices.

So, actually, we see a bulge in the middle of the funnel — where more and more choices are being considered.

I agree with you that mobile is here. And yet your book says that Google did a survey in 2010 and discovered that only 21 percent of your top advertisers had mobile-optimized websites. The other 79 percent didn’t. What’s going on here?

The explosion of mobile devices will only increase the importance of ZMOTs for marketers. Not only do people have access to an Internet’s worth of information, but also they increasingly own devices that enable them to access it anytime and anywhere.

As a result, it’s extremely important to develop a mobile web presence  — and more broadly, a mobile business strategy — to best serve your potential customers. As you mention, our study showed that nearly 80 percent of our largest advertisers don’t have a mobile optimized site.  And yet your customers are already looking for you on mobile!

Imagine if one out of every five visitors to your traditional website received an error message. You would not stand for that. So, similarly, you should get your mobile-optimized site up and running.

Developing a mobile site is a great first step as you build a mobile presence. And we certainly have a long way to go.

You hear so much about real-time marketing these days. Shiv Singh at PepsiCO said he’s staking his entire career on real-time marketing. How is real-time marketing related to ZMOT?

Real-time marketing is a perfect example of ZMOT in action.  Marketing has evolved from a stimulus/result framework into an ongoing conversation with your customers. As access to the Internet and mobile device becomes increasingly ubiquitous, ideas like real-time marketing and ZMOT will only become more important.

How will brands be able to use Google+ to capitalize on ZMOT?

We’re very excited about Google+.  It’s still very early days, but we’re encouraged by the enthusiastic early support we’ve received.  You can find more information about our plans for brand pages here.

Let’s say a CMO just got done reading your book. What’s the most important thing a CMO can do right now to become ZMOT savvy?

ZMOT is about understanding the ways your customers are making purchase decisions today.  The first thing I would do to implement some of these ideas would be to look at what your company is doing with digital media — search, social, and more — and take stock.  What’s been effective? What can we do better?  What’s the best way to engage my customers in a way that useful for them, and beneficial to my brand?  Your strategy should be a constant work in progress.  In fact, if it isn’t, then you’re missing the point.

You may download a free copy of the book here.  iPad users can get an enhanced multimedia version from the iTunes store here. The Kindle edition is available at the Amazon store. You can also talk with Jim about ZMOT here or on Twitter.

One thought on “Why Google wants you to win the zero moment of truth

  1. Pingback: The Future of Marketing: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth | iCrossing Digital Marketing Blog, Search Engine Advertising Blog: iCrossing

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